Habib Rahemtulla Lalani

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Habib Rahemtulla Lalani
Habib Lalani.png
Town of birth
Province of birth
Country of birth
Date of Birth
  • 1910
Date of Death
  • 1997
Place of longest stay
Profession or occupation carriedout for the longest period in life
  • Business
Where-City or Country

Born in 1910 Bilkha

Habib Lalani was born in British India in 1910, in Bilkha, Kathiawad, Gujarat. He migrated to British East Africa in 1929, later migrating and settling in the Masaka area of Buganda, Uganda. Decades later, in 1972, he with his family had to flee their homeland - forever - given safe haven by Canada.

He tells us that his father wrote down "...writings from text books. Whenever he went out visiting and learned something new about religion, he wrote it down."

"When I learnt how to read and write I used to read these.I, too had writings in many notebooks filling up a suit case. I had written many old details in Uganda but having to leave the country, many of my papers and journals were left behind. Now I have to start afresh."

In Uganda, he had written his memoirs and historical account but his journals and other papers were left behind after they were forced to flee the country with just the bare minimum.

Habib Lalani however re-wrote from memory his journal here in Toronto. The quality of Habib's writing reflects his long experience in it and is a good example of fine personal story-telling.

Evidently, he was a talented writer.

Zahir Dhalla (2017)

Heading Lalani.png

circa 1915 onwards, until 1929 when Habib migrated to East Africa

Birth in Bilkha Etc

My full name is Habib Rahemtulla Nurmohamed Karim Ladha Poonja Dhana Lalani. i was born in British India in 1910, in Bilkha, Kathiawad, When I was born, my father lived in Bilkha and ran a parchuran (sundry consumer goods: handkerchiefs, fulanas, undershirts or singlets, socks) and produce business. My mosad (mother's family) was there too.

Towns near Bilkha

Near Bilkha there was a town of Garasiya which in olden days was the seat of a royal family of Kathi Raja and from where they ruled. Naagri was about 8 miles away, in between was Anandpur - these were riverside towns along the Ozat River. [Translator: Search the internet for "Ozat River Gujarat photos" to see what the river is like.] When it was full chumasu, (literally of four months i.e. the monsoon rains), and a lot of rain, it sometimes flooded and threatened reaching the town although that never happened.

The locals had a custom whenever such a threat a rose: elders of each river town would appoint a person known as a Patel, who would take a new chundni, shawl, and a coconut, some barley, some rice, some kanku, red powder used by Hindus to mark a tilak or bindi, dot, on the forehead, wrapping them in the chundni, take it to the river and make a plea "O! River mother, save us from dark waters" and the waters would recede. I witnessed one such case when I was 5-6 years old.

The Patel also had the duty to sound an ominous tattoo on a drum whenever any threat presented. We all ran from our houses, which were built of stone and mud as compared to Canada where they are built of wood. Our motabapa, elder paternal uncle, Jamalbhai had a 3-storey place, where as many people as could get in sought shelter on the upper floors. The others took refuge in trees. It was a dark storm and people could only see others by the flash of lightning, for lighting by lantern was not possible in the wind and rain. Jamal bapa attempted to take a chundni to the river, for he was a town elder. He made it to the town gates and seeing water had reached, he threw it in, and water began to recede.

We all lived around a common yard.

When we left Bilkha and came to Naagri, I was about 4-5 years old. There was Jamal bapa, Premji kaka, (younger paternal uncle), Mohamed kaka. We lived in an old family yard known as deli into which 5 homes backed and which the brothers occupied. In the 5th, one lived Rahemtulla Poonja. At night, we pulled our beds out into the yard and chatted away. [Poonja's family had been there for generations. When I came to Africa in 1929, they still lived in the same place. After that the girls moved out to their own families while husband and wife passed away.]

Jamal bapa's wife was Amulabai whose parents were the Somani family in Superi. Jamal bapa was influential and was well-respected in government and was helpful to travelers inviting them to meals and was never seen to be sad. Friends and acquaintances would come and stay for months on end. Both Jamal bapa and Amula ma showed lot of love. For all my 19 years that I saw them they were happy and in love. They had 1 bhens, ox, and 1 cow. Every Friday, they took 1/8th portion of milk and ghee from the cow to JK. If needed, they would buy that milk from nandi, food offering.

