Kamrudin Maherali Rahemtulla
- Ismaili Cementery, Vancouver
- AK HIGH SCHOOL, NAIROBI
- Sales Manager, Business-Confectionary Distributor
The quote below is taken from the book "THIS IS MY LIFE - Gujarat, East Africa, Canada - A FAMILY BIOGRAPHY ", a personal biography by Naznin Hebert which is also a lively, poignant life history of both sides of Naznin's large family.
(The book makes great reading and is available for a modest price of $10 plus shipping from Naznin firstname.lastname@example.org
My dad whom we called papa, was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1923. He was the eldest son of ten children. He had two older sisters, Noorubai and Dolubai. He finished his secondary education and could read and write English very well. The language they spoke at home was Kutchi.
After the wedding, Mummy left Kisumu for Mombasa with papa and his family. Their first child, Ferial, was born there in 1947. A year later, in 1948, papa was asked by his dad, to go to Mogadishu, Somalia to explore the possibility of exporting cattle bones there. Bones in Gujarati is translated as hatka. Because my dadabapa and papa were in the hatka business, they were known as Hatkawalla. The latter was a common custom among Indians of the era; their names reflected their jobs or vocations in life. Mummy got pregnant with me in Mogadishu, and I was born in 1949. Soon after my birth, they made the decision to return to East Africa, since their business did not succeed, but this time to Tanga, Tanganyika.
Papa’s life in Tanga
On arrival in Tanga, I do not think that they were very well off financially. We lived in a small rented one bedroomed house in town, behind our Old JK. Dadabapa tried to set up business for them in Tanga, but it did not materialize. Papa got a job at Motor Mart and Exchange. With his job, the company offered him residence in Chumbageni, on the west side, not far from his work. I remember the house well. It had a veranda circling the house. It was a semi-detached house that we shared with a patel family.
I think the focus in their lives at this point was to work and save money. Feri and I had started school. We used to go to the Old JK in the evenings. Swimming was our main sport then. It was around this period that Mummy and papa bought their land for their semi-detached house to be built in the Aga Khan flats. That was the first house they owned. It was when we moved there in 1956, that papa’s involvement in the community started.
Here are some of them:
Papa was a scout master for years. Scouting was huge in Tanga. They did a lot of activities and field trips. They were always present in their uniforms during Khushialis with floats, music, and dancing. When the Aga Khan or a member of his family paid a visit in Tanga, papa, as a scout master was one of the persons to receive them among other dignitaries, at the airport. All the scouts were present too, looking very smart in their uniforms. That is a huge honor for Ismailis to be in such close proximity with the Aga Khan or his family. After Mummy’s passing, papa was elected as Chairman of the Ismaili Council. He oversaw and promoted the socio-economic and religious wellbeing of the Ismaili community.
Cricket is the most popular sport in England, India and Australia. In fact, it is the second most popular sport in the world. Papa loved the game. They had their own team. He used to play on Sundays.
Committee member of the Swimming Club Association
Swimming remained the sport that papa practiced almost all his life. We all thank Papa to have instilled the love of that sport in us. He will never know how much it influenced not just his children but also his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Today, when I see my grandchildren, at the age of three and four, jumping off the diving board and swimming like a fish, and enjoying the sport so much, reminds me of Papa, and I say: “Thank you, Papa!”
Due to his love of the sport, papa was elected as a member of the Swimming Club Association committee. He was very much involved in all the activities that the members organized.
Papa enjoyed all his outings with friends and family, cinema, playing cards, picnics, and travels. On Sundays, after closing the shop and before coming home for lunch, he enjoyed a pint of beer or two with his buddies at the Swimming Club. I do not think Mummy liked that very much, but she never said anything. Deep down she knew that there was never any abuse of alcohol, it was mainly spending time with his chums and catching up on politics.
Papa appreciated reading a lot. He read something every day. His favorite magazines were the National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, and Life magazine. He had a subscription for some of them. His main time for reading was when he got home for lunch from the office, at noon, while waiting for lunch. After lunch, was siesta until 2 p.m. Whenever he had free time, he would read. He was well informed about the worldly affairs.
Papa was hardworking and a devoted husband and a father to us. He worked 6½ days a week, Monday to Friday at his regular job at the Motor Mart until 4 p.m., then he helped Mummy at the shop until 6 p.m. Saturday, all day and Sunday until noon, he was at the shop. He led a frugal life. He bought only what was essential. We had two cars, the van for work and an Opel Salon as a family car.
