“The fireworks went up into the sky, the images of the green and red flag, popularly known for many years as ‘My Flag’ appeared. The crest of the Imam appeared. Then archangels sent down diamonds as Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah appeared in the scales being weighed in diamonds. It was most spectacular and awe inspiring. At age 90, Kulsumbai says, “I shall never forget that scene, I recall it now as I turn ninety. We are truly a blessed community.”

STORIES COLLECTED AND COMPILED BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

1. Kulsumbai Tajdin

Born in 1927 , Kulsumbai was 19 years old in 1946.

For the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, Kulsumbai’s parents asked her to come to Dar es Salaam ahead of time. The date for the Jubilee was set for August 10, 1946. Tajdinbhai, her husband, could not join her. He was a volunteer in the Mombasa Jamat. His duty was to assist the people boarding the Scottish built passenger/cargo steamer Vasna.

VasnaScottish built 5767 tonne Vasna. Photo: Roll-of-honour.com, Royal British Legion.

The 390 foot ship, built in 1917 and finally broken up in 1951, was to carry the Jamat to Dar es Salaam for the Diamond Jubilee. Many people were sea sick on the Vasna, but the spirit of jubilation and songs of praise prevailed.

The camps in Dar were made of hessian. There was provision for water and ablution. The Jamat supplied the camp with fruit. There was communal cooking for the visitors. Begum Om Habiba, Matasalamat, herself would visit the campsite and check in the cooking facilities.

Kulsumbai’s vivid memory is that of the firework display.

She recalls that as the fireworks went up into the sky, the images of the green and red flag, popularly known for many years as ‘My Flag’ appeared. The crest of the Imam appeared. Then archangels sent down diamonds as Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah appeared in the scales being weighed in diamonds. It was most spectacular and awe inspiring. At age 90, Kulsumbai says, “I shall never forget that scene, I recall it now as I turn ninety. We are truly a blessed community.”

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2. Khatunbai  Samji, nee Hassan Kassam Lakha

Khatunbai SamjiKhatunbai at the Homage Ceremony, July 11, 2017.

Khatunmasi remembers that her family travelled on the Vasna and that many people were sea sick. On board the ship were her families of Rahemtulla Kassam Lakha, Alibhai Kassam Lakha, Mohamed Kassam Lakha. She remembers that they traveled third class.

In Dar es Salaam they had hired a bangalo from the Kariuki family.

Her sister Gulshan wore a beige Banarasi sari. She had beautiful chotlas. Khatun  was 13 years old at this time.

Later on Khatunbai married her cousin, Abdul Samji. She was eighteen and had little knowledge of the outside world. The art of living in a large family, shopping and cooking were new skills to master. It was Nurbanubai Ebhrahim Nathoo who took her under her caring wings.

Daimond Jubilee SouvenirCover page of  the Diamond Jubilee Souvenir published by the Ismailia Association of Africa in 1946. 

Khatunbai’s mother in law was Jenabai Samji. She was called Jenabai Nurse, not because she was a qualified nurse, but because she had the expertise of midwifery. This came to her from her experience.

Khatunmasi recalls that in her house, Ma, Kulsumbai Kassim Lakha had quite a task ahead of her with 10 daughters in the house, there was always so much work to do.

When Khatunbai married she lived in a house on 4th Avenue Parklands. She recalls the recitation of the Ginan Allah ek khasam sabukha.

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3. Mariam Chagan

The fascinating story of Mariam is one that leads to the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Before his  Diamond Jubilee in Dar es Salaam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah took a trip to South Africa. He met many members of the Jamat there.

Hundreds of people from the Cape Location, the Asiatic Bazaar and Marabastad, regardless of religious affiliation and race had lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him.  The Pretoria City Council, waiving race restrictions, had permitted the Ismailis to hold a huge banquet for him in the City Hall. Jan Hofmeyr and General Jan Smuts were present among the dignitaries. Habib Keshavjee organized  the banquet.

aga-khan-iii-soth-africa-reception-small-photo1Photogravure illustrating the magnificent floral decorations and seating design at the reception given to Aga Khan III and the Begum Aga Khan by the Aga Khan’s Ismailia Provincial Council, Pretoria, on Thursday August 9th 1945. Photo: The Aga Khan and Africa.