Plague, 1920s

I remember a karkario dukar, severe drought. Those were bad times and an infectious disease called marki, plague, broke out. Even in the small town of Naagri there were 3-4 deaths every day, later 7-8 per day. Households began to become empty. One day 10 people passed away. Our forefathers' faith helped. Special morning prayers were started. People gathered at 3 am in the JK, doing bandgi, meditation, with zikar, chanting, until daylight. With Allah's blessings, not even one Ismaili suffered even a headache and did not experience any hardship and were saved from this with ease. I remember this very well. After a while the disease subsided. Elsewhere in other towns where giryazari, special prayer of plea, was being done there too they were saved.

The Barwatia (outlaw) Menace, 1923+

Barwatia was a constant fear. Barwatia means outlaw and its associated lawlessness and harassment of the public with much looting, robbing, kidnapping / ransoming and revenge for past issues. Every now and then there was fear of this happening. They were well-armed and resorted to kidnapping and demanding ransom. They would arrive at night in a small town and loot what they pleased. For their personal safety people just hid in the fields or hidden spaces in their homes. Especially vulnerable were those whom the outlaws had a grudge against or a score to settle with. The police tried hard to apprehend them sometimes with violent confrontations. Many books have been written on these Barwatia. Even songs have been written about them. In 1923-24, they came to Naagri and Jamal bapa's place being prominent they decided to loot it. Jamal bapa was not at home so they scared Amula ma to hand over valuables. They came at 11 pm, disguised, because they were well known.

They broke the lock on the town's gate and came in. There is a big square in town close to which was our place. As soon as they entered the square, the town policeman saw them and recognized some of them. They captured and tied him up threatening to shoot him if he made any noise. And now they could proceed to Jamal bapa's. We too had a gate to our group of buildings which we locked at night. They forced the captured policeman to announce out loud that a town official called so-and-so had arrived and they needed ingredients for tea from Jamal bapa's dukan, shop, and that this was so-and-so town policeman calling out. Whenever a government official needed something Jamal bapa always obliged under a contract with the government on a monthly billing. At night when something was needed the dukan window was used instead of opening the shop door. The dukan was next to our courtyard and the customer was served through its door all of which the captured policeman well knew.

Even the dacoits knew all this. At this moment Amulama hearing this locked the house door which was very strong and could not be broken down. Kamadia Rehmtulla Poonja lived next door and at this time slept in his osri, verandah, on account of the heat. He heard the policeman shouting and through the window told Amula baa about the deli ugadwa mate, shopping need, and so what to do. Amula baa, mother, knew about such occurrences and the needed goods had to be provided. So, she gave Poonja bhai the dukan keys, instructing him to provide them with whatever they wanted. Rehmtullabhai took the keys and came to open deli no darwajo, shop door. As soon as he opened it he saw the hawaldar, watchman, tied up and the dacoits pointing a gun to his chest. They told him to open Jamalbhai's house and that they were Barwatias and "If you make any trouble we will kill you!" They all went to Amulabai's where Rehmtullabhai called her out asking her to open the door. The barwatias added if the door is not opened we will burn it down and kill Rehmtullabhai.

There was fear of the door being set on fire as there was a can of kerosene right outside. So out of fear of harm she opened the door. Taking Allah's name, she pushed it open and immediately two dacoits came in and poked Amula bai in the chest with a pistol. Before opening he had warned her that there were Barwatias outside wanting to come in. She could only say Ya Ali, Ya Ali. She told them she had nothing and whatever there was in this house they could take. Jamal bapa had a number of patanas in the house - lokhan ni petio, iron trunks - which were durable and would not burn in a fire. The dacoits demanded the keys and Rehmtullabhai handed them over. They told the hawaldar to see what was in the patanas as they themselves didn't want to lest the heavy lids shut on them accidentally or deliberately. Among the things, the hawaldar took out was money, and also jewelry. Some of the jewelry was pawned by their kheruton, farmers, a business that Jamal bapa also ran earning interest on money lent. In addition to money and jewelry they also demanded the gold earrings and bangles Amulabai was wearing. She did that, saying "You are my brothers after all, take them". They put the loot in their pockets. As they were doing this, gun fire was heard outside and so only with whatever they had pocketed they fled leaving the rest behind.

The cause of gunfire: two of the 4 dakus, dacoits, had stayed outside while two had gone inside the house. One of the two outside stood guard at the door. The other patrolled outside the court yard where he encountered a village man who was out getting help for his ailing wife. He was slapped and roughed up by the daku who ordered the man to immediately return home which the dazed man did. But then the dacoits began worrying that the man might go alert others and they would cause trouble. He was afraid they would be recognized as in reality they were not really Barwatias. So, he fired a signal shot for the others which they all had previously arranged as a precaution. Also, the town folks who heard it realized there were Barwatias around and it was wise to remain hidden indoors.

