ORAL HISTORY

Edward Simpson

Interviewee: Prof Edward Simpson (ES) Interviewers: Lata Desai (LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Date: 28/2/2017 Place: School of Oriental and African Studies

ABSTRACT: Prof Edward Simpson is the Head of Social Anthropology at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In this interview, he gives his perspective on his research work with the Gujaratis. Born in Norfolk, he was drawn to Gujarat after a couple of visits to India. He talks about his fascination on seeing the wooden ships in the estuary in Mandvi and how he worked on the ship yard for two years where he learnt a lot about this community. It was during this time that he came to understand the sea faring community and their links with various countries. He took many oral histories and studied the Kutch communities closely and discovered how and why they emigrated to Africa. He describes the Badela communities in Kutch and Mombasa and was convinced that this community is an Indian ocean community who belong to neither Kutch nor Mombasa. He explains the story of the Gujarati sea farer Kanji Malam and how he navigated Vasco De Gama to India with his supernatural navigation skills. He gives a detailed historic perspective of the British Imperial history, how the Indian ocean connects the subcontinent with East African and other Middle Eastern countries and the trade links.

Viram Jasani

Interviewee: Viram Jasani Interviewers: Lata Desai and Rolf Killius Date: 6/6/2017 Place: Interviewee’s house in Watford

ABSTRACT: Viram Jasani is the CEO of Asian Music Circuit. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1945. His father had a successful business and he moved with the family to the UK in 1949. In this interview, Viram talks about his ancestors in Kathiawad and how his father was a passionate music lover who collected records and books. He talks about how his mother too influenced his interest in music and how he has the spirit and soul of a Gujarati. They were probably one of the first Indians in England in 1949, and the family had numerous musicians coming to their house for concerts, so he was surrounded by music from a very early age. He talks about the music scene in 1950s. He also describes how the music department at SOAS started and he was one of the first students at SOAS and how he thoroughly enjoyed his time there. He learned to play sitar with his brother. Pandit Ziauddin Daggar, Amir Khan, Gulam Ali influenced him immensely. He pays tribute to the Tabla player Latif Ali Khan with whom he practiced vigorously. He talks about his time with Nikhil Banerjee and Vilayat Khan. He performed at numerous places. He talks about the music scene in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and difficulties faced by Indian music. Later on he talks about the Asian music circuit and how it came into existence. He talks about the successful initiatives AMC took over the years in bringing classical music to the forefront of public awareness. He is very content that AMC’s work was spread to the remote parts of UK as well. He takes pride in the creative and innovative way AMC set benchmarks for top quality music and how it brought Asian audiences to the Southbank. He talks about wide variety of music – Afghanistan, Rajasthani folk music, Chinese, Indonesian Gammelan, Gujarati musicians to Britain. He talks about the legacy of AMC.

Bhadra Vadgama

Interviewee: Bhadra Vadgama: (BV) Interviewer: Lata Desai (LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Transcription: Priya Shah Date : 11/3/2017 Place: Interviewee’s residence in Ickenham

ABSTRACT: Bhadra Vadgama is an educationist, ex-librarian and secretary of Gujarati Literary Academy. She lived in Croydon from 1977 to 1999 and was on the Board of Governors of Gilbert Scott Primary School. Founding member and Coordinator of Croydon Asian Women’s Organisation. She was the Founder member and First President of Aashyana Project Management Committee of a Sheltered Home for Asian Elderly People with Croydon Churches Housing Association. In this interview, she talks about her early childhood in the paradise island of Zanzibar and how this country shaped her life. She had a very happy childhood and talks fondly about the social set up in Zanzibar and shares stories about the community spirit and how cultural festivals were celebrated. She also talks about her ancestors in Kutch. She describes the hardships the early settlers faced in those days. She then married and settled in Kenya taking up a job as a teacher with her husband. She explains how Gujarati was an essential language in Africa and her understanding of the language was nurtured in Africa. She later decided to come to Britain due to the political situation in Africa. She talks about the early hardships in Britain but found her feet in library service with GLA. She saw this as a golden opportunity to develop her skills and initiated many dual language programmes. She translated many books and helped produce learning resources for schools. She also talks about her interest in arts and how she developed these in her job as a librarian. She is a staunch believer in maintaining the Gujarati language and has worked tirelessly with the Gujarati Literary Academy. She feels that the language is dying but maintains that she has to do everything in her control to maintain it. She still has ties with Gujarat and goes there regularly. Bhadra struggled to establish her identity as she was an Indian born in Zanzibar and now lives in Britain. She believes that Britain is her home now and talks very fondly of Britain which has given her so many opportunities to develop herself as a person.