Habib Chagan, looking very handsome in his tuxedo, had attended. Miriam, not accepted as an Ismaili, had not accompanied him and the matter of their marriage had not been brought to the Imam’s attention during his visit.

Born an Anglican, Miriam wanted her children to take their rightful places in the Ismaili community.  She had asked her sisters-in-law to instruct them in Ismaili beliefs, customs and traditions.

When Miriam heard that the city of Dar es Salaam had been chosen for the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, she convinced Habib that they should go to Tanganyika to put their case before their Imam. Habib approached Mr. Hasan Naran Keshavjee, a member of the Pretoria Ismaili Council and found him very sympathetic. He agreed to speak to the Imam at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and that is how the Aga Khan came to hear of their plight.

aga-khan-iii-ng-motani-version-crowdA section of a large crowd at the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee held in Dar es Salaam. Photo: David Carnegie, National Geographic, March 1947.

Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah made amends. The Imam was gracious and in front of his followers from all over the world, in a magnanimous gesture, performed their marriage. The wedding that had been denied them in their own tiny community in South Africa became an international event in front of tens of thousands of Ismailis. The Imam’s grandson and successor Prince Karim, then 10 years old, was present at the event.

The timing of the marriage was perfect because the Nationalist Government came into power in South Africa. Among the first laws passed by this new government were the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949).

Although it all turned out to be a brilliant triumph for Miriam and Habib, they had almost not made it to East Africa. Getting to Dar es Salaam had been a nightmare. Miriam and Habib with Edward, their youngest, Habib’s father and one or two of his sisters and brothers had obtained passports and set off for Lourenço Marques where they would board a very old vessel, the Kandala. When they embarked, they had no qualms about their trip. Once the journey was underway, however, the boat buffeted by the rough seas made them seasick and they vomited copiously and ate nothing. When the boat began to list dangerously and their luggage went flying all over the deck, they prayed that they would survive. For at least two hours they travelled in a vessel that was sharply tilted to one side. It was many days before the news of their safety reached their family in Pretoria.

aga-khan-iii-npg-03The Aga Khan facing the scale at his Diamond Jubilee weigh-in ceremony held in Dar es Salaam on August 10, 1946. Photo: National Geographic, March 1947.

His Highness the Aga Khan speaks into a “Mike” at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Dar-es-Salaam. His weight in diamonds was the equivalent of over 640,000 Britsh pounds Photo: David Carnegie for the National Geographic, March 1947.The Aga Khan speaks into a “mike” at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Dar es Salaam. His weight in diamonds was the equivalent of over 640,000 Britsh pounds Photo: David Carnegie for the National Geographic, March 1947.

In Dar es Salaam they were accommodated in camps. Running water was provided for communal showers. Communal cooking provided all the food.  Distribution of mangoes, oranges and shoke shoke (rambutan fruit) to all the visitors was a generous donation from the Dar es Salaam Jamat. Mariam Chagani while in Dares Salaam contracted malaria and was very sick from it. When Mawlana Shah Karim visited Pretoria in 1957, the couple were introduced to Mawlana Hazar Imam and reminded of the wedding ceremony in Dar es Salaam.

Acknowledgements: Mariam Chagans’s story has been compiled from an article by Muthal Naido and stories heard over the years from Dr. Mohamed Keshavjee, as well as the special souvenir Aga Khan and Africa by Habib Keshavjee.

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4. Gulshanbai Merali Ramji

Gulshanbai was born in Moshi. During the Daimond Jubilee they took a train to Tanga and then to Dares Salaam. She was then 18, and was married during the Diamond Jubilee celebration, to Mohamed Alibhai Nanji.

