A brief note on Kamarbai Ramji’s 100th birthday celebration, and 5 rare photos from her family of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

My emotional visit to the family of Mrs. Kamarbai Ramji (1906 – 2007)

Kamarbai Premji
A portrait of Kamarbai Premji (1906 – 2007).

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

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.

Kamarbai Premji, Gulshan Premji and Badru Premji, Barakah
Kamarbai Ramji at her Burnaby home with her daughter Gulshan and son Badruddin. Gracing below the portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, are a few of the many letters of congratulations received by Kamarbai on reaching the age of 100. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

Kamarbai Premji Ramji (1906 – 2007) receives a helping hand from her daughter to cut her 100th birthday cake during a party held in her honour in Burnaby, British Columbia. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.
Ismaili Darkhana Canada leadership at 100th birtday party of Kamarbai Ramji
Darkhana Mukhi Salim Ahmed (2nd from left), Kamadia Karim Nathoo and their spouses pictured with Kamarbai Ramji during her 100th birthday celebration held in Burnaby, British Columbia. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

John Nuraney and Kamarbai Premji, Burnaby Canada, Barakah
BC MLA John Nuraney (1937-2016) visits Kamarbai Ramji at her home in Burnaby. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.”

100th birthday message from Canada's GG Michaëlle Jean, Barakah
Message of congratulations from Canada’s Governor General Michaëlle Jean for Kamarbai Ramji’s 100th birthday. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.
100th birthday message from PM Stephen Harper
Message of congratulations from Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Kamarbai Ramji’s 100th birthday. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

Aga Khan Takhtnashini Rajkot India, 1957, Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with Governing body, staff and nurses of the Kathiawar Health Centre in Rajkot, India, on March 19, 1958. This photo appears as an enlarged feature photo at top of this post. Front row, seated on chair (l to r): Mukhi Mohanbhai Manji, Huzurmukhi Jamalbhai Walji, Alijah Sawjibhai Mahamed, Hon. Secretary Alijani Gulshanbanu Kassamali Schroff, MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM, Chairman Varas Samjibhai Sawji Virani, Huzurmukhi Shamshuddin Zaver, Alijah Ahmedbhai Kanji, Rai Haji Mohamed Huzurmukhi Didarali, and Huzurmukhi Nooralibhai Kanji. Middle row standing: Inspector N.N. Virani, Huzurmukhi Virabhai Poonja, Alijah Alibhai Nathoo, Jamalbhai Alijah Kanji, Kanjibhai Adaa, Huzurmukhi Sabzalibhai Bhanji, Razakbhai Walji, Huzurmukhi Sadruddinbhai Jamal Jiwani, and Ibrahimbhai Kanji; Back Row: Alijah Jivrajbhai Hassambhai and Husseinbhai Mahamad Lakhani. Seated on ground are Kamarbai Ramji (2nd from left) with 5 of her colleague nurses (names unknown). Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

Aga Khan with Aga Khan Hospital Nurses Dar es Salaam 1966 Simerg and Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with a group of nurses at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam in 1966. Gulshan Ramji who served at the hospital from 1964-69 as a midwife is fourth from left (with wide smile). Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

Aga LKhan in Dar es Salaam, 1966, Barakah and Simerg.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with surgeons, staff and nurses at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam in 1966. Dr. Allidina, Dr. Nurali Vellani and Dr. Gulamhussein Daya are among those in the photo. Gulshan Ramji is in 2nd row, 7th from left. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured in Kisumu, Kenya, during his Silver Jubilee visit in 1982. Gulshan Ramji who has been an active volunteer all her life is at left with folded hands. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

Aga Khan with Kisumu Ismaili volunteers, Silver Jubilee 1982, Barakah and Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured with Ismaili volunteers in Kisumu Kenya, during his Silver Jubilee visit in 1982. The photo was taken at the bungalow of Kamadia Sadruddin Esmail. Photo: Late Kamarbai P. Ramji Family Collection.

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.

Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 190 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, his family and the Ismaili Imamat.

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This website, Barakah, is a special project by http://www.Simerg.com and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan and members of his family, as well as the Ismaili Imamat.

4 comments

  1. 100 years! What an amazing life. May Kamarbai’s soul rest in peace. As a regular reader, I truly appreciate the rare and often historical photos that are posted in Barakah and I sincerely thank Gulshan and Badru for sharing their collection with your readers.

    Like

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