Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi: A Personal Reflection

A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..”

By ZAFEERA KASSAM

(This piece originally appeared on Simerg’s sister blog http://www.barakah.com. It is reproduced, with minor layout changes).

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Mawlana Hazar Imam addresses the Jamat during the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi. Photo: The Ismaili/Aziz Islamshah.

I don’t think I can ever understand the human capacity to experience two polar opposite emotions simultaneously: indescribable happiness and also deep sadness, a profound sense of soulful quietude and also a rippling feeling of restlessness.

As I sat there in the hall, participating in intezari program, I was a column of conflict: Ecstatic to finally be here, excited over the joy of the possibility of seeing my Imam in all his grandeur. But also concerned that time was going by too quickly, that all of this would end too soon. Time always moves like rapids whenever he is physically present and when he isn’t, time is a meandering snail.

It was endearing listening to the children singing ginans like ‘Eji Anand Anand’ and ‘Kalapat Jalapat’ as well as qasidas like ‘Dam Hamma Dam Ali Ali’, ‘Ya Imami Ya Imami’ and ‘Goyum Ali Joyum Ali’. The ventis, zikr and renditions of ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ were well received. And the Al-Waez who came on periodically to explain the procedures that take place during the Darbar and the significance of these gestures made an emphatic point to revel in the moment, to use the silences that would lapse between one ginan and another to reflect on various facets of the Darbar, including who our beloved Imam is, what he has done for the world at large in the past 60 years and our own relationship with the Imam of the time.

The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.

The gentleman next to me found it curious that I kept checking my watch but how could I explain to him my contention with time – it was moving too swiftly: 7am had become 9am all too soon, and yet it wasn’t moving swiftly at all. When would 11am arrive and bring with it our Lord and Murshid, our beloved Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam?

Aga Khan Mawlana Hazar Imam Nairobi Darbar Stage cropped

The Nairobi Darbar stage.

Amidst the hustle of standing up for the zikr and inching forward to make space to accommodate the large numbers filing in, I was able to glance around at the hall decorated by volunteers who worked day and night to create a simple yet alluring ambience. White festooning hung from the ceiling in circular formations and delicate floral arrangements adorned diamond-shaped hangings. The stage itself was classy too with Mawlana Hazar Imam’s chair appearing majestic in the centre. The Diamond Jubilee motif dominated the hall, reminding us of what the occasion represented – not that we needed the reminder but their striking colour and form captured the eye frequently.

In what felt like no time at all, it was five minutes to 11am. The ginan that was going on ended abruptly as the screens lit up with Mawla’s motorcade rounding the corner at Darkhana. Mawla’s green Audi slowed down at the entrance. The door opened. Breathing halted. Mawla alighted and salwats swelled in the hall. That jovial countenance filled the screen and it felt like he too was in a hurry to enter as he gestured to the Mukhi Kamadia and Mukhiani Kamadiani and swept into the foyer. The screens went blank and the heart started racing. He was here! The Lord of Light and love was but a glance away. It felt like the soul itself was eager to leap out and embrace him as soon as he appeared in sight. All the conflicting emotions converged into one geyser of ardour. And then time slowed to a standstill – waiting, waiting, waiting for him to emerge from the Green Room and step into the hall.

I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap.

The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.

Ishq pe ho gayi meher khuda ki,
Rab ne soon li araz hamari,
Shukrana, shukrana,
Rabba tera lakh lakh shukrana — excerpt of poem by Ravindran Jain

Translation

Lord has shone His mercy on my love
And has fulfilled my yearning
Gratitude to you, O my Lord
Hundreds and thousands of thank you, O my Lord

The only feeling that comes the slightest bit close to this feeling is the one you get when standing at the shore and seeing the sun rise at the brink of the ocean. The Light had appeared before me and finally I saw him dressed in his Diamond Jubilee Khil’at. What I thought I would feel seeing this was nothing like what I truly felt. But the visceral thirst was momentarily quenched and I watched the screen as the camera followed his walk along the red carpet. I saw a lady thrust a letter to the Imam, which he graciously accepted then handed over to the Mukhisaheb.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam walks through the Jamat amid the recitations of the Salwat during the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi. Photo: The Ismaili/Zafrani Mansurali

I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap. A ripple of amusement spread through the jamat at that moment. Hazar Imam continued along the red carpet, showering generous blessings upon individuals, and finally ascended the steps to take his place on the stage.

He gave his permission for the ceremonies to take place. The 49-link gold chain was garlanded around his neck, and from the point where the Tilawat-e-Qur’an was recited along with its translation, the Venti Ginan and Zikr, Hazar Imam’s expression was a serious and sombre one. But when those who recited the prayers went to him to get blessings, his face lit up with beguiling beams. The President of the Council, respected Mr Nawaz Gulam, gave his pledge of allegiance on behalf of the jamats present and that was indeed a solemn moment. I thank him for including the plea for forgiveness of any shortcomings or transgressions.

[Mawlana Hazar Imam] directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”

And then came the moment we were all earnestly awaiting, the moment when Hazar Imam came to the microphone and his enchanting voice resonated throughout the hall. How we thirsted to hear his “My beloved spiritual children” and the warmth that cocooned us with those special words was indescribable. Glee thrummed through my veins to hear him extended his “warmest and best, best, BEST, loving blessings” and the heart swelled to enormity to hear: “I hope this will be a day of happiness in the Jamat as it is a day of happiness for me. That there will be lots of joy. I think you call it Dandia Raas and so there will be plenty of dancing.”

The heart was already dancing. He went on to joke, “I suspect a little bit of biryani from here or there.” And then He shared something that was truly touching and poignant, “And I will participate with you in your rejoicing for it is a day of immense happiness for me.” Imagine that. The Imam rejoicing with you, dancing with you, savouring the yummy biryani with you. Wow.

He went on to thank the government for extending kindnesses and courtesies to him and he mentioned this thrice. The second time round He added, “I am grateful to the government on your behalf and on my behalf”. He instructed the jamat to take back to their countries, families and friends, his best, affectionate blessings.

He said, “tell your Jamat that I am thinking of them, that I send them blessings for mushkil aasaan in their lives, not only here in Kenya but around the world.” He further said he looks forward for strong work, for the unity of the jamat, for the strength of our institutions and for success of our younger generation in their education.

He emphasized on this and directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”

He gave special blessings for the younger generation to succeed in their educational endeavours.