The dakus left the house bolting the door from outside after ordering silence. Outside in the court yard they joined the sentry who had an unsheathed sword and a gun. On the other side lived Premji kaka and Mohamed kaka's children. From the gap between their closed window doors they spied. Mohamed kaka's daughter Sikina (Alibhai Premji's wife) and her younger brothers were there. Karmalibhai, and others were there. The kakas were out of town. With lights turned off and shaking with fear they spied through the gap. Our house being off to the side we were not in a position to see. The dakus went away and left town by a side road, taking with them the hawaldar because he had recognized them.

When they were outside of town they shot him and took off. Two of them in reality were policeman in Anandpur and the other two were their acquaintances. Their objective had been to rob and get much loot while Jamal bapa was absent but they did not accomplish it since if Allah was going to protect Jamalbhai they could not. The two policemen had in the past visited Jamal bapa and had lunch with him. They had his food and then they wanted to rob him. They had seen his place but Mawla ni gati nyari chhe, Mawla's way is amazing. They were caught and admitted to their crime. Jamal bapa recovered all his stuff and he forgave them in court saying he did not wish to press charges.

But this being a criminal case the public prosecutor had them tried and sentenced. One of the convicted was the son of a wealthy man who used his influence to have him freed. Out of shame he could not face Jamal bapa and left town. During this Barwatia episode we were there in our house but we could not see his house nor did we hear even the gunfire thus not awoken otherwise we too would have panicked and escaped through the window to a secluded path nearby. Allah saved us from this. It was only after the Barwatias had left and there was commotion of the town folk that we became aware. Mawla ni ghati Mawlaj jane chhe, Mawla's way only Mawla knows.

Life in those days, 1920s

This is how families gave dudjanu, alms. Dudjanu = milk from bhens, buffalo, cow, goat whatever one kept. Wasidu = care of these animals. It took 8-10 bedi to fill a gagad of water for household need. Water was fetched from the waw, large stepped well, using a sincharan, thick draw rope, and a handa, bucket. The bedi (about a dabo) is placed on the head to carry it home. Young brides would effortlessly do this without any spillage, ramti-gumti Iambi laaj kadheli, playful with long sari top veiled over the head, without being aware of their head load.

Outdoors, brides showed their respect for elders. If on the way, a man older than her husband is met she turns herself away showing only her back to him, proceeding only after he has passed. This was the custom. Their work involved fetching water for all household needs, firewood, and cattle dung for fuel, which is kneaded into patties for drying. Women's work also involved fetching water, doing laundry at the river, if not using water drawn from a well, cooking and serving 3 meals to the family, cleaning up. Men are not at all involved doing any of this work, concentrating on their own work and if he was a farmer, his lunch would be dispatched by his wife. And if he needed an extra hand in the field, she would come.

During the season, she makes pickles for the whole year, in some households there would be a 2-year supply. There was a belief that saro athano banawi baar sukwel teni jatan karwi joe, preparing fine pickle and placing it outside for drying requires taking care of, else then bugs would fall in. For the same reason, anyone broken out with chicken pox or has just been circumcised is kept away from oochayo, shade. In small towns, there were no hospitals and every household had all kinds of home remedies based on advice from experienced healers. Even when someone has to go to hospital, it would be viewed with suspicion and skeptical of recovery. Our town population was 2,000 and there were homeopaths, mid-wives and all kinds of natural remedies. Nearby within miles were many villages with homeopaths. My motabapa, eldest paternal uncle, Jamalbhai was one too. I remember distinctly people flocking to seek remedies - phaki, kado, pain killers, colon water - which were usually effective.

In this town, there were all kinds of communities - Khoja, Lohana, Brahmin, Kanbi, Ayer, Ganchi, Mochi, Wagri, Pinjara, Dhor, Bhagya, all living in their own areas e.g. mochi wado, hamlet of the shoemakers, etc. If one touched a dhedh bhangi, toilet caretakers - other than a Muslim or a Khoja - he could not enter his home, until someone from within sprinkled water on him or he touched a Muslim! If a dhedh bhangi wants to purchase something,his money is first sprinkled with water or a Muslim or Khoja touches it thus cleansing it, only then the Hindu will take the money. And if anyone - including Muslim - touches utensils, they have to be cleansed by open flame. And if while eating one is touched, it's game over. He would have to go cleanse himself in the Ganges. The other party would be severely punished by the town Patel. When I was old enough to remember / understand, Jamal bapa was 50 years old. Both (he and his wife) had a lot of love for children and we would be treated to delicious foods.


