Passings: Sadru Velji – Our Beloved Nana

Sadru Velji
Sadrudin Velji (30 October, 1933 – 26 January, 2021). Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection.


Just over a month ago, on January 26, 2021, we lost our beloved Nana at the age of 87.

He was big-hearted and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. My Dad tells us that when we were born, our grandfather was so excited, he came over and played with us everyday, and as we grew, he was someone we joked with all our lives.

Instead of telling us he loved us very much, Nana used to say he loves us “magar” (crocodile) much.

When Nana’s Alzheimers set in about 5 years ago, this aspect of his personality somehow stayed. People were often surprised he had this disease because he made jokes and was still funnier than the rest of us.

Even as Nana lost his memory, he somehow was able to remember anything that had to do with my grandmother, Nani. When he started going to the Adult Day Care every week, (which he used to call “Chakula ya Bure” (“food for free” in Swahili), he pocketed half his sandwich to bring home for my grandmother.

I wish I knew more of the thousands of stories Nana had to tell. I remember him telling me once how his mother passed away when he was little. He seemed really attached to her. Times were hard for him and his five siblings after that, but his stories were still so mischievous and Nana-spirited. He told us once that when he was a kid he snuck into the movies and said his Dua after the lights went down because he felt bad it was Jamatkhana time. That was our Nana.

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Aga Khan performs marriage ceremony
A garlanded Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan joins Sadrudin and Sakerkhanu Velji’s hands in marriage during his Takhtnashini visit to Dar es Salaam in October 1957. Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection.
Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection
Sadrudin and Sakerkhanu Velji. Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection.

One thing about Nana is how much his faith in things bigger than himself seemed to sustain him through a lifetime. Maybe that’s what helped him be able to give so much to other people. His license plate when we were growing up even used to say “Seva” (meaning service). When you saw that license plate in the parking lot, you knew it was our Nana.

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Sadru Velji vacuuming Ismaili Jamatkhana Photo: © Sadruddin Velji Family Collection.
Sadru Velji considered it an honour to vacuum the Jamatkhanas in Vancouver. Here he is seen performing duties at the Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana. Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection.

When Nana came to Canada from Tanzania in the 1970s, he opened a drycleaners with my grandmother, served as one of the first Mukhis of the no-longer-existent Jamatkhana on East Hastings Street, and also spent a huge percentage of his life vacuuming the Jamatkhana — volunteer work he considered an honor and did quietly for many, many, many, years, well into his eighties until Jamatkhanas were closed due to Covid-19. He had a kind of generosity that doesn’t exist in a lot of people generally, and is fading even more with our generation.

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Sadrudin Velji and President Nyerere
In this very rare photo, date unknown, Sadrudin Velji is seen greeting Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere, as a watchful crowd looks on. Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection.

One summer about 10 years ago, I brought ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein to Nana’s house and read them aloud to him. Shel Silverstein’s poems remind me of Nana. Since Nana had the kind of heart that loved to laugh, he liked and understood them right away, and I’ll always remember how he lit up to how full of wonder and light they were, like so much of him. We’ll miss you Nana.

Love you “magar” much.
Zahida, Shehin, Husein and Alisha


Beloved Papaji

Sadrudin Velji, Vancouver origically of Tanzania
Sadrudin Velji (1933 – 2021). Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection.


Your Nanabapa [referring to tribute by grandchildren, above], my Papaji, was indeed a special and unique human being. While growing up, I didn’t have my grandparents around, so I lived vicariously through you all.

What a blessing that he was part of our lives for a long time. With his wit and positivity, he made spending time with him some of the happiest moments for me. I don’t know too many Dads who would agree to do many things that I would make him do!

For example, Tuesday senior’s chair yoga at Darkhana. Even during his Alzheimers, he would take a lot of pride following the exercises properly, asking, “Am I doing this correctly?”.

