Monday, August 5, 2013

Zanzibar’s Uniqueness: of music, weddings, cricket and times past. by Chirantan Shukla

I have followed people’s reminiscences about our beloved Zanzibar with much interest. It has prompted me, rather belatedly, to offer a few experiences of growing up in Zanzibar.

I became aware of Zanzibar’s uniqueness soon after our arrival in late 1953; when I was just 7 years of age. At the time, we were staying in Sokomogo Street. It was the holy month of Ramadhan and in the middle of the night, I was woken by singing and music coming from the street. The tunes sounded familiar. The accent was different but nevertheless melodious. I could not resist getting up and looking from the window. The group singing and playing the music was entirely Waswahili, but they were singing popular Hindi songs from hit Bollywood movies of the time.

We had arrived in Zanzibar from Kenya and this first hand cultural experience left its mark. Thereafter, I well remember non-Hindi Zanzibaris proclaiming with joy “lewo iko Awara” as they went about their daily
routines; and sure enough multi-ethnic audience would flock to the Empire Cinema to see their favourite Raj Kapoor and hear “Awara hoon”.

In later years, I found that a significant number of Hindi tunes were adopted for Swahili songs. Elements of Hindi music were also adopted for some taarab music. This could only happen in Zanzibar.

Indian weddings were held with proper pomp and ceremony in Zanzibar. The procession of the bridegroom was an essential element of the wedding. The procession was led by a band playing music. I only knew of one band; the “Salum's Band” named after the band leader Salum. The band’s dress, while performing, was khaki shorts and a khaki shirt. I believe Salum was of Arabic extraction and some of his musicians were Waswahilis. They exclusively played Hindi songs. What memories!

There was a tea/coffee house cum Arabic restaurant; opposite our house in Sokomogo, The radio in the restaurant was constantly tuned to radio Cairo and played popular Arabic songs of the time. I did not speak Arabic but fell in love with the music blaring out from the radio. I soon began to appreciate songs by
Arabic legends like Om Kultum, Abdul Halim Hafiz, Farid-el-Atrash etc. This appreciation of Arabic music stood me in good stead when during the course of my career; I worked in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Tunisia.

This early cultural exposure in Zanzibar allowed me to retain my appreciation of Arabic music and later I became an ardent fan of the great Fairuz. This was only possible because of growing up in Zanzibar.

I had a keen interest in sports and followed the national cricket and football teams. The make-up of Zanzibar cricket team illustrated the multi-ethnic cohesion of Zanzibaris. The cricketers (1950’s and early 60’s) who come to mind are Ahmed Himid, Mansour, Baker Tejani, Zaghlul, Harji Mawji, Rusi Madon, Abdulkadir, Gajendra Doshi, Gulam ("Golo") Mshamba, Jawad, Ahmed Bachoo, Mehdi etc. Juma Aley was closely involved with cricket and did play for Zanzibar. He was a better administrator than a cricketer.

In my view, Harji Mawji was perhaps the best Zanzibari cricketer. He was a genuine all rounder in
the mould of Gary Sobers. Actually, I have always considered Gary Sobers to be in Harji Mawji’s mould; as Harji came before Sobers. Harji was a prolific batsman, a very good medium pace bowler who also bowled spin and an excellent fielder. Harji was not adequately challenged in Zanzibar and could not achieve his potential. Ramanbhai Patel (then Captain of Kenya and a fine batsman) was so impressed with Harji, that he advised Harji to go to England and become a professional cricketer.

Harji and his family were of modest means and there was no prospect of him coming to England. Harji played football for Kikwajuni. He was the only Indian to play football for a first Division team. He was a very good volleyball player. Harji remained a Zanzibari to his end. Footballers who played for the national team in the 1950’s who come to mind are Issa, Sururu, Shaban etc.

I have fond memories of my years at King George VI Secondary School. In one respect, the class was a microcosm of Zanzibar. Names of my classmates illustrate this point; fellow students like Salim Himid, Abii Seif, Abdulla Ahmed, Moh’d Shangama, Salim Juma, Makame Usi, Moh’d Raza Sultan, Bipin Suchak,
Harkishan Bhagat, Abdul Latif, Irshad Dalal, Abitalib etc. In another sense, the ethnic distribution of the class did not reflect the percentage make-up of the Zanzibari population.

I have to conclude by noting that my mother Mrs Shukla was a teacher at the Government Girls Secondary School. Girls who were students at the school between 1954 and 1970, would have been taught by Mrs Shukla.

My mother tells me that when the late Abeid Karume was President; his then young sons, Amani and Ali, used to come to the Jani Building (behind Beit-el-Ajab) for private tuition with her. I am proud that my mother may have played a very small part in developing illustrious future leaders of Zanzibar.

Mrs Shukla is almost 90 years old and keeps remarkably well for her advanced years.

1 comment:

  1. I was taught by Mrs Shukla at Ben Bella Secondary (High) School during years of 1965 to 1967. The Gov't Girls School was amalgamated with the Agha Khan Secondary School in 1965 to become the Ben Bella Secondary School. I remember Miss Visram, Mr K C Clement ( the author of 3 Bookeeping & Accountancy Books), Mr DeSouza, Miss M M Pillai, Maalim Ibrahim Jaffer, Maalim Abdullah Saleh Farsi, and the Principal and Swahili Teacher Maalim Rijal among the many who taught me through those 3 years at the Ben Bella. I also remember both Ali and Amani Karume getting private tutions in the afternoons at Ben Bella. They both were students of St. Joseph Secondary School then. I used to hold the keys to the School so they would patiently wait till I showed up in the afternoon to open up. We would all go back to the school to do our homework assignments and some remedial classes. Oh those good old days.
    Irs nice to note that Mrs Shukla is still alive. Please Chirantan convey my pranaam to your Mom. I wonder if she would ever remember me after almost 50 years later.
    By the way I am the son of the greatest cricketer Gulamhussein Golo Mshamba.

    Thanks for posting