Friday, Jan. 19, 2018
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-ameer janmohamed-
This is an attempt to put together a biography of my father based on memories, photos and archive material. This also adds another chapter to the history of our family. Although I was born in 1931 my own earliest memories of my father only date back from 1939. He died in 1950. Thus I have only eleven years of personal memories of life with him.
Above is picture of my grandfather Janmohamed Hasham Verjee.
Epitaph on his grave in the Ismaili Cemetery in Mombasa reads:
“Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim – Late President Alijah Mukhi Janmohamed Hasham Verjee
– died 11.00 a.m. on Thursday 18th. June 1931 – Age 63.
“Gone to meet his Maker”.
He migrated to Africa in 1900, at the age of 32, with his wife Paan bai, sons Manji and Hussein and daughters Bhani and Jena. Three more children were born to them in Mombasa. They were my father Kassam born 1905, and two daughters, Sikina 1906 and Fatma 1910.
It is evident that he and his brother Valli Hasham Verjee did well for themselves. By the time my grandfather died the family owned businesses and properties in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi. One of the landmark properties built by the brothers was the Regal Theatre building in Mombasa which was completed in 1931.
Picture above (1929/30) show, from left: My father Kassam Janmohamed, Janmohamed Hasham, Regal architect: William Miller Robertson, Valli Hasham, Hussein and Manji Janmohamed, and picture below the Regal Theatre building – Later years
During his extensive visit to East Africa in 1905 Mowlana Sultan Mohamed Shah strongly urged the Jamats in East Africa to obtain best possible education for their children. This message was taken to heart and acted upon by several Ismaili families as they prospered.
My father was sent to India in 1917 where he was enrolled at the Garissa College in Gondal. Level of education went up to Matriculation. Picture below shows my father as a student in Gondal. He would have been thirteen. A number of other East African Ismaili boys, including some Verjee boys were also at the College around that time.. This is the earliest picture of my father that I have found so far:
Garissa College demanded that all students adopted the dress code of Rajas. “Urbi Angarkhu”: A loose pantaloon, a short vest and a turban were to be worn.
GONDAL is mentioned by (Count) Kassamali Paroo in his personal journal:: “…….the (1914/1918) war was still on and I was only eleven years old, in spite of which my father took me with him to Gondal, in India, to Garissa College…………There were already other Ismaili boys there: Kassam Janmohamed, Badruddin Kara Teja and two sons of Ismail Simbha…….my education in Gondal continued until the third grade. The first position in my class was always held by Kassam Janmohamed, although I always maintained second position…”

GONDAL is also mentioned by (Count) Nazerali MS Verjee in his memoirs: “………..We left for India and arrived in Bombay where my uncle Kassam Bhai, rented a house in Chowpaty. ….he made enquiries and it was finally decided to settle us at a college in Gondal, near Rajkot, Kathiawar. We stayed at the college where we boarded and had our meals, but were there for only a term. My uncle Kassam Bhai felt that it was not conducive for us to study in India and we were sent back to Africa…….
PAROO memoirs suggest that many Kenyan students could not cope with the strictly vegetarian diet at Garissa College. Students were admonished not to indulge in non-vegetarian dishes even when they were on school holidays.
In 1920 brothers Kassam Suleman Verjee, Madatali Suleman Verjee, Hussein Suleman Verjee and their cousin Janmohamed Hasham Verjee decide to send their boys to England. Brynmelyn School was recommended to them by a Mr Soper who was with the Confirming House used by Suleman Verjee & Sons.

We pick up the story from the Paroo journal once again where he continues: ……in June/July 1920 Abdulhusein Abdulrasul Alidina Visram and I boarded the boat “Loyalty of Sindhiani” from Mombasa and set off for England. As luck would have it, on this boat there were also five Suleman Verjee boys, also on their way to England. They were:
Nazerali Madatali Suleman Verjee
Rajabali Kassam Suleman Verjee
Hassanali Hussein Suleman Verjee,
Gulamali Madatali Suleman Verjee
Rahemtulla Kassam Suleman Verjee.”
My father’s name does not appear in this list. I know however that my father and most of the Suleman Verjee boys were enrolled at the Brynmelyn College in Weston-Super-Mare in England from 1920 onwards.
We next read about the Verjee boys in England in the book “Landon of Brynmelyn”. This is the history of the college written by Olive Landon, daughter of a Headmaster of the College.

