Sunday, October 5, 2008

414)Two Magnificent Accounts describing the sojourn of the Keshavjee family in Pretoria, apartheid South Africa, during the 20th Century: A Legacy

The following are two eloquent accounts of the sojourn of the Keshavjee Family at the southern tip of the African continent during the 20th Century. Four brothers from Chotila, Gujarat, India landed by ship on the eastern coast of South Africa around 1894. Some accounts have it that they overslept and missed their intended disembarkation point in Mombasa or Dar es Salaam(or was it Diani Beach?) and consequently had no choice but to get off in Durban, South Africa, the last stop on the journey(or was it Delgoa Bay aka Lorenco Marques aka Maputo in Southern Mozambique?). The true story will have to wait untill the well-researched, authoritative book gets released in the near future. In any case the family's true destiny lay in South Africa and there they lived(in the interior city of Pretoria in the Transvaal Province) for almost 3 generations before scattering all over the globe.

Fast forward to today. Curious about my remote origins, I joined an international National Geographic genetic study done by world-renowned geneticist Spencer Wells in 2004 and dutifully sent a sample of my inner cheek cells to his research lab in the USA. Since I am endowed with the genes that issued forth from the venerable loins of the patriarch of this family, the father of those four brothers, the man whose first name was Keshavjee, I was pleased to sacrifice myself to discover knowledge of our origins. I was startled to discover that I, of northwestern Indian stock, share the same genetic markers as a caucasian Englishman I know and that a very large proportion of Europe's, Central Asia's and the northern Indian subcontinent's population all originate from one man who lived in the area of present-day Ukraine or Southern Russia ten to fifteen thousand years ago! This is how I described my heritage based on the information sent to me by Spencer Wells, the geneticist:

"Based on a genetic analysis done in 2004 of the Y-chromosome extracted from my cheek cell DNA, which shows that I belong to the R1a haplogroup of the M17 genetic marker, my remote ancestor was a man of European origin born on the grassy steppes in the region of present-day Ukraine or Southern Russia 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. This man's descendants(known also as the Kurgan people) became the nomadic steppe dwellers who eventually spread as far afield as India and Iceland. I am descended from the Indo-European branch of this clan, which is thought to be responsible for, among other things, the domestication of the horse and the development of the Proto-Indo-European language, leading eventually to the development of English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, other Romance languages as well as Sanskrit-based languages like Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati and Urdu. Many of the Indo-European languages share similar words for animals, plants, tools and weapons. My more recent ancestors were originally Hindus living in Chotila, Gujarat, India(35% of people currently living in the State of Gujarat, millions of people, carry the same genetic marker as me). They were converted to Shia Ismaili Islam by Persian Sufi Mystics(Pirs) around the 14th century CE. My great-grandfather and his 3 brothers travelled by ship and train from India to Pretoria, South Africa around 1894. Thus, having originally left Africa 60,000 years ago during the big migration, my ancestors had, once again, returned to Africa. I emigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada from Pretoria, South Africa in 1973. My wife has a similar heritage to me but she was born in Mbale, Uganda and lived in Kampala, Uganda. Both our children(son 24yrs, daughter 15yrs) were born in Canada. I am very proud of my heritage."

A)Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Languages in the Location

By Mahomed(Mamdoo) Ally Keshavjee

As I reflect on my life, I sometimes go back to my childhood days and recollect my thoughts about the life we led in the non-white ghetto in Pretoria. There were three ghettos in a total area of about a mile and a quarter by a mile and a quarter for the three basic non-white groups, namely coloured or Cape coloured (those of mixed race), Indian or Asian and African or Bantu. The ghetto was made up of Marabastaadt, the area for blacks, the Asiatic Bazaar for Indians and the Cape Location for those of mixed race. All of us who lived there just called it Location.

