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

BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE
Special to Simerg

Kundan bahen reminiscing. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee

Kundanben reminiscing after 55 years. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee

This is a revealing story with pictures of Kundan Paatni (nee Shah), a dedicated nurse who qualified from the Aga Khan School of Nursing and served at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi in the 1960’s. Kundan’s story is appropriate in light of the 2015 Aga Khan University, East Africa, Convocation which is being held in Dar-es-Salaam (February 24, 2015), Kampala (February 26) and Nairobi (March 2). The convocation will be presided over by  the Patron and Chancellor of the University, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan.

Kundanben Pattni recalled her days at the Aga Khan Nursing School Programme in the 1960s by sharing with me photos from her archives. Kundan has been running The Woman’s Shop at Sarit Centre for many years, and many a rare item has been found here – from needles to yarns, fabrics to high quality scissors, her shop is a draftsmanship paradise.

His Highness the Aga Khan presenting a certificate to a nurse, while other nurses await their turn. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

His Highness the Aga Khan presenting a certificate to a nurse, while other nurses await their turn. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

Kundanben was born and raised in Mombasa. She is an alumnae of the Coast Girls High School. Her parents lived in Mombasa. At the end of her high school she would have liked to go to England to further her career. As all caring parents, her father did not want her to leave the country. England was just too far away. Luck was on the ambitious girl’s side. Her parents moved to Nairobi. Here she had the opportunity to pursue a career of nursing at the Aga Khan Hospital, under the administration of Mr. McBride.

The Aga Khan Hospital, now Aga Khan University Hospital (AKU) boasted a state of the art School for Nursing. The graduates were proud of their great success, as well as proud of the ethics and compassion with which they were endowed.

The young Kundanben. left, with her white gloves which were a necessity when serving dignitaries.  Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives

The young Kundanben. left, with her white gloves which were a necessity when serving dignitaries. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives

Kundanben recalls with pride the smart uniforms they had and the wonderful residence where they had a room to themselves, or a shared room. The training was excellent and very thorough. There was excellent food that even catered to vegetarians. They had access to good reading material. They generally lived under healthy rules which included retiring at ten, when it was “lights out.”

Over the weekend they could visit home. They had a well grounded ethos — the discipline of hard work, compassion and dedication to the cause of nursing. For, she said, “nursing was a calling.” It has been a profession that has never paid well.

From the team, she specially recalled Benie, a deeply compassionate person. The matron was an exemplary role model. Those were days of true dedication to patient care, it was not just a job.

She reminisced, recalling names of Kamar Verjee (nee Nathani), Mariam Gangji who passed on recently, Nurjehan Nanji who is successfully running her own Homes and Health Care facilities in Canada which cater for Alzheimer’s patients.

When Kundan found the love of her life, her concerned parents almost moved her out of Nursing School, but the matron intervened and Kundanben was able to complete her nursing career.

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

Kundanben, front left,  in a group photo taken in 1966 at the Aga Khan Hospital with His Highness the Aga Khan, Foreign Minister Njoroge Mungai and President Jomo Kenyatta. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

Kundanben recalls the visit of His Highness the Aga Khan to the Hospital in 1960s. She says:

“We were allocated different floors for this very special visit. The Aga Khan was to be accompanied by none other than our President, Jomo Kenyatta. Two such dignitaries at the same time accompanied by Mr.McBride, our administrator, was indeed very special. We were posted on various floors so that we could escort the VIPs through the wards.

His Highness the Aga Khan visiting the hospital. Photo: Kunden Paatni Archives.

His Highness the Aga Khan walking through the Aga Khan Hospital corridor. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

“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.

His Highness the Aga Khan in a group photo with nurses. Photo: Kunden Paatni Archives.

His Highness the Aga Khan in a group photo with nurses. Photo: Kundan Paatni Archives.

“We were also present at the opening ceremony of the new building, at the graduation ceremony, and the opportunity to take a group photo with dignitaries. It made all of us feel proud and an important part of the Aga Khan Hospital. What memorable days those were!

“Once when I was on duty on the physiotherapy room, the heavy rains flooded the room. We were not deterred. We picked up the hems of our uniforms and waded through the water. After all we were on duty. We were a diligent and dedicated lot.”

These are some of the fond memories of doing a job with an institution with high standards. There was no place for mediocrity. Kundanben did marry the love of her life, and has a happy family. When she and her husband moved to Zambia she was easily able to work as a nursing sister in a hospital. Their move to Arusha enabled her to work at the Arthur Davidson Children’s Hospital. It was a huge hospital.

