An Ode to the Indian Dukawala of East Africa by Kersi Rustomji

This work is a small tribute to the unsung intrepid pioneering Indian traders and very often their families, who braved the unknown hazards of the “Dark Continent”, carried on regardless of disease, lack of comforts, privations, ill-health, and even death, which they knew was their constant and real possibility.

“While the tribute is aimed at all the Indian, later termed Asians traders and shop keepers, we should bear in mind that these intrepid early trading pioneers also included Ismailis, who became prominent merchants and developers in all economic fields in East Africa. The Ismailis left behind an admirable record of their contribution, and this work touches them too.” — Kersi Rustomji

Hitherto the dukawala remain unrecognised nor given a deservedly appropriate place in the annals of these nations. Without record of these traders and other Indians who also played a very prominent and important part in the economic and the political growth of these nations, the histories of these three East African countries would be incomplete.

PLEASE CLICK: Ode to the Indian Dukawala on East African Plains

The image depicts on the rich red soil, a typical Indian duka, a small trading store, in small towns and remote country areas of East Africa. The signage is also typically hand painted work of the duka owners. These put up with any paint at hand, included some spelling errors. The man behind the counter is my paternal uncle Jehangirji Rustomji, who first opened a small watch repair duka in the old Indian Bazaar, now Biashara Street, in early 1906 in Nairobi, Kenya. He later moved to the then Government Road,  now Moi Avenue, in the corner of a chemist shop, Chemitex,  next to the old Alibhai Sherrif hardware shop, going towards the Ismaili jamatkhana, on the corner of Government Road and River Road. Later his youngest son Rati joined him, and after Jehangirji’s death, Rati carried on the little business until 2009, when he retired and closed the little duka after 103 years of its existence. Rati still lives in Nairobi. Copyright> Kersi Rustomji.

The image depicts on the rich red soil, a typical Indian duka, a small trading store, in small towns and remote country areas of East Africa. The signage is also typically hand painted work of the duka owners. These put up with any paint at hand, included some spelling errors. The man behind the counter is my paternal uncle Jehangirji Rustomji, who first opened a small watch repair duka in the old Indian Bazaar, now Biashara Street, in early 1906 in Nairobi, Kenya. He later moved to the then Government Road, now Moi Avenue, in the corner of a chemist shop, Chemitex, next to the old Alibhai Sherrif hardware shop, going towards the Ismaili jamatkhana, on the corner of Government Road and River Road. Later his youngest son Rati joined him, and after Jehangirji’s death, Rati carried on the little business until 2009, when he retired and closed the little duka after 103 years of its existence. Rati still lives in Nairobi. Copyright: Kersi Rustomji, Australia.

 

 

3 thoughts on “An Ode to the Indian Dukawala of East Africa by Kersi Rustomji

  1. I am so glad that this hugely important piece of history is now at last going to be made accessible online to a global audience! Here I take the liberty of reproducing a slightly edited and much condensed version of my review of it published on the Africana-Orientalia List on May 1, 2013:

    “I am privileged to be one of the only two recipients of the hard copy of this work. It is a magnificent print edition, though the pages, alas, are not numbered. (F)irst of all [then] congratulations to Kersi for recording and telling this tale, which forms the backbone really of our collective history. It is a form of poetry in kaleidoscopic motion, as it were. His starting point is the building of the Mombasa-Kisumu railway (though of course there was already a significant Indian settlement in Zanzibar and the coastal parts of East Africa before that).

    There is lots more in Kersi`s narrative which lends credibility and weight to any number of academic studies and other literature on the subject of East African Asians who are now belatedly, at times even grudgingly, recognised as having played a pivotal role in the development of the region as a whole. It captures their transformation from pioneering first generation migrants at the beginning of the 20th century to their 21st century successful descendants superbly in this extraordinary publication.

    So our plaudits and grateful thanks to Kersi for his dogged effort and perseverance”.

    Ramnik Shah
    (c) 2014
    England

  2. Kersi Rustmji is one of a kind – a devoted East African Asian, hell-bent to ensure our memories of our days there are preserved for the generations to come. He has a parallel ode on the Railway Builder. He has a book of memories where he explains with illustrations all our pre-cricket traditional games – gilidanda, nagoliyo, hutututu. In one chapter he describes tree-climbing (which ended in a fall and an amputation) and in another “Women’s Co-ops” in making papads in a two-stage process. It’s hilarious. While many people in and out of my book recording our history in Uganda lost patience because the book took so long coming out – now nearing 7 years – Kersi never left my side and ran the extra mile to deflect ill-considered criticisms. He gets a very special mention on my Thank You page. Some of his writings are in my book with his permission. Oh, the book will come out, I can’t eat it, although some people might make me eat some of my words. Mistakes will be pointed and an accusation made that I favoured the Ismailis or rich people. I did neither.

  3. Good one Kersi. My scout master in our younger days at St. Tersa, Eastleigh. I remember those days well. Also more as to my brother’s book, Bead Bai. Many thanks for the memories.

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