Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Ooncha Re Kot: Explanation and Recitation, with Metaphoric Video Footages from Toronto’s Amazing Salmon Run

Chinook salmon leap  Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a 6 foot dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video by Malik Merchant/Simerg, see video of leap below.

By (LATE) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY

Introduced by Malik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

The transliteration and meaning of the popular Ismaili Ginan Ooncha (or Uncha) Re Kotfirst appeared on this website in 2009, accompanied by an image of a salmon swimming upstream and trying to jump over a steep rapid. The “borrowed” image was a metaphor for the first verse of the Ginan, where the “fish of the briny deep” seeks to overcome an obstacle — a high cliff — to return to its original abode — in the case of the salmon, the place where the mother had first brought it into the world by releasing the egg a few years earlier (a salmon lays between 1,000 to 17,000 eggs out of which only a few survive). It may be noted that certain species of salmon e.g. the Pacific Chinook, die after spawning, and the salmon that it has given birth to, swim to the lake or the ocean, where they reach maturity in about two to three years. After mating, the adult returns to its place of birth to spawn.

I have lived in Canada since the 1980’s and have on three occasions visited Hell’s Gate in British Columbia, a very popular spot to observe salmon going upstream to spawn. Unfortunately, however, I never got to witness this amazing phenomenon there.

A Chinook salmon swimmin g in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg
A Chinook salmon swimming in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I was not aware that Toronto rivers had salmon as well. Indeed, the Don River, only a few hundred metres from where I live, is active with Chinook Pacific salmon moving upstream in autumn. The Chinook were introduced into Lake Ontario in the mid 1960’s because the native Atlantic salmon had virtually vanished. Their introduction was an immediate boon to the province’s fishing industry. The Don River flows into Lake Ontario, and at the park close to me it does not have high rapids, so you don’t get to see salmon jumping that high.

An amazing video by a visitor to Etienne Brulé Park on October 7, 2021 of a salmon trying to leap unsuccessfully over a dam on Humber River, near the 13 Crosby Avenue entrance. Please watch upper section of the film for the salmon leap. Video provided to Simerg by Ms. Sze Thang of Toronto.

Google search located a great spot in Toronto where I could view the incredible show, referred to as the Salmon Run. I went to the recommended Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto’s west end, where the Humber River flows. A regular visitor here told me that the salmon activity was low on that day (October 5). I reached the man made dam on the Humber River. The crowd was very small. I began my video taking at one end of the river and was able to see the entire breadth of the river. I would keep my video on for around 30 seconds, turn it off and turn it on again within a second or two. I took about 70 videos, and seven of those provided me the images that I wanted. Some salmon repeatedly kept on hitting the cliff rock and falling back. A few nearly made it but fell back. It was painful to see that! But then a couple managed to leap high enough and continue its spawning journey. Wow! What an exciting and thrilling moment. I visited the site again a couple of times, and was able to capture more failures as well as two successful leaps with reactions from the crowd of hurrays and hand-clapping. The happy crowd apologized to me for making so much noise, but I was very happy they were cheering with every successful leap, and would have joined them in the celebration. For visitors who missed the successful jumps, my cameras became the centre of attraction, and numerous individuals asked me to forward them the videos so that they could show them to their children!

The effort that the salmon were making was painful to witness especially when they hit the wall of the dam, but they would not give up despite the setbacks. They had a set goal and objective: to reach the spawning location. And they had more rapids to overcome in their long journey.

This extraordinary effort by the fish reminded me of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan’s advice to his Jamat (community) in Congo in the early 1960’s that if we have faith it will give us the strength to start life all over again (naveen sharuat in the gujarati translated Farman), even a hundred times if necessary. There are two principles in life that Mawlana Hazar Imam has asked us to be guided by: To work hard and to have faith. Let us work hard, be strong and as eager as the salmon, in our life’s material and spiritual journey. As Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah said, “Struggle is the meaning of life; defeat or victory is in the hands of God. But struggle itself is man’s duty and should be his joy.” These notions of hard work and struggle, and then accepting success or failure define Islam: Submission to the Will of God.