Nurses wading through water when the physiotherapy room got flooded. Photo: Kunden Paatni.

Nurses wading through water when the physiotherapy room got flooded. Photo: Kundan Paatni.

Later in life Kundanben, spent time at the Aga Khan University and the M. P. Shah hospital where she was in charge of the intensive care unit.

Date posted: Saturday, February 14, 2015.
Last updated: Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee.

_______________

Shariffa Keshavjee - empowers women in the East African nation of KenyaAbout 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

15 thoughts on “The Amazing Story of Kundan Paatni: A Graduate of the Aga Khan Nursing School in Nairobi in the 1960s

  1. Thank you for sharing Kundans beautiful story. My formative years were in Mombasa and later in Nairobi. During my school vacation I used to volunteer in the Agakhan Hospital. I worked in Zambia too – what a coincidence!

  2. I have known kundan for many years through her sisters shobhna and sandhya. I know that she is a nurse but never knew her stand in her career. It’s a wow. Thanks for her story. I admire her work and her shop. You will never see her sitting idle. Always busy doing something in her shop. I almost meet her everyday either in sarit or in the via car park. We always say hello at least or sometimes exchange a few words. Kundan am proud of you.

  3. I was born in Mombasa and left the port city permanently for migration to Bombay (Mumbai) in 1968 as an 8 year old boy. This article brings back memories of childhood in Mombasa during the 1960’s era.

  4. Had my appendectomy at this hospital. Great hospital & brings back lots of memory.
    Thank you for this article

  5. Brings back so many memories – not only of the hospital where I seemed to spend a lot of time as a patient but also of the care and dedication of the nurses. I knew most of the nurses as they attended Parklands Jamatkhana and also they used to come to our house.

    Like Zahir Dharsee we also lived near the hospital (just 2 blocks away). I do not recall Kundanben but thank you very much for your wonderful article. I remember Mariam Gangji, Yasmin Daya (who is now in Toronto), Firja Dhanji (now in London), Roshan Nathoo and also the lady in the photo of Kundan with Hhis Highness and and President Jomo Kenyatta. BRAVO!!

  6. It was an honour to read this story. I didn’t know Kundan is a nurse. I only knew her from The Woman Shop and Quilting. Her compassion has always been a part of her character. Thank you for sharing.

  7. This is a short story about a bright, remarkable, strong, inspirational, open and broad minded, self driven and selfless woman. I have known Kundan for over 45 years and can assure readers that this story only skims the surface of this amazing woman’s story. Many people listen to answer, but Kundan listens to understand.

  8. Thank you, Shariffa for sharing this great friend’s input.

    I graduated along with Kundan and spent very happy, bonding three and a half years at The Agakhan Platinum Jubillee Hospital as it was known then. Lots of fond and cherished memories.

    Kundan used to invite some of us coming out of Nairobi to come and enjoy home cooked food made by her dear, petite Mother, we used to call her Baa.

    Nice to see the photos and reminisce days so well spent at AKH. I actually worked for the hospital for almost forty years, part of it as a volunteer in nursing. Then I was Fatima Pirbhai(surname changed to Ibrahim as on my passport). Our group was given graduation certificates by Hazar Imam in the year 1967. I had the good opportunity to get a silver medal. Left AKH in 2001 for UK to continue my work in nursing.

    Best regards,
    Fatima

  9. Great article Shariffa. It truly captivated the 1960s culture. Nowadays I am sure it would something unexpected for the Honorable President and His Highness Prince Aga Khan visiting the hospital so openly. With regards to Kundanaunty, her life story is an inspiration to all us youngsters. She is ever so youthful and ambitious even at this age. Her and Chandrakantuncle are still exactly like young lovebirds. Hope such stories are always told and accounted for with amazing pictures as shown above.

  10. Thank you Mrs Keshavjee for putting together such an inspiring story of none other than my niece Kundan. We grew up together in Mombasa and am happy to say still keep in touch with Kundan and family in Nairobi all the way from Brisbane, Australia.

    Madhu Diamond

  11. These are very interesting pictures from the 1960’s. I used to live right behind this hospital on Mtama Road and walked by it almost everyday so I have lots of memories of the local area. Thank you Kundanben for these memorable and priceless pictures and Shariffa for the write up that provides an excellent account of the visit.

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