Monday, June 21, 2010

BOOK ONE-Chapter 1- Winds of Change


Winds of Change

My great grandfather was an intelligent and very ambitious young man. Nothing could prevent him from making his dreams come to fruition. He had visions of being successful, and he desperately wanted his parents and family to have a better life. The hardships were many in India, and it was a downhill struggle surviving under the British Rule.

Being enterprising and head strong, his thirst for knowledge and adventure drove through every cell in his body. His mission in life was to be a dutiful Muslim, work hard, support his family, and be charitable. His compassion for people, especially those in less fortunate circumstances, was intense, even from a very young age. By nature, he was a kind and extremely giving man.

Seth Ibrahim Karimbux was born a Sunni Muslim, in Ambala, district of Punjab, India in 1876. (Ibrahim means, ‘Father of Nations’ in Arabic). Ibrahim was the elder of two brothers, with a maturity greater than his age. His younger brother, Abdullah was a carefree soul who never quite made it in life. Often he stole money from under his mother’s pillow to support his habits, he did enjoy his alcohol and got a taste for gambling, those were to be his weaknesses in life.

Ibrahim's father was a successful fruit-merchant. A hard working and honest soul, who faithfully brought home every penny of his daily earnings. Ibrahim assisted his father in the business and when he was not in the orchards purchasing supplies, he was actively seen in the village centre marketing and making fresh contacts. Together they formed a good team as they were as industrious as one another. Ibrahim’s father did not have to train the teenager much, he seemed to have a natural flair in the business sense.

Ibrahim was short in stature and of medium build. He had an oval face with dramatically piercing black eyes, a small, but sharp nose, and a small mouth, all framed with a neatly cut black beard and moustache. His head always clothed in a white ‘imamah’, (turban); a practice followed by Muslims for religious reasons,and also to differentiate them from non-Muslims. His everyday attire was the same, wearing a traditional outfit from Punjab, called a ’Sulwar Kameez’,(a long shirt coming below the knees, worn with baggy trousers), and a simple blue waistcoat or jacket.
Ibrahim walked with his head slightly tilted down, never quite straightening his neck to its full extent. It was as if he preferred not to draw any more attention than necessary to himself.

He thought very deeply about his intentions of leaving India, as his main concern was his brother Abdullah; wondering how his father would cope if he were not behaving. But he was also very aware of a bleak future in any business opportunities if he were to remain, as the British had control over the industries. He reflected on the history of his birthplace and India.

Ambala forms a part of the Indian state Haryana, and is located on the border, off the states of Haryana and Punjab. It lies on the North-Eastern edge of Haryana between 27-39"-45' North latitude and 74-33"-53' to 76-36"-52' East longitude. Flowing through the district are a number of non-perennial streams and due to that, it earned the name of ‘The Land of Five Rivers.’

There are a number of legends behind its name and according to one, it was discovered in the 14th century by someone called, ‘Amba Rajput.' According to another, it was named after the Goddess, ‘Bhawani Amba’. Another version claims that the town was originally called 'Amb Wala' (place of Mangoes), and over time it changed to its present name of Ambala. Ambala was given the status of a district in the year 1847.
Ambala is classified as being one of the great and famous historical districts of the state of Haryana.

The British built a Cantonment in Ambala that lay at an important junction on the ‘Great Trunk Road’ to enable easy access to Delhi and Chandigarh and other places. It now serves as a major highway today being widely and extensively used.

In 1857 a revolt took place over the introduction of 'Enfield rifles' with in the Indian Army. Unknown to the Indian soldiers, the cartridges had been greased with an ointment containing cow's fat and hog's lard. Once the news leaked, it did not go down well with both the Hindus and the Muslims, who were outraged, as it went against their religious teaching. The Hindus consider the cow as being sacred and therefore do not kill, handle or consume products originating from the corpse of a cow; and similarly, with Muslims, it is forbidden to consume or handle any products from pigs.

They soon formed alliances with in the corps, agreeing to socially boycott those that used the cartridges. This feeling continued to grow until a spirit of mutiny spread throughout northern India and Bengal. Almost the whole region of Haryana was severely affected by the revolt. And as a result of this, the first military station in northern India was based in Ambala on 10 May 1857.
By early June 1857, almost the entire region of Haryana had gained independence from the British. But half a year later, the rebels were crushed ruthlessly by the British army who let loose an unprecedented reign of terror, killing thousands of people and destroying property worth many rupees. They burned down hundreds of villages, whilst aimlessly killing anyone who came their way.