By the mid-forties, the Black African population was growing rapidly and they were slowly being moved out to Atteridgeville. The blacks called it Pelindaba --a basic bare-boned city, some 8 or 9 miles West from the City of Pretoria. Atteridgeville was ethnically divided to keep people from different black tribes who came from different areas of South Africa apart. This was in keeping with the divide and conquer philosophy of the ruling party in South Africa –Apartheid began at the ethnic or root level. Once the Blacks had been moved out, plans for moving the Coloureds was initiated. The Coloureds were moved to Derdepoort, an area some 10 miles East of Pretoria. Similar arrangements were made in Johannesburg and other major and minor cities of South Africa. Indians in Pretoria were to be moved to Laudium, which today is a reality and somehow also ethnically divided. However, before all those events took place, all three races lived in the one Location.

The Location was bounded on the North side by the Magalis (pronounced with a throaty g –almost like a raspy h) range of low mountains. Struben Street acted as the Southern border. The Municipality of Pretoria had a fence along the entire Southern border, behind which they stored road building equipment and other requisites. The West side of the Location was cut off by a highway called Von Wielligh Street. The East side was cut off by the Apis (Monkey) River. Boom Street ran through the middle of the Location, connected by a bridge on the East side to the White areas and the outside world. These three major groups of people shared their destiny of being cut off from so-called superior White civilization. We definitely lived in a world of our own.

Some Indians who had shops in the City of Pretoria, from the early part of the century before the official Apartheid policy came into effect, were allowed to go to their businesses during the day, but had to be back by evening to spend the night in the Location. Some Indian businessmen did have homes behind their businesses in the City, but this was an anomaly from the early part of the century. By the mid-fifties they were already ear-marked for removal –both business and residence. This was part of the Group Areas Act which set aggressive milestones for the separation of the races.

Those were years of increasing oppression and being on the receiving end of an inherently discriminatory and divisive policy. South African White policy in those years was designed to progressively remove all economic and political opportunities from non-whites. However, reminiscing of the days in the Location, all is not lost because life is not measured in terms of money, places or status. It is measured in how we lived with our fellow man and the trials and tribulations we bore together and how we emerged from it all.

The first great thing that came to be was that Mahatma Gandhi came to live in the Location in the early part of the 20th century. This was surely divinely ordered. He lived there for many years before moving to Natal and eventually back to India. Everyone knows the mark he left on India. Few have heard of the legacy he left in South Africa –a legacy of pride in heritage, fighting for freedom and belief in the greatness of ordinary people. I went to school with many children who came from families who took the Mahatma as their leader. Many of them later played important roles in the South African freedom movement.

Now my thoughts go back to the fact that the Location was probably one of the richest sources of cultural exchange on the face of the globe at that time –something never to be repeated in this fast changing, modern world of ours. Toronto is probably the only other place where this cultural heterogeneity is encouraged, to a point. However, Toronto is not a ghetto and it is also so large that the ethnics have their own ghettos. But Pretoria’s Location was unparalleled on the planet because nowhere else were so many different people put together in such a small area from where they could not leave by their own choice.

The richness of life that I’m also talking about is the people who lived in this Location. And my memory takes me to re-meet the neighbours and their cultures and the languages that were spoken here all around us. The Location was over-crowded because the Indian area was no more than about ¾ of a mile by ¾ of a mile. There were close to 10,000 people in that small area, living in poverty and under an oppressive regime. Families and extended families of 20 or 30 people using one toilet was not uncommon. But people got along. We survived. We learned to tolerate each other. Understand each other. We visited each other in our homes. We went to school together in this one-of-a-kind place in the world, the Location. We had three movie theatres, showing Indian, American, British, Egyptian and Tamil movies. This was our escape.

When I look back on my school days and school mates, first of all, everyone spoke either one of the country’s major legal languages, English or Afrikaans. The Coloureds mostly spoke either local or Cape Afrikaans (a Dutch-German derivative language, with a smattering of Flemish and English mixed in). The African servants and black customers at the local shops (blacks were allowed to be there until 7 pm, but had to observe the curfew that forced them to go back to their areas by 7 pm), spoke either Zulu, Xosa, Venda, Sesutho, Swazi, Ndebele, Tswana or Mchangan. Most of the Indians and local business people spoke at least 2 of the above languages, including their own local language from India. In addition most also spoke Hindi, English or Afrikaans or both.

