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|* Part 2 of MY KENYA (childhood)|
"Eccentric's house" (ganda nu ghar) (1954-1960):
When I had done a few months at the nursery school situated in the vicinity of the house near the railway station (I was about 6 years old), we moved in the middle of 1954 back to the old town of Mombasa, the area containing Fort Jesus, and the Old Port with the fish market adjacent to it. The house was an old building, our landlord owned 4 of the apartments, and he was an eccentric middle aged asian man with a short white beard, speaking Gujarati. And so the house was nicknamed the eccentric's house. I started my primary school Standard 1 here in 1955 upto Standard 5 in 1959.
The buildings in this area were densely placed with narrow alleys in between.
The eccentric's house (yellow). The white house to the right belonged to some relative of the Governor (Wali or Liwali) of Mombasa, who was appointed by the Sultan of Zanzibar, under whose suzerainty the coastal strip of Kenya belonged.
The son in this neighbour's family, called Babu Ali, was like a friend to us, although he did not play with us much. I remember about a week of festivities some time during our stay there, when they had fenced in a big area around the house for a week to celebrate a big wedding in their family (Babu Ali told me, when I met him for the first time after over 40 years in 2005, that it was he who had got married then. If it really was him, then he must have been in his teens when he got married. Alternatively, his marriage might have been a subsequent marriage, after we had moved out). We were invited and free to partake in whatever we liked. The festivities went on all night along, with music-and-dance groups invited from the Arabian peninsula, some of the dances being mildly sexually exciting (even to someone around ten years of age! Watch and listen to this on YouTube and you will see what I mean). I can still hum the arabic-swahili melodies (e.g. Leo ni leo) played on the loud speakers.
The entrance door to the eccentric's house (top, taken in 2005), and some photos of its neighbourhood.
One of my elder brothers, Dhiraj, was a "body builder" and loved all sorts of sports. He and other brothers belonged to a group who went swimming early every morning. I went along a number of times, and this is where I learnt to swim. We went to the Old Port, and took a rowing boat to the other side near a beach, and swam there; some of us sometimes swam back to this side if the currents were not so strong. Many evenings we practised our swimming in the sea near the Fort Jesus.
Above are the two places I learnt to swim.
Our neighbours uppstairs were Parsis, a widow with two beautiful daughters in their late teens. Parsis are descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated, many of them from the Khorasan province of northeastern Iran, to the Indian subcontinent, principally Gujarat, over 1,000 years ago. Genetical analyses have suggested that "a male-mediated migration of the ancestors of the present-day Parsi population, where they admixed with local females [...] leading ultimately to the loss of mtDNA of Iranian origin". Zoroastrianism, which started taking form before 400 BC, was once the dominant religion of much of Greater Iran. There are many wellknown Parsis in India, including Indira Gandis husband Feroze Gandhi, the industrialist Tata, and the nuclear scientist Homi J Bhabha.
Our residence was not far from Fort Jesus, the huge fort lying along the coast, described elsewhere. Behind this Fort, there were bushes and trees of berries, and we liked very much to pick these berries. But we often feared one thing. There were quite a few arabic male adults who roamed about there, and who were either homosexuals or pedophiles or both, I don't know.
First, we bought a black Prefect number W385, I would think it was around 1954, because I remember that when I was in standard 1 or 2 at Makupa Primary School (1955-1956), our eldest brother Mahesh used to come and pick us up from school at lunch time. I still remember my brothers Vasant and Dhiraj and me sitting on the wall-fence of the Makupa Primary School, in hot sun, waiting for the car to turn up; we all went to the same school. It could take up to half an hour. Every time a car appeared in the curved road and was approaching us, we looked anxiously if it was W385. One of the reasons was that the one who took the handle of the front door first would sit in the front. But because of disagreements, Mahesh subsequently said that we should take turns.
After this black car, we bought a Prefect of another model, which was light green. In this car I remember vividly, that our elder brother Vishnu used to drive us to and from a school called the Ziwani Primary School. From Standard 5 (1959) all the pupils were moved to another school, Memon Villa School for a year, and then to the newly built Ziwani Primary School, where I and Vasant did standards 6 and 7 (1960-1961).