An excerpt: “……….about 1919 four brothers Verjee, Asians from a Kenya merchant Family, came to Brynmelyn, and three of them played for the first football team. They and their cousin Kassam (my father) who was very clever used often to stay for the holidays………” She also remembered my father particularly well as “he had excelled on the playing field and had represented the school in the first team.
Picture below shows 1921/1922 Football First Eleven of Brynmelyn College, Weston-Super-Mare… My father is standing second from left in the back row. Second from right is Gulamali MS Verjee.

College Cricket Eleven shows several Verjee boys. Standing left Hassanali HS Verjee, sitting next to him my father. Rajabali KS Verjee seated on grass and Nazerali MS Verjee in wicket-keeping gear.
(My father is tenth from left, standing in back row)
My father’s 1923 Senior Cambridge School Certificate shows that he passed with Credits in five subjects. Interestingly, Religious Knowledge is one of them!

It is ironic that all Verjee boys ended up in a school in England where study of Christianity was part of the curriculum and some, like my father passed the subject with Credit. It does not seem to have affected them one way or another, for most of the Verjee boys, including my father, ended up as Mukhi/Kamadias and Jamati office-holders in various Jamat Khanas in East Africa. I do not remember my father as a particularly devout individual but he was always respectful towards all faiths.

Religious Education had been a bone of contention for Asian settlers in Kenya in the early twentieth century. Study of Christianity was compulsary in all government schools which were largely staffed with missionary teachers. Government schools were commited to educating the natives and saving their souls, in equal measure.

This ushered in the era of communal schools. The first Aga Khan School in 1918 in Mombasa (funded by the Suleman Verjee family) being one of them.. The British Colonial Government did not mind too much because it shifted the responsibility of education on the shoulders of various Asian communities.
Rajabali KS Verjee standing 2nd from left. Nazarali MS Verjee on deck-chair third from left and
my father Kassam JH Verjee third from right.
On grass from left: Gulamali MS Verjee, Janu HS Verjee and Hassanali HS Verjee -2nd.from
I have come to the conclusion that brothers Kassam, Hussein and Madatali Suleman Verjee and my grandfather Janmohamed Hasham Verjee now wanted their sons to return to Kenya and join in the growing family businesses. None of the original bunch of Verjee boys who came to England in1920 was allowed enough time to go to University and obtain professional degrees
Once again I refer to the memories of (Count) Nazerali MS Verjee. He says”…….My brothers and cousins were sent to boarding school at Weston-Super-Mare. I was to stay in Bournemouth with a tutor to be educated there. At first I studied medicine to train as a surgeon. Soon after, however, my father wrote to Mr Soper that I was already engaged, he wanted me take a course that would be completed within three years. I decided to train in accountancy……….I finished my Accountancy course towards the end of 1922 and arrived Mombasa 21st January 1923………”

My father too was asked to come home after doing his School Certificate Exam in 1923. He returned to Kenya in 1924. His ambition was to study law in England. He was told that he could not go back. In fact a marriage had been already arranged for him. He was married to my mother Rabhia in 1925. He was twenty years old and my mother was fifteen.

Girls being married off at such young ages appears to have been common.
My father’s youngest sister Fatma was only 14 at the time she was given in marriage to
Gulamhusein Mohamed Nasser Jindani in 1924.
Above notes in Gujarati, in my father’s handwriting
state the following:
Malek Sultan Born 17th. September 1926 Friday
Died 4th. November 1927 Friday
Roshan Khanu Born 16th January 1928 Monday
Sultan Khanu Born 24th.October 1929 Thursday
Ameer Aly Born 6th June 1931 Saturday
Rabhia Born 24th June 1910  
Kassam Born 1st January 1905  
Malek Sultan, Roshan, Sultan and I were all born in Kisumu.
Our family had businesses in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi at the time. Grandfather Janmohamed Hasham was of course based in Mombasa. He was Jamati Mukhi between 1925/27 and Council President from 1928 until he died in June 1931.