Once again, I write about my early days. When I was young in Naagri there was a government Gujarati school. At the age of about 7, I started school. First it was ekra guntra, counting. When that was learnt up to 100, then ka kha ghutwa na hoy, alphabet, then badakhadi [Translator-Transcriber Note: these are the 12 vowels attached to consonants to form the complete set of syllables, for example the vowel 'e' attached to the consonant 'sh' gives the syllable 'she', similarly the vowel 'ee' attached to the consonant 'l' gives the syllable 'lee' and the vowel 'aa' attached to the consonant 'n' gives the syllable 'naa'; stringing these syllables together we get 'sheleenaa' but whose common English spelling is Shelina]. After that was taught, writing of words, everything being written on slates. At that time, there was no paper or pencils. For 4 years, it was all slates. We learnt fractions. Everything had to be learnt by heart. Whenever the teacher quizzed us we had to have the answers immediately otherwise we were punished. He would grill us on simple arithmetic. Every week one was made to stand up and answer such questions. The 3rd and 4th grades required a lot to be learnt and memorized, including a lot about weights and measures used everywhere such as in precious metals and their parts including their thousands quantities. We had to reply standing up, for example if a measure costs so much then a number of them comes to how much? We were also taught percentages especially interest, for example how much is the interest over a given period of time. All calculating had to be done in the head, only the answer was written on the slate.

Once you were enrolled in school, attendance was a must unless you were very ill for which you needed a note from your parents. Punishment was part of the rules - if you didn't know your lesson you were punished, by cane. You were told to stretch out your hand and he (teacher) would strike your palm with his cane and you couldn't help cry out. If you were late you were punished. You were made to stand for an hour. You were made to bend down and grip your toes and stay in that position for half an hour. And you had to be still which was enforced by having a stick balanced on your back and if it fell the punishment was doubled. If someone was a truant staying away from school, then 4 boys were sent to his home, sometimes accompanied by the teacher, to bring him ting-a-todi (held up by all 4 limbs) to school - after being paraded through town. The government had strict laws regarding schooling.

Junagadh was under Muslim rule. Fridays and half-day Sundays, schools were off. On important Muslim holidays like Eid school was off. Other than that school continued, from 7 am - 6 pm with a 1-hour lunch break from 12 pm - 1 pm. After coming home, we did home work in addition to doing chores like fetching water, firewood; we were assigned duties. Teachers at the time were paid 15 rupees monthly. Each student had to pay 1 anna monthly. Every year, a government official would come to conduct examinations. He would stay for 2-3 days and class-by-class conducted the exams. We wrote answers on our slates. Town folks came to school during this time to ensure no one was cheating especially if one's child was very clever. The exam results were given out right away. There were 40 students in a class and 1 teacher for it, 4 classes in all. There was a big hall in which higher students sat on benches, some sitting on the floor.

Some students came from 2-3 miles away, especially children of business people for whom education was very customary as compared to farmers who rarely sent their children to school and said "We are not running any business. What do we need to study for?" In big towns, there were separate schools for boys and girls and people who lived there could have their girls educated and that too of the well-to-do. The fee there was higher, 4 annas a month which at the time was onerous for most. By age 12, I had completed 4 grades. Beyond that one had to be sent to a bigger town where schooling beyond grade 4 was available. The cost of this meant that most children were not educated beyond grade 4. My nanima, maternal grandma, lived in Bilkha where there was a school and accommodation was not a problem but there were other costs such as stationery. I had the desire to continue school but it was not possible.

My nanima, maternal grandma, often came to visit us in Naagri which I clearly remember though young I was. She would definitely bring ganthia, thick fried flakes, and peda, sweetmeat, for me. As soon as she stepped in I would dash to grab the potlu, wrapped cloth, and open it! Taking the pedas out, I would bite into them. Nanima loved me immensely. After I finished school, I was with her a lot in Bilkha. With time on hand,there was a lot of roaming about. Once nanima's brother from Balgam came to Bilkha to fetch us for his daughter's wedding 20 miles away. He came on horseback and we 3 rode the one horse turn-by-turn. We reached Balgam in the evening having started early in the morning from Bilkha. It was a small town like Naagri. It had a JK. We had a great time. The wedding was done as usual with dham dhum, pomp. I can still vividly recall it as if it were before me right here. In Bilkha, Hassam mama's sons, that is Sikinabai's [Alibhai Premji's wife's] brothers were of my age and we passed time whole day roaming.

