Maherali Rahemtulla

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Maherali Rahemtulla
Maherali Rahemtulla.jpg
Town of birth
Date of Birth
  • 20-05-1896
Date of Death
  • 19/01/1979
Profession or occupation carriedout for the longest period in life
  • Business

Born in 1896 Changa Chela

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.

Book Cover Naznin2.png

(The book makes great reading and is available for a modest price of $10 plus shipping from Naznin

My dadabapa whom we called Bapa, was born in 1896 in Changa Chela, Gujarat, India. His name was Maherali. He had five sisters and one brother. My dadabapa was the eldest of them all. Just like my nanabapa, he left British Indiaat the age of fourteen (1920), in a dhow for Zanzibar for a better life and better opportunities. The journey took around twenty-one days. I have no records of what he did in Zanzibar, but he made enough money to support his family financially in India. During that period, many families had settled in Zanzibar and East Africa.

Dadabapa left Zanzibar and moved to Mombasa, Kenya where he started a small business. He had a small duka (shop) that had living quarters with a small kitchen and one bathroom. There was a JK in Mombasa where he went and was happy to meet his cousins and friends from Gujarat.

Within a year of living in Mombasa, Bapa decided to move to Nairobi and opened a retail shop there. He was a businessman and always looked for better opportunities. Travelling to British Indiabecame easier. British British IndiaSteam Navigation operated between British Indiaand East Africa. Bapa returned to Jamnagar, India, and married Jena Sunderji Mitha, who we called dadima. While Bapa had gone to India, his brother who was living with him at the time, looked after his business.

Soon after his return to Nairobi with dadima, he moved his mother and two sisters to East Africa from India.

After the end of the First world war, the recession of 1919-1921 forced dadabapa and other Indian merchants to close their businesses in the city and move to smaller business centers. Bapa managed to rent a retail food store in the Thika Sisal Plantation. The store remained open until midnight, to make it easier for the workers. So Bapa worked long hours along with his brother. Bapa was hardworking and so was dadima who already had three children by now. When the lease expired, Bapa once again decided to move.

This time to Kampala, Uganda with his whole family, his wife and three children. There, he started a wholesale business in an ideal location, near the municipal market. He became a leading businessman in Kampala and a respectable member of the community. He caught attention of the Ismaili Council and was appointed a Mukhi, which is a prestigious title as a leader of the Ismaili community. Dadabapa was a religious and generous man and served his community with all his heart.

During his time as a community leader, he realized that there was a need of a boy’s hostel since there were a lot of youths coming to Kampala from the villages to pursue higher education and who had nowhere to stay. He generously donated a significant amount of money (25 000 EA shillings, ) towards the construction cost and donated the boarding school to the community.

In late 1932, the Maherali Rahemtulla Nanji and Jenabai Sunderji Boys’ Hostel was officially opened. Dadabapa was not only generous, but also lucky! He had bought a lottery ticket to encourage the sales of it. The money from the sales of the tickets went half to the winner and half to the community where it was needed. Well guess what? He won the lottery of 30000 EA shillings, which was a huge sum of money in those days. Once again, he donated it all towards the hostel.

During the 2nd world war (1939-1945), business opportunities emerged in East Africa, especially in Kenya since it was a British Army base. Dadabapa once again moved to Nairobi and opened a lucrative fish enterprise. He sold that at the end of the war and moved again to Mombasa and established a wholesale products business there.

Dadabapa was a nomad, he had moved eight times in all with a family of ten children by now. Since dadabapa was in export business, he sent his eldest son, my dad, to Mogadishu, Somalia, to explore the possibility of exporting cattle bones used in ceramic industry.

Subsequently, dadabapa moved back to Kampala, Uganda where they continued with the produce business, and lived simply but happily until the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972. They migrated to London, England, under the United Nations Evacuation program.

He passed on soon after in 1979. In their long lives, both dadabapa and dadima were very religious, served their community, and lived a very simple life.