Friday, June 14, 2013

The light died, the fan stopped, I fell for Zanzibar. by Zehr Peera

Memories of Zanzibar by Zehra Peera 2002
From of Abdulrazak Sheriff Fazal

I enjoyed going through your Memoirs. It brought back a lot of pleasant memories, in particular those of Vaddi Bhajar(Hurumzi). It was indeed a lively street and probably nicknamed “Vaddi Bhajar” by the Kutchi-speaking settlers. The rows of houses facing each other, within earshot, shops on ground level and dwellings above shops, created an atmosphere that made the early migrants feel as if they were at a home away from home.
The shops in the street catered for most daily needs, such as grains, spices, and herbal medicines. Most of the goods were imported from India. Chocolates and biscuits imported from Britain were also available in our shop on the street. Our shop carried the signboard advertising Cadbury’s Chocolate over the door. In 1988 Issa, my husband, visited Zanzibar. He was shown a book in the planning department about Zanzibar streets, prepared by a team of Swedes working in Zanzibar. The book had a picture of the Cadbury’s Chocolate signboard over our front door. The Swedish architect who showed the book to Issa said that the signboard was a feature of such curiosity that it deserved to be included in the book.
Name-tags were common in Zanzibar as you mentioned in your Memoirs – some no very complimentary though! Mostly they indicated businesses. In Vaddi Bhajar we had Jafu Msumari who sold nails and cement, and we had Saleh Madawa who sold herbal medicines. As children we were often sent to Chacha Saleh’s shop to buy herbal medicine. No sooner we named the ailment to him, e.g. constipation, he stretched his hand out and drew the right box from the shelf at the side or back without turning his head. He knew precisely the position of the box on the shelf, and its contents. He wrapped the right amount of herbs in the paper and handed it to us.
Our shop was a meeting place with Marhum Bha Taki on his chair (left on baraza day and night) presiding over the group until late at night. We had regular daily visitors from your end of the town as well as the other, Soko Mohogo. The grand chair was on the baraza for a long time after the family’s departure. In 1997 though, when I visited Zanzibar, after nearly 25 years, both the chair and the Cadbury’s signboard had disappeared.
The Wednesday evening Majlis for men, and distribution of fateha to children on Thursday evening were weekly family features. Besides men, a couple of elderly women also came to Majlis regularly and we all sat in the room across from the Men’s area, with curtains drawn across the door, listening to recitations. As to Thursday’s fateha, I remember standing at our shop door chanting “ Wa toto fateha” and hearing the response “ Kina nani” from afar. I replied “Kina Ali Khaku”.
You must have been in the group of children returning from Forodhani and knew what to expect. Besides the Wednesday Majlis at my house, one evening every year Vaddi Bhajar would be closed to the traffic for celebration of Hazrat Abbas’ birthday. It was like “Khushiali Ya Bankro” at Junni Masjid. On one occasion Laila (your sister Zainab’s sister-in-law) and I, together with some other children from the street, took part in reciting Kasida. I was reminded of this occasion when I was talking to Laila recently.
Issa remembers attending a function once and being given a “ladu”. These ladus were made by Laila’s aunt, Mami Tahakro, who lived in the vicinity. The barazas in Zanzibar served multiple purposes. The elderly on their long walks used to sit on them for resting and the hawkers like Ali Bajia (another name-tag) put their wares on the barazas to serve their customers.
As children we used barazas to play a game called “ crocodile chase”. The street was the ocean and the barazas were the shores where we would be safe from the crocodile’s jaws. Also, to avoid being run down by fast-moving hamali carts delivering goods from the wharf to the shops, we jumped onto the baraza when we saw one coming.
The street separating the rows of houses on either side were so narrow that we could hear and see what went on inside the households around us. Neighbours standing at their windows gossiped across the street space. We threw packets of eatables to our friends through their windows. We also sat at the windows to listen to new songs from the Indian films being played in the neighbourhood, to memorise the lyrics.
Growing up as children in Vaddi Bhajar, life was never dull. During Ramadhan, as the dusk approached, someone from my household and someone from your grandparent’s house would stand at the windows. Laila would be at her window from which she could see the minaret at Nai Masjid. When she saw the Muazzin reaching the top, Laila would come over to the window overlooking our house and cry, “Haya”, at which we rushed to the dinner table.
We had good connection with Parsees. We were friendly with quite a few Parsee families because we attended the same school as their children, Saint Joseph’s Convent School. Dara Mistry’s family lived in the neighbourhood and as children we spent a good deal of time with them. According to Issa, I speak Gudjerati as Parsees did, which was somewhat peculiar.
In your memoirs you describe Washiri coffee sellers. Their style of pouring coffee in tiny cups and stopping in time to avoid overfilling the cup was a skillful performance. So was the juggling of cups to announce their arrival. A coffee seller had certain streets for his territory by common consent with others to avoid competition. On his rounds, he would stop at the shops and pour coffee for the shopkeeper and whoever else was present in the shop.
A shop was a venue for trading gossip and rumours. The coffee seller was also a purveyor of news, rumours and gossip which he picked up on his rounds. To this day, Issa brews coffee which he calls Kahawa ya Unguja every morning and drinks it from one of the tiny cups brought from Zanaibar. I even have a doll replica of the coffee seller in his traditional costume carrying his dele.

Occasionally I make Haloowa Ya Manga which I learnt to make from Ukera Kassamali Peera on one of my visits to California. Dinesh Pandya's letter took me back to my student days in Arya well as my teaching days at Bait ul Raas. I remember his father panpati shop under Arya Samaj. Harish Pandya was my student at the Teachers' College Zanzibar
I have written a couple of articles on Zanzibar too. One article was prompted by an article I had read in the local paper which opened with the words "The light died, the fan stopped, I fell for Zanzibar.

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