Indians were truly multi-lingual out of necessity. They were the trades people of the area –running small shops and service businesses for the blacks and coloureds, who worked in the white areas. There were also a couple dozen Chinese families living in the Location. Some came from Mainland China, others from Hong Kong or Macau. They spoke either Cantonese or Mandarin.

In the Location, there were Indians from South India, especially Tamils, who were a big percentage of the population. They spoke, depending on where they came from in the South of India, Madrasi, Telegu or Malayalam. Also, some from the mid-section of India spoke a few different dialects of Indian languages. There were the Hyderabadis, who spoke their own language. There were Cochnis from Cochin, they spoke their own distinct language. There were a few from Ceylon, who spoke Sinhalese. Moving North towards Pakistan, there were many Urdu speaking peoples. Indians from Mumbai spoke Marhastran. And Parsis, who also came from the same area, especially from Mumbai, spoke Gujerati. Then there were the Gujeratis, with a big ethnic population, who spoke their different brands of Gujerati –the Kanamyas, the Surtis, the Katchis, the Katchi-Mehman and Halai-Mehman from Sindh. There were Sindis who spoke pure Sindi, with their own unique script. There were those who spoke Hindi and as we go further North, we find the Sikhs, with their own language, Punjabi. There were people from Kolkata, speaking Kalkatian language. And from Bangladesh, people spoke Bengali. There were Patthan-speaking Indians from the North West of India and Punjabi-speakers from the Punjab.

This was a microcosm of almost all the people you could think of. Pizzaro and Cortes didn’t allow the Aztecs and the Mayas to be in the Location, otherwise we would have had them also. And the North American Indians and the Northern Aboriginals all fighting for survival –they were not here.

There were Portuguese-speaking Indians who came from Portuguese speaking enclaves in India. The Malays of the Cape were also here, with their Malay-mixed Afrikaans. They had come to South Africa with the Dutch from Malaysia. There were German-speaking coloureds who came from the Cape province, on the border with Southwest Africa, where they spoke German. And there were Arab-speaking Mullahs at the local Madrassa.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some other people with their peculiar language here. But they were there in this Location. All their children, boys and girls, were at the local school. Nowhere on Earth will you find this. The children of the very, very wealthy and those of the very poor, went to the same school because of the Apartheid ghetto –which did not differentiate between rich and poor –only between white and non-white.

In spite of the oppression and lack of opportunities, what could be more momentous than having one of the greatest men on this planet as a neighbour living in this Location? That’s what it felt like to have Mahatma Gandhi as part of our neighbourhood. It gave our lives and experiences meaning and richness in a larger global sense. When I see Ben Kingsley portraying Mahatma Gandhi, I say to myself, ‘We had the real thing.’

In conclusion, I must reiterate the richness of this once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-long-historical-period that only divine intervention could have produced. Where in the world would you get a Location of so many cultural and sub-cultural backgrounds with their rich heritage of music, dress, color, religion and language have come together in such a small place? Yes, there were even Ismailis here. One family in particular, the Keshavjees, had very close contact with Mahatma Gandhi. This was truly a historical event of a magnitude that would have world-wide impact. Mahatma Gandhi was part of this beautiful historical mosaic. Indians and Africans played out their roles, while the British and Dutch looked on from the side-lines with their attitudes of Apartheid, snobbery and British arrogance. Look where they are today.

This was a one-time phenomenon with, not Ben Kingsly whose relatives are also known to me, but the real thing thrown in: the Mahatma. This is my legacy. A tapestry full of riches, a mosaic to cherish, with all the different music, art, religion, dances, stories and languages woven into the fabric of life. The White man in South Africa, with his one superior language truly missed out. To him, Gandhi was yet another `coolie` to be derided and ridiculed. What irony. Wake up Canada, smell the real world that the divine created. Embrace it or you’ll lose out also.