Or come with me on Thursdays for vacuum Seva at the Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana. The group of ladies were surprised that at his stage, he was so passionate about volunteering. They welcomed him openly often giving him the chance to say Dua before sharing food. After, he would call my Mom and say proudly how he did a good job.

He spoke “pure” Swahili and would recall words that even Mom might have forgotten when he tried to teach me. His lesson would always accompany a long Swahili tale. He’d say “haraka, haraka, haina barakha”, elaborating the saying, basically meaning “haste is waste” or “if you are going to offer me chai with one hand then offer me a snack with the other mkono (hand),” another saying in Swahili.

The greatest gift that he gave me is hanging out with me for long periods. The many videos are memories that will be treasured of such a unique Dad.

When we decided to turn down the Long Term Care spot, I had the opportunity to spend practically every day with Nana and with Nani. I am grateful to you grandkids and especially to Salim for not only supporting this but encouraging it. Salim often says that he felt blessed to have a Dad once again in his life after his Dad passed away in 1983. Nana, for all of us, you brought happiness into our home as there was always laughter when you were around.

Dad, Bwana Kubwa, we love you very much.
Your daughter Nasreen


A Personal Tribute to Mukhi Sadrudin Velji


My late parents, Jehangir Merchant (d. May 2018) and Malek Merchant or Mrs. Merchant (d. January 2021) had a special friendship with the family of Mukhi Sadru Velji, who passed away in Vancouver on January 26, 2021, just five days after my mum’s demise. 

Mrs. Sakerkhanu Velji (Mukhianima) and my mum talked to each other everyday. These daily phone calls continued until the very last day of my mum’s life. The Velji family inspired my mother, and felt that a family member was indeed around in the absence of her children who were thousands of kilometres away. If my parents were unwell or an incident had occurred that left me worried, Mukhianima would ease my anxiety, and assured me that she, Sadrubhai as well as her daughters Nasreen, Shellina and Zahra would always be there for my parents.

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Veljis and Merchants at Jehangir's birthday parthy
Malek Merchant (d. January 2021) cuts the birthday cake for her husband Jehangir (d. May 2018) as he celebrates his 89th birthday on December 13, 2017 surrounded by family friends Sadru Velji (d. January 2021) and his wife Sakerkhanu. The Velji family were pillars of strength for the Merchants. Photo: Nasreen Rahemtulla.

The Veljis became an integral part of the family, and their kindness, generosity and affection is etched in my memory. I visited them regularly during my stays in Vancouver. During my previous two month visit to  Vancouver, Nasreen, gave me her new car to use for several weeks. Anything cooked at their place would find a way to my mum’s table, 18 kms away. They also paid regular visits to my dad when he was unwell, and Nasreen would find a way to have my father recite her favorite ginans.

I watched the funeral ceremony of Sadrubhai with deep emotion — my mum’s was scheduled to be held on the following day. I would have liked to have been present for both of them but circumstances did not allow me to fly to Vancouver. It is so gratifying that technology has allowed us to participate in the ceremonies from afar during the Covid-19 pandemic. I shed tears as the coffins for the two funerals were being led to the hearse. It was a very sad moment.

I convey my deepest condolences to Mukhianima and her family and pray that Sadrubhai’s soul may rest in eternal peace and that the family be granted strength and courage to  bear the loss.

I had witnessed with my own eyes how Mukhianima and her children as well as grand children provided Sadrubhai the support, inspiration and courage that he needed during the most difficult period in his life. My special prayers that Allah shower His choicest blessings on the entire family for their dedication to a beloved husband, father and nana who will also be remembered by everyone who knew him here in Canada and around the world.

Date posted: March 1, 2021.
Last updated: March 3, 2021 (daughter Nasreen’s tribute added).


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Sadrudin Velji Simerg Passings
Sadrudin Velji (30 October, 1933 – 26 January, 2021). Photo: © Sadrudin Velji Family Collection. Please click on photo to pen your tribute to Sadrudin Veji.

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