A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..” and it felt like an important reminder that we are all one universal brotherhood and it is high time we put aside our hang-ups with status and position, we dissolve our discriminations and biases, and begin acting in the manner that Mowla sees us: brothers and sisters; one jamat; one family.

He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent!

Hazar Imam further emphasized that our tradition is an intellectual tradition: “Invest in your intellect. Learn. Use learning for the benefit of yourselves, your families and your jamat. Acquire knowledge throughout your lifetime, not just during academic years.” He urged us to keep knowledge part of the way we think and develop our activities, to bring into these activities competence, wisdom and ‘Best Practice’. He specified, “I would be so happy if all my jamat was part of Best Practice worldwide. This is what I hope for my jamat.”

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Mawlana Hazar Imam shares a light moment with the Jamat. Photo: The Ismaili/Zafrani Mansurali

It was extraordinarily touching when Mawlana Hazar Imam shared a childhood memory. He and his brother, Prince Amyn, used to collect rabbits and every morning, they would go out to say ‘good morning’ to the rabbits. One morning they had a terrible surprise. The rabbits were all gone! He held out his hands and we aww-ed when He said, “they had been eaten.” We were all smiles to hear him end this anecdote with: “Lots of fun, a few heartaches, and, above all, happiness of being here in Kenya.”

Immense, immense happiness and gratitude is what I felt for being part of this Darbar.

He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent! With an Imam like that, whose love knows no bounds and crosses all barriers, who is the epitome of all facets good and positive, what are problems and what tenacity do they even have?

Mawlana Hazar Imam took his seat and the Mukhi Kamadia Sahebs Mukhiani Kamadiani Sahebas of the Kenyan Jurisdiction, Congo Jamat and Malagasy Jamat, respectively, presented mehmanis to the Imam, which were graciously blessed. This was promptly followed by the Imam divinely blessing the Aab-e-Shafa. Next, the Nazranas were humbly offered to the Imam. Earlier, during the intezari programme, these nazranas were shared with the jamat, photographs of which were shown on the screens. The Kenyan jurisdiction’s nazrana was a pair of high back wooden armchairs from Lamu; the Democratic Republic of Congo unearthed a water sprinkler that had six tubes extending from the bottom bowl to the top bowl and it was shared that the six tubes each represent 10 years of Hazar Imam’s Imamat, totalling to 60 glorious years; the Malagasy jamat found a ewer and plate from a rare collection made in France with Islamic engravings on it.

He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.

The nazranas were presented in forms of photo catalogues to the Imam. He showed keen interest in these and when He came to the mic the second time around, he expressed genuine pleasure at having received these nazranas and wished that the gifts be returned to the jamat – each and every individual – a thousand times over. Such a generous Imam, truly!

He confided that Mukhisaheb has reminded him – though he did not need to – that the volunteers had done good work and Mawla gave special blessings for all the hard work they had put in to make this visit a happy one for him. He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.

And then came the moment we didn’t look forward to – Mawlana Hazar Imam descending the stage to leave the hall. Oh, if only we had the capability to make him stay with us longer. But he didn’t leave straight away. He walked along the red carpet and made his way to where the senior citizens were sitting on the chairs, passing by the hospital beds, walking – it seemed – slowly and swiftly (if that is even possible) until he loomed into sight where I was seated. It’s not possible to put into words what kind of transformation takes place when “naino se nain mila” but the ginan ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ captures the essence of deeply coveting this phenomenon. I don’t think it’s meant to be expressed in words as it is a highly personal and ‘anmol’ occurrence.

He turned the corner and reached the exit, pausing briefly to acknowledge, with a smile, some jamati members waving at him.

We were informed that he would spend some time with the leaders of the jamat to discuss important issues, that he had spent 45 minutes in Dubai and 40 minutes in Mumbai doing so, and the jamat was requested to stay put and participate in the post-darbar programme of zikr, ginans and tasbihs.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam waves to young volunteers after departing the Darbar hall. The children held up placards with the words “We love you, Hazar Imam” which are reflected on the car. Photo: The Ismaili/Hussein Jiva.

Mawlana Hazar Imam left after one whole hour (60 minutes) and was sent off by the Ismaili Youth Band and Volunteers Corp who held up placards stating “We love you, Hazar Imam.” That was a touching sight to behold.

But the mixed emotions came flooding back – the same incomprehensible polar-opposite emotions crashing at the shore of my conscious – ecstasy and melancholy; sukoon and tadap. Ecstasy to have seen him and heard his voice; melancholy that the whole event was over and he had physically departed; sukoon at having being invaluably blessed and deeply grateful for it too; tadap because when will such a Divine Deedar happen again?

Naseeb pachha kyare khulse? (When will good fortune strike again?)

It’s just never, ever enough.

The ginans speak of it and I now live it.

Eji Jiska re ma-e-bap gam sadharya re piya
Uska farzand kiyu kar raheve re,
Maherban mere, Saheb mere, dayavant mere maherban
Ya Shah tuj bina so din javega kese piyaji – excerpt of Ginan “Tumko Sadhaare” by Pir Sadardin

Translation

Children whose beloved parent is physically leaving town
How can they stay here happily?
O my Merciful, O my Lord,
How will I stay without you in these times?

Date posted: April 17, 2018.

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Zafeera Kassam

Zafeera Kassam is a high-school teacher of English Language, Literature and Psychology, residing in Nairobi, Kenya. She spends her free time in creative writing and poetry, and has had her short stories and poems published in various media around the world. As a devotee of Mowlana Hazar Imam, her greatest joy is in penning verse and poems in praise of Hazar Imam. Her latest publication, Always and Forever, is a book of 60 poems dedicated especially to Mowlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee (available on Amazon Kindle). She is also an amateur photographer who takes great interest in capturing nature. Currently, she is concentrating on developing her skills in graphic design and digital imagery. Most of all, she hopes to be continuously inspired to keep penning poems in praise of beloved Hazar Imam.

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The Aga Khan University: “A National Innovator and a Powerhouse for Quality”

Firoz Rasul Aga Khan Visit CIME EVENT AKU Karachi

President Firoz Rasul delivering his address in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan during the inauguration ceremony in Karachi, Pakistan, on December 15, 2017 of a new AKU Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME), a state-of-the-art facility for technology-based learning for health professionals. Photo: The Ismaili/Rahil Imtiaz Ali.

Message from President Firoz Rasul of the Aga Khan University

January 11, 2018

Dear Friends, Alumni and Supporters,

2018 marks the 35th year since the founding of the Aga Khan University and we begin the year with the unveiling of a study completed last year on the economic impact of AKU in Pakistan.