Mahomed Ally(Mamdoo) Keshavjee

B)My Life

Keshavjee-Umedaly Family Story

By Lella S. Umedaly

In the 1890s when my great-uncle, Jiwan Keshavjee left the family home in Chotila, Gujarat, a province near Bombay (now called Mumbai). He traveled on a steamer ship tracing the ancient trade routes from India to Africa, and his three brothers, Velshi (my grandfather), Naran, and Manji, followed soon after, leaving a life of struggle and poverty in search of opportunity. Most Indian immigrants settled in East Africa or Mozambique, but the brothers went almost as far as the steamer could take them. Disembarking on the eastern coast of South Africa, probably at Durban, our family often tries to imagine why these unique and adventurous men, our Keshavjee clan founders, traveled so far. Once the ship docked, the authorities sent them far inland to Pretoria, the Dutch capital, and they lived there for more than two generations.

The brothers, in their youth, did not know the adversities they would face. There were few Indians, and segregation was already thoroughly entrenched, so we lived apart from the Bantu, the white Afrikaner, and the British colonialists. The region proved to be a difficult place to live and raise a family, but the brothers, though poor, were young and strong. They worked hard as merchants, opening small grocery shops, and soon were able to send to India for their wives, sisters, and extended families. Each of the brothers had four to six children, and this group was the start of what we now think of as the Keshavjee clan. I am part of the second generation born in South Africa.

My grandfather, Velshi, was a very religious Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim who was strict in his ways. He and his three brothers built a beautiful mosque in the heart of Pretoria’s Indian area. In those years, my grandfather also developed a friendship with the famous Indian pacifist and statesman Mahatma Gandhi. The Mahatma came to South Africa as a young man, after he completed his law degree in England, and he lived near Durban, on the coast. He traveled to Pretoria to try an important case and befriended my grandfather, and even though he was of the Hindu faith, he tutored my uncle Rajabali, helping him to learn his Ismaili Muslim prayers. Because of Gandhi’s close relationship and influence, Uncle Rajabali became a vegetarian. Thus we all learned to cook many simple vegetarian dishes, some of which are described in this cookbook. A number of our family members even supported Mahatma Gandhi’s passive resistance and participated in acts of civil disobedience to protest the passes that all Indians once had to carry. Today letters between Gandhi and my grandfather Velshi, are in Ghandi’s ashram near Ahmedabad, India.

With time and great effort, the family prospered in their various businesses. One uncle had a bakery, another had a gas station and yet another a small machinery auction house. My father owned a movie theatre, but the government censored the movies, not allowing us to see white people kissing, for example, and they insisted that movie houses be segregated. Indians, blacks, and white Afrikaner were all separated, and my father was forced to choose between an Indian and a black clientele. This segregation would precipitate my father’s later decision to leave South Africa for Kenya.

My father’s generation of men brought young brides from India or from Indian communities in East Africa so they could marry within their religion. And so the family grew. To marry my mother, Sakina, my father had to return to Vichia, a village in the province of Gujarat where my family originated. My grandfather had arranged the marriage, and Mahatma Gandhi was asked to take the wedding jewelry to my father’s intended to seal the proposal. Sakina came to South Africa as a young bride of fifteen and was immediately responsible for cooking, under the auspices of the matriarch, my grandmother, Jabubai.

I was born in 1930, the second of five children. My mother died of a weak heart when she was just 29 years old, so I became responsible for my brothers and sisters when I was only twelve. Soon after, my father remarried to a distant relative, whose name was also Sakina, the family grew further with three more brothers.

The growing clan of Keshavjees now numbered over one hundred people, and the community was one large family, often sitting, praying, and eating together. We lived in homes that were close together, where all doors were open to all the children. In addition to caring for each others‘ children, the women shared the cooking and cleaning tasks.They made chapattis (unleavened bread), dhal, spinach and potato curries, and other vegetarian dishes, all from organic ingredients bought fresh each day from local farmers. They also made a great variety of simple sweet desserts, and I have included some, such as Seero, Sweet Potato Pudding, and Dood Paak, in the dessert section.

I remember these meals as delicious and fun, and I have special memories of all the children sitting around the fire with my grandfather, taking turns stirring milk until it condensed into a moist cake that could be used for making sweetmeats. Today we make the same dishes with powdered milk, as you will see in my recipe for Barfi, which is sweet, smooth, milky, and truly delightful.