In India administrative and legal changes were introduced, by 1861 the Indian Council Act, High Court Act and Penal code were passed.
By 1868 the new Ambala to Delhi railway line begun construction, however, previously in 1853, the first railway line opened from Bombay to Thane.

A great famine was sweeping the country due to a combination of administrative failures and natural factors. In 1866 Bengal and Orissa, one million people perished and in 1869 one and a half million perished in Rajasthan and between 1876-78 famine had taken the lives of five million in Bombay, Madras and Mysore.

Indian industries suffered massively under the British domination. The superior and extensive sale of Indian handicrafts in Europe was directed to benefit commercial interests of the East India Company. The Whig government in the early years of the 18th century imposed heavy duties on Indians textiles imports in Britain. After the Napoleonic wars, Indian markets were opened to the British for free trading. The British government brought British goods that were pouring into India, either duty free or at nominal costs. The policy of the one-way free trade, introduced in India made the Indian handicrafts lose its market. This caused great misery to a major section of India's population. India was subjected in an ongoing economic stagnation. Local tradesmen, small enterprises and peasants reverted to borrowing money as they could least afford the high taxes imposed by the British.

Ibrahim had heard stories being swapped amongst the British people about British East Africa. They spoke highly of the country Kenya, and Ibrahim learned that there were great opportunities for those who were thirsty for adventure and favourable business prospects, on the condition that one was ready to face hardships. This intrigued him and his mind was made up to go to Kenya and make something out of his life. He planned to call for his entire family once he had succeeded. He had something important to prove to himself, he needed to find himself and recognize his strengths. Being opposed to having everything handed down to him from his father; his achievements were going to be his alone. However his conscientious nagged him tremendously as he knew most definitely, that without the second pair of helping hands, his father would suffer and consequently, so would his family. But he also knew, that by not leaving when his mind was made up, he would never leave.

In order to leave India, Ibrahim needed money for the long voyage to Kenya. Although he had managed to save a meager amount of his earnings, his conscience would not allow him to dip into it. Having two rupees in his pocket from the day's return, he surrendered himself to it. Leaving his savings for his young wife, he silently prayed for his family without revealing his intention. In his thoughts, he bade them a sad goodbye, and in the quiet of the night, Ibrahim slipped out into the darkness, destined to the unknown and facing the fear of never seeing them again. He knew that there was no turning back now. Ibrahim was only nineteen years old. He left behind his young wife, Karmi, a baby daughter and another one year old daughter . The year was 1895.

Ibrahim embarked on a long and treacherous journey by ‘vahan’, (the Gujarati word for dhow), from Porbandar, Gujarat, North-western India bound for the East African Coast of Mombasa, Kenya. Sailing on a ‘Bagala’, (one of the many names given to different types of dhows, that were classified by the shape of their hull), the journey would last about thirty days or longer. The dhow would be wind propelled by the north-easterly monsoons blowing from the Arabian Peninsula, beginning in November and lasting until March.

At dawn, a loud banging bellowed everywhere to alert the passengers to board the dhow. The winds and tide were in their favour to make a good start for the journey. With the anchor lifted and the sails set in motion, the giant pushed the waters aside with a sudden roll that shook the passengers with a shudder, knocking some of them onto one another. Ibrahim looked intently at the shores that he had just left behind. In the distance, he could see the fishing vessels being prepared for their daily task and the dockworkers bustling about their business. He felt a pang of sadness creep over him, as he saw himself being pulled further away from his family and homeland. He sat motionless, in silence, gazing out, until the thin line separating the sea from the land sank beneath the ocean. Reaching in his pocket for his white handkerchief, he caught the beginning of a teardrop.

His home for the next month would be at sea, and the dangers of journey were many. Sometimes vessels would get lost, never to be found again, and the chances of capsizing in a heavy storm were great. There was no telling how the temperament of the winds or the sea would behave; only nature could determine their course.

Ibrahim gathered his thoughts as the billowing sails flapped mercilessly, jolting him back to reality. Turning his gaze and looking around him, he noticed that some of the passengers had made friends with each other, and were busy engaging themselves in their life stories. Others were nodding off to sleep, having propped their bundle of clothing behind their heads. A few were sharing their snacks around, whilst at the far end, a handful of men remained standing, their bodies swaying from side to side as they leaned heavily into the railing, fixated in their own thoughts. He made friends with a man called Mr Adamji Noorbhai, the two became firm allies, it was a bond that lasted a life time.

The