Hassanali Walji Kanji
|Hassanali Walji Kanji|
|Place of birth||Khoja Beraja|
|Country of birth|| India
|Name of institution of highest education achieved||4 Chopri- Govt Indian School, Khoja Beraji|
|Place of longest stay||Dar es Salaam|
|Profession or occupation carried out for the longest period in life:||Wholesale Distributor, Industrialist,Philanthropist|
|Where||Dar es Salaam|
|Family tree||click here|
|Full name||Walji Kanji|
Hassanali Bhai life-story illustrates the historic journey of the Khojas over the centuries-from peasant farmers to small traders to entrepreneurs - except that in his case, he has done the transition in one lifespan!
And although, he has lived in Calgary, Alberta and Dar es salaam, Tanzania, putting family roots and improving his fortune, when the time came to pay back, like a true son, he chose to return to his place of birth, his native Kathiawar, to provide help and support for the neglected ultra-poor Khoja Ismailis!
Hassanali Bhai was born in Khoja Beraja near Jamnagar, India and spent the first 17 years of his life there. He only went to the local village school upto 4th chopri class Gujarati and like his father and grandfather before him, joined the family’s subsistence farm. They grew jowhar, millet, rice and other kathors lentils. They ate what they grew and a daily diet, (very single day!) consisted as follows:
''Breakfast: mani chapatis and chai tea;
Lunch: bajar rotla millet chapati and a lentil saag stew
Dinner: kitchdi milk and loose lentil-rice mix and chaas yogurt milk. '
They baked chehn cow dung cooking pellets for sell in Jamnagar town and used that money to buy necessary clothes and some sweets treats! Home was a self-built stone-mud house with whitewash chalk walls. Life was very hard and since the farm was irrigated by well-water, starvation always around the corner every time the rains failed and the well dried up. Despite his long life journey after, Hassanali Bhai would never forget those days nor those Khojas still suffering in those conditions in Kathiawar!
By 1930’s, some of his uncles had moved to Tanzania, where the Khojas had a settlement for almost a century and where there was a good system of support for new migrants. And so in 1939, his elder brother made a move and opened a small duka shop in Pugu Masaki near Dar es salaam. And then as soon as he was old enough, at age 17, Hassanali Bhai followed and started work with his brother.
The brother's duka was a small piri-piri bezari store, where they sold rations like daga dried fish, oil and onions and some clothes. Hassanali Bhai sat in the store and first learnt the Swahili language and then how to do vepar-trade. On weekends, when there was a produce market, he learnt how to work in a buying syndicate, which then resold amongst the traders, thus lowering the price. Thus, an Indian farmer learnt how to undercut African farmers! And once, he even had to stand up with a gun-toting Khoja trader, who wanted to cut out poorer traders from the syndicate!
After 1 ½ to 2 years, his brother decided to move to a better opportunity in Mingoni, near Mtwara and gave the store with merchandise worth shgs. 3,000 to Hassanali Bhai as wages for this services. His brother prospered and then brought his parents and four siblings to Tanzania.
In the 50’s, Hassanali Bhai also prospered (Due to the general world demand, created by the Korean War) and moved to a bigger store in Kariakoo, in the city of Dar es salaam. He started to import textiles from Germany, Japan, Hong Kong and India, through the company agents in town. His wholesale business offered goods on 90 days credit to upcountry traders, who worked through dalals buying agents in town. The upcountry buyers (See Zerakhanu Alidina) would sign bills, which would be used as security at the local banks for company credit. If not paid in 90 days, he would be liable to the bank. He remembers there were many failures and compromises!
In the 60's, Hassanali Bhai expanded into a small garments industry, teaching himself cutting and purchasing 10 sewing machines for making shirts and other garments. Later, with a few merchant partners, he started Tangamco (Tanganyika Garment Co), where that made shirts for the local market. He ultimately sold his shares at a loss and another similar venture, KanVir Shirts also proved unsuccessful. Hassanali Bhai thinks there just was not enough government support for the development of local industrialisation in Tanzania at that time.
All the while, his own wholesale business prospered and for the 10 years prior to the fateful government nationalization property of 1971, See Brief Hisotry of Khojas in Dar es Salaam Hassanali ran a very successful business enterprise – no small accomplishment for an unlettered peasant farmer from Kathiawar!
By 1974, many East African Asians(including Khojas) had started moving to greener pastures in United Kingdom, Canada and Australia and so Hassanali Bhai also applied for Canada, at age 44, for a skilled worker visa as a garment cutter. He says he was selected as he had some excellent letters of recommendations from the local embassies, including India etc.!
He settled In Calgary to be with his children and immediately started moves to make personal progress. After a brief stint as a garment-cutter, he bought a retail t-shirt print store in 1976. Even though Alberta has a boom bust oil driven economy, Hassanali Bhai operated that business for over 20 years! He recalls that the business got a big boost during the Calgary Olympics in 1986.
Always the entrepreneur, later, in conjunction with partners, Hassanali Bhai operated the largest chicken farm in Canada with 60,000 birds! The business project also included a hotel shop etc. in North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
VOLUNTARY PUBLIC SERVICE
Although, he retired from active business in 1990, Hassanali Bhai only really only changed the focus of his amazing drive, as he then began to make his huge contribution, to improve the conditions his Kathiawar homeland, taking materials and supervising education initiatives.
In 1993, after a major earthquake, Hassanali Bhai paid for and supervised the repair of many personal homes, including a Khoja Ismaili jamatkhana.
In 1999, with the help of a donor group from Paris to purchase a parcel of land, Hassanalli Bhai donated and built school buildings, at a cost pf 30 lakhs rupees, for the Jubilee Cultural School in Jiwapur, in the Navgham district, near Jamnagar. This school is now run by the Kathiawar Trust. Recently, he donated another 5 computers at a cost of $1,000 to the school.
In 2002, Hassanali Bhai and his group of donors provided no-interest no-guarantee loans to the Khoja farmers – he notes that those that paid back the loans, went on to becoming wealthier and being able to borrow upto 50,000 rupees for other worthwhile business enterprises, whilst those who did not repay the loans, failed to progress!
In 2006, the group started a mobile doctor service that ran for 6 years- the doctor visited patients in the district and provided diagnosis and medicine only for a quarter rupee!
In 2007, they helped build a new Jamatkhana community hall in the district. In 2008, they fed over 600 seniors to a festival meal. Also in 2007, they send a whole container of clothes to be distributed in the entire district.
Recently, they trained over 200 ladies in stitching clothes, doing henna and other small business skills, which they utilize to increase their family income.
Hassanali Bhai feels sad about the situation of the ultra-poor of Kathiawar and wishes more successful Khojas would help. “It is disgraceful to blame the poor for their conditions and use that as an excuse - we must do what we have to do!” he says.
Hassanali Bhai has spent a lot of his effort in Kathiawar-he is a hands-on man and the time and money he spends there has earned him the respect of the people of Kathiawar, as well as the local administrators, who appreciate his "can-do" spirit.
Hassanali Bhai in Kathiawar
He is grateful that his good health has allowed him to serve and feels it is the result of his early years of work on his knees at the family farm!
We wish Hassanali Walji Kanji many years of life and sewa and thank him for not forgetting his own people in Kathiawar.