The landmark study by Centennial Group International, a leading international strategy and policy consulting firm based in Washington DC and comprising former World Bank economists and executives, refers to AKU as “a national innovator and a powerhouse for quality; a nationwide role model for high-quality tertiary education and medical care,” and lauds the University for its role as the premier higher education institution in Pakistan. The study quantified AKU’s contribution as an educator, a pioneering healthcare provider, an employer, a research hub, an international gateway, and a compassionate supporter to those in need.

The report shows that in 2015 (the latest year data was available when Centennial began its work in 2016), the Aga Khan University generated more than US$1 billion or PKRs 103 billion in economic value for Pakistan. It notes that the University generates its economic impact in a variety of ways. By providing high-quality education, it increases the earning power of its alumni. By providing outstanding healthcare to 1.3 million individuals annually, it keeps people healthy and productive. And as a major purchaser of goods and services, it generates revenues for businesses and jobs for people across the country. AKU supports 42,000 jobs – both directly and indirectly – and its spending also has a multiplier effect: for every rupee of its direct value added, it generates 7.3 rupees in economic benefits.

The report clearly demonstrates that beyond the highly qualified graduates, the generation of new knowledge and the delivery of quality healthcare, AKU makes an enormous impact on the economic well-being of Pakistan. This contribution of AKU would not have been possible without the vision and guidance of our Founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, and the generosity of donors, partners, alumni, supporters and volunteers.

We express our deep gratitude to each of you for your commitment and unwavering support. I am sure you will read the report (available here) with great pride as you see evidence of how your University can not only address the the most vexing problems in our communities, but also add value to the economy.

With my best wishes for the new year,

Firoz Rasul
President.

Date posted: January 15, 2017.

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The Centenial Group’s report on the Aga Khan University can be downloaded by clicking on AKU’s Economic Impacts in Pakistan.

Firoz Rasul PortraitMr. Firoz Rasul has served as President of the Aga Khan University (AKU) since May 1, 2006. Prior to his engagement with AKU, President Rasul was involved in building several business enterprises and the development of social and community institutions. He served as Chief Executive Officer and then Chairman of Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in fuel cell technology from December 1988 until May 2004.

Between 2000 and 2006, he was President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, where he led the development of several large-scale projects for the Aga Khan Development Network, including The Global Centre of Pluralism in Ottawa and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

As a business leader, he was named the 2001 National Transportation Person of the Year by the Government of Canada, and Wilfred Laurier University’s School of Business and Economics recognized him with its Outstanding Business Leader award.

Mr Rasul received a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and an MBA from McGill University in Montreal. Mr Rasul was conferred with the Degree of Doctors of Laws, honoris causa, by Simon Fraser University in 2001. 

In 11 years as AKU’s president, Mr Rasul has been instrumental in developing a rich partnership with the University of Alberta that has created opportunities for exchange and collaboration for students, professors and researchers at both universities. On June 8, 2017, the University conferred on him an honorary Doctorate of Science. 

 

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Hunza: An Eyewitness Account

We convey Salgirah* Mubarak to all Ismailis and friends of the Ismailis on the occasion of the 81st birthday of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, who is currently visiting Pakistan for his Diamond Jubilee. At the age of 81, His Highness is the oldest serving Imam in Ismaili history, since the time of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali (a.s.). We are pleased to publish on http://www.barakah.com an account of the Darbar of the Aga Khan that took place on Sunday, December 10, 2017, in Aliabad, Hunza. The piece was specially contributed for Barakah by Faqir Ullah Khan of Hunza.

PLEASE CLICK: His Highness the Aga Khan in Pakistan: Zahiri-u-Noorani didar – A personal reflection of the darbar in Hunza

A panoramic view of the Didargah or the Darbar grounds in Aliabad Hunza where the Aga Khan graced his followers with his Didar (lit. glimpse) on December 10, 2017.

Date posted: December 13, 2017.

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* In Urdu, Salgirah is used for the occasion of someone’s birthday.

 

The Aga Khan: An Icon of Thought, Philosophy and Action – A Tribute by James Wolfensohn

HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN

“It is the extraordinary sense of humanity that he has. The great depth of real feeling for real people wherever they find themselves in society. He is a holy man. He is the leader of his faith. He’s a man who represents the very best in Islam.” — READ MORE

PLEASE CLICK: The Aga Khan Stands Out as an Icon of Action
by James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (1995-2005)

Photo: Photo: Vivian Rozsa. Copyright. Please click on image for tribute.

Photo: Vivian Rozsa. Copyright. Please click on image for tribute.

“With Our Own Hands” – Nairobi’s Shariffa Keshavjee Reflects on an Astonishingly Beautiful Book About the People, Food and Life in the Pamirs

“In this region no guest is a foreigner and every visitor is warmly welcomed and enjoys amazing hospitality. Food prepared from the heart is a labour of love…As I read and re-read the book, I feel that the earth itself compressed to make a safe haven for these very special people who truly live in harmony with mother earth. Similar to the way the animals live in the Ngorongoro Crater.” — Shariffa Keshavjee

“With Our Own Hands” by Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider

Front cover

Front cover “With Our Own Hands,” 686 pages. Foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales.

REVIEWED BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

I have not visited high mountain regions of the Pamirs bordering Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China, but these lands have always fascinated me .

I was fortunate to have laid hands on this beautiful and monumental book in Kenya. Reading and re-reading this tome connected me with the food and life in the Pamir mountains

It is special thrill to open a new book that contains many well annotated pictures. As I open a crisp fresh leaf of the book, I am delighted to see a familiar leaf, a man shielding himself with a rhubarb leaf. Yes, indeed, how hot and bright the sun must be must be up in the land locked mountains. I only knew rhubarb leaves as poisonous for gerbils!

Countries bordering the Pamirs are not that well known and this book is particularly welcome to expose the lands that straddle Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan where the Karakoram Pass snakes its way into the snow. In this region no guest is a foreigner and every visitor is warmly welcomed and enjoys amazing hospitality. Food prepared from the heart is a labour of love.

Using a wild rhubarb leaf as his parasol, a traveller shields his face against the strong sun of the high Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan. Photo/Caption: With Our Own Hands

Using a wild rhubarb leaf as his parasol, a traveller shields his face against the strong sun of the high Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan. Photo/Caption: With Our Own Hands

Beyond the peaks of the Pamirs are the cold deserts of Central Asia, China and Afghanistan, all part of the old silk road — the route that was the rich centre of trade and culture. Now that air travel is the norm, technology and curiosity bring us closer to our brothers and sisters in the Pamirs.