With some displeasure I remember one thing around this time. We had a class mate who also lived in town, and wanted to take a lift home with us once. Then he started every afternoon asking us to take a lift in our car. I and Vasant did not like it, we tried to give him excuses that the car would be full with other friends of Vishnu, but he saw through us and waited by the road anyway, and when Vishnu came, Vishnu said let him come along. I do not know why we did not let this guy come along with us in the car every day, why we tried to dodge him away. I think Vasant and I wanted to have our own privacy with our family things, and maybe we were socially stingy. Vishnu said to us that if this guy wanted to take a lift every day, let him do it.
Vishnu has always been extremely generous with his friends. I also remember, a few years after the above period, Vishnu used to pick up regularly every morning, one other emplyee working at his work. So we drove to his house on a mud road, stopped the car outside, and waited for upto 10 minutes. Now and then, Vishnu would glance at his wrist watch. Interestingly, Vishnu had his wrist watch placed on the inside of the wrist, in contrast to the common style of having it on the outside. Vishnu used to wake up early in the morning, put on the Primus (see picture right), boil the big container of water, and then wake us up one at a time to take a bath.
GOING BACK to the Ziwani Primary School, it took about 40 minutes to walk home, which we often did. But during the rainy period, it could rain hours continuously. I remember a couple of occasions, when Vasant and I started walking home after 4 p.m. And it started raining cats and dogs. So we took refuge under different shop canopies, and tried to go a bit at a time. But the rain poured and poured, so we were forced to run in the rain several patches. We carried our schoolbags (theli), which were made of cloth. So when we got home, our books were soaking wet, and looked like they were from the 19:th century. I remember after dinner, we sat around a fire-place and tried to dry the books as best we could. We were worried that the books would become unusable. One reflection - was plastic not invented then, for the schoolbags? Maybe not so widespread. Things we take for granted now, were sparse and expensive at that time. However, plastic is today a great environmental hazard. Cows and other animals eat plastic bag pieces with the other stuff, and the plastic gets stuck in their intestines, and they die a painful death.
What about umbrellas? I suppose they were expensive too. And the problem was that we did not know precisely on what afternoon it would rain like that, and we did not want to carry unnecessary things. I remember nylon came when I was a child, and nylon became fascinating and popular, and was considered to be good qualiy. So much so, that when the arab hawkers sold something, like a piece of roasted cassava or other food stuff, and asked if it was good, he would say 'Ndio, mazuri saana. Lailon, lailon !! ' (Yes, very good, like nylon, nylon).
One of the several alleys leading to the eccentric's (yellow) house.
Meeting Babu Ali after over 40 years, in 2005
My "body-builder" brother Dhiraj (4 years older than me), flanked by me and my daughter Sara, near Niagra Falls, 2004.
Two pictures of Makupa Primary School, from front where we sat and waited for the car (left), and from the inside (top).
These three photos, taken in 2005, show the Mombasa streets after about an hour's rain. But during the monsoons, it could rain for many hours continuously.
"Market Mansion " (1960-1965):
A few months before I was 12 years old, we moved from the above Eccentric's house to an apartment in a five-storey building by the center of the town (nr 5 on the map), so we moved out of Mombasa's old town. I was then doing Standard 6 of the seven-year primary school, which preceded the the susequent four years of the high (or secondary) school.
The building was called Market Mansion. The ground floor was rented to different shopkeepers, and the four floors above it comprised twenty apartments on a wide area.
Market Mansion, with our apartment on the second floor (marked by arrow), photo taken in 2005.
Map of Mombasa island, showing the residences of our family: 1 ("junu ghar" 1941-1952), 2 ("narshibhai" 1952-1953), 3 ("station walla" 1953-1954), 4 ("ganda nu ghar " 1954-1960), & 5 ("market mansion" 1960-1974). The residences 1 and 4 lie in the old town area near Fort Jesus and the Old Port.
Two photos taken from the roof of Market Mansion (above and left), and a photo of Market Mansion from behind-inside (below).
TO BE CONTINUED...