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.

The Modern Pace of Life and the Place of Faith and Religion – A Reflection by Farouk Topan

Simerg Post Pace of Life

THE FUNDAMENTAL MESSAGE OF RELIGION

By Dr. Farouk Topan

The pace of life today is said to be much faster than it was just a few decades ago. This is an axiom of our times. What, however, is not axiomatic is the corollary that is often assumed to stem from it, namely that spiritual value and worth get diminished in proportion to the increase of pace. It is not uncommon to hear the lament that nowadays people have no time for religion. Many people actually believe this, and that is a great pity. For religion is not a ‘thing’ one ‘does’ if one has time. Religion is a commitment, an involvement of one’s being and personality, utterly, totally and completely.

Human nature, however, accepts few commitments gladly and it abhors those which are seen as imposed externally. Some people consider religion as a process forced upon them from outside themselves. To view religion as an imposition is to misunderstand its message and its function.

The fundamental message of religion to Man is to be at peace — at peace with himself, with his fellow human beings, and at peace with his Creator; the fundamental function of religion is to enable a person to understand and to know his own nature, his environment and to begin to recognise and to know his Creator. Knowledge and peace are interlinked. One makes the attainment of the other possible and a person who attains a degree of both becomes a potential recipient of God’s most valuable gifts to Man: wisdom. Tranquility is a reflection of wisdom.

Photo: John Macdonald.

Photo: John Macdonald.

“I do not believe that we should fear material progress, nor should we condemn it. The danger is that it could become an obsession in our lives and that it could dominate our way of thinking” — Mawlana Hazar Imam [1]

“The day we no longer know how, nor have the time nor the faith to bow in prayer to Allah because the human soul that He has told us is eternal is no longer of sufficient importance to us to be worthy of an hour of our daily working, profit-seeking time, will be a sunless day of despair” — Mawlana Hazar Imam [2]

An essential aspect of knowledge is the understanding that even a tiny part of our lives cannot be isolated from what is termed ‘religion’; for religion properly understood, is nothing less – and even more –  than life itself. We, as Muslims, are not and cannot be ‘outside’ of Islam. Islam involves us completely; that, indeed, is the essence of our existence.

The realization of this simple fact is the basis for experiencing an inner calm and tranquility. Then the pace of life around a person becomes largely immaterial, and its varied speed becomes a matter of petty insignificance. This is not to underestimate the powerful attractions of the style of life prevalent in many parts of the world; it is simply to point out that, if one wants to stop oneself from being drifted away aimlessly by the currents of materialism, one can stabilize oneself through the teachings and practices of Islam.

Date posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014.

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The essay has been adapted from Ilm, Volume 2, Number 1, published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for the United Kingdom, where it appeared under the title “Islam and the Modern Pace of Life.” Excerpts from the speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan were not part of the original piece by Dr. Topan.

[1] His Highness the Aga Khan, Takht Nashini (ceremonial installation), Karachi, Pakistan, January 23, 2958.
[2] His Highness the Aga Khan, Convocation Address, Peshawar University, Pakistan, November 30, 1967.

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Links for speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan:

Aga Khan Museum’s “The Garden of Ideas” – A Fine Example of Collaboration and Partnership Between Artists, the Museum and Corporate Sponsors

“The Garden of Ideas” is a collection of fascinating, inspiring and vibrant works of art by a team of six Pakistani artists in the gallery spaces inside the Aga Khan Museum as well as outside in the Park. The exhibition received a major boost when three international corporate sponsors stepped in with a generous donation. The three sponsors, Aljomaih Group, Trimark Capital and Asharys are from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan respectively. Future sponsorships, along these lines, would immeasurably add to the hosting of other fine temporary exhibitions by outstanding local and international artists, and be a boon to the artistic community writes Malik Merchant of Simerg….Read more at Collaboration and Partnership Between Artists, the Aga Khan Museum and Corporate Sponsors

"Garden of Ideas" exhibition in the upper gallery of the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Please click for article.

“Garden of Ideas” exhibition in the upper gallery of the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Please click for article.

….AND FOR ONCE, ENTER THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM FROM THE INDOOR PARKING LEVEL AND BE WELCOMED BY ENCHANTING ART WORK

This magnificent display of ever changing panaromic display of images welcomes  visitors to the Aga Khan Museum as they enter its doors from the indoor parking garage. The parking level provides excellent resting facilities for Museum guests. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

This magnificent panoramic display of ever changing images welcomes visitors to the Aga Khan Museum as they enter its doors from the indoor parking garage. The parking level also provides excellent resting facilities for Museum guests. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.