It was a delight to read Prince Charles’ forward in ” With Our Own Hands.” He has said it all — the hard seminal work of documentation, preservation and most of all making this work available in English, Dari and Tajik.

I loved the wonderful pictures of the beautiful faces of the people in the Pamir region. I was delighted to have met them when I was in Paris, and to hear the songs and watch the graceful dances of the region.

Bedona mulberries. Some of the berries have pink or purple streaks. Photo:

Bedona mulberries. Some of the berries have pink or purple streaks. Photo: “With Our Own Hands.”

The features of the people are such a contrast; the soft features so delicate and fine in the young, the rugged ones in the not so young exposed to the elements. These people show resilience of spirit. Their close connection with the earth on a daily basis is a sense of joy. I can relate this somewhat to us here in Nairobi, where some people are beginning to grow their own vegetables, to avoid pesticides and genetically modified seeds. There is a movement in Kenya taking us back to more organic foods. For the people of the Pamirs, their seeds are sacrosanct, untarnished by greed.

I myself am particularly aware of how fast we are losing many foods that I used to eat, that my grandfather grew on his farm in Muhoroni, near Lake Victoria in the Rift Valley. Now I know why I feel a connection to the Pamirs.

Change is inevitable. My aunt used to make Bursoq, called gulgulia. All over the world similar sweet dishes are a treat — baklava, bursoq, gulab jamuns, the list goes on. How much we share how much in common we have.

In the Pamirs, we have young people, with their hopes and aspirations, their varied languages of English, Russian, Dari, Tajik, Urdu, and Pamiri. One foot steeped in tradition and one in the modern world , a perfect place to balance between the sacred and a world so mesmerised by the material one.

with-our-own-hands-apricots-photos-and-caption

In the changing human environment the people in the Pamirs are balanced between their tradition and outside influence. Perfect time to savour the idea that no visitor is a stranger here in the mountainous terrain. Guests are honoured and feted. They eat food that is in season, a culture lost to us with export of food and refrigeration. We know, however, that the food that is in season is good for us. It was a strong belief of my great-grandfather who worked in our farm in Muhoroni.

Special foods are also a sign of celebration. In Ismaili ginans, special foods are mentioned, “ghee thi nitarta bhojan banavie, una una rotla ne Markhan knavravie…” ‘

Prince Charles aptly says ‘ the march of globalisation ‘, has crushed our traditions under foot. This book is a testimony to the perilous present juxtaposed with the resilient knowledge of the past.

Authors Jamila Haider and Frederik van Oudenhoven.

Authors Jamila Haider and Frederik van Oudenhoven.

School Teachers with their own copy of With Our Own Hands

The authors ensured that each of the 1800 communities of the Pamirs received a copy of “With Our Own Hands.”

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The authors ensured that each of the 1800 communities of the Pamirs received a copy of “With Our Own Hands.” In this photo, schoolgirls in the Bartang valley are standing with a copy of the book. The authors have noted that they were received time and time again with the warmest hospitality one could ever imagine. Photo: Facebook page, PamirFoodandLife.

“With Our Own Hands” is a font of knowledge; I learnt so much about mulberries, which grow in my back yard but I did not know they could be dried. I now see them with different eyes. I learnt about the use of apricots, always a rare dish at our table. As siblings we would enjoy cracking the seed so delicately as to obtain a whole nut. We used out brass pestle and mortar.

Water is such a precious commodity that it has angels looking after it. The channels once established widen and give. The people then become so close to their water source. What a beautiful concept for those who turn on the faucet without any reverence.

In the book, I continue to enjoy the sun blessed rugged mountains of the Pamirs, and the beautiful faces of the people. The earth in its longing for human company. As we prepare to celebrate Navroz on March 21, know that we are together in hope, love and celebration. We too are part of the climate change — a colder winter here in Kenya, although our waters do not freeze as does the Panj River. Together our resilience and faith is stronger than the not so clement weather!

Back cover With Our Own Hands

Back cover “With Our Own Hands”

I love the cucumber story in the Wakhan Valley! We too, in Kenya eat the root of the Arrrow Root, (ARVI) and not the leaves. Now as we become multi-cultural, we eat the root and the leaves!!! We make our Qorma with green grams and eat it with chapatis. Yes, culinary art is ever changing and we enjoy foods from far and wide and origins of our foods become seamless. In Kenya the idea of juicing all green vegetables is quite in vogue to fight non-communicable diseases.

As I read and re-read the book, I feel that the earth itself compressed to make a safe haven for these very special people who truly live in harmony with mother earth. Similar to the way the animals live in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Thank you brothers and sisters of the Pamirs for preserving, and practicing your resilient knowledge which is is a repository of timeless knowledge. Thank you Frederick and Jamila for bringing the knowledge to us here in Africa where we too invoke Bismillah at the beginning of each event.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee/Simerg.

Date posted: January 11, 2017.

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Note: Simerg had obtained limited quantities of “With Our Own Hands” from its Canadian distributors, UBC Press. We quickly sold out, and the book is now out of print. However, the book may be purchased from resellers at Amazon at US$80.00 and up! – ed.

Premji Vaghela, Now a Centenarian, Shares Early Memories of Cricket in Dar-es-Salaam and a Rare Historical Photo of His Highness the Aga Khan

Editor’s note: Naren Varambhia, an avid reader of Simerg residing in London, England, recently brought to our attention a piece on cricket which Premji Vaghela had contributed for a “Dar-es-Salaam Jambo Reunion” that took place in Toronto, Canada, on August 9-10, 1997.

Mr. Premji Vaghela is now a hundred years old and lives in Toronto, Canada: Photo: Premji Vaghela Collection. Copyright.

Mr. Premji Vaghela is now a hundred years old and lives in Toronto, Canada: Photo: Premji Vaghela Collection. Copyright.

We are pleased to publish this highly interesting piece after contacting Mr. Vaghela’s sons, Rajnikant and Niranjan of London and Toronto respectively. We learnt from them that their beloved father has been living in Toronto since 1985, and that the family celebrated his 100th birthday last December! We offer our good wishes to Mr. Vaghela and his entire family for this blessing of a long life.

Both Rajni and Niru mentioned that they have stayed in touch with several Dar-es-Salaam cricketers, including Ismaili cricketers Hasnu Kalyan, Mamda Kassam and Badru Bhamji who played for the Aga Khan Club and Tanzanian national cricket squad for many years.