It seems that upon his return from England my father was mainly stationed in Kisumu I have scant information about this particular period. My mother sometimes talked about those days in Kisumu. She said my father created a bit of a stir because he wore a white pith helmet. It was referred to by Indians as Topee, only worn by whites; that is why they were often referred to as Topiaras.

My father further scandalised Kisumu society when he took my mother out for a ride on a motorcycle with side-car! He also owned a proper revolver (which I inherited when he died). Our family firm Valli Hasham & Co. were importers and wholesalers in Kisumu and supplied goods on credit to shops all over the Nyanza Province. It was my father’s job to visit them every month to collect what they owed. This he did by car and the revolver was provided to him just in case! According to my mother, he had never found it necessary to use it.

1931 was an eventful year for our family. My grandfather died in Mombasa on 18th June 1931. I was born in Kisumu twelve days earlier, on 6th June 1931. It was the year that
Regal Theatre building was completed.

My grandfather left his estate to his three sons Manji, Hussein and Kassam in equal shares. Suddenly my father found himself to be financially independent. He was 26 years old, married and father of three children. Apparently he still harboured his ambition to study law. He saw the opportunity to realise his ambition to study law in England. He persuaded my mother that he was not cut out to be a businessman and that it would benefit our family if he could fulfil his ambition to become a lawyer. He also promised her that she could join him in London in a year or so..

Thus it was that my father returned to England to study law. He gave his brother Hussein Janmohamed Power of Attorney to act on his behalf in all business and financial matters whilst he was in England. Likewise he nominated his uncle Valli Hasham to replace him as a Trustee of his father’s estate.
My father sailed from Mombasa in August 1933. Our family always appears to have travelled on French ships from Mombasa.. Thus they would dis-embark in Marseilles. They would then take a train to Calais, Dover and London. He enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn in London to study law.
This picture, taken around 1933, shows my father as a law student in London, with his younger sister Fatma and her husband Count Jindani.

Two years later my father felt settled enough to invite my mother to join him in London. My parents decided that Sultan and I were too young to be left behind but Roshan who was seven years old by then could comfortably be left behind to stay with my Nanima’s family.So in June 1935 My mother, Sultan and I applied for our first ever Passports. The passport describes us as “British Protected Persons of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya”. Sultan and I are included as Infants. My mother’s passport also has an interesting observation “Bearer states that she is proceeding to England to join her husband”.

Sultan and I are listed under the Children section. Rubber-stamped comment on the right states that I was removed from my mother’s passport in 1949. My own passport was obtained in preparation for my proposed trip to London in 1950 for further studies. This trip of course never happened because my father died in 1950 a few days before I was due to sail to England.
1935 Photos show my mother, Sultan and me in London. I was four years old and Sultan five and a bit. BAHADURALI KASSAM SULEMAN VERJEE is in top picture. Bahadur Kaka was not amongst the original batch of Suleman Verjee boys who were with my father at Brynmelyn College. As far as I can tell, he was the first Verjee boy to actually get a University degree.

It seems that during our stay in London we stayed at a place called Bolton Mansions Hotel in South Kensington. My mother remembered the place as an apartment hotel. We went down for meals in the hotel dining room. Below is 1936 telegram from Mowlana Sultan Mohamed Shah addressed to my father at that address. It also ties in with my mother’s recollection that she used to walk us regularly to a park which was within easy walking distance. This was soon after breakfast, after my father had left for college.
My father and Bahadur KS Verjee, both law students at the time were appointed Mukhi and Kamadia of London Jamat by Sultan Mohamed Shah as per following Talika.
Although my father and Bahadur Kaka had been appointed Mukhi and Kamadia of London Jamat, there was no Jamat Khana as such and the Jamat consisted of between fifteen and twenty students and any visiting Ismailis who had contacted my father or Bahadur Kaka; and of course my Mother who was the de facto Mukhiani plus Sultan and me.