In 1973, when mummy’s health deteriorated, papa’s life, as he knew it in Tanga, also started to be dismal. Most of his friends and community people had left Tanga for overseas. And then came the dreaded August 4th, 1973, when mummy took her last breath at 6 p.m. Papa’s world came to an end. He was crushed. There are no words to describe his loss. As all the family members left Tanga after Mummy’s funeral, papa’s life in Tanga was empty. He was only 50 years old.
Marriage to Roshan
Two years after mummy’s death, his eldest sister, Noorubai, took pity on him. She saw his sadness and his loneliness lingering on. She suggested that he remarry. Initially, Papa was not keen on the idea but later accepted it. Noorubai knew of a family in Dodoma, Tanzania who had a daughter by the name of Roshan who was unmarried. She made arrangements for their wedding. After the wedding, Roshan moved into our house in Tanga. At the beginning, I think Papa found it hard to accept his life in his second marriage. He had not yet come to terms with the loss of Mummy. Roshan was a good companion to him. She went to the shop with him, and they went to JK in the evenings.
Back in Bath, I kept thinking about Papa alone in Tanga. I thought it would be better for him to migrate to Canada and be among the huge Ismaili community who had now settled there, including most of his friends. So, after a year in Bath, I started to look into moving to Canada, and then to sponsor papa. However, Papa was not ready to leave Tanga, and so he denied his permit to the authorities.
There were fewer and fewer Ismailis left in Tanga. Out of the one thousand Ismailis in Tanga in the ’50s, I would say about one hundred were still there in the ’80s. Businesses had crumbled. Food and rations were in shortage. Papa could not find courage to leave Tanga despite all the deprivation.
In1983, I received a letter from papa asking me to sponsor him since he was now ready to immigrate to Canada. So, I did. My request for sponsorship was easily accepted since I had a good government job as a nurse in a major university Hospital in Montreal. Papa came to Montreal and stayed with me for a while. He was happy to have made that move finally. That is when I met Roshan for the first time. A kind and an appreciative woman. After a few weeks in Montreal, Papa wished to go to Toronto where a lot of Roshan’s family had immigrated, including her elder sister and her nieces. After a few weeks there they decided to go to Vancouver ,BC.They immediately took a liking to Vancouver, its mild weather, the mountains, and the ocean. A lot of their Ismaili friends from Tanga had settled there. There were several JKs, and they felt at home. Papas’s two elder sisters, Noorubai and Dolubai, also lived in Vancouver with their families, and so did his younger brother, Nizar chacha with his family. Vancouver became their home for the rest of their lives.
Papa's Life in Vancouver
Papa’s sister, Noorubai lived in a flat in downtown Vancouver on Davie Street, with her husband Malekbhai. Papa visited them and iked the location and decided to rent a one-bedroom flat in the same building. It was the first time since their early days that the two of them, brother, and sister, lived in the same building. They were a great support for each other. They helped each other out in many ways. Whenever Roshan cooked something special, she would take it up to Noorubai and Malekbhai, and they did the same.
The flat was in a good location right in the center of town, on top of a Super Market. Everything was in close proximity. English Bay was less than two kilometres walk from their flat. The bus stop was in front of their building. With that location, papa had no intention of either buying a car or a house. He lived in that flat for over thirty years.
When Malekbhai suddenly passed away at the age of 88, while visiting their son in London, Noorubai was unable to live alone in her flat on Davie Street. Her family planned for her to move to Haro Park Residence for seniors, which was close by. Roshan visited her every day. They would say Dua (prayers) together if Noorubai had not gone to JK. Saying Dua was very important for Noorubai.
In fact Roshan was the last person Noorubai saw before she died in her sleep. It was evening time, and Noorubai wanted to go to JK. Roshan told her that it was too late, but that they would go the next day. They said the Dua together. Roshan tucked her in bed and said goodnight. Just as she arrived back to her flat, the telephone rang. It was from Haro Park telling them that Noorubai had passed away peacefully in her sleep. I want to die like that, please.
Papa’s and Roshan’s life improved after leaving Tanga, with all its past. They made a new life together in Vancouver with new friends, and had a good social life. They made friends with three other Ismaili families in the same building.
Every Monday evening, they got together at one of their friends’ flat, for chai and snacks, and then watched a movie together on TV. That was their ritual for Mondays. They went to JK on Fridays and met other Ismailis from East Africa. On weekends, they took a thermos of chai and something to eat, and walked down to the English Bay, and sat there by the ocean, and watched the sunset. Papa enjoyed walking in Stanley Park. It was at least a ten-kilometer walk, and often Roshan accompanied him.