Please enjoy the videos, the explanation of the Ginan by Esmail Thawerbhoy and the recitation by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji. And those who live in Toronto or close to rivers where there are salmon, please go and see the fascinating show called the Salmon Run.

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Eji Ooncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen

Freely rendered in English verse
By (Late) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY
(iambic tetrameter, rhyme scheme abab)

Verse 1

So high the fort and climbing steep,
And surging round its base the sea;
I am a fish of the briny deep,
Ah Love, haste Thou to succour me.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion,
Beloved come home, my Love return;
Forgive Thy slave his scant devotion,
Show me Thy face, to Thee I turn.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion.

Verse 2

This sweet-scented sandalwood home,
Enclosed with beauteous acts galore;
‘Tis Love that locks me in my tomb,
Beloved I pray Thee ope the door.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 3

Enmeshed in ties of kith and kind,
How few realize its fatal art!
My soul’s torment, my body’s grind,
Beloved come soothe my aching heart.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 4

Be not so wroth, O Darling mine,
And deign to grant Thy Sight sublime;
Pir Hasan Shah entreats divine
Redemption from the sea (of time).
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

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Must Watch Video 1: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Transliteration of Ginan

Verse 1

Eji Ooncha re kot bahoo vech-na,
Neeche vahe dariya;
Hoon-re dariya vandi maachhli,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri,
Baalam ghare aav, Saajan ghare aav;
Bando bhooli-yo taari bandagi,
Sa-yan soorat bataav,
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri.

Verse 2

Eji Agar chandan-ni kota-di,
Soofal rachi-ya kamaad;
Taara deedha chhe premana,
Sa-yan kholan aav
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 3

Eji Pinjar padi-yo pari-vaar no,
Koik boojat jann;
Merre tann-ki vedana,
Sa-yan tapat boojaav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 4

Eji Itana kop na keeji-ye,
Sa-yan deeje didaar,
Pir Hasan Shah-ni venati,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

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Must Watch Video 2: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Commentary of the Ginan

In this Ginan Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-deen speaks of the soul’s yearning for the Beatific Vision (Noorani Didar). The imagery employed by the Pir is the familiar mystical vehicle of human love and the pangs of separation. In mysticism human love is ennobled and elevated to symbolize divine Love.

The word ‘religion’ comes etymologically from the two roots ‘re,’ again, and ‘ligare,’ to bind. It thus implies a former union from which the soul was separated and seeks to be reunited again.

The Holy Qur’an has the Verse with the same signification:
Inna li-llahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon which means
“From Allah we come and to Him is our return.”

A famous Hadith of Prophet Muhammad says:
“Between Him and me there are seventy thousand Veils of Light.”

By ‘Veils of Light’ are meant the entanglements of the flesh which hinder the Soul from its meeting the Noor. It is in transcending the limitations of the flesh and establishing rapport with the Noor that the soul finds its ultimate fulfilment.

But this is no easy matter. Family ties, material gains, power and pelf distract man from his duty.

How difficult the task is, is allegorized by the Pir as the effort of the fish (soul) to swim to the edge of the sea, and then climb up a stiff and fortified fort. The soul is also symbolized as a bird in its cage which is enamoured of its cage, and is loth to leave it to find its true place.

Beatific Vision can only be an act of Grace; and no soul, however much it strives, can claim to be entitled to it. If and when Grace comes, it comes from above. It is transcendent, not immanent. That is to say, it must come from outside of our sense-perception, and cannot be induced from within our consciousness. If we can, in Ibadat, eliminate all consciousness of Space and Time, the soul untrammelled by ‘mortal coil’ could, with Divine Grace, hope for a glimpse of the Beatific Vision—Noorani Didar. But it is always an act of Grace, and man cannot claim to merit it on the strength of his effort.