Jamati sessions would be arranged by Mukhi and Kamadia. It meant advising every member of the Jamat by postcard about the date and venue. Jamat Khana sessions were held at Bahadur Kaka’s address or where we stayed. Attendance from student Jamat was generally good. Word had got around that my mother would serve the Jamat with homemade Indian food after two prayers. Budget-bound students needed no greater inducement.

Mukhi and Kamadia were frequently called upon to help Ismailis make contacts with colleges, doctors and find suitable accommodation and such like. And of course, arranging for Didar whenever possible.

NAIROBI – 1st. MARCH 1937
His Highness the Aga Khan being weighed in gold during his Golden Jubilee celebrations held in Nairobi in 1937. From left to right behind the Imam are Manji Janmohamed Hasham Verjee, President of the Nairobi Provincial Council, Count (and later Diwan) Gulamhussein Mohamed Nasr Jindani, the Chairman of The Executive Council for Africa; Esmail Jivraj Pirani, a member of the Executive Council for Africa, who is seen holding the Address of Welcome which Count Jindani delivered. The Governor of Kenya is given the gold bars by the Mukhi and his Aid-de-camp is seen with hands to the back. Photo/Caption: Shaukat Noormohamed, Toronto/Mohammad Jindani, UK..PHOTO FROM FATEHALI MANJI JANMOHAMED ARCHIVES

Sultan Mohamed Shah’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in Nairobi in March 1937 had a special dimension for our family. As can be seen from above picture my Motabapa Count Manji Janmohamed and my Fua, Count Jindani on either side of the Imam, were very much involved in the organisation and celebration of the great occasion. Our family wanted to participate fully .

My parents too did not wish to miss this great occasion and decided to go to Kenya for the occasion. So we all left England on 10th December 1936 by train for Marseilles. We boarded a boat and arrived back in Kenya via Suez on 2n January 1937. We all participated in this great occasion on 1st March.

This extended visit and stay in Kenya was yet another break in my father’s studies. Mounting pressure, from his brothers, and now my mother too, was brought to bear on him to give up his ambition to become a lawyer and return to Kenya for good. He would also have gathered that our wider family business partnerships needed to be reviewed and re-structured. My mother too did not relish the prospect of staying on in Kenya without my father. The idea was that my mother, Roshan, Sultan and I would stay on in Mombasa, sharing a large house in Mnazi Moja with my grandmother and the Hussein Janmohamed family who had always been in Mombasa

My father returned to London in late 1937. He wanted to finish his studies. And of course, he was still the Mukhi of London Jamat. However, it was not to be. By this time clouds of war were beginning to gather over Europe. My father succumbed to the pressures eventually and returned to Kenya. The final stamp on his passport shows that he landed in Mombasa on 16th January 1939. He was thirty-four years old. He never travelled abroad again.
It was arranged that my father would join Husseini Silk Store upon his return. So my mother, Roshan, Sultan and I moved from Mombasa to Nairobi. We moved into a bungalow on 2nd Parkland Avenue in Nairobi. Shamsuddin Hussein Janmohamed also came to join Husseini Silk Store and he stayed with us.

The earliest memory I have of my father starts from 1939 in Nairobi. I was eight years old. I can still remember the layout of the house where we lived; I remember my father’s first motor car, a green Austin Ten, registration number T7856. We had the same car for seven years because the Second World War had begun and cars for civilian use were no longer being imported.

I also pleasantly remember the picnics we used to have. My parents’ friends circle included three other couples. They were Madatali Vali Hasham and his wife Sakkar Kaki, (Sir) Eboo Pirbhai and wife Kulsum and a Dr Esmail and his wife Safya. All four families used to drive to places like Ruiru, Thika or Fourteen falls. Children would play by the water falls waiting for refreshments from the tiffins and tins and thermos flasks..

Several ground sheets would have been rolled out. Our parents would play cards. Dr Esmail and his wife had recently returned from trip to India and had learnt a new card game called Bombay Rummy. It was becoming all the rage now. All Indians had started playing this amazing new game!I can see how my father who had only just returned from England became part of this group. Both Eboo Pirbhai and Madatali Kaka in their younger days were protégés of Manji Motabapa in communal matters. In fact Eboo Pirbhai and his wife always called my mother Kaki. And the effervescent Sakkar Kaki would always address my mother as Jethani (which means wife of husband’s elder brother).