Helping Dad

Later my father had me help in his shop in Naagri - (selling cooking needs like) marchi, masala, tel, ghee, etc. Customers would bring their produce with which to procure items from our shop, there was very little money used. We had a skillet there for roasting peas and popcorn which customers brought and we roasted. During the (harvest) season there were a lot of customers. Premji kaka and Mohamed kaka also had the same roasting facility but my father was better known. I learnt how to do the roasting. There was a big skillet and a wood-burning furnace and in it, I would roast the peas and popcorn. It was hard-work in the season. There was much trade and we had to keep good stock. My father traded out of town too and would take me along. More than peas, there was a lot of produce that customers brought in. Sometimes we would buy produce right in the growing fields. I helped while my mother also ran a side business of goods obtained from Junagadh - glass bangles, broaches, toys, balloons, etc. - which she sought out there, bringing them home and selling. During weddings, there was much business.

Later my father, 6 miles away, in a town called Dungarpur opened a shop. It was a train stop between Junagadh and Bilkha. The customers there were all labourers working in stone quarries. They broke stones and were paid for it. Our shop there was like Naagri, including selling peas and popcorn. Father and I lived there, sometimes I by myself. The labourers lived in the vicinity of the quarries in tin shacks. Our shop too was a tin shack. The business was all cash money. People travelled by train from Naagri to Junagadh and often we would encounter people from Naagri whom we knew. There was a town called Khadiya where there was a resident called Kassambhai Jamal, who owned a stone quarry here and astride his horse, he would come here together with his lunch tiffin, metal containers, which he left in our shop.

Father cooked most of our meals. He knew how to cook a lot of things. At lunch time, he and Kassambhai would sit down and have lunch together. When father was not there and I was by myself my food came from Naagri. I would sit with Kassambhai and we would have our lunch together.There was a big snake living nearby and on and off he would sneak in. I was terrified of it but in time I got used to it. If you tease it, it gets mad but if we don't do anything it turns around and goes away.

One time I was very ill with fever and Kassambhai said if by evening it does not get better "I will make arrangements for you to go to Naagri." It did not subside and at 4 pm when Kassambhai came to check, he saw that the fever had gone up. He summoned one of his men and had me put on his horse on my way to Naagri 6 miles away. His man led the horse while watching me. It was slow and we reached Naagri after 2 hours. My fever had gone up even more. My chest was stuffed up. My mother seeing me was completely shocked asking what happened. There were no doctors there, only naturopaths. My motabapa Jamalbhai came over immediately. He saw me with much shortness of breath and immediately ordered onions (4-5 lbs) and extracted its juice and rubbed it on my chest and all over the body. And he put a big comforter over me and under my bed, heater. Father who was out of town came home late and seeing all this, he was completely taken aback. Mother all the time was at bedside with a tasbeeh, rosary. As far as I can recall, it was after midnight that fever began to subside and I noticed a difference but I had to sleep like this till morning. At night Jamal bapa having come over to check, was assured that it was under control, but also next day he had the treatment done again. My meals included gor ni daal, sweet lentil curry, ginger and masala chai, spicy tea, etc. After 3 days, I had proper rest. Now I understand when in Africa, in Bukoto, I contracted pneumonia during the Golden Jubilee for which I had gone to Nairobi. On the way back I had a fever. And the cold air along the way led to pneumonia. At the time, Dr. Sidik, a Musalman, Muslim, doctor, was in Masaka. He was very good and humble. We called him. He cleared my stomach with an enema. Then he applied plasters on my back. This was for 3 days plus rest.

In Naagri too it was the same - pneumonia - which we understood only later. Jamal bapa also boiled leaves and gave me its water to flush me out. There, unlike Africa, there were no built toilets, everyone went into gardens. But in my weak condition, I was not able to, so my maa enclosed a corner of our backyard with a piece of cloth as the curtain and that's where I would go. Poor her, she would clean up every day. Mother's love is boundless and only a mother knows it. And especially for me she had infinite love such that if anything happened to me, she would not eat or drink and only when I became well, she would break her fast. Whatever my favourite foods were, she would make. One time due to another illness I lost my appetite. I used to enjoy meat, fish, kebab, samosa so I said I want to have meat curry. At that time meat was not obtainable in Naagri. But in Khadiya, 3 miles away, being a Musalman town every Friday, goats were slaughtered and their meat sold on a first come first served basis. My father attempted to get it from Khadiya but there was the Ozat River on the way and which was in flood.

