- Biographical Research Note/Note de recherche biographiqueBapuji
This is a biographical sketch of Kalidas Samii (a.k.a., Bapuji, a respectful address for a father by his family members. And Kalo as he was called when he was young). It is also a story of a young lad who had to learn the lessons of life the hard way. He was resourceful, and had an ability to confront challenges. An attempt is also made here to provide as a backdrop, an early history of Zanzibar and the migration of people from India, specifically Gujarat and Kutch, a peninsula on the west coast.
Bapuji was born in Bhadla, a small village outside Rajkot, Gujarat, in 1891. His father, Samjibapa and mother Jijiben lived in a joint family with three other brothers: Purshottam, Damji and Hirji. They had a business in tailoring. Besides Bapuji, Samjibapa had another son, Mawiibhai and a daughter, Diwadiben. As per tradition, Diwadiben was engaged to be married at a very early age. Unfortunately, Samjibapa died, and whatever little savings he had, was used for his funeral and rites associated with it. To maintain a family of three children with little or no income became a problem for Jijiben, and she very quickly realized how transparent and irrelevant a woman becomes when her husband dies. She refused to wallow in self-pity and instead, she decided to concentrate on the future, which was her children. Reluctantly, without a dowry and a proper marriage ceremony, Diwadiben was sent to her new home. Jijiben then took her two children, with whatever little possessions she had, and moved to Karanchi where her parents and relations lived. It being a big city, the prospects of making a living by peforming odd jobs in tailoring was good. She taught her sons the art of hand stitching and finishing garments. She was hard on them but at the same time, she encouraged them to do the best they could. Formal schooling for them was out of the question. In all the dark clouds surrounding her, she drew inner strength by praying to Jadeshwar, a hilltop Shiva temple near Rajkot that she used to visit when she lived in Bhadla. She found herself spiritually and mentally energized after praying there. [End Page 179]
(Legend has it that many years ago a farmer near Jadeshwar used to graze his cattle on the nearby hills. When milking his cows in the evening, he noticed that one particular cow started producing less milk than before. He got suspicious and thought that his shepherd, who looked after the herd, was somehow milking the cow behind his back. He kept a close eye on the situation. To his surprise and wonder he found out that the cow automatically discharged milk on a rock on the hilltop. This, in Hindu tradition, was considered a very auspicious occurrence. Generally, an image of Shiva Linga, a generative force, is bathed with milk in temples. In celebration, a temple was built around the rock.)
Just as the situation was getting better in Jijiben’s life, fate threw another nasty blow. She and her son Mawiibhai died. Bapuji was orphaned at age 12. Once again he had to spend the savings they had, including selling the sewing machine, the only means of his livelihood, to pay for the funerals. He was broke. He made his way back to Bhadla to stay with his father’s extended family. It was not a pleasant experience, being a child with no parents, living with uncles and aunts. He had to work harder than other children of his age. There was not much love and affection. He often heard, behind his back, “Here comes Kalo, bearer of bad luck”. The word “Kalo” in Gujarati means dark, a negative connotation. He was determined to prove them wrong. His quick wit and sense of humor and purpose were his assets. And he used them effectively. He loved playing cards and betting on a hand. But he was caught gambling by elders and was reprimanded.
Life was slow and boring in Bhadla. Mumbai, he was told, was where the action was, where one could make money and have...