By MANSOOR LADHA
I have had the rare and unique privilege to meet Mawlana Hazar Imam personally as a journalist and as a leader of the Ismaili community. As features editor of the leading Tanzania’s English daily, The Standard, he was gracious enough to grant me an exclusive interview in 1970 in Dar es Salaam, during his visit to inaugurate the IPS building with President Nyerere near the Askari monument. Then again in 1978, when Hazar Imam made his historic first visit to Canada, I spent three-days with him as chairman of the Ismaili jamat in Edmonton. I consider myself blessed to have had such extraordinary, outstanding and exceptional opportunities, which have been the most fulfilling and memorable occasions of my life.
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At the Dar es Salaam interview, I was excited, but also nervous, as this was to be my first close encounter face-to-face with Hazar Imam. As a 27-year-old journalist with only four years of journalism experience under my belt, I was having a lifetime honour and privilege of interviewing one of the greatest men on the planet and the Imam of the Time!
Hazar Imam sat beside me, smiling broadly, royally. The interview, which lasted for about hour and a half, went very well. I had to switch off being an Ismaili murid and behave like a journalist. At the time Princess Zahra was a few months old and there were two leading Asian women in power as prime ministers: Mrs. Indira Gandhi in India and Mrs. Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka. So I asked him rather nervously: “In the absence of a male heir was it possible for a woman to become the Imam of the Ismailis?”
I should perhaps clarify that I was curious not only as an Ismaili but also as a journalist to get his response. Hazar Imam looked at me, straight in the eye, and said: “No, absolutely not!”
Hazar Imam’s answer was very firm and clear.
After my interview ended, I requested a photo session on behalf of Adarsh Nayar, The Standard’s chief photographer, who was waiting outside. Hazar Imam readily agreed, and Adarsh was summoned into the living room. Again, the good mood that he was in showed clearly, as he co-operated with the photographer in a very gracious manner. Adarsh must have finished about two rolls of 24 exposures and, happily, we said our goodbyes after the photo session. Hazar Imam came up to the door to see us off and shook hands with both of us. Michael Curtis, who walked with us outside, remarked that he had never seen journalists in Europe being treated so well as we were treated. Undoubtedly, it was once in a lifetime experience and I will cherish the experience and the memories as long as I live.
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Adarsh was so excited that he went straight to the newspaper office to process the film. In about half an hour or so, Adarsh phoned me at home. In a disoriented voice, he declared that all those close-ups and portraits of Hazar Imam came out blank except for my picture with him sitting on a love seat! He couldn’t understand what went wrong and if something did go wrong, then my picture with him shouldn’t have come! This was the chief photographer of the daily newspaper, with several years of experience who had under him four other photographers working and he didn’t make mistakes. Adarsh has several years of experience photographing heads of state. The episode was baffling. However, my priceless picture, with a mysterious story that I often narrate as an after-dinner conversation, still proudly hangs in my living room in Calgary!
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I was privileged to have a second personal chance meeting with Hazar Imam when I was chairman of the Ismaili community in Edmonton when he paid his first visit to Canada in November 1978. His Highness chatted lightly with everyone in the car after arrival. I took the opportunity of the prevalent approachability mood to remind him about my Dar es Salaam interview of 1970. To my utter astonishment, he said: “Yes, I remember the interview very well. You were very kind to me!” When I looked behind from my front seat in the car, I noted that Hazar Imam had a smile on his face.
I am indeed grateful for the opportunities that came my way both as journalist and a leader of the Jamat and express my humble Shukhar for the wonderful moments that Mawlana Hazar Imam bestowed on me.
Date posted: May 8, 2021.
Mansoor Ladha has held senior editorial positions as a copy editor in Canada (Edmonton Journal & Calgary Herald), features editor (The Standard in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania), copy editor (Daily Nation, Nairobi, Kenya) and was the only owner/publisher of colour of a mainstream English newspaper in Canada for 25 years. Since retiring, he has been travelling around the world as a travel writer on assignments and has published travel features in leading Canadian newspapers and magazines. He has numerous awards to his credit including being a Citizen of the Year in the Town of Morinville, Alberta; Silver Quill Award by the Alberta Weekly Newspapers for distinguished service to newspapers as well as Canada’s Caring Canadian Award for “outstanding and selfless contribution to your community and Canada” by the Governor General of Canada. Author of two highly acclaimed books, A Portrait in Pluralism and Memoirs of a Muhindi (read Article), he is scheduled to publish two more books, a non-fiction and a novel, in 2021. Ladha was also contributor to Simerg’s acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There with a remarkable piece on the Fatimid hero Jawhar.
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