Crossing the Ozat

My father and Premji kaka were experienced in crossing the river; it was child's play to them. If Jamal bapa or Mohamed kaka or anyone in town such as a disabled person or women wanted to cross to the other side of Ozat River, they would carry them over! The two brothers would alternately carry people. If the river was much flooded, then no one thought of going across it. There were others who used natural floaters they made out of a large fruit after drying, seeding, sealing the opening and tying two of them together tightly and strapping them to their waist they would take people across. There were rafts too, made up of logs tied together on which they would sit 1-2 people having them hold tight. Themselves they would strap their floaters and take them across. However, they would not be able to land directly opposite, they would drift about half a mile or so downstream, even more when flooded. This was normal.

Whenever the level was high, it was like in Uganda, the Nile with its large volume of water and Murchison Falls and what we see on the way to Arua. This high level would last about 8 days, even half to a whole month if in high flood. In such situation, my father put his good clothes in a bundle over his head, folded his sarong into a loin cloth, crossed the river, put on his good clothes and made the journey to get the meat for me, on return repeating the maneuver for re-crossing the river. This is the unbounded love of parents, especially when a child is ill or hurt.

Playful but Obedient Child

One time when I was playing, I went out to a balcony at the back of our home and there were glass shards from a broken bottle of which a piece cut deep into my thumb and I started bleeding badly. I came out crying, shaking my hand, which drew my mother's attention. She thought for sure I had seen a snake, because in the village there was a constant threat of snakes. From time to time, a snake would sneak in and to alert the rats that there was a snake around a noise was made bak-bak-bak by striking a bottle and everyone would know it. This happened from time to time. This time though there was no such alarm. But she ran around panicked just the same and alerted neighbours. Then she bandaged me. There was no medication to be applied, instead all kinds of 'balms' were improvised and applied and sometimes a scar will remain like mine.

Once, when I was 11, I was accidentally bumped and knocked down while playing and I hit my head on a stone. Then too I suffered a lot. I recovered after about 6 months. There still is a mark on my scalp from this. Again, in a village, proper medication was difficult to obtain. And we just endured. Once I came down with measles and I was kept behind a curtain for 15 days. At the doorway were kept leaves of neem tree. Anyone coming to see me was first cleansed in the yard before being let in.

My sunat, circumcision, was done when I was 9-10 years old. A well-known Musalman in Junagadh was called over and 4 boys were circumcised including Gulamhuseinbhai Jumabhai. Even for this, in the doorway would be a dungro and wado. After 8 days, we were taken to get blessings with a dungro tied to our hands. This was not just in villages but also in big towns.

Superstitious beliefs were wide-spread and everyone was careful lest bad luck or disease befell the village. This disease was very bad. People's eyes were affected. [Translator-Transcriber Note: Goes on to explain medical details, omitted here.] Thankfully, due to Mawla, Ismailis were not affected. What my maa and bapa who endured and whose acknowledgement is always there, which if I write about I would fill books upon books. Though I do want to say that I never had the opportunity to look after my parents, although in my childhood, I did attend to my mother's needs and helped her. All the time, I was still at home in India, I did as my mother told me. I filled the water, brought the firewood, etc - did all kinds of work. When I was a little mature, I did not let my mother wash my clothes. I would wash them myself.

In the shop, there were playthings on the floor that I really liked to play with. Swimming in the river, diving, climbing trees. When in season we climbed ambli trees, bod trees. In backyards of people where such trees were, we surreptitiously climbed up and brought down - jambu, keri, etc. In the jungle too there were sweet fruits. Besides this we enjoyed playing games - hide and seek, moving tree-to-tree challenges. I still vividly remember all this.


In the mornings, with tea there was fresh rotlo, rotli, etc. Finishing it we went on to play. Again at 10 am we ate kadhi, khichri, yogurt - whatever was there. At noon, rotli, rotla, saag, daar, bhaat. Again, later in the afternoon, leftovers from lunch with chutney. We found it so tasty it can't be described. Mother made fresh-ground chutney in her pestle - dhana, jeeru, marcha, garlic, as per the season. Everything was made fresh. I consumed a lot of chutney growing up for which I later experienced trouble in the form of piles (hemorrhoids). I had it operated in a Nairobi hospital. Even now I still have slight discomfort. I have to treat it and even though I always enjoyed masala food, I have cut back on it. Father too had a taste for such food and he cooked too - meat, fish, kebab, samosa too. His masala food was so tasty you just kept on eating.