We are indebted to Mr. Vaghela’a family for this memorable and historical piece, which includes a very rare photo of the 48th Imam of Ismaili Muslims, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, meeting cricketers Mamda Kassam and Premji Vaghela, among others, at Dar-es-Salaam’s Gymkhana cricket ground.

Mr. Premji Vaghela was awarded the cup on the left for scoring 150 runs in a cricket match. The plaque on the right was given to him for his contribution to the Hindu Sports Club. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

Mr. Premji Vaghela was awarded the cup on the left for scoring 150 runs in a cricket match. The plaque on the right was given to him for his contribution to the Hindu Sports Club. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

My School Days and Cricket

BY PREMJI VAGHELA 

I was born in Dar es Salaam in 1915 when the British were bombing Dar, when it was under German rule, and the people took shelter in the Jangwani Creek.

I started playing cricket bare-footed at the age of seven with a tennis ball and a locally made wooden bat. Dar streets were our  playgrounds and street lamp posts or dust-bins were our wickets. Those days, in the early twenties, the streets were safe to play in as there were no cars — only rickshaws. Few cars were seen after 1931.

I studied in a Gujarati school called Lokmanya Tilak Memorial School, where Arya Sukh Shanti Lodge is presently situated. After 1918, Tanganyika was called British Protected Territory. The Indian Central School (ICS) was built by the Government in 1929. All the teachers were recruited from India. All the students — boys and  girls — from Tilak school were transferred to this new school. The first headmaster of the new school was Mr. N. O. Mody, a very strict disciplinarian He introduced cricket in the school. It was this school that supplied the most cricketers to all the communal teams in Dar-es-Salaam till 1960.

I earned my name as a bowler and batsman. My first century came in 1932 against the Punjebhai Club (later known as the Aga Khan Club). We did well in the League Tournament. In the knockout tournament in 1934, the school came in the final against the British Gymkhana Club. I scored 150 runs and we piled up a huge score of over 300 runs. We won the knock-out Cup.

In 1932, Mr. A.A. M  Isherwood, then the Director of Education, donated a cup called the “Isherwood Cup”* (see note below) for cricket to be competed by the schools in Dar. There were only two schools at that time: the ICS and the Aga Khan School. We won the trophy  in 1932. It was a coincidence that in 1956 — almost after 25 years —  my son Rajni, when he was school captain, brought the same trophy home. I left the school in 1935. The school had a very good reputation in cricket.

Please click on photo for enlargement

His Highness the Aga Khan (1877 - 1957), 48th Imam of Ismailis, meeting with Mamda Kassam, Premji Vaghela and others at the Gymkhana Cricket Ground in Dar-es-Salaam. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan (1877 – 1957), 48th Imam of Ismailis, meeting with Mamda Kassam, Premji Vaghela and others at the Gymkhana Cricket Ground in Dar-es-Salaam. Photo: Premji Vaghela Family Collection. Copyright.

In 1936, I joined the Indian Sports Club. At that time there were few teams competing in the League Tournament – the “Sachu Pira Shield”. One of the conditions of League matches was that whichever team won for three consecutive years, would retain the Shield forever. In 1936, 1937 and 1938, the Indian Sports Club were the winners and won the Shield permanently. Today, the Shield is on  display in G.M. Sulemanji’s Hardware shop window on Independence Avenue (then Acacia Avenue).

Many young and promising players were coming out from the school, and there were not sufficient teams to accommodate them.  Consequently, the Indian Sports Club was split into two communal teams: the Hindus and the Bohras. The Goans, the Ithnasharis and the Aga Khan teams were already there. By 1940, many other teams cropped up; Punjab Sports Club, the Maratha Mandal, Sinhalese Sports Club  and Malabar Sports Club were new additions. Customs Sports Club and the P.W.D. also joined the cricket competition. The Khalsas and the Goans were the main hockey rivals.

On match days, the whole Asian population turned out on the Gymkhana and the Government Service cricket grounds which were adjacent to each other. The whole atmosphere was like festivals. Machunga (oranges), makai (corn), madafu (coconut), sekela-bafela jugu  (fried-boiled peanuts) and ndhizi (plantains) were always in demand.

I must also mention names of two Englishmen: Mr. F. H. Woodrow, the Director of P.W.D, and Mr. Hudson, the Commissioner of Customs and Excise. They both took keen interest in promoting cricket. There were not enough cricket grounds in Dar then. Mr. Woodrow gave the P.W.D. ground, and Karimjee donated the Bohra’s ground. I consider it only fair to mention the name of Seth Abdulkarim Y.A. Karimjee, of the wealthy and philanthropic Karimjee Jivanjee family. He always supported the cause of cricket  in Dar. He was a good cricketer himself and a thorough sportsman. He was kind, helpful and unassuming.

I should not also forget the grand old man, Count Kassum Sunderji Samji, who donated trophies to cricket and tennis competitions in Dar. He always supported sports one way or the other.

Cricket was the most popular sport in Dar. The competitors were keen and played in high spirit. Sometimes, the communal tension was high, particularly when the Hindus and the Aga Khan Clubs were playing. At times the police were called to control the overenthusiastic supporters of both sides! However, on and off the field, the personal relationship between the players was always cordial and friendly.

Cricket was also played in Mwanza, Tabora, Dodoma, Moshi and Tanga. Cricket was particularly popular in schools and carried on by kids playing in the streets.

Perhaps the most enjoyable competition, for almost all cricketers, was when Dar and Zanzibar used to visit each other every year in early August. Every alternate year we used to play in Zanzibar and vice versa. Many tourists used to accompany the teams and create considerable excitement and jubilation, just like a big festival!

In order to strengthen their side during the final or critical stage in the competition, it was a practice among certain teams to import players from Zanzibar, Mombasa and other centres, during the weekends. Such practices later on were banned by the Dar-es-Salaam Cricket Association.

Unfortunately, the status of cricket has changed considerably due to various reasons: shortage of cricket grounds, lack of encouragement in schools and the high cost of cricket gear·. Considering all these factors, I think cricket will eventually die out in Dar. This is the unfortunate reality of life.

During my cricket career in Dar-es-Salaam, I scored five centuries and taken a great many wickets. These were, undoubtedly, the happiest years of my life.

Date posted: June 5, 2016.

Copyright: Premji Vaghela.