Gulshanbai’s family in Dares Salaam bought her an organza sari for the occasion. Her marriage was planned by Sakerbai Dadani of Moshi.

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 5. Zeenat Jamal/Janmohamed

Zeenat Jamal-Janohamed 3Zeenat at the Diamond Jubilee in 1946.

As retold to Shariffa: I was ten when we boarded the Vasna, to attend the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. I had never been on a big boat. My only experience of water was a small motor boat that we went on from the shores of Mombasa. It was a special family treat once in a while, a one hour trip on a small boat. We would sing popular songs and eat bhajias.

But this Vasna was a real ship. It was big. Not only my family but even my friends were going to be in it. We were going on a historical journey, all the way from Mombasa to Dar es Salaam! It was too much to contain. A new town I had never been to, to see my Imam for the first time.  I could hardly contain myself in my little ten year old body.

On board the Vasna many people were sick. I was lucky to stand on deck and look out at the Indian Ocean that brought my family here to East Africa only 46 years ago.

Zeenat Jamal-Janohamed 2AZeenat in 2017.

My family was lucky. Our business partners A. G. Abdulhusein gave us a bangalo and we stayed there in luxury. We had running water, hot water for our bath. We had a cook who prepared food for us every day.

Our friends lived in prefabricated camps. It must have been fun but it did not have the luxuries we had.

Listening to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, listening to the verses of the Qu’ran is ever etched in my mind.

Our family made friends with the Keshavjee’s of South Africa. It was to be a long lasting relationship. It led to five Jamals marrying five Keshavjees.

Today, some seventy years later, I am witnessing my sister Shariffa going to Paris on a direct flight from Kenya to attend the auspicious Diamond Jubilee Homage Ceremony of Mawlana Hazar Imam. This is history in the making.

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Kulsumbai Sadrudin Jiwa Darvesh/Nee Habib Kassam Kurji.

KulsumbaiKulsumbai, right, with Shariffa, author of this article.

Kulsumbai was born in Homa Bay, a town in Western Kenya. She was born at home. The lady in the  neighbourhood, Jenabai Abdullah Mohamed Kanji, attended the delivery. Jenabai would be there for mothers before delivery. She had a natural ability to be there for expectant mothers. After delivery she would make katlo. Katlo is good for breastfeeding mothers. The gund (gum)  in the katlo is good for the bones and it gives the new mother strength.

Jenabai would assist the new mother get back her muscle tone by putting warm bricks in the abdomen. The bricks would be heated over an open brazier, sagri.

During the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, Kulsumbai’s family prepared a five ton truck to take them in their journey. It was an open truck with a tarpaulin cover to use if needed. The truck was equipped with mattresses, blankets, cooking utensils, food and a primus.

Some of the nastas (snacks) they carried were mesub and ladva.

Some of the people on board were Manji Kassam Kurji family, Hassanali Kassam Kurji, Hassanali Kassam Rajan and Mohamed Mamad Abba. This truck accommodated all of them.

Wherever the passed villages, Hindus and residents from other communities, would welcome them. They felt part of the celebration. They felt like it was their pilgrimage too, their yatra.

When they arrived in Sotik, they were served ginger tea; it was the first time Kulsumbai had tasted ginger tea. The community would make parathas, puris and hot masala chai.

The Kassam family would camp en route. They would do rasda and sing. They would sing Ginans and garbas in praise of the Imam. The journey was full of joy and jubilation.

The truck went through Kissi, Kericho, Moshi, and Arusha. Wherever there was a Jamat, they would be received with open arms and feted with chai and nasta, and given some nasta for their onward journey. They were given a lot of respect and hospitality.

The girls in the family wore dresses made at home. They wore their hair in long plaits (chotlas), and sandals on their feet.

A close up of the Diamond Jubilee arch, shown in the previous photo.A close-up of the Diamond Jubilee arch in full illumination.

In Dar es Salaam the whole camp was booked for the family. They had registered for this. There were outside bathroom facilities with running water. They would take turns cooking. The Jamat in Dar es Salaam distributed mangoes and oranges and some fruit she had never seen before. Fruit would come by the sack full.

