Mohamedali Alibhai

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Mohamedali Alibhai

Born in

Mohamedali, the oldest son of Alibhai was only 8 years old when his father died. Around 1928 when he was about 16 years old, Pirbhai brought Mohamedali to Africa. He worked in Tabora for a year with Karmali & Co. and then in1929-30 he went to Kindu in the Congo and became a partner in Ebrahim Haji Freres, a mainly wholesale-retail textile business, which also imported shoes, utensils and other sundry goods from India and Japan.

A year later in 1931, Mohamedali married Kulsumbai Rawji, the eldest daughter of Merali Rawji in Tabora. It was a dual wedding of two Rawji brides—Sugra Popat Rawji married Fazal Haji on the same day at the same ceremony in Tabora.

Mohamedali brought his young wife of 16 years back to Kindu with him! They stayed in Kindu for more than 15 years and several of their ten children were born during this time. For the birth of their first two children Fatma (Babybai) in 1932 and Shokat in 1933, Kulsumbai and Mohamedali made the arduous journey to her parent's home in Stanleyville. The parents, Merali and Ladhibai had left Tabora in 1930 and now lived in Stanleyville with the 4 younger children, Fidahussein, Pyarali, Mohamed Taki and Gulbanoo; the fifth child Kaneez was born in 1933-34.

The journey from Kindu to Stanleyville was very strenuous and took the better part of 3 days; it meant changing from train to boat and back to train again, with several overnight stops as well. It was a long and difficult one, quite daunting for anyone, leave alone a young woman, eight months pregnant the first time; and with a kid not yet two, the second time.

However, long train journeys seen through the eyes of her youngster, Murtaza Alibhai, were really quite exciting !! (Years later, when Ma and the children stayed in Dar, they all traveled back and forth to Kindu during the holidays to visit Bapa who lived and worked there).

The train left Kindu in the morning for an overnight journey to Kalemie (Albertville) on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganika. One of stops along the route was at Kasanga-Kaabole where there was a branch office/shop of Ebrahim Haji.

Soon after Kaneez was born Ladhibai died unexpectedly. Kulsum who was still in Stanleyville at the time for the delivery of her 2nd child Shokat, stayed on and nursed both her son and her baby sister.

Here Jethabhai Juma, a family friend would come to the station with hot, home cooked food for the ever-hungry kids to last them till they reached Kalemie. In Kalemie they were met by Mussa Alibhai, their Chacha, and Karmali Pirbhai and taken home for the night.

The Alibhai Clan

when Murtaza was six months old, Mohamedali moved his family to Dar es Salaam so that the older children could go to a proper school. The younger three, Shameem, Parveen and Hussain were born here.

At this time, Mohamedali terminated his partnership in Ebrahim Haji Freres, withdrew his money and used this to fund his family's life in Dar. He did not work in Dar es Salaam.

Life in Dar was quite simple and the social life of both rich and poor was not very different. All the Indian children went to the same schoolThe Central Indian School, where the first 2 classes were taught in Gujarati and English was introduced from class 3. All marriages regardless of status were performed at the Mosque and the receptions and dinners that followed were set and standard for all too. It was likewise for funerals.

In the evenings after work, all the males gathered at the grounds adjacent to the cemetery to play --¬football, cricket, volley-ball, and the like. At dusk many of them went to the Masjid for prayers and then headed home for the simple evening meal. The women and children met almost daily and often prepared communal meals enjoyed by the whole community—a good time to gossip as well. On weekends people went to the beach within the town itself. Those more affluent, having cars, drove out to the 'bigger sea' to spend the day.

Even so, life for the Alibhai family had to be frugal as there were no earning members at the time. Ma, Kulsumbai, kept no full-time help and worked tirelessly to keep her many children well provided. Even now her children recall that Ma always washed them with warm water even after toilet, even though there was no running hot water.

Rawji Fils was growing rapidly and Taki Rawji, the children's Mamoo, needed man-power. Mohamedali returned to Congo to work in the Kindu branch of Rawji Fils and Anver aged 17 joined him there; Shokat the eldest son went to work at the Stanleyville branch.

In 1960, at Independence, Mohamedali retired and left Congo and returned to Dar to live with the family. Around this time, soon after Independence, Fidahussain Haji visited Stanleyville from Pakistan, where he had settled a few years earlier. He found the situation palpably tense; he sensed trouble brewing. Alarmed, he encouraged families to leave. The Hajis and Rawjis together charted a plane and old men, women and children were flown out to Dar.

All families in Dar took in as many people as they could possibly accommodate. Homes were full to over-flowing and some people had to be put up in hotels. Many people squeezed into the Alibhai home and they all had to be fed and looked after for several months. After 4-6 months several went back to Congo while others chose to move to Pakistan and elsewhere. Mohamedali, Ma and the four younger children moved to Karachi in 1963.

