My emotional visit to the family of Mrs. Kamarbai Ramji (1906 – 2007)
I first learnt about the Late Kamarbai Premji Ramji (d. July 18, 2007) during the summer of 2019 from my mother, Alwaeza Malek Merchant. I made it a point that I would meet with Kamarbai’s two children in Canada, Badruddin (Badru) and Gulshan, when I next visited Vancouver.
The warmth, affection and respect by which Badru and Gulshan greeted me at their apartment near the Ismaili Centre Vancouver (the Darkhana of Canada) was deeply touching. They didn’t think I would show up, as they felt they were “very ordinary” Ismailis. When they said that to me upon opening the door, I sincerely replied, “You are true and loyal murids of Mawlana Hazar Imam, and possess immense love for him, and for me that makes both of you very rich.” As I took a few steps into their home, I told them it was my deep honour to be with them.
Badru and Gulshan lovingly cared for their mother, Kamarbai, for several years until she passed away on July 18, 2007 at the age of 100, exactly a week after the commencement of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee on July 11. Thus, Kamarbai’s wish that she should live until the Jubilee was fulfilled. Her 100th birthday, which fell on December 18, 2006, was celebrated twice. It was attended by neighbours and friends as well as prominent leaders of the Ismaili community, local MPs and MLAs.
Kamarbai received messages of congratulations from the then Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean, Prime Minister Stephen Harper as well as Federal and Provincial Leaders from around the country. The Mayor of Burnaby sent her a bouquet of roses. The local newspaper, Burnaby Now, reported Kamarbai’s 100th birthday in its issue dated January 20, 2007, under the heading “Century of Life, Learning.”
Born in Madhavpur, India, in 1906, Kamarbai married early. Her husband, Premji Ismail Ramji, passed away shortly after the birth of their 4th child, Gulshan. The oldest child, Shirin, was then about seven years old. Kamarbai was left with the heavy responsibility of raising 4 children by herself. She initially earned her living through sewing, a trait that she passed to all her 3 daughters (Shirin and Roshan, who are both deceased, and Gulshan) and son Badru. She also worked as a nurse at the Aga Khan Health Centre in Junagadh before taking up an assignment with the General and C.M.Z. Hospital in Junagadh for a period of 13 years from 1947 to 1960.
At the time of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to India in 1958 for his Takhtnashini (ceremonial installation), Kamarbai worked as a volunteer nurse with the Aga Khan Kathiawar Health Centre in Rajkot, and had the privilege of being in a rare group photo that was taken with the Imam. She then settled with her daughter Gulshan in Dar es Salaam after her son Badru moved there in 1961.
Like her mother Kamarbai, Gulshan too pursued nursing and worked as a midwife from 1964-69 at the newly opened Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam. She has proudly shared two group photos taken with Mawlana Hazar Imam during his visit to the hospital in 1966.
Later, Gulshan settled with her mother in Kisumu, where they ran the famous and highly acclaimed Razbi Guest House, which was especially popular among the American Peace Corps. Like many Ismaili girls, she served as a volunteer, and showed me two more photos taken with Mawlana Hazar Imam during his Silver Jubilee visit to Kisumu in 1982.
During his 11 years in Dar es Salaam, Badru held very responsible positions in a private firm, which was later nationalized and came to be known as STC. He then joined Mansoor Daya’s pharmaceutical arm for sometime, before migrating to Canada in 1982. His mother and sister Gulshan joined him in the early 1990’s. Badru has two daughters Karima and Aliya who live in Canada.
Badru’s challenges since settling in Canada have been enormous. When he described his personal story, I had to hold back my own tears. He was honest and sincere in all of his accounts. His voice cracked on numerous occasions as he spoke, and he himself held back tears. The memories of his mum’s sacrificing spirit and patience, as well as his love and faith in Mawlana Hazar Imam – “the Imam is always with you” – have sustained him on a very personal matter for almost 30 years. He continues to live in hope and believes in the power of prayer! He works as a devoted volunteer and has been driving the Darkhana Jamatkhana bus for many years.
As we turn to his family’s collection of photographs, I see the joy in his face as he sees the precious pictures of his mother and his sister with Mawlana Hazar Imam. They deeply inspire Badru. I also see joy in his face as we flip through a vast album containing photos celebrating his mother’s 100th birthday.
I request that I take the photos to my mum’s home for scanning. Without any hesitation whatsoever, Gulshan and Badru graciously part with their precious collection of photos that include framed historic photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visits to India and East Africa in 1958, 1966 and 1982. There are 5 in all but very few people have seen these photos. When I return the photos two days later, Gulshan brings out her mother’s beautiful needlework as well as some important hardware required for the craft. I am absolutely amazed as I see beautiful works of art, decorative cushions, warm socks, beautiful dresses and scarves spanning a period of some 70 years. Kamarbai continued knitting until she was 85. That will be a separate story in its own right in a future post on one of Barakah’s sister website.
I am deeply grateful to Badru and Gulshan for contributing their photos to Barakah and making this post possible. The photographs on this page are a tribute to their remarkable mother. I pay my deepest respects to Kamarbai Premji Ramji and her fantastic children, and pray for the eternal peace of her soul as well as the souls of all the members of her family who have departed this earth. Among them are Kamarbai’s husband Premji Ramji and her daughters Shirin and Roshan.
To Badru and Gulshan, I say from the bottom of my heart, “Thank you and may all your wishes be fulfilled (soon).”
Date posted: December 26, 2019.
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