Monday, January 13, 2014

That Fateful Day, Half a Century Ago (Khoja Perspective) by Abdulrazak Fazal

12 January 1964 - 12 January 2014

Talking of Zanzibar’s Khojas, they came in dhows to Zanzibar since the mid nineteenth century (even earlier) and with the passage of time lost all the traces of their contacts in India. They were simple, peace loving and God fearing people. There was immense brotherhood among them and they cared for each other. Economically they were contented and mostly worked in Government offices where administration was excellent. Those who had business maintained only minimum margin of profit that resulted in high purchasing power and generally a good standard of living. They did not have the slightest inkling of such a revolution and were visibly shaken by it.

The past has flown fast and times have changed completely. The social, economic and political changes have had tremendous effect on our lives. It is exactly 50 years since that fateful day in Zanzibar. Sadly a large number has passed away. The anniversary has awakened poignant memory of the Zanzibar days. Today only a handful Khojas emanating from our Zanzibar diaspora remain in Zanzibar

The moderate policy of the government of the day (in line with its mainland counterpart, their merger resulting in TANZANIA, at times at loggerheads) gives them confidence of staking their fortune in Zanzibar and cultivate loyalty towards it. The rest (now with grown up generation), wherever they are settled (some prosperous, some languishing in poverty), still find themselves attached to Zanzibar culturally. They speak Swahili among themselves. The photo albums fattened by the old black and white photographs are some of their precious possession with sentimental attachment. Those with means do go to Zanzibar once in a while. Others find it painful to pay a visit there, for it is no more the good old Zanzibar that they were associated with. Its Stone Town is haunting. The mosques, mehfils and jamaatkhana are desolate and bereft of the huge gathering that once filled the entire place. Your house glares longingly, you pass through those streets and gullies where you played and frequented in the past and some ghostly feeling creeps up, and in the still of the moment everything around there seems sad and bleak.

Some diasporans subjected to displacement still harbour grievances against the authority for the unfairness meted out to them. Their modest houses were confiscated. On the contrary today outsiders are welcomed and encouraged to put up mansions, hotels, and luxurious resorts under the guise of promoting tourism. They thrive and have their ways and means. 

The present day Zanzibar is more of a tourist resort. Forodhani has undergone renovation, courtesy HH the Aga Khan, but its naturalness deformed. Its eateries mostly cater to the taste of tourists who flock there in the evenings. Zanzibar is swayed by the needs of tourists. Imagine nowadays they even sell curio stuff at Forodhani! Also every alternate shop on Portuguese Street deals in curios. The street has lost its old charm. It seems there are certain individuals behind the chain of business. Even their mode of salesmanship betrays the normal Zanzibari etiquette. The era of quality stuff, minimal margin and cordiality is forsaken to pave way for modern commercialism. The post-revolution phase has also given boost to Darajani/Ngambo trading mainly in garments and electronics. The business is again the monopoly of certain bigwigs who thrive through their overseas and mainland connections.

The indigenous Zanzibaris are God fearing, innocent and honest people. It is pity that the prevailing inflation snatches every penny of theirs. Zanzibar’s false economy and its political gimmickry is the feature of their day to day life. 

In all honesty Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) should have won the 1963 elections. Their share of votes was almost 55%. If the constituency representation had been apportioned in accordance with its denseness ASP would have emerged clear victor. Mind that the rapport between locals and us was remarkably good. 

Our diaspora ( pre Revolution inhabitants and not those integrated of recent, also prior to the East African Railway settlers on the mainland) had a congenial environment with the adoption of the Afro Arab culture in its true sense. 

To quote Professor Abdul Sheriff, in reply to Times of India’s Dilip Padgaonkar’s question, “What do you make of the Indian Government’s efforts to reach out to the Indian diaspora in Zanzibar?’ he put it beautifully:
“Feel for us. But please leave us alone; Zanzibar is our home, our past, our future.”

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