This picture was taken in Ruiru, near the falls, many years later. It gives the flavour of the picnic spot mentioned above. It is a valuable picture for me because seen together are sons of Manji, Hussein and Kassam Janmohamed. From left: Me, Ameer Kassam Janmohamed, Kassamali Manji Janmohamed with wife Farida, Sultanali Hussein Janmohamed, Fatehali and John Manji

Another memory of this 1939/40 period is of the air raid shelter which had been built in our garden. There was talk of war everywhere. The Italians were expected to swoop down on British East Africa from Italian Somaliland. Air raids were expected. There were regular air raid drills, with sirens, and blackouts. My father was one of the Air Raid Wardens who patrolled 2nd Parkland Avenue at night during the drills to ensure that all windows were blacked out and no lights were visible.
We did not stay in Nairobi for too long. Major changes had been in the offing for a while.. With the benefit of hindsight I can now see that in common with many other prominent and successful family businesses, our family business too was beginning a period of rationalisation. This was an inevitable evolutionary process

There was a regular pattern to this. Family settles in new country. They set up new business. They are tight-knit, united and hardworking. There is more often than not a patriarchal figure whose word is law. Business begins to flourish. Next stage they diversify and expand to other towns and villages. Grown-up children begin to join the businesses. Wives have begun to flex their muscles. Aspirations differ. Work ethic is also evolving all the time. And there is no more father figure.

Inevitably families decide that it is time to go their separate ways. People need more space. They split. Often end up doing the same business and in competition with each other.

Earlier on Janmohamed Hasham and Valli Hasham had parted company in their trading activities. The company name of Valli Hasham & Co. was retained by them. Now eight years after the death of my grandfather, the three brothers Manji, Hussein and Kassam decide to go their separate ways. The brothers mutually agreed that Manji Janmohamed would keep Husseini Silk Store and most Nairobi properties. Hussein and Kassam Janmohamed would take over their Mombasa property portfolio, which included their investments in the Regal Cinema, City House and other properties and parcels of land.

The parting appears to have been amicable. Good relations continued to exist between the three brothers and their families. Manji Motabapa stayed with us whenever he infrequently came to Mombasa. Manji Motabapa had also been a tower of strength for us when my father died in 1950. Picture below shows my father with the Manji Janmohamed family in 1945 when Mowlana Sultan Mohamed Shah graced their Sclaters Road home with his presence.
From left – Back row: Kassamali, Malek Bhabhi, Ramzanbhai & my father. Front row: John
(kneeling) Santok Motima , Sultan Mohamed Shah, Manji Motabapa and Fatehali.
Ramzan & Malek Bhabhi’s son Firoz in front.
So it came to pass that my father, mother, Roshan, Sultan and I finally moved back to Mombasa, which remained our home until 1973. We moved into a rented apartment in a building between the Masonic Lodge and the Goan Institute on the road leading to the Likoni ferry. I joined the Aga Khan High school, behind the Police station. Roshan and Sultan first joined the Aga Khan Girls School which was housed on the ground floor of the Kuze Jamat Khana. They later transferred to the White Sisters Convent in 1n 1943. (As it worked out, all three of us sat the Senior Cambridge Examination in 1945. Roshan and Sultan achieved Second Grade passes and I scraped through with a Third Grade Pass.)

And of course the war was on. Mombasa was now Naval Base. It was expected that it would be a prime target for enemy bombers. Mombasa was evacuated of all non-essential civilians twice during the war year. Ladies and children in our family moved to Likoni mainland the first time and to Kisumu the second time. (I have written more fully about this fascinating period for Kenya in my book “A Regal Romance”).

Brothers Hussein and Kassam Janmohamed set up office in Mombasa called Hussein Brothers. (Hussein seems to have been a popular name in our family; the Nairobi business was also called Husseini Silk Store). Hussein Brothers office was managed by Odhavjibhai who was also the accountant. I don’t believe there was much trading. We were mainly property owners and developers. We also owned and managed the Regal Cinema. The Regal Theatre building was always owned jointly by Janmohamed and Valli Hasham families. The Cinema business changed hands from time to time.