Mohamed Keshavjee

Interviewee: Mohamed Keshavjee (MK) Interviwers: Lata Desai (LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Transcription: Riddhi Patel Date: 24/3/2017 Place: St. Ethulburgas Church, London

ABSTRACT: Mohamed Keshavjee is a South African born lawyer and author based in London. In this interview he talks about his early childhood in Marabastaad, South Africa and vividly describes the early history of Ismailis in India and Africa. He talks about the indentured labourers who came to South Africa in 1890s and the social set up during this time. He also talks about Mahatma Gandhi’s arrival in South Africa and mentions that even though great has been written about Mahatma Gandhi, lots needs to be pulled out about the seminality of his contribution to political consciousness not only in Africa but also India and beyond. Later he shares the stories of his family’s business ventures in cinema and how it was used for social and educational purposes as well. He talks in depth about the Apartheid system in Africa and how it affected him and his family/community. He then moved to Kenya and then to England. He found himself to be very lonely in England and talks about England being a very formal country. He graduated as a Barrister and returned to Kenya where he established himself as a successful criminal lawyer. He then moved to Canada and talks about the difficulties he faced initially in Canada to practice Law. However he requalified there and eventually set himself as a lawyer. He then worked for 31 years with the Aga Khan’s secretariat which contributes to human development internationally. He talks about how his trajectory has taken him to many countries but his DNA lies in India and how it pulls him, however he grapples with multiple identities and speaks fondly of every country he has been to.

Niranjana Desai

Interviewee: Niranjana Desai (ND) (MBE) Interviewer: Lata Desai (LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Transcription: Priya Shah Date: 2/4/2017 Place: Harrow

ABSTRACT: Niranjana Desai (MBE) is an educationist, author and women’s rights activist. In this interview, she talks about her birth in the beautiful country Uganda near River Nile. She talks about her literary parents and his father’s achievements, her mother’s struggles raising her family after her father died at a very young age. She was sent to boarding school with her brother and sister to India. She found this time very happy as she was surrounded by artistic people in Mumbai who influenced her immensely. She completed her degree in Mumbai with flying colours and regrets that she did not stay behind as she would have become a famous poetess/writer. She then went back to Kampala and got involved with teaching in Kampala. Here she talks about her involvement in drama and arts activities with her students. Later she emigrated to England and talks about the hardships in Britain in early 1960s. There was lot of racism in Britain and she found it difficult to be accepted as a teacher initially. But once she got into a teaching job, she climbed the ladder very successfully and initiated numerous programmes which helped Asian women in Brent. She started the Harrow Women’s Association and fought for women’s rights. She empowered many women who were vulnerable. She also helped many Ugandan refugees who came to Britain in early 1970s. She became an advisor of South Asian language and literature and a curriculum development officer in Brent, a role which she thoroughly enjoyed. She introduced bilingualism and advised on courses. She was given lots of opportunities to promote Gujarati stories and songs. She translated many. She also talks about her involvement with Gujarati Literary Academy and its activities. She talks about the future of Gujarati language in youngsters. Niranjana talks fondly about the three countries where she has lived – her birthplace Uganda, her time in India and her present residence in Britain whom she calls as her home.