There was warmth, generosity, empathy and love with no competition.

She remembers the story of Alija Kassam Bhagat. His Ibadat (prayer) was like food to him. Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah recognized his piety.

Kulsumbai recalls that there were Dr. Sorabji and Dr. Decosta who were practicing physicians. However, when it came to midwifery it was Jenabai Abdulla Mohamed Kanji who came to attend.

Kulsumbai remembered my nanabapa,  Mawji Ismail. He would stay with them in Homa Bay as they did work in jinneries and ghee and fishing nets.

Not many women were encouraged to educate themselves. Some women would hide in the toilet and read. Kulsumbai’s mother taught herself the fundamentals of gujarati.

Kulsum Habib Kassam Kurji was married in Nairobi to Sadru Gulamhusein Jiva Darvesh. Mawlana Shah Karim joined their hands in marriage on May 29th, 1954. The bride and groom were lined up and the Prince gave blessing and ring to each couple.

Sadrubhai passed away when Kulsumbai was 25. She never remarried. She is a dedicated mother, and now a grandmother. Her hard work and dedicated family support has brought her thus far. She recalls how her father would regularly send food items.

Kulsumbai put her faith before anything. Her teachings came from knowledgeable women like Maji Bhachibai Tejpar and Maji Sikinabai Jadavji.

Retreats are in fashion now, but Kulsumbai went on a months retreat to Mombasa. She stayed with Sukaribai and they engaged in spiritual matters under the guidance of Maji Sikinabai Jadavji. Ibadat and right living became the focus of Kulsumbai’s life. This is the rope that has always guided her.

Kulsumbai lived in the Old Highride flats. Later on she moved to Parklands flats where she and her sister ran a hairdressing salon.

Hard work has never daunted her. She is a fine example of a stalwart, strong and stoic woman who is a pillar and role model for the family and the community.

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Malek Mamdani

His Highness the Aga Khan Homage July 11 2017 Aiglemont FranceHis Highness the Aga Khan at homage ceremony, July 11, 1957. Photo: The Ismaili.

Malekbai Mamdani is now 85. I met her in Chantilly at Chateau Mont Royal. We sat in the balcony over looking the deep green forests. She was reminiscing about her journey to this 2017 auspicious occasion of the Diamond Jubilee homage ceremony of Mawlana Shah Karim held on July 11.

Malekbai was born in Zanzibar on November 2, 1933 (Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was also born on the same day, in 1877). The midwife who attended her birth was called Jenabai Nurse. We concluded that Jenabai had the title without any proper qualification, as was the case in 1933.

Malekbai came to Dar es Salaam in the ‘Al Said’ with her parents, and sisters, Mira, Roshan and Zera.

They met the family of Jamal from the Congo. They also met Hassan Kassam family of Dar es Salaam.

Here flying to Gouvieux, France, over night, Malekbai  is amazed at the progress the family has made. The economic and social changes in the community is remarkable and the level of education has changed us all.

Malek used to belong to a pen friend club where one could correspond  to a boy or a girl of one’s choice. This is how she married her pen friend in 1956.

She said she felt a tremendous sense of gratitude to Mawlana Hazar Imam for his guidance which has led us to be a Jamat with a world class education. We have well informed institutional leaders and members as well as professionals in the community who are making a difference in the regions where we live.

Date posted: October 24, 2017.

Copyright © : Shariffa Keshavjee/Simerg. 2017.

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Shariff KeshavjeeShariffa 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. She is the founding member and director of the Hawkers Market School and the Kigera Girl Guides Centre which provide educational opportunities for destitute girls in the country’s slums. Her Hawkers Market Girls Centre has been the recipient of the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2004 in which the centre was given $85,000. In addition, she is also the founding member of FONA (Friends of the Nairobi Arboretum) which is dedicated to preserving Kenya’s forest and preserved arboreta. 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.

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