There was a huge family support for them both in Vancouver, who looked out for them and visited frequently. A lot of my cousins from papa’s side of the family live in Vancouver. There is Azaad and his family, Shaffiq and his family, Yasmin and her family, Karim and his family, Dolubai and Noorubai, papa’s eldest sisters. And his younger brother Nizar chacha and his family. From Mummy’s side is Karim Jaffer and his family Shiri aunty and Farid uncle and their family.
Socially, the whole family would get together on special occasions, especially birthdays, Khushialis, and Christmas. A potluck supper was often at Azaad’s or Shaffiq’s place for those occasions. Roshan and papa were social butterflies. They loved to entertain, and they often invited friends and family for dinner. Roshan was an excellent cook. Although, they lived in a small flat, I do not know how they managed to fit fifteen to twenty people in it for dinner. Life was good for them. There was never a dull moment. While writing about their social life, it makes me realize how boring my life is. Papa was generally healthy, but he did have his share of medical issues, mostly heart problems. He had an open-heart surgery for a bypass, and had a pacemaker inserted. Roshan started to show signs of dementia as she got older. We had spoken to Papa about both of them moving into a seniors’ residence, Haro Park. They were familiar with the place, since papa’s sister Noorubai was a resident there, and they used to visit her every day. But papa would not hear of it. Until a couple of major incidents occurred.
One afternoon, papa was in his room reading with the door closed. Roshan was cooking in the kitchen when the phone rang. It was their Ismaili friend who lived upstairs on the 8th floor, needing an ingredient for her recipe. Roshan decided to take it up to her. Time passed and the fire alarm went off. Before papa could get up to investigate, the janitor came running up and opened their door, finding the flat full of smoke. Roshan had left a frying pan with oil on the burning stove, which caught fire. The whole kitchen was black and burnt.
Roshan was not permitted to cook after that. Meals were arranged for them to be delivered. That was the first wake up call. Social Services were involved and were trying to convince papa for Roshan to move into a supervised residence where it would be safer for them both, but papa was still hesitant. After a visit to the cardiologist, papa had to be admitted to the hospital for evaluation and a procedure. The hospital was walking distance from their flat. They were familiar with the hospital since papa had been in and out of it a few times because of his cardiac condition.
One morning, Roshan left the apartment to visit papa at the hospital but never arrived there. The authorities were notified. My cousin Karim, who lives in Vancouver, was called and eventually they found Roshan who had gotten lost and was wandering the streets around the hospital. Karim notified Aziz and me. I went to Vancouver to evaluate the situation. Papa had been discharged from the hospital. Both Social Services and I convinced papa this time to move Roshan to a supervised residence, for her safety.
Haro Park Residence
Haro Park was our first preference. I visited it personally and spoke with a very pleasant director of the home. Unfortunately, there was no availability at the time and Roshan was put on a waiting list. But since it was urgent for Roshan to be in a home, Social Services found her the first one available, which was much further for them. Both papa and Roshan were reluctant to go there but they did not have a choice. It was far too dangerous for two elderly people to be living alone, especially with their medical and mental conditions. Aziz arrived from Edmonton to reassure them and help move Roshan to the residence where she was safe. Papa travelled by bus every day to spend the day with her. Roshan stayed there for almost eight months during which time all of us had visited papa and accompanied him to the residence. It was a nice, well kept private residence. The only downside was that it was far for Papa. It would take him at least 45 mins by bus to get there. Both the director of Haro Park Residence and the social worker were aware of the situation. So, when a room became available at Haro Park, Roshan moved into her new home.
Haro Park Residence is in front of Robson Street, one of the main streets of downtown Vancouver. The residence accommodates seniors with different degree of physical and mental conditions. The top floors have self-contained flats for seniors who are independent, can take care of themselves, and can come and go as they wish. They can still participate in the activities that the residence offers if they so wish.
The other floors are for seniors who are physically challenged and need more assistance. And then there is a floor for seniors with Alzheimer’s. These seniors are closely monitored. On the ground floor is a huge dining room, offices for the staff, and a recreation room. Residents come down to the dining room or are brought down by the staff for all their meals.
I was amazed to see how many activities were offered to the residents there. It started with an exercise session every morning with an instructor. It was nice to see even the ones in their wheelchair swinging their arms and legs. Then there was music. A piano player would come two or three times a week and there would be music and sing along. There was a reading section with books available and a computer with internet which was very practical. I had personally used it whenever I visited.
