Fond Memories of Salamieh, 51 Kensington Court, and Yakymour

By Abdul Mamdani

Youthful Abdul Mamdani is seen standing at extreme right in this group photo taken with His Highness the Aga Khan and the Begum Aga Khan. Standing third from right in dark blazer with specs is the late Shamshudin Jaffer Ladak of Dodoma who practiced as a lawyer in London. If you are in this photo or know the names of the persons in this rare photo, please submit the list to Simerg. We would like to complete the caption with the names of the six unidentified individuals . Photo: Abdul Mamdani Collection.

Early Days and Didars

I was one of the early attendants at 51 Kensington Court Jamatkhana.

Having travelled on a motorcycle through the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy and France, I arrived in London in 1953, just a week or so after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The city was still decorated with flags and buntings.

I found the Jamatkhana address in the telephone directory and got myself a bed and breakfast place in Cheniston Gardens, at £1.10.0 a week, just 5 minute walk from the Jamatkhana. A week later I got employed as a ledger clerk at Barkers Deptartment Store on Kensington High Street. The famous store closed for good in 1986 after 135 years!

I attended the Jamatkhana regularly. There were just a few Ismailis in London at that time. Alnoor Kassam was the President of the Ismailia Council for the UK, and we had a very nice, gentle lady, known affectionately as Baby bai Visram, who had been granted the title of Varsiani by Mawlana Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Mawlana Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mata Salamat arrived in London at the end of the third quarter of 1953 and granted us a holy didar at the Kensington Court Jamatkhana. After general didar, a group photo was taken and then Mawla took a seat in a room on the ground floor where families or individuals were allowed to enter and have photos taken with the Imam of the Time. The only other person in the room with the Imam was an English photographer. Eventually, my turn came and I entered the room in my new socks and slipped on the parquet floor, landing in front of the Imam. Mawla smiled, said Khanavadhan to me and asked me to sit on the floor next to him.

Salamieh and a Request from a Devout Ismaili Lady

Mawla inquired where I came from and where I had been. Among places I had been to, I mentioned Salamieh in Syria, and Mawla said, “Oh and did you see all those princes?” I replied that I had met Prince Muhammad Mulheim, Varas Ahmed Mirza and Mustafa Ghaleb, the famous writer. Mawla said, “Kanavadhan, Khanavadhan”.

Now, when in Salamieh, Emir Muhammad Mulheim had taken me to a room in his house where his mother was waiting to see me. I was requested to look at the mother and told that should I be blessed with Mawla’s Didar in Europe, she wanted me to remember her face so she could attain Mawla’s Didar through my eyes. Regrettably, in the Imam’s presence I failed to recall this request. However, Mawla asked me, “And who else did you see?” I was surprised at this question and took a minute or so to think. Then, it came to me and I replied: “Mawla, I saw Prince Muhammad Mulheim’s mother,” and Mawla patted my shoulder and said “Khanavadhan, Khanavadhan”.

The Failing Flashlight

At that time, Mawla told the English photographer to take our picture. The photographer aimed his lens toward us and said, “Your Highness, I am sorry the flash does not work.” Mawla then asked me, what I did, and I replied, “Khudavind, I work at Barkers,” and Mawla said, “Go back to work and come to the Ritz Hotel in the evening and we will have a picture taken.” I said, “Ameen Khudavind,” and came out of the room.

His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), the 48th Ismaili Imam, with his arm around Abdul Mamdani. Photo: Abdul Mamdani Collection. Copyright.

Although I had taken the day off from work, I accepted Mawla’s directive and was on my way to Barkers, but before I got to the corner of the street, Alnoor Kassam came running after me to tell me that I was summoned by the Imam to return. The flash was working again! Upon entering the room again, Mawla invited me to sit on the floor next to him and put his arm on my shoulder and thus we appear in the photograph.

Yakimour and the Begum Aga Khan’s Letter to the Ismaili Council for Tanganyika

In 1955, I went to Le Cannet and was granted holy didar at the Villa Yakymour. After the didar, Mata Salamat invited me to walk with her in the gardens and asked where I came from, where I lived and what I did there. At the end, Mata Salamat inquired if I kept in touch with my family. I confessed that I had not done so for two years. A few years later I learnt that the Begum had sent a letter to the Council in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) instructing them to contact my family, and to tell them that she had seen me and that I was in good health. I will always remember Mata Salamat for her kindness.

Date posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012.

Copyright: Abdul Mamdani. 2012

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About the writer: Abdul Mamdani is an 80 year old retired postage stamp dealer. He lived in England and Switzerland from 1953 to 1959 and in North, Central and South America from 1959 to date.

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Related posts:
51 Kensington Court, and a Memorable Function Hosted by His Highness the Aga Khan III at London’s Savoy by A. M. Rajput, UK.
1953-1957: Ismailia Social and Residential Club and Jamatkhana at 51 Kensington Court by Ameer Janmohamed, UK.

We invite your contribution for the Jamatkhana series. Please click on The Jamatkhana: A Place of Spiritual and Social Convergence to read about the series and links to more Jamatkhana pieces.

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8 thoughts on “Fond Memories of Salamieh, 51 Kensington Court, and Yakymour

  1. This pioneering spirit of Ismailis had taken them across the globe and has strengthened the spirit of brotherhood as well as brought us closer and closer spiritually, and that has been true now as it was then. It was this spirit of taking risk and staying together and following Mawlana Hazar Imam’s farmans that has placed the Ismailis on the world map despite its minuscule size; I am sure the same spirit will continue inshaallah.

  2. In the group photograph, the person standing 3rd from right (in blue blazer and with specs) is my brother Shamshudin Jaffer Ladak of Dodoma who was a practising lawyer in London, England, and passed away in 1981 at the age of 54. We were all so thrilled to see his picture! We have quite a few of Shamshudin’s pictures with Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Prince Aly Khan but not this particular one. Thank you Mr. Mamdani and Malik.

    Mahwash Datoo, Toronto.

  3. My fondly called Abdulrasul mama is a very nice and gentle person who has travelled and lived in many countries. His experiences always amaze me, and wherever he is, he blends in so well. Thank you for sharing this story and the wonderful photographs.

    • Dear Islamshah,
      Thanks for letting us know about your Abdulrasul mama – the lucky one. It amazes us also to know that he traveled to Europe by motorcycle during that period. Thanks to Malik for publishing the article and photos. We wish you all the best,
      SJ- Paderborn

  4. Where is Mr. Mamdani now and is he related to the famous Mamdani family from Kariakoo, in Dar? The photographers?
    I love reading these stories and like Nadim, am amazed at how, in those days, the Imam was physically so close to his Murids.
    I myself frequented 5 Palace Gate in the 70’s and had friends who lived there.

  5. Wonderful memories, Abdulbhai.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Would love to hear your experience with Prince Sadrudin in Chile …. Thanks

  6. A lovely story and wonderful picture. To think that Imam regularly met people one to one for photos is amazing. I especially liked the part about how Mr Mamdani forgot to mention the request made by the Mother of Prince Muhammad Mulheim and Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah specifically almost inquired again as to who he had met. The knowledge of the Imam is undoubtedly unfathomable!! Alhamdullilah.

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