My father read a lot and listened to the BBC news regularly on the radio. He would go to the Regal for a couple of hours in the morning and then drop in during the matinée performances. As I remember the cinema business was not particularly management intensive.
From left: Sultanali Hussein, my father, Mowla Bapa, Shamsudin Hussein and Hussein Mota Bapa.
Above picture was taken in 1942/1943 when Prince Aly Khan honoured our family by paying a visit to the Regal Cinema. From left: Seated on the floor: Roshan, Malek, me, Sultan, Sultanali
and Noor.

Seated on chairs: My father, Prince Aly Khan, Grandmother Panbai Janmohamed, Mrs Dhala Visram.

Standing front row: Mrs Mohamedali Dhala, Vazier Kassam Khimji, Mrs Zera Fatehali Dhala, Dolu, Shirin, Guli, and my mother Rabhia bai, Akbarbhai Gangji, Shamsu, HUSSEIN MOTA- BAPA, & Odhavjibhai Anandji.

Back row: Major Lutufali Merali, Vazier Fatehali Dhala, Prince Abdulla, Mr Vithalani.

(Varasiani Zerabai Fatehali Dhala is seen standing directly behind my father. Both of them died within days of each other in July 1950)
Seated from left: Eboo Pirbhai, Hassan Kassam Lakha, Abdulla Hasham Gangji, Gulamhussein Mohamed Nasser Jindani, Sultan Mohamed Shah, Kassamali Paroo, Fatehali Dhala, KASSAM JANMOHAMED, Dhanji Jadavji Bhatia. Standing First Row: Ismail Vali Jamal, Saleh Mohamed Ladha, Dhanji Manji, Lalji Mangalji, Alibhai Kassam Lakha, Premji Dhanji, Valli Rahemtullah, Kassam Suleman Damji & Shamsudin Tejpar.
The Rotary Club of Mombasa was chartered in 1944. It was the first multi-racial Rotary Club in Africa south of the Sahara. My father had the privilege of being one of the twenty-three Charter Members. Hereunder is his profile published in the Souvenir Magazine celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Mombasa Rotary Club.
My father also served variously as President of the United Sports Club, on Rent Control Board, Aga Khan Provincial Council, as Estate Manager to HH Aga Khan, and three terms on the Mombasa Municipal Council.

FROM LEFT: Seated: GA Skipper, Dr AU Sheth, L Collins, GI Sutton, PF Foster (Chairman), EG Tidy, Capt. Hamley, AH Nurmohamed, IH Frost, Dr J Dundas. Standing First Row: Sheikh Hinawy, Shariff Abdullah, KASSAM JANMOHAMED, Capt. Mundell, Mrs Sondhi, Dr MA Rana, G White, Hassanali Mussa Jetha, Isaiah Oduor. Back Row: WR Shore, PH Brown, AJ Walker.

Two years later, on 9th July 1950, my father died, following a stroke on the previous day. He was 45. Cause of death was put down as cerebral haemorrhage. There was no previous medical history. Nor was he registered with any doctor in Mombasa.

1950 was a tragic year for the people of Mombasa and the Ismaili community in particular. Varasiani Zerabai Fatehali Dhala had died two days before my father died. A few months later, on 3rd October 1950, fifteen members of the Verjee family perished in the tragic Likoni Ferry accident.
Amir Cassam, Moto Quassim, Umed, Sultan, Azmeena, Ma, Small Quassim, Roshan & Zeenat.
-ameer janmohamed-
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    This web-site is in, place of the long anticipated (!) Volume IV of "AKJ Collection of Cynical Wisdom". Volume I was published in 2004, Volume II in 2006 and Volume III in 2009.Some three thousand printed copies...
    Aptly titled, "A Regal Romance and Other Memories", this book is a fascinating journey of a well-known and respected individual, who spent a major part of his life in Mombasa, finally settling in London in 1972.
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