Girls were expected to learn to cook at an early age so that we would be useful to the families into which we married. I started to cook after my mother died, and I continued to learn from my aunt and a very good African pishi (cook) named Charlie. He was a brilliant chef who worked with many cuisines and was able to imitate a dish after tasting it just once.

I am sure Charlie worked for white families before us because he understood English foods and standards of cooking. At this time my father, who was self educated and yearned to be a doctor, decided that English food was healthier and more sophisticated, so we learned yet another style of cooking. Later my grandfather came to live with us, so we cooked Indian food for him, and we all grew to love the food of our homeland again. My stepmother brought yet another influence. She used the same ingredients with slightly different quantities that created different tastes.
These are fond memories, with cooking as a central influence. Those times helped bond our family, young and old alike, and it reminds me of the saying, It takes a village to raise a child.” I try to replicate these fun times with my grandchildren.

In 1946, when I was fifteen, my father decided to go with the family to Dar es Salaam in East Africa. We went to attend a ceremony honoring our spiritual leader, the Aga Khan, Sultan Mohamed Shah, who had become Imam of the Ismailis when he was eight years old and had served as our leader for seventy-five years. This Diamond Jubilee brought Ismailis from all over the world, and they watched as our Imam, a heavy-set man, was weighed against an equal amount of un-cut diamonds. The entire East African congregation had contributed money to purchase the diamonds, and once he was weighed, this treasure trove was sold again to establish a trust. Now called the Aga Khan Foundation, this trust is of great importance to the Ismailis. It is used for humanitarian aid around the world and to provide low-interest loans to Ismailis everywhere, to build homes, attend universities, and start businesses. I sat in the front and witnessed this amazing ceremonial occasion.

The journey to the diamond jubilee was a trip of a lifetime…a real safari. The countries through which we traveled, now called Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Kenya, were beautiful. The roads were all murum (dirt), so it took us two weeks to cover 3,000 miles, and we had enough flat tires to last a lifetime! But we made many friends along the way and ate rich and different foods that are part of the Indian cuisine of East Africa. We learned some mouthwatering recipes like Biryani, chicken curries, and mutton curries.

This journey was to have a major impact on my family. It was when I first met my future husband. It was also a time when apartheid was becoming a huge and oppressive issue for our family, and my father was contemplating leaving South Africa. n 1951, he and his cousins would decide to seek their fortunes in a more open society. Following the advice of our Imam, they would migrate to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and in later years, many members of the Keshavjee clan would follow. A few remained in South Africa, however, this was to be the first of the moves that would scatter the clan around the world.

Members of the clan now number approximately 2,000 and have settled all over the world. We keep in touch by e-mail today, but we can recognize each other a mile away, so strong are our physical resemblances. Once a Keshavjee speaks, the recognition is complete, because of tone of voice and abundant use of gestures. We confirm our kinship by asking, “Where have you been and what have you done?” The answers are inevitably bold and enthusiastic, so it seems that most members of the Keshavjee clan have adventurous souls and ambitious dreams. We are also people with a good sense of humor, and we love family get-togethers over a sumptuous meal.

In 1948, while the family was still in South Africa, we made another foray back to East Africa, and my future husband, Shamas Umedaly, wooed me in Uganda with his borrowed Singer sports car. We were married in Nairobi, Kenya, in August of that year, when I was a mere seventeen years old, and we then moved to Uganda to live with his family. There I was in for a shock.
In South Africa we had electric appliances and gadgets, but in Uganda we had no such conveniences. We cooked with wood-burning stoves, heated water for each bath in a large samovar, and even had to grind our own masala. My cooking style and flavors were so different from my mother-in-law’s that I had to learn yet another way to prepare food. She was not easy to please, so I was determined to be the best cook and use all my skills to impress her. I learned to make coconut curries, with coconut meat we ground from scratch, and I mastered many East African-style desserts, such as Mango Pudding, Faluda, Shikand, Kulfi, and Carrot Halva. We stayed with my in-laws for seven years.