To use the terminology of photography, a sensitized plate kept in a darkroom will not take an impression however long it remains in the darkroom. But if light from an object falls upon it, it immediately takes an impression. The soul, freed from its entanglements, is like a sensitized plate. It is ready to receive Noorani Didar. But this Light must come from outside. It may come in a few days, a few weeks, or months, or years. It may not come at all. Man’s volition cannot accelerate or ensure the moment. He must strive patiently, and hope for Divine Grace.

Redemption is a common motif in many philosophies. In Eastern philosophy the sea is the symbol of the cycle of life (bhava saagar). To be saved from the sea means release from the flux of life. In Neo-Platonic philosophy it stands for the Individual Soul’s relation to the Universal Soul. In Sufism it is fanna fillah baqa hillah (annihilation in God and then everlasting existence in God). In Ismaili philosophy it stands for the absorption of the individual soul into the Noor of Imamat.

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Must Watch Video 3: Salmon Leap — Successful…The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021 Please see near end for leap. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Must Watch Video 4: Salmon Leap — Successful… The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Recitation of Ginan by (Late) Alwaez Rai Shamshu Bandali Haji

Ginan Uncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na sung by (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji Credit: Ginans Central

Date posted: October 8, 2021.

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Editor’s Note:

This article by the (Late) Esmail Thawerbhoy was published in the July 1977 issue (Volume 3, Number 1) of Ilm magazine, London under the title Ginan Sharif of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen.

The late Esmail Thawerbhoy, originally from Mumbai, India, was a lawyer by profession and lived in Bangladesh before making London, England, his home in the 1970’s. He participated actively in numerous research and study groups while he was in Mumbai and Dacca. The editor remembers him fondly for his immense interest and support for Ilm magazine, published by the Ismailia Association for the U.K, (now the Ismaili Tariqah an Religious Education Board) and for contributing an extensive article “The Concept of  Imamat in Ismailism and Other Schools in Islam” which appeared in the March, 1977 issue of the magazine (Volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4).

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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Chinook salmon leap Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video. Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Hazrat Ali’s Birth Anniversary: Ginan Recitation by Shamshu Bandali Haji

Shamshu Bandali Haji
A rare portrait of Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji from his early years. Photo: Shamshu Bandali Haji Family Collection.

Simerg is pleased to present a selection of verses from the Ginan Muman Chetamni composed by Syed Imam Shah that relate to the birth of Hazrat Ali (a.s.). The recitations are taken from Ginans Central, a truly exceptional website which curates Ginans for “long-term access and preservation to foster research and learning in the digital era.” The inspiration behind this unique project is Karim Tharani (read ARTICLE).

Here are recitations of three verses followed by a link to the page containing recitations by Alwaez Shamshu and others.

verse Eji te Murtaza Ali….recited by Shamshu Bandali Haji
verse Eji Mataji Gayata Bait…recited by Shamshu Bandali Haji
verse Eji Tare Salaam Kidha…..recited by Shamshu Bandali Haji

Please click HERE for more recitations by Alwaez Shamshu and others. Also, please visit the Ginans Central Home Page, scroll down the page and see links to Ginan collections as well as tools and resources.

Date posted: February 23, 2021.

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Mukhi Alidina Jamal, Dr. Allaudin Daya, and Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji Simerg Featured Image

The 3 Unforgettable Ginan Singers in My Life: A Tribute to Alidina Jamal, Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor,  Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

I consider Alidina Jamal, Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji to be among the list of my heroes for their inspiring and uplifting recitations of Ginans in East Africa and Canada. My first hero, in chonological sequence, was Alidina Jamal of Upanga Jamatkhana in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I still recall the day when I brought home miserable results from my Form 1 final term exams. While I had stood 2nd in the class during the first two terms, my indulgence in cricket had set me back a few dozen places and I was at the bottom of the class – 42 out of 44! I had never seen my late dad, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018), as mad as he was on that day, but he was a loving dad too. After all the scolding — and more — that I received, there was one piece of advice he gave me that held true throughout my life.