Dad's Work

Father's work habit was to be on-time. He required everything to be on time, that's how disciplined he was. Keeping records for not only his business but providing this service to other businessmen, some of whose books were big. He worked at a desk by the side with space for a businessman to sit with his notebook. This practice I also saw in Uganda. In school, ink was made from small pills. The writing pens looked like wooden pencils. Unlike now, there were no fountain pens, no ball pens. Mostly it was black ink that was used but there was blue too. Father made a lot of his own wooden pens. Later came the tin holders (nibs) in which the wood would be inserted. I too wrote with such pens dipping them in ink every so often. There was paper for absorbing excess ink, which was called blotting paper. If the ink was left wet your hand would spread it, ruining it. There also was powder that was used to absorb and dry the ink. Everyone had a little tin container with this powder which was sprinkled over the writing just like we do with a shaker to sprinkle over eggs.

In addition, father made bidi, hand-rolled cigarettes, as there were no cigarettes then. There was a type of tree whose leaves people brought for sale. After partially drying them, they were bundled, stored and water sprinkled on them from time to time. Preparing them thus they were cut by scissors into bidi size portions. Then a certain type of tobacco that was available there was cut, washed and made ready for chewing - called jardo. It looked similar to tea leaves which had twigs in it whereas the tobacco leaves didn't. By wrapping the jardo in the cut leaves bidis were made, the mouth end tapered by pinching with finger tips, the lit end wider and wrapped with a thin string. Father made bidis by the thousands with his hands and sold them. Making them required a government license without which no one could make them. Those who got licenses made orders with father who made 50 bidis for 1 bidi thus keeping count. Much later came cigarettes which I saw in Africa. Then another (type of) cigarette came in the market. After 1935, came other kinds in Africa. In India, besides bidi people smoked pipes which were called jaturi. Such pipes also came to Africa but in India, the kumbhars made them from clay which were widely used.

Tobacco, ganja,

In big houses, people kept hookahs which housed a dish containing tobacco under which was a container of water. One smoked through a tube by sucking from it and you would hear the gurgling sound of water as the tobacco smoke passed through it. It is healthier than smoking tobacco directly. In India, there were many smoke houses. Many smoked ganja, many opium, some even ate it. Small children aged between 2-3 were given opium tablets everyday by their mothers. These were very tiny, smaller than mustard seeds. It made the child sleep well. My mother did the same as I had seen her give it to my younger brother and sister and she would tell me that I too was given opium like that. The only drawback was that once given, it had to be kept given otherwise the child's condition changed. Adult addicts needed to take it every day. If not they would have symptoms, sometimes even becoming deranged. One's enemies would arrange to have you addicted and when they do not get it they had to die. Many such cases have happened. In olden days, these things happened a lot.


In my youth, I did all kinds of work. During cotton season people were engaged to spin it. One was paid 4 annas for 40 lbs. Good Muslim paid more. My mother also helped me spin it. Karmalibhai, Alibhai, Heerbai, Sikinabai, Jumabhai all had experienced this. I also cut grass and bundled it and got paid by quantity. Manual labor was also engaged on a per diem basis. In fields of legumes and grains, I did harvesting and got paid by quantity. In this kind of work, you had to work long and be available otherwise you were not engaged. You only had half or one hour for lunch. You took your lunch with you to the field - daal, chhaas, athanu. All sat under a tree and ate. If there was no shade you ate it under the sun. It tasted very good after a morning's hard work. What was there to complain about? I worked in other fields too. I cut wood in the jungle and collected cow-dung for home use. Mother would sometimes be there, Alibhai's wife Sikinabai too. This kind of work everyone up to the age 16 was expected to do. What can you do? Jewo desh tewo wesh, like place, like custom.

There was no work father or mother would not do. Often, to Junagadh 10 miles away, he would go on foot, carrying loads of 30-40 lbs. Leaving at 4-5 am and after finishing his business there returned in the evening, a 20-mile return trip. During rains, there would be much difficulty. It was muddy and sticky and one had to take off shoes and trousers rolled up. Thorns, small and big, would hook into the bare soles. Upon returning home the thorns had to be picked out. Mother would take them out, the bigger ones very difficult to. Removing the thorns, mother applied jaggery and ajma, bandaging it. Procuring vegetables was a chore. One time when Kulsumbai was visiting from Africa around 1926/7, I was out of town on such an errand. A babul tree thorn had dug into my sole. I barely made it home. With a lot of difficulty, the thorn was removed but there was swelling. Ben seeing this was very saddened and cried. She said - addressing me Bhai - on returning to Africa, I will arrange to have you brought over as soon as possible. And that's what she did.

