By Abdul Mamdani
Early Days and Didars
I was one of the early attendants at 51 Kensington Court Jamatkhana.
Having travelled on a motorcycle through the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy and France, I arrived in London in 1953, just a week or so after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The city was still decorated with flags and buntings.
I found the Jamatkhana address in the telephone directory and got myself a bed and breakfast place in Cheniston Gardens, at £1.10.0 a week, just 5 minute walk from the Jamatkhana. A week later I got employed as a ledger clerk at Barkers Deptartment Store on Kensington High Street. The famous store closed for good in 1986 after 135 years!
I attended the Jamatkhana regularly. There were just a few Ismailis in London at that time. Alnoor Kassam was the President of the Ismailia Council for the UK, and we had a very nice, gentle lady, known affectionately as Baby bai Visram, who had been granted the title of Varsiani by Mawlana Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah.
Mawlana Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mata Salamat arrived in London at the end of the third quarter of 1953 and granted us a holy didar at the Kensington Court Jamatkhana. After general didar, a group photo was taken and then Mawla took a seat in a room on the ground floor where families or individuals were allowed to enter and have photos taken with the Imam of the Time. The only other person in the room with the Imam was an English photographer. Eventually, my turn came and I entered the room in my new socks and slipped on the parquet floor, landing in front of the Imam. Mawla smiled, said Khanavadhan to me and asked me to sit on the floor next to him.
Salamieh and a Request from a Devout Ismaili Lady
Mawla inquired where I came from and where I had been. Among places I had been to, I mentioned Salamieh in Syria, and Mawla said, “Oh and did you see all those princes?” I replied that I had met Prince Muhammad Mulheim, Varas Ahmed Mirza and Mustafa Ghaleb, the famous writer. Mawla said, “Kanavadhan, Khanavadhan”.
Now, when in Salamieh, Emir Muhammad Mulheim had taken me to a room in his house where his mother was waiting to see me. I was requested to look at the mother and told that should I be blessed with Mawla’s Didar in Europe, she wanted me to remember her face so she could attain Mawla’s Didar through my eyes. Regrettably, in the Imam’s presence I failed to recall this request. However, Mawla asked me, “And who else did you see?” I was surprised at this question and took a minute or so to think. Then, it came to me and I replied: “Mawla, I saw Prince Muhammad Mulheim’s mother,” and Mawla patted my shoulder and said “Khanavadhan, Khanavadhan”.
The Failing Flashlight
At that time, Mawla told the English photographer to take our picture. The photographer aimed his lens toward us and said, “Your Highness, I am sorry the flash does not work.” Mawla then asked me, what I did, and I replied, “Khudavind, I work at Barkers,” and Mawla said, “Go back to work and come to the Ritz Hotel in the evening and we will have a picture taken.” I said, “Ameen Khudavind,” and came out of the room.
Although I had taken the day off from work, I accepted Mawla’s directive and was on my way to Barkers, but before I got to the corner of the street, Alnoor Kassam came running after me to tell me that I was summoned by the Imam to return. The flash was working again! Upon entering the room again, Mawla invited me to sit on the floor next to him and put his arm on my shoulder and thus we appear in the photograph.
Yakimour and the Begum Aga Khan’s Letter to the Ismaili Council for Tanganyika
In 1955, I went to Le Cannet and was granted holy didar at the Villa Yakymour. After the didar, Mata Salamat invited me to walk with her in the gardens and asked where I came from, where I lived and what I did there. At the end, Mata Salamat inquired if I kept in touch with my family. I confessed that I had not done so for two years. A few years later I learnt that the Begum had sent a letter to the Council in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) instructing them to contact my family, and to tell them that she had seen me and that I was in good health. I will always remember Mata Salamat for her kindness.
Date posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012.
Date last updated: Saturday, November 7, 2015 (photo caption updated, one name still missing).
Copyright: Abdul Mamdani. 2012
About the writer: Abdul Mamdani who is in his 80’s is a retired postage stamp dealer. He lived in England and Switzerland from 1953 to 1959 and in North, Central and South America from 1959 to date.
51 Kensington Court, and a Memorable Function Hosted by His Highness the Aga Khan III at London’s Savoy by A. M. Rajput, UK.
1953-1957: Ismailia Social and Residential Club and Jamatkhana at 51 Kensington Court by Ameer Janmohamed, UK.
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