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*The Isherwood cup was played in Dar for many years until the late 1960’s. The editor of this blog played in the Isherwood cup for Shabaan Robert from 1967-1969, and featured prominently in the school’s victories during the 3 year period. Pranlal Divecha and Tahir along with Ismaili brothers Shiraz and Abdul Sumar were the top ranked players for Shabaan Robert when they shockingly defeated the favourites Aga Khan Secondary in the 1965 semi-finals/finals. All four went on to play for the Tanzanian squad. Prior to 1965, the cup was dominated for several years by Aga Khan School, whose arch rival was Azania School, located near Muhimbili Hospital. All rounder John Solanki was one of the most well-known players for Aga Khan Secondary — the all-rounder went on to play for England’s county team, Glamorgan, during the 1970’s. By 1971, the Isherwood cup became a non-entity, as there wasn’t any competitive spirit or interest left in the game at the school level. We will be happy to receive an update on the state of Tanzanian school cricket today, and whether the Isherwood has been revived– ed. 

Share your cricket memories of Dar-es-Salaam and other parts of East Africa. Click Leave a comment or write/send photos to Simerg@aol.com. All correspondence will be promptly acknowledged.

What is the state of cricket in Dar-es-Salaam today? Has cricket become a mainstream sport? Please submit your feedback at Leave a comment.

“With Our Own Hands” – An Intriguing Cookbook from the Pamirs by Frederik van Oudenhoven & Jamila Haider

“It doesn’t often happen that one needs to find superlatives to describe a book. For ‘With Our Own Hands’, an entirely unique book about the hard life and beautiful culture in the Pamir Mountains, it is inevitable. In size, rigor and thoughtfulness [this book] has  become a touching piece of art.” — Geerdt Magiels, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

PLEASE CLICK The Story of a Beautiful and Intriguing Cookbook from the Pamirs

Co-Author holding "With Our Own Hands"Frederik van Oudenhoven with his multi-year effort “With Our Own Hands.”  Please click on image for story about the award-winning book.

“This…may be one of the most beautiful books I have ever read..!”– Frénk van der Linden….Read More

“You know…the design really is perfect – people touch the book and stroke it, and it is as if there is no distance between them and the pages. The book pulls them into their own world…it’s very touching to see.” — Facebook Friend….Read More

With a foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales, authors Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider provide an intimate portrait of the Afghan and Tajik Pamiri people and the forbidding mountains that are their home. Through the lens of ancient recipes, stories and essays, and accompanied by the work of three award-winning photographers, the book tells about Pamiri food and agricultural traditions, people’s daily lives, their struggles and celebrations.

With Our Own Hands appears in a single three-language edition, with English, Dari and Tajik. The choice to make a book in which these three languages are combined was inspired by the authors’ commitment to return a copy to each of the 1800 communities, schools and libraries in the Pamirs. Read More

Reminiscences of Two Great Ismaili Missionaries of the 20th Century – Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary

“[Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary] drew all their courage and strength from their intense and ardent practice of Ibadat and went out to accomplish their missions with intelligence and knowledge, and with the firm belief that the help of Hazar Imam was always with them.”

A youthful portrait of the Ismaili missionary, Meghji Maherali (1881 – 1941), of Mombasa, Kenya. Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

BY IZAT VELJI

My profound gratitude and thanks [to the late Ameer Janmohamed] for sharing so much about Pir Sabzali – it is indeed a living history. The personal comments and recollections made his Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali all the more interesting and real. The group picture shown below of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah with Ismaili missionaries astonished me because there in the photo staring back at me is my nanabapa [maternal grandfather]. I happen to be the proud grand-daughter of Missionary Meghji Maherali, seated at the extreme left in the centre row. In the same row, third from right, is Pir Sabzali.

Every time missionary Pir Sabzali came into Mombasa, he never left without visiting nanabapa. The two had ever so much to share. There was no rivalry, competition or one-upmanship between them. This was very evident from everything that my mother, Noorbanu, shared with us kids.

Mum said that at the dining table, Pir Sabzali and nanabapa shared stories about their travels and advised and helped each other on how to improve each other’s skills in establishing the various jamats they visited. They also discussed ways of improving their waezes [sermons] and participation in discussions so as to become more effective. Apparently, there was a lot of gentleness and warmth as well as mutual respect between them, and they had a soft sense of humour when they recounted personal anecdotes. It seems like they really fed off each other. Pir Sabzali would relay messages of blessings to nanabapa’s family from Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Please click to enlarge and read caption. Photo: (Late) Ameer Janmohamed Collection. UK.

Later, they would retire to the front room where nanima would send a tray of chai and ‘goodies’ via my mum, who was then seven or eight years old. She remembered all this with so much pride and joy. My mum passed away in 2000. She said that the two missionaries would sit for hours apparently discussing all matters Ibadat (special worship prayers).

They drew all their courage and strength from their intense and ardent practice of Ibadat and went out to accomplish their missions with intelligence and knowledge, and with the firm belief that the help of Hazar Imam was always with them. With missionary Sabzali’s encouragement and help, nanabapa established a school of waezins in Mombasa, one of his recruits being my father, Noordin Koorjee. Even back then, our missionary leaders practised ‘succession planning’ so that Imam’s work would not come to a standstill after they passed on.

These two ashaqs [devotees] were very sincere in their service to Mawla, and deeply loyal to their Mashuq (the lord of the devotee).

STANDING BACK ROW- l to r: Missionary’s sons Gulamhussein, Fatehali, Sherali, Hussein; 2nd child Mehdi Gulamali is not in picture; SITTING ON CHAIRS – l to r: Daughters Khatija, Fatma, Missionary Meghji Maherali, wife Zainub with Hussein’s 3rd child Shirin, Hussein’s wife, Sikina; SITTING ON FLOOR – l to r: Dolat – Hussein’s 1st child, daughter Noorbanu (mother of Izat Velji, author of this article). Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

When Pir Sabzali’s health deteriorated and he was in his last days, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent him a message saying that he still wished to send Sabzali to Africa. Missionary Sabzali died a few days later. This came verbally from my parents, not once but several times. I have no way of authenticating this statement, but if it’s true then only Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mawlana Shah Karim, the present Imam, would know the true import and reach of this message to Pir Sabzali.

When nanabapa died, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent a telegram to the Mombasa Council that “Missionary Meghji’s funeral be held with a lot of pomp because of Meghji’s long and wonderful service to the Mombasa jamat.” So, out came the Scouts Band, all spit and polish followed by the cubs and scouts troops followed by the jamat giving kandh to nanabapa all the way from Chief jamat khana to the cemetery. That’s a long distance.

