In Bombay Anver Alibhai and Zia Rahimtoola were married in December 1968.
After 6 months, Anver and Zia arrived in Kinshasa and went to live in the newly painted, unfurnished bungalow in Avenue Renkin.
Impatient to move in quickly, they furnished it with borrowed pieces of furniture from the warehouses, and from family and friends. They also acquired two precious family domestics, Augustin and Raphael, the latter only on loan. Settling into a new country, new culture, new family could have been quite daunting, but the whole family rallied to the support of their favourite brother and his new wife, and with their affection and understanding settling in became an amazing experience.
How could I ever forget their kindnesses! Nurjahan and Nazira painting our garden pots brightred to welcome us; Babybai visited regularly, entering our home through the kitchen, lifting lids, mentally registering what she should cook for us next time; Kaniz Masi who descended her flight of stone steps each morning for 40 days, considering it her privilege to bathe Seema, our first-born, applying freshly made kajal each dayso she would have beautiful eyes to remember her by!
Nurjahan, my faithful companion in all new ventures, praying nervously from the Koran as Tabriq was being circumcised by the Jewish doctor she had discovered, in Kinshasa! (Others waited to have this done in Karachi or Dar.) Far from being annoyed, Dr. Tiprus expressed surprise there were so few of us attending— “my Jewish ladies come in numbers, and pray loudly—and I love that," he said laughingly.
The main evening past-time was the same walk along the riverside, with price and availability of daily staples like sugar and potatoes the only passionate conversation between wives.
Coming from the fast-paced, carefree, career- oriented life in the bright lights of the bustling metropolis of Bombay, to this total domestication in the one-main-boulevard town of Kin, with no cinema houses or fancy restaurants or super markets —could have spelt disaster!!
But instead,thankfully, it all became an adventure! Shopping at the marche was an experience!! On good days, bright and colourful, full of sights, smells and sounds, one learnt to bargain hard with the wily, smiling Congolese women who were the 'business-men'of their households.
Produce of all sorts was openly displayed—take your pick of vegetables, insects, worms, creepy- crawlies, unrecognizable sea creatures, and much more, to suit all tastes.
Meats on the other sidehasty pretence at examining the live chickens, while Michel, driver and body-guard, made the final correct choices; and lastlyoffto fetch a baby lamb, tie its struggling feet and rush to lock it safely in the back of the car to be later humanely, halal-slaughtered by our faithful Muslim cook, Juma. Done, for the month one hoped.
We wives shared cars with the office. This meant we could wait endlessly for one to arrive, as often ladies living within the office compound could 'hi¬jack' the transport on its way out. Finally Nazira, who had learned to drive, acquired a yellow Daf—one of a consignment of noisy, diesel, automatic, tiny cars ordered for our staff; we could hear her arriving a mile away!
Even our household money and provisions were 'doled' outbut the seasoned ones knew they could askfor more; as expected many a battle royal could ensue. There were no really interesting shopsMoleka's 'Congo Luxe' was for window-shopping only! We were happy just to admire, beautiful, imported luxur ygoods, way beyond our 'house-wifely means'.
No postal system either, and the phones rarely worked. All our rations and masalas came from East Africa, loaded onto trucks that transported merchandise for Rawji Filsour orders had to be made months in advance making the store-room the most important room in the house! Once again Babybai took overseeing that I did not know one daal from the other!
In 1971, construction of a Hilton Intercontinental began—a 5-star hotel in our back yard! Just visiting the caravan homes, temporarily installed as make¬shift housing for personnel was a treat; and at last we could dream of some kind of international cafe, ice-cream parlour and restaurants.
But life with Anver and his ever-appreciative support made mylife so special. The 4 years spent together were a gift. Though he never drank a drop we enjoyed numerous social-gatherings with both Congolese and Europeans, where he was proud to show off his 'educated' wife confessing with great confidence the lack of his own.
The simple, homely Casino was a Saturday night special where men sometimes stayed all night and the women joined them next morning for breakfast with the kids.
Soon open-house Sundays at our country-house, first in Mont Ngafula and later at Parc Hembise, became everyone's family day out—food, fun and games fo rall.
When we moved to 'Royale' on the boulevard this time to a splendidly furnished mansion, the pool became the focus for much celebration, both formal and informal. Getting our men into fancy dress, playing 'Queen of Sheba', circling the pool to 'Auld Lang Zein' on New Year's Eve was no mean feat indeed!
Here too was where our 'domestique's baby clinic' was begun, soon after Tabriq was born. In time and by popular demand it grew into a full-fledged medical facility for all the staff, in ever-expanding quarters nearer the office, and later within the Sogalkin Compound, now professionally run and supervised by the men.
But what really brought all-Kinshasa together was 'The Soiree' at the Palace Hotel, a fund-raising event for Bangladeshi refugees in India. What started out modestly as a community effort took on a dizzying momentum of its own, culminating in a spectacular FiestaAsians, Africans, Europeans, Americans, dancing to authentic African tribal drums; a European compere; a delicious Indian Banquet prepared by the family women and cooks under the expert supervision of Babybai; an American auction of gorgeous sarees and a raffle of a Japanese car!! Kinshasa hadn't seen the like of this in a long time.
The event was widely reported and the UN Envoy for Refugees was happy to receive a large cheque!
Yes, the joy of Kinshasa was family lifemen left early but came back for lunch and a siesta; and shops and offices closed by 6pm. Anver of-course continued his public relations visits some evenings, and it was always interesting to go with him, especially to the African homes, both in the suburbs and in the African Quarter. In 1971 Anver was the first Asian to be decorated with one of the country's highest awards, 'The Leopard' in recognition for the services he personally, and the family as a whole, had delivered to the country for decades.