In the midst of these activities, I had five children. Being unable to afford full-time help, I learned to raise our children, clean, wash clothes, sew, and drive (I even raced cars competitively), but mainly to cook quickly and proficiently. I was also efficient in caring for my children, and they often laugh about the way I would bathe them one after the other as if operating an assembly line. They were always nicely dressed, clean, and well fed.

After all my children were born, I went to England for three months to study the Montessori method of education. I wanted more for my family, and when I returned, I opened two schools with one hundred and thirty children in each. Now I had the money to hire a full-time pishi, whom I taught all the various dishes I had learned, but I continued to cook, too. I learned to make party dishes like Samosas, Kebobs, Muthia, Kachori and Chicken Tikka, in the East African way, and I also added some Italian and Chinese dishes to my repertoire. The form, texture and taste of my chapattis became better than ever— even my critical grandfather would have approved.

In 1972, disaster struck, when my family and eighty thousand others fell victim to ethnic cleansing by Uganda’s dictatorial president Idi Amin. We were told to leave our houses open and our cars with keys in the ignition and were forced to leave the country. Once again the family and its ever-growing clan were scattered to the winds, to Europe, Australia, or North America, and we began again in new lands. Where we went depended on which country would accept us. My youngest daughter, only fourteen, went to Medford, Oregon, to relatives of a university professor we had befriended in Uganda. My nineteen year old daughter went to a university in West Virginia. The rest of us acquired Canadian immigration papers and found our way to Ontario.

As hard as it was, I was happy to call Canada my home. I had always wanted to live there and had admired the trees, mountains and rivers that I saw and read about in books. Eventually we moved to North Vancouver, one of the most beautiful places in the world, and there I started a licensed daycare in my house, and we began our lives again. Since then, I have taught at least a thousand children. I retired in 1997, at the age of 67, still living in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Our children now live all over the continent, and all five of them went to University. I am very proud of their accomplishments.

When my family first came to North America, there were few of us, and Indian cuisine was not popular. It was difficult to find the correct ingredients, and we had to improvise, altering recipes to be more flexible and even more practical. My children now began to call home to ask for recipes. My youngest daughter, for instance, made chicken curry for the first time just after she arrived in Oregon. She called me and asked, “Mum how do you make your curry brown—mine is red?” The answer was simple, “Cook the onions longer next time.” But the instructions had to be given long-distance.

Today, my children and grandchildren often ask me how to cook various dishes, and they have been requesting a legacy of fast, tasty recipes that embody the meanderings of our diaspora. I have spent four years on this cookbook, working out the measurements and accurately noting the best cooking methods. It has been an enjoyable but frustrating experience because I had learned to cook by feel, smell, color, texture and the look of the dish. We used to pour the ingredients into the palms of our hands or the lid of the container, sensing the right amount while adjusting for the likes and dislikes of the guests. I must admit that the most difficult part about writing this book has been developing exact measurements.

When we were refining and testing these recipes my daughter, Muneera, and I would often cook in the early morning. Then we would invite friends and acquaintances to come to the house and try the recipes while we observed. We made note of questions and did taste tests to ensure the consistencies of flavor, texture, color and aroma of each dish. Laughter filled the house, taking me back to the joyful days in South Africa with my grandfather and cousins.

Writing this book has been a labor of love, helping me rediscover the recipes that nourished my family. It has encouraged me to invite old memories and relish new thoughts. With each recipe I remember a person, a story and a feeling, In this book I see so many colors, smell the spices, hear the laughter, and I feel the tears and the challenges that have made me who I am today. I remember my father’s response to my request for flight lessons, when I wanted to be a pilot: “Lella, you learn how to pilot your pots and pans!” And here I am actually doing it. But most importantly I realize that the dishes form a bridge from my past to my grandchildren.

Now these recipes will be a bridge to you and your families, too. I look forward to sharing these tasty, quick dishes with you. Enjoy forming your own memories over these meals.

With love,
Lella S. Umedaly

Easy Nash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)