In 1929, she sent money for purchasing a ticket for me, instructing father and mother to send Habib over and that he would do well there as she had in her time.


I never missed attendance at JK, doing seva, community service, singing Ginans, etc. I knew many Ginans by heart, up to 70. That was the custom there, no one said Ginans by reading from a book. If you went somewhere out of town and were asked to sing, you had to sing from memory. It was very embarrassing to sing from a book. People would tease you. We had a big wooden chest filled with big notebooks with Ginans hand-written with pencils, there were no fountain pens then. Also, copy pencil was available. Nowadays you don't see handwritten work. At that time, there were very few published Ginan books. There were Sindhi books and Sindhi schools. I could read Sindhi but could not write it.


Father worked very hard. I have already written about our business. If he needed to travel at night, he did not hesitate. He was not afraid. There in Kathiawar, supposedly there were ghosts, people talking such tales that just listening to them would make you afraid. When evening fell, I did not go out, I was fearful. I would not go to parodie, pre-dawn, JK. If I needed to go out at night someone had to accompany me. If I heard a strange noise from the outside I would hide in the house. Father would advise that if we remembered Allah no one will come after us. If Allah is with us what do we fear? "Agnaan loko no wem no par na hoy" (unknowledgeable people having a suspicious mind) - hearing such horrid stories I was easily scared. Father was strong about it. When he needed to, he would even cross cemeteries, Hindu funeral pyres, and so on. Premji kaka too was like that. He didn't believe these suspicious stories. But boys like me there were very scared. My mother too was very scared. She did not allow me to go anywhere alone.

After JK, we came straight home and stayed indoors. Father had no such fears. He went on trips and moved about town alone, in the dark, faarnas, flaming torch, in hand. In the house, we would have a lit divo, lamp, but for going out there was faarnas. Hurricane lamps started coming later. Then came Petromax. We ordered one for the JK and people used to come see it. For weddings, we took faaransi with us. Once a guest from Bombay brought along a gramophone - His Master's Voice - with a large plate and a large horn which had come out at the time and when played the whole village came to see it and listen! It was amazing. They said there must be some magician hiding in that box.

That is the lot of the unknowledgeable who did not understand many things, even when coming down with a disease and not calling a doctor but a magician! The patient sometimes was beaten and sometimes passed away. Those who don't know God are affected by such things. One time Premji kaka's son Alibhai who now lives in Vancouver and his brother Karmali and Mohamed kaka's Alibhai and Husein Poonja [Somani] who is Abdulla [Abdulhusein] Somani's father left at night from Naagri for Junagadh. On their way out, passing through the village gate they went past the Hindu samsaan, burning ground, when they heard a terrifying noise. Again, there was the same noise. They were taken aback. But Huseinbhai was very religious, always saying the kalma and he was the eldest of the group. He immediately began reciting the kalma and salwat. They all stopped, standing still. Then they commenced walking again but there was the noise again, even more terrifying this time. It was as if it was trying to block their movement. They gave up their trip and returned home. Some got a fever on account of this but not Huseinbhai. He was courageous and strong. Whoever has Allah with him what fear does he have?

One time Premji kaka, Mohamed kaka and my father having finished their work in Junagadh were returning home. They had a horse with them but it was laden with goods. They all had money on them which added to the risk. The money had come from their sale of ghee. It was evening time and they were saying dua while continuing to walk. As they were passing by a mohet two dacoits with guns came out from there and approached them to loot. They waved their guns telling them to stop. In the middle of their dua they stopped. The dacoits shouted that they empty out whatever they had. The group raised their hands and showed the dacoits their tasbeehs. The dacoits hesitated. They showed their goods, on the horse and some that they were carrying in their hands and said to take whatever they wanted. The dacoits checked it out finding just the goods but no money which had been hidden in small bundles inside and because the dacoits just searched the surface was never found. So, they let them go. Though they were known to demand that all the goods be unpacked for searching but if there is Allah's kindness nothing happens. On top of that in their hearts they recalled Ya Ali Ya Mawla had said whenever you remember me I am with you. If Allah is with you what can the dacoits do? This kind of examples abounded. Jamal bapa too had many incidents happen to him. He never travelled on foot. He went astride a horse.