He asked me to be in attendance in the Jamatkhana well before the first Dua was recited, so that I would avail myself of the truth and beauty of the holy Ginans composed by Ismaili Pirs centuries earlier. My dad desired that I should carry in my heart Muslim values that the Pirs taught, as well as gain an understanding of the Shia Ismaili faith, which are articulated well in the Ismaili Pirs’ compositions.

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Upanga Jamatkhana Dar es Salaam Simerg, Barakah
Upanga Jamatkhana, Dar es Salaam. Photo: Alkarim Pirmohamed

I followed the advice he gave me and started arriving at the Upanga Jamatkhana several minutes before the dusk Dua, as often as I could. This is how I was introduced to Alidina Jamal — and later to Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji — through his almost daily routine of singing numerous verses from Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s monumental composition, Anant Akhado. The recitation brought me an awareness of the magnificent Ismaili tradition of Ginans. I was then in my teen years. The importance of Ginans has been emphatically made in the following quote by Mawlana Hazar Imam at an evening of Ginan recitations or concert (mehfil) held in Karachi in December 1964.

“I would be surprised if ever such a big Mehfil-e-Ginan has ever been held…many times I have recommended to my spiritual children that they should remember ginans, that they should understand the meanings of these ginans and they should carry these meanings in their hearts. It is most important that my spiritual children…hold to this tradition which is so special, so unique and so important to my Jamat…I have been deeply happy tonight, deeply happy because I have seen the happiness in the hearts of my Jamat and this is what makes Imam happy” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, Karachi, December 16, 1964, published by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan.

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Mukhi Alidina Jamal Ismaili Ginan reciter Simerg
Mukhi Alidina and Mukhiani Roshankhanu Jamal. Photo: Amin Jamal Collection, Calgary.

I could see the joy on the late Mukhi Alidina’s face as he would seat himself comfortably on the floor in front of the main podium for a series of selections that covered numerous themes. His commencement of the Ginan with “Ashaji…” had the power to lift the spirit of this rather young and indifferent teenage boy, and take it to a higher plateau. The entire Jamat would join Alidina, as he gained strength, verse after verse, until he would finally come to a stop a minute or two before the first Dua. In the ten to fifteen minutes of a highly charged performance, our temporal and mundane mind-set was transformed to a spiritual plane. I should say the same for Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji. Through their passion for the Ginanic tradition, all three of these individuals brought the Jamat to the realization of life’s basic principles of patience, tolerance, honesty, avoiding ninda (backbiting) and good ethics (such as in Eji namata, khamta gurji sun rakho), the importance of morning and evening prayers (Eji sandhya veda, biji sandhya and triji sandhya), the Ismaili principles of service (Eji panch mi bari dasondh…) and of course, the obedience to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) and the guidance of the Imam of the Time. Their great recitations would prepare us for the prayers that would follow.

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Dr. Allaudin Daya
Dr. Allaudin Daya.

How did Allaudin Daya become my hero? When Karimabad Jamatkhana opened, it became my primary Jamatkhana, as it was a lot closer to our flat on United Nations Road than Upanga Jamatkhana was. The congregation was much smaller than Upanga’s, as was the Jamatkhana building itself, and I wondered if anyone would ever be able to come close to Mukhi Alidina Jamal’s recitations. A young medical student at the nearby Muhimbili Hospital by the name of Allaudin Daya stepped in to fill the void that I was beginning to feel. Dr. Daya’s recitations were superb, and he was a blessing for the new Karimabad Jamat. His eloquent recitations of the same Anant Akhado that I had heard from Mukhi Jamal, sent chills down my spine, gave me goose bumps and uplifted my spirit. I never dared ask him whether Mukhi Alidina had ever been his coach. I didn’t think so. He resided at the hospital quarters, and I would often meet up with him on the way to the Jamatkhana.