Today, almost eighty years later, I stand head bowed, in sheer admiration for nanabapa and Missionary Sabzali, whose soul was granted Piratan by Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah. Incidents and events like these are simply overwhelming and sometimes difficult to grasp and comprehend. It is their spirit and devotion which keep the Jamat inspired.

Copyright: Izat Velji/Simerg.

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Editor’s note: Izat Velji’s piece originally appeared on this website in response to Ameer Janmohamed’s Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali and the Ismaili Pirs of the Ginanic Tradition, which was  published as part of this website’s highly acclaimed third anniversary series on thanking Ismaili historical figures.

We welcome your feedback – please click Leave a comment.

About the writer: Izat Velji spent her early childhood years in Kenya and Tanzania. After completing her secondary schooling in Kenya, she pursued a degree in education and teaching at the University of Nairobi. She then settled in Canada where she completed her degree in Medical Lab Sciences. Later, she was recruited into the faculty of the Aga Khan School of Nursing in Karachi where she taught a number of science subjects including Clinical Microbiology and Basic Immunology. During her tenure in Karachi, she was very fortunate to have met His Highness the Aga Khan who visited her lab and class, once with the late Pakistani President Zia ul-Haqq, and on another occasion with his brother Prince Amyn. Encouraged by her husband, Izat also undertook voluntary assignments with the Aga Khan Health Board for Karachi to develop, conduct feasibilities as well as implement Health Education materials for the province of Sindh and the Northern Areas of Pakistan including Hunza and Chitral. The material that she helped prepare continues to be used today by AKDN Agencies such as Focus in their teaching modules. Since returning to Canada, Izat has been very active with the Ismaili community as a volunteer and especially with the Duke of Edinburgh’s program for youth aged 14 to 25. Most recently in 2011, she was acknowledged by the Governor General at the Gold Award Ceremony.

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Fascinating Midwife and Nursing Stories from East Africa, as Mawlana Hazar Imam Arrives for Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremonies

BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE
Special to Simerg

Midwives are frontline health care providers playing a vital role in reducing maternal mortality. The Aga Khan Hospital’s Nursing and Midwifery Service is committed to providing effective and efficient care to meet the needs of its patients. The Service delivers a high standard of patient care that is intended to exceed expectations of patients, families and the local community. Nurses are trained on a regular basis to cope with technological advances and societal complexities.Photo: The Aga Khan Hospital for Women, Karimabad

Midwives are frontline health care providers playing a vital role in reducing maternal mortality. The Aga Khan Hospital’s Nursing and Midwifery Service is committed to providing effective and efficient care to meet the needs of its patients. The Service delivers a high standard of patient care that is intended to exceed expectations of patients, families and the local community. Nurses are trained on a regular basis to cope with technological advances and societal complexities. Photo: The Aga Khan Hospital for Women, Karimabad

Editor’s note: In a recent piece for Simerg, Shariffa Keshavhejee enlightened our readers with The Amazing Story of Kundan Paatni: A Graduate of the Aga Khan Nursing School in Nairobi in the 1960s which included rare pictures of His Highness the Aga Khan. In this new exclusive essay, which coincides with the arrival of Mawlana Hazar Imam to East Africa to preside over the Aga Khan University Convocation in Dar-es-Salaam (February 24, 2015), Kampala (February 26), and Nairobi (March 2), Shariffa tells us contrasting tales of midwifery and nursing from decades earlier, including that of her own birth.

Midwife Noor Banu

My friend Mala Pandurang told me of an Ismaili Khoja midwife who delivered three of her children at home in Bukoba. She was called Noor Banu, the only Asian midwife in the locality. Mala’s search to get more information about Noorbanu at the British colonial office drew a blank. She is now looking at links from India to see if any of the midwives came from the  nursing institutions started by the British early 20th century. Child birthing was associated as unclean, and hence the Hindu women who joined these professions were of the lower castes. Mala also wants to know if any of the midwives were spinsters/widows.

Zarin Jivanjee and Midwife Asbaimasi

Zarin Jivanjee was born at home in 1943 in Nagara. Her house was a traditional Indian home with a fario (deck) in the center where all activities happened — drying clothes, lentils and making large amounts of food.  Midwife Asbaimasi came home. She was old, and well known even by prominent families such as Sir Eboo Pirbhai. Asbaimasi also prescribed herbal medicines for aches, pains, colds, digestive problems, rashes. In her window there was black thread. For each complaint. she would give a thread and a powder. She lived in River Road and had to be summoned at birth. There was a Dr.Anderson but the treatment given by Asbaimasi was more effective and preferred.

Shirinbai, Fatmabai, Roshankhanu and Khatibai

Shirinbai Juma born in 1934 in Jugu Lane. The midwife came home.

Fatmabai was born in Kathiawar, her family came from Harravad.  There was a bai who came to deliver at home. She was given five and a half rupees for delivery.

Roshankhanu Jiwa Nathoo was born in 1935 in Kisii. In Kisii too children were born at home The midwife was an old Nubian lady who was very well versed.

Khatibai Mohamed was born in Jugu Lane in the centre of Nairobi. She would go home and the staff would help with the hot water and cleaning up. If there was a miscarriage, she could not remember what would happen.

The Impact of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Farmans

Portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. Photo: US Library of Congress.

Portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. Photo: US Library of Congress.

I was told by Dr. Sultan Somjee, the author of Bead Bai, that there was a farman (guidance) of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957) telling the Ismaili community to take up nursing and not to look down on the profession. Thereafter many Ismaili women trained as nurses that included midwifery. We called them collectively as naaras and not nurse. Fatma naaras was well known in Nairobi. Indeed Somji’s book begins with Birth Stories (Chapter II) told by midwife of old Nairobi, Jugu Bazaar. Now, the Aga Khan Hospitals/University have nursing as priority programmes.

The Story of Shirin

Shirin Cassam Keshavjee was inspired by the 48th Imam’s farman. She joined Witwatersrand University (Whits), South Africa, to train as a nurse and then as a midwife. However she could not practice nursing near her home, being a person of colour.

Fortunately for Shirin, she heard an announcement in the Pretoria Jamatkhana that they were looking to employ a nurse in the Aga Khan Clinic in Kisumu. Lucky for Shirin, her uncle, Habib Keshavjee, was off to East Africa with his family.

So Shirin joined Habib Keshavjee’s family for the trip. She came to Nairobi and proceeded to Kisumu to live with the family of my grandfather, Count Hasham Jamal. Here Shirin was to change the face of midwifery in the Nyanza District. She was the first ever qualified midwife.

