Tuesday, February 14, 2017

ZANZIBAR RECOLLECTIONS By Bhadra [nee Kapadia] Vadgama

Zanzibar Government Girls Secondary School (before 1964)
This photo shows my school, half of the brown building. We didn't have any labs there so we didn't study physics or chemistry. We studied Biology and Health Science only. For sport girls went to the fort where they played netball. We didn't have PE either. Until Mrs Shukla started teaching there, Mr Nayak used to come to our school to teach Gujarati in the afternoon, three times a week. For domestic science, which was taught as an extra subject without an exam at the end. Art was also taught as a recreational subject.

My dad Vallabhdas Hirji Kapadia, better known as Manubha Kapadia, had a motor car and accessories business called Kapadia Motor Mart Ltd. in Zanzibar and because he had been a prominent figure in the socio-political life of the Island, our family was well known among wide range of communities and officials.
I went to Govt. Girls Sec School near the seafront close to Customs Office before going to Makerere College. Rozina Visram and I were the only 2 girls in 1956 to get a 1st grade in Cambridge Overseas SC Exam. I went to the World Centenary Girl Guides Camp to UK in 1957. I also taught at Seyyida Matuka School.
We, as children of 40s & early 50s, went to see 1 shilling all round Indian film shows on Sundays and at the Forodhani with 10 cents we could buy a stick of roasted mohogo, a handful of jugus, 2 pieces of ganderi and a slice of pineapple or mango, or a matufa or chana bateta.
In 1999 August, my sister Kanak from Mumbai, my younger daughter Jaanki & I went to Zanzibar. We went to visit the Palace Museum. I had never been inside the palace before, so for me it was quite an experience. I was delighted to see royal portraits painted by our art teacher Maalim Farhan. We had a teenage boy as our guide and some Australian tourists in the group. The poor lad had probably learnt by heart what he was supposed to tell us. He found himself taken over by Kanak, who talked about the first ever lift in Beit-el-Ajayab and how as young children we used to go up and down in it just for fun, and what the word Beit-el-Ajaib meant and that it was a palace before etc. etc. She described what it was like when Seyyid Khalifa had died and how she had come to pay her respect to the dead Sultan and express her condolences to Bibi Nunu.
We saw the special room of the Princess Sayyida Salme [Seyyid Barghash's sister] who had eloped with a German officer. I came to know about her when I had visited the museum in Muscat. I had not known anything about her in Zanzibar. At one point the poor lad who was our Guide, frustrated by our interruption, stopped us and said, 'Please let me talk about it.' The Australians were of course delighted to hear all our anecdotes. They told us we had made history alive for them.
Talking about Bibi Nunu, I remember when I was 8 or so (1948) I had been chosen to present a bouquet to her for an occasion (I can't remember what it was)that was held in the assembly hall of Government Boys Secondary School. I wonder if there will be a photo somewhere in the archives of Zanzibar Museum!
As mentioned earlier, I was chosen as the best Girl Guide from 7th Zanzibar Company [which ran as part of the extracurricular activities for the pupils of Hindu Kanyashala]to attend the World Centenary Camp to be held in Windsor Park in UK. So suddenly I was prepared to take all sorts of tests so I could have lot more badges on my sleeve. To be chosen for the Camp, I had to compete with the Guides from other Zanzibar Companies and attend a camp with Guides and Guiders from Dar.
My first encounter with racism and awareness of my citizenship happened during this trip to UK while I was attending the Camp. Initially, I was chosen to be presented to the Queen. I was even taken for the rehearsal and taught how to curtesy and so on. However, later in the day a very worried looking Guider came to me and said, 'I am extremely sorry, but we have just received a telegram from Zanzibar and they have asked us to replace you by Saada Khamis [an Arab Guide from Zanzibar who was also attending the Camp] to be presented to the Queen.' The Guider thought I would burst into tears, but I was not much upset by missing the opportunity. I suppose I was too young to realize the implication.
Also, perhaps I wasn't bothered, as in Zanzibar I had the opportunity of seeing at close range many celebrities like, Rita Hayworth & Prince Alikhan, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Princess Margaret, etc. at garden parties held in the British Residency grounds or Victoria Gardens where we served food to the guests in our Girl Guide uniform.
I also became aware for the first time, that although I had gone to the camp as a Zanzibari, I had chosen to wear chania-choli & odhani as my national dress. I taught other Guides a song in Gujarati, and not in Swahili. I was a Zanzibari BUT culturally I felt totally Indian. At the Camp, nobody wanted to know me as an Indian, as there were about 30 Girl Guides from India [and I didn't belong to them] who performed Indian dances in the evening as part of our entertainment. Saada and I, as Zanzibaris, had not prepared anything in particular to represent our island's identity. So here I was a young 16 year old with no awareness of the implications of my citizenship or identity. I realized all this much later in my life.
On arrival back to Zanzibar, a reporter had asked me if I had seen the Queen, and my reply was, 'Yes, I saw her clearly as being short, I was in the front row.' I didn't even think of telling him about the last minute swap.

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