Vibhaker Baxi

Interviewee: Vibhaker Baxi Interviewers: Lata Desai and Rolf Killius Date: 14/3/2017 Place: Interviewee’s house in Hendon

ABSTRACT: Vibhaker Baxi is the Managing director of Navras Records. In this interview, he talks about his early childhood in Zanzibar. He enjoyed his childhood in this paradise island and talks fondly about the social set up, how different communities coexisted and the Swahili language. He is a passionate music lover and describes how his parents ingrained this interest in him from an early childhood. After his schooling in Tanzania, he came to England and did a degree in Physics from Surrey University and MBA in Manchester. He then spent most of his time in corporate as well as banking sector both in UK and the Middle East. He describes how Navras Records was born and talks passionately about the importance of presenting CD’s aesthetically, with high-quality audio and sleeve notes to appeal to the western people. He then discusses the music scene in 1980s and 90’s. He spent lot of time with well known musicians and many influenced and supported him in developing Navras records. He pays tribute to his brother who was the brains behind the record company. He also talks about Gujarati music and Navras’s involvement in bringing it to the forefront of public awareness. He feels that his record label has reached out to wider audiences.

Judy Aldrick

Interviewee: Judy Aldrick (JA) – Author and Historian Interviewers: Lata Desai (LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Transcribed by: Radhika Orozco Date: 3/5/2017 Place: Sittingboure, Kent at Interviewee’s residence

ABSTRACT: Judy Aldrick is a historian and an author. In this interview she talks about her early life and education. Her interest in history developed from an early age and she graduated from the University of East Anglia. She spent about seven years in Japan when her husband was posted and talks about her life in Japan. They were then transferred to Mombasa which was again a unique experience for her as it was culturally very different. She talks about the social set up in Mombasa and in the 1980s there was still a hangover of the colonial rule with many English and Indians in management roles. However, this has changed now with most of the personnel being native Africans. Her interest in history led her to join the Friends of Fort Jesus and she got involved in the Conservation projects in Old Town of Mombasa and learn about the coastal history and architecture. She talks about the early settlers in the coastal towns and how she got involved with writing about these settlers in her book ‘Tale of Two travellers’. She took oral histories of Gujaratis settled in Africa and became a research assistant to Cynthia Salvadori with whom she wrote the book ‘We came in Dhows’ Judy reflects upon the trade relations between Gujaratis and Africans and the influence of Gujaratis on the textiles kanga, plates and doors of Africa. She describes how the Gujaratis left a big footprint in Africa.

Harshad Sanghrajka

Interviewee: Harshad Sanghrachka (MBE) – (HS) Interviewers: Lata Desai (LD) /Rolf Killius (RK) Transcription: Priti Shah Date : 9/4/2017 Place: Jain Temple, Potters Bar

ABSTRACT: Dr. Harshad Sanghrajka is a Jain Scholar and teaches Jainism in various schools. In this interview he talks about his early life in Africa. He describes the hardships faced by people when they first traveled to Africa in dhows. He explains the origins of the Oshwal community and how they became traders in Africa. He had a very happy childhood in Africa. He describes how Jainism was practiced in Kenya and talks about the social set up and how people celebrated various festivals. He reflects upon the relationship between Gujaratis and native Africans and the three-tier system. He also talks about the role of Gujaratis in African independence movement. He feels that secret of Gujarati success is because they support each other and are hard working. He did not join his family business but worked for IBM and decided to come to England after a horrific incident with robbers in Africa. His first impression in Britain was not very good as he struggled with the cold and other difficulties with food etc. But he gradually made England his home and continued with his studies at SOAS after retirement. He is proactively involved in teaching Jainism to Jain teachers who in turn teach Jainism at various schools. He vividly describes the Jain philosophy and his work with Interfaith activities. He also spoke about the iconic Potters Bar Jain temple and how it was built.

Poulomi Desai

Interviewee: Poulomi Desai (PD) Interviewer: Lata Desai (LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Transcription: Riddhi Patel Date : 30/4/2017 Place: Interviewee’s residence in Harrow

Abstract: Poulomi Desai is a self taught multi-media artist based in Harrow. She was born in Hackney. In this interview, she talks about her early childhood in Hackney. She moved with her mother to Harrow after a difficult childhood and talks about the anti-immigration atmosphere in the 1970s and 80s. She explains how she got involved with theatre and set up the Hounslow Arts Co-0op at the age of 14 which triggered her interest in many other art forms. She reflects upon how her works are performative, textual, image based and acoustic. She co-founded the first South Asian LGBTQ campaigning organisation, Shakti. She also set up the Usurp Art Gallery in Harrow. She describes how her collaborative working processes evolve through research, creating large scale photographs, performances and outdoor sound installations. She also highlights her work with experimental music. From an early childhood her mother introduced her to poetry and she brings her Gujarati influence in her music. She also talks about her curatorial work with film festivals and her exhibition about the Grunwick strike in 1980s. Her book 'Red threads' was acclaimed. She talks about how her journey to Gujarat has influenced her.