Once I was inside the prayer hall and seated, my eyes wandered to the centre podium area, hoping and wishing to see Dr. Daya rise from his place, and go to the stage to start the recitation like his senior and older compatriot Alidina Jamal, who by now had assumed the role of Mukhisaheb at Upanga Jamatkhana. On most days, Dr. Daya would be called up by the Mukhi, showing the respect the youth commanded in the new Karimabad Jamat. Once I left Dar es Salaam for London, England, the opportunities to attend Jamatkhana became scarcer, as Jamatkhana was a long (and expensive) tube ride away from where I was staying, and I was very busy with my studies. However, Mukhi Alidina Jamal and Dr. Daya had firmly instilled in me a deep love for Ginans. The tradition was solid in my heart.

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A portrait of Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji in his early days.
A rare portrait of Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji from his early years. Photo: Shamshu Bandali Haji Family Collection

Then several years later, upon my arrival in Canada and initial settlement in Edmonton, I wondered who would assume the roles of my two East African ‘Ashaji’ icons. To my absolute happiness and delight, the role was filled by none other than the late Alwaez Shamshudin Bandali Haji, who sang Anant Akhado in a truly masterful fashion. I might add that during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee year (1982-1983), the pleasant and cheerful Alwaez Bandali Haji, completed the entire Anant Akhado of several hundred verses by picking new verses, each time he got the opportunity to sing before the first Dua at Edmonton’s South Side Jamatkhana. In addition to Anant Akhado, Alwaez Haji’s singing of the Chogadiya made the Ginan an instant hit for me, so much so that one day, not having heard the Chogadiya for some time, I went to the Mukhisaheb and requested that Alwaez be invited to recite it. Alwaez, alas, was late that evening but there were numerous future opportunities that came along. 

These are the three individuals I shall never forget during my lifetime for their outstanding contribution to the Ginanic tradition.

“Meritocracy” Mawlana Hazar Imam once observed, “is not only limited to intellectual endeavours.” Mukhi Alidina Jamal, Alwaez Shamshuddin Bandali Haji and Dr. Allaudin Daya were meritocratic individuals in their own right who, through their inspiring singing raised the spirit of the Jamat, and have immensely contributed to the Jamats’ increased love for the Imam of the Time. To these three, I would like to add the name of Dr. Hafiz Jamal whom I used to hear reciting the verses of Anant Akhado in Ottawa. He is an outstanding Ginan reciter and an absolute joy to listen to.

I have been able to access the recitations of Anant Akhado by Shamshuddin Bandali Haji on the website of Ginan Central. Here are two tracks consisting of several verses from the Ginan:

article continues after Ginan recordings:

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Please listen to more recitations at http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/recitals.php?type=album&id=104274

May the souls of Mukhi Alidina Jamal and Alwaez Shamshuddin Haji rest in peace and as for Dr. Allaudin Daya, I sincerely hope hear him at least once during the coming years. I also look forward to listening to Dr. Hafiz Jamal.

We invite you to share your thoughts about Alidina Jamal, Shamshu Bandali Haji and Allaudin Daya as well as many others like them whom you know for their outstanding Ginan recitations.

I end this piece with a verse of supplication by Pir Hasan Kabirdin from his Anant Akhado to the Imam of his Time, Mawlana Islam Shah. For Ismailis, each Imam is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in, as he is the bearer of the same Noor (Light) of Imamat.

Ashaji jugpati jugnath Sri Islam Shah
ham man tere umayoji
kayam svami ha(n)sajina raja
ja(m)pudipme shah avo
Ali ana(n)t ana(n)t
Ali anatejo svami shah
anata jo a(n)t tuhi jane ji

Oh Lord Islam Shah, the Lord and the Master of the Age;
My mind (and heart) supplicates to you;
You are the eternal Lord and the King of the soul;
Come to the Indian subcontinent;
Ali You are eternal and unlimited, Ali You are the
Lord of unlimited souls or eternity;
You are the only Knower of the limits of the unlimited.

Date posted: June 7, 2020.
Last updated: July 1, 2020 (photo of Allaudin Daya added)

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Malik Merchant Publisher Editor Simerg Barakah and Simergphotos

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian. He may be contacted at Simerg@aol.com.