She was appalled at the state of the women and the new born child. Her kind hearted and soft spoken manner brought mothers from all over the district of Nyanza, Homa Bay, Kindu Bay, Kissii, Kimlili, and all the way from Kampala too!

She explained early care of the child, sanitation, breast feeding, sterilization, diet of mother and child. Shirin then married my cousin, Amir Shamji. Thus began the liaison. Now there are five Keshavjees, married to five Jamals!! Shirin Shamji (nee Keshavjee) lives in Toronto.

A midwife in Upper Egypt holding a kulleh pot. Also known as the goollah, it is a porous water-jar of sun-dried Nile mud. Photo Credit: Winifred S. Blackman/ Wellcome Library Image, London.

A midwife in Upper Egypt holding a kulleh pot. Also known as the goollah, it is a porous water-jar of sun-dried Nile mud. Photo Credit: Winifred S. Blackman/ Wellcome Library Image, London.

‘Laxmi’ Jenab Nanjee

The following story was narrated by Jenab Nanjee to her daughter-in-law, Nuri Abdul, daughter of Madatali Suleiman Verjee

“I was born in Jugu Lane now called Gulzar Street on Sunday, August 20, 1930. It was my grandfather’s house, Madatali Suleiman Verjee. It  was customary to go to your parents house at the time of birth.

“My mother was in her final days of pregnancy. She was ready now to go to her parental home for Khoro Bharavo. Khoro is the lap. Bharavo is to make full. This is a ceremony filled with abundance on the lap of the new mother. A special prayer is recited and the expectant mother’s mother prepares a coconut and some sweet meats to take to Jamatkhana to make sacred this time of birth. The new mother usually wears green as a symbol of plenty and of happiness.

“A European nurse, a qualified midwife was asked to come home for delivery. This was a privilege of the wealthy. ( I wonder what happened to the not so wealthy)

“I was born on a Sunday. My grandfather was very happy and pleased that a ‘laxmi’, a daughter was born to his daughter. Sometimes a daughter was a bad omen. Suleiman Verjee saw this as a sign of prosperity. He gave me the first gursurdhi  jaggery mixed with water. A sweet drink to  bring sweetness into my life. He gave me the name of Jenab, a name of one of the wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (s.a.s).

“My mother and I stayed at my grandfathers house for a month. This was so that my mother could be helped with my first initial upbringing and that my mother would regain her strength. At this time the family visited my mother and she was given many gifts called ‘chati’.

“Customarily it was significant that Mrs Suleiman Verjee was given such good care, received many gifts and that she had the care of a qualified midwife. Jenub, now 82  lives in Nairobi.

“Now the course offered by Aga Khan University in East Africa is call Nursing and Midwifery. It leads the way in East Africa. It offers undergraduate, and graduate programmes as well as conversion and professional and continuing education courses.

“The nurses can achieve international standard, even when they are studying and are mothers. They study as they work.”

During his visit to East Africa in 2009, Mawlana Hazar Imam toured  some of the Hospital’s diagnostic services and specialist clinics.  Photo: AKDN

During his visit to East Africa in 2009, Mawlana Hazar Imam toured some of the Hospital’s diagnostic services and specialist clinics. Photo: AKDN

The Story of My Own Birth

I now share the story about my birth in Kisumu on June 1, 1946. We lived in Jamal Building facing Lake Victoria. The building was constructed on Main Street Station Road in 1945.

Now that she was full term, my mother Khatija had to move to the downstairs room. She could not deliver her baby in the upstairs room, where there was a great deal of traffic of the extended family. Besides older children Zeenat and Amina, she had a brother-in-law Amirkaka, sister-in-law Nasirbanu and of course her in-laws, Bapaji and Ma. The downstairs room was called ‘Nichlo room’.

It was already embarrassing moving down. In 1945, women or men never talked about pregnancy, welfare of the mother and so on. Expectant mothers were covered by a long dress and a pachedi (shawl) would be drawn over the head in the presence of Bapaji or any male relative.

So Khatija, my mum, was all prepared with clean sheets and extra americani sheeting for the baby. No early preparation was made for the baby. It was a bad omen to do so. No layette, no baby showers!!!

It was before 4 a.m on 1st June. Khatija hoped that Bapaji would go for his early morning prayers, so that she could ask my dad to get Sherabai Hirji, the midwife.

Sherabai was smart. She was also cheerful and kind. In her white uniform, she inspired confidence. She was very good at delivering but she did not keep medical notes such as the baby’s weight, height, and temperature. However, my mum was relieved to see the arrival of Sherabai, who was a friend and well known to the family. Seeing my mother out of bed she admonished,  “What are you doing out of bed? You are so close now, get into bed!”

As if to help, my mother said “Let me get the hot water and the sagri….open brazier, jiko.” She got another reprimand, “You are doing no such thing.” Sherabai organised the water, sheeting and towels. She was familiar with the household having brought into the world Amina and Nasirbanu just a few years earlier.

Thus I was born in the presence of midwife and nurse. Sherabai then organized a brick, which would be heated on the jiko and placed on the mother’s stomach to keep it in shape.

Sadly, I was yet another female child. This did not auger well for my mother, nor for the family. Nevertheless, there I was, plump and full of life, to be loved by all the family in Kisumu till a year later we moved to Mombasa.

Date posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee. 2015.

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Shariffa KeshavjeeAbout the writer: Shariffa Keshavjee is  a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.

Feedback: We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click Leave a comment or submit your letter to simerg@aol.com. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Links to a selection of articles by Shariffa Keshavjee on simerg and simergphotos:

  1. Bagamoyo’s Historic Ismaili Jamatkhana Through Pictures, Poetry and Prose
  2. Inferno of Alamut
  3. The Jamatkhana in Toronto — “A Seed of Faith Planted…” by Shariffa Keshavjee
  4. My Fascination with the Once “Exotic” World of Paan

Kundan Paatni: A Dedicated Nurse Shares Her Special Moments at the Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi, in the 1960s

“To my overwhelming surprise the lift door opened on to the fifth floor where I was in charge. There they were, the Aga Khan and the President. I was honoured and awed. I felt like the luckiest person on earth. I met all the dignitaries and escorted them through the impeccable ward of which we were so proud.” — Kundanben Paatni

ESSAYS AND LETTERS: The Amazing Story of Kundan Paatni: A Graduate of the Aga Khan Nursing School in Nairobi in the 1960s

His Highness the Aga Khan and the late President Jomo Kenyatta visit the Aga Khan Hospital. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

His Highness the Aga Khan and the late President Jomo Kenyatta visit the Aga Khan Hospital. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.