Hassan had already joined Rawji Fils in Kindu in 1957. In 1963 Azad aged 20 years went to England to pursue Commercial Studies and Murtaza followed two years later. Shokat, Anver and Hassan continued to remain and work in the Congo.

When Ma, Bapa and the younger children first arrived in Karachi they lived with Banoobai (Ma's sister) for a month in the house at Shahid-e-Millat Road before moving into a rented house off Tariq Road in thePECHSarea, in those homes, and heating facilities were primitive and time consuming.

Also Ma never liked her kids to ever eat 'outside stuff', nor did she want them to crave for this. So she perfected all the recipes of their favourite restaurant foods and made these even tastier in her own kitchen! In Dar es Salaam, the seven children and Ma and Bapa stayed in a small apartment block in Market Street which was a predominantly Ismaili area.

They lived on the 2nd floor and the home consisted of 3-4 rooms in a tunnel-like arrangement, one following the other, with a balconyatthe end. The owner was an Ismaili and the neighbours were all very good. The youngest 3 children, Shameem, Hussain and Parveen were born here—in '48, '50 and '52 respectively. In 1955 when Hussain was 5 years old he accidently saw the mentally disturbed daughter of one of the neighbours on the stairs and got the fright of his life! He remained so disturbed by the encounter that the family thought it best to move away.

So in 1955 the family moved again. The second apartment was much better planned than the first one and several other Ishna Ashari families including the Hajis lived close by. Some Hindu families also lived in this area. The building was owned by Pyarali Merali Devji, a very good Ishna Ashari neighbour who took care of the Alibhais during Bapa's frequent absences.

Between 1946 and 1952, Mohamedali (probably) still had a partnership in a textile business with his older brother Mussa in Albertville and his cousin Fazal Pirbhai in Kindu. In 1952 Fatma, (Babybai) got married to her second cousin Sherali Fazal, the eldest son of Fazal Pirbhai. As the Alibhai children increased in number the 2 older brothers also needed to work to support expenses.

which was then a newly expanding suburb of the city. Some Haji families had already moved here from the city. Meanwhile, the 3 Alibhai sons in the Congo were earning well and the family was quite comfortable.

She too, like her mother, was present for all weddings and funerals, taking charge, seing thatall formalities were duly fulfilledandeverythingwent smoothly. In lateryearsshewasfondlycalled 'The Flying Nani'. But though they had many servants, Ma still supervised everything meticulously and continued to cook the family favourites, still waiting on everyone before sitting down herself.

Her heart was now set on the new house nearby, 'Kashan-e-Kulsum' that her sons were having built for her. But before the house was complieted she passed away in July 1969, very likely from a broken heart. She was still grieving at the sudden loss of her 21 year old daughter Naseem who passed away 15 months earlier during a visit to the Congo.

Naseem succumbed to a violent asthma attack, a condition that had compromised her life since childhood. In December 1968, Ma and Bapa and the children had been to Bombay for ten days for the marriage of Anver and myself. Ma seemed so well then. Fortunately Anver and I spent the next 3 months in Karachi with the family where I basked in her quiet kindness.

The essence of simplicity herself, she reminded me discreetly that matching dupattas and daily visits to the hairdresser were quite a necessity, especially for a new bride!

Six months later, she faded away; Nurjahan came from Kinshasa and stayed on to look after the young family, inheriting her mother Banoobai's mantle of caring for the needs of this Alibhai family; she even found a new bride Mumtaz, for Azad, so she could leave and go back to her home in the Congo.

The family moved to 'Kashan-e-Kulsum' a few months later. Bapa continued to live in Karachi as one by one the children moved away. After a few years an extensive flat was constructed upstairs for Murtaza and his wife Fehmida Haji. Azad and his wife Mumtaz soon migrated to Canada as Azad had a severe jaundice condition. Some time later Murtaza's family joined them there; Shameem and Parveen both having been to 'Finishing Schools' in Europe, married in quick succession. (Shameem married Mansoor Habib and Parveen married Fatehali Mohamed).

'Kashan-e Kulsum' became the 'family home' where Hussain and Azmat continued to live and to which we all return/ed regularly with our children for vacations and family weddings.

Bapa lived in Karachi with Hussain and Azmat, visiting his sons in Kinshasa, Brussels and Canada for several months during the summers. In later years, needing a stick to walk, he was called 'Dandiwala Dada' by the young children.

Bapa's fondness for the casino was quite well known, and the one in Kinshasa was very accessible! One early morning a she was returning home after a night out, Shokat's 4 year-old Faris caught sight of him as he was leaving for school.

“Hey Dada, tum kaise itne jaldi ooth gaye?" (How come you are up so early?) he questioned innocently. Bapa never lived that story down!

He passed awayin Karachi in 1979.