Jaffer Kapasi

Interviewee: Jaffer Kapasi (JK) (OBE) Interviewers: Lata Desai (LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Transcribed by: Akhil Gohil Date: 8/4/2017 Place : Interviewer’s residence in Purley, Surrey

ABSTRACT: Jaffer Kapasi (OBE) is a Ugandan born Gujarati businessman settled in Leicester. In this interview he talks about his early childhood in Masindi (Uganda), his ancestors, the Bohara community in Gujarat and how they settled in Africa. He vividly describes how his family became dukawallas (shop keepers) and how they expanded their mercantile activities in remote villages in Uganda. He talks very fondly about his school and education in Masindi and role of women, particularly his mother in helping his father develop his business. He describes the three-tier systems in Africa and how there was a distinct segregation between Colonials, Indians, and Africans. His family got caught up in the aftermath of Idi Amin’s expulsion programme and he describes vividly about what happened to his family and how they fled Uganda leaving everything behind. He also talks about his first arrival in cold Britain at Stansted airport in 1972 and the difficulties they faced upon arrival. He has vivid memories of the refugee camps and how they eventually settled in Leicester. The atmosphere in Leicester and anti-immigration feeling amongst the natives was initially hard to digest. However, through sheer hard work, the family pulled together and today he is a prominent businessman in Leicester. He talks about how the Gujarat refugees regenerated Leicester and their contribution in building this town. He also talks about the mistakes made by the Ugandan government and its short-sightedness in expelling Asians. The Ugandan Government has made him an Honorary Consul looking after trade between Midlands and Uganda. So he feels like he is contributing back to his birth country. He also feels he is contributing to Britain. He was honoured with an OBE by her Majesty for his services to business in Leicester.

Hina Baxi

Interviewee: Hina Baxi Interviewer: Lata Desai and Rolf Killius Date: 14/3/2017 Place: Interviewee’s residence in Hendon

ABSTRACT: Hina Baxi is an Independent Performing Arts Professional. In this interview, she talks about her early life in Mumbai and how her upbringing in a strict Nagar family developed her. Living in Mumbai gave her exposure to many languages like Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, Urdu etc and this helped her in the latter part of her career as a translator and voice over artist. She married Vibhaker Baxi (Navras Records) and traveled with him to many countries in Middle East before they settled in Britain. She talks about her involvement with Gujarati Theatre and her work with legends like Jayant Bhatt. She describes the cultural scene in Britain in 1980s and importance of Gujarati theatre. She also talks about the difficulties she faced continuing her profession together with family commitments. She is aware of the challenges faced by youngsters in Britain and is keen to develop some kind of initiatives to involve young children in theatre.

Arunkant Shah

Interviewee: Arunkant Shah (AS) Interviewer: Lata Desai(LD) & Rolf Killius (RK) Transcription: Priya Shah Date: 10/5/2017 Place: Interviewee’s residence at Rayners Lane

ABSTRACT: Arunkant Shah is an East African born Gujarati economist who lives in Rayners Lane now. In this interview he talks about his ancestors who left Gujarat due to famine. Both his grandparents left India in dhows in 1899. He talks about the difficulties in the dhow journey in those days. He explains how the family expanded their dukka (shop) trade in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania through sheer hard work, the family became successful merchants. He is also in awe of the native Kikuyu tribe and talks about the coastal history and language of East Africa. Arunkant explains the three-tier system in Africa – how the colonial masters treated the Indians and Africans. He vividly describes the racial segregation in Africa. He reflects upon how the Indians have influenced the Africans, particularly in trade, food. He also talks about his career as a civil servant and the difficulties he faced in getting promotion after Africanisation. He is disappointed to see the economic situation of Africa and laments how short-sighted the leaders were in Africa when they expelled the Asians from Uganda. He feels that the racial segregation is still prevalent in Africa now as inter-caste marriages are not that common.

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