Once a week there was an excursion organized for the day. They visited different parts of Vancouver and the outskirts. From 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays was Happy Hour in the lobby. You were allowed one glass of wine with snacks. This was Papa’s favorite time since he enjoyed his glass of red wine. He said it was good for his heart. He would say: “It is medicinal.”
There was a chapel, which was empty every time I visited. On the top floor, there was a huge social hall for entertainment. Family members of the residents could reserve it for celebrations. We had celebrated papa’s 90th birthday there. On the roof there was a terrace. The staff would accompany residents there to sit outside to get fresh air and their boost of vitamin D. It really was the best place for Roshan, and papa later. Once Roshan settled down at Haro Park, Papa visited her every day and got familiar with the place. He would walk there; it was about a fifteen-minute walk from his flat on Davie Street.
As papa got older, he became unsteady on his feet. He was also alone at home now. Most of the other Ismaili families living in his building had passed away. We had arranged for papa to receive cooked meals for the week. His outings were to go see Roshan every day and to JK. The care givers from the government clinic came twice a day to give him his medication and look in to see if all was well. The social worker also visited him frequently. When I think about all the medical services that they received, I am enormously proud of our health system here in Canada. Roshan being already at Haro Park, Papa had a priority for residence there. But he was reluctant to go. He was attached to his flat on Davie Street, where he had lived for almost thirty years. It is understandable. But we were still concerned for his safety.
One morning, our worst nightmare came true. The care giver came to the flat and rang the bell to no avail. She found that unusual and asked the janitor to let her into the apartment where she found papa on the floor, conscious but unable to get up. He had tripped and fallen the night before and could not get up nor could he get to the phone. After that incident, Papa agreed to join Roshan at Haro Park. He was already used to the place and he knew the staff, so the transition was easier.
From Haro Park, Papa continued to go to JK often, especially on Fridays. There was another Ismaili lady, Shiri bai who was staying there that he shared the taxi with to and from JK. He spent his afternoons with Roshan. They were happy to be together in the same building, and I think Papa realized it too.
There was a genuinely nice Ismaili couple by the name of Ramzan, who used to pick him up once a month and take him to an Indian restaurant for lunch. There was no lack of socialization for Papa. The family members came often to visit also. We visited as often as we could, at least once a year. Soon after Papa’s move to Haro Park, I received a message from the janitor to vacate his apartment. I flew to Vancouver and had five days to empty a furnished flat that papa and Roshan had lived in for nearly thirty years. I had no idea where to start. I looked up for movers, but nobody was available. I gave some personal belongings and electrical appliances to the Ismaili Community and the family, but was still left with some furniture, bed, sofa, dining table, chairs etc. I decided to put a notice in the lobby of the building: TO GIVE AWAY! MOVING! EVERYTHING MUST GO! CONTACT APT 4
The same morning, there was a knock on the door. A couple of young students had just arrived from England the night before. They had slept on the floor in their sleeping bags in their empty flat down the corridor. They had come to Vancouver for a year, maybe to work a little and travel. What luck! I asked them, what would you like to take? Everything! They replied, so happy and grateful.
And just like that, in an hour the flat was empty, and all the furniture came to good use.
Papa’s 90th birthday
Papa turned 90 on October 10th, 2013. We planned to celebrate it with a bang. Mina and Aziz had also arrived. Feri, unfortunately could not make it. We reserved the Social Hall at Haro Park and decorated the room. We invited all their friends and our family members. We ordered food to be delivered at the residence. Azaad and Kheroon had made the cake. The staff were also invited and many of them did attend. There were around one hundred people including children. Papa was in good spirits, with Roshan by his side, and so happy to see so many friends and family members all together celebrating his birthday.
The year 2014 was somber for papa. Roshan was much less responsive; she did not know who Papa was.There was no more dialogue possible between them. Papa had less energy, he was tired. His physical condition gradually deteriorated. It seemed that he had given up on life. I arrived in Vancouver in July. Papa was in a semi-conscious state. All the necessary religious rituals were performed by the heads of the Ismaili Community. Mina arrived soon after. So did Aziz and Feri. I brought Roshan up to his room to be with him.
She sat beside his bed and kissed his hand. She then gently stroked his arm. They were together until the end. She was a gift to him, and it is because of her that he had a long fulfilled happy life (after Mummy) in Vancouver.
On July 19th at around 5:30 a.m., Papa took his last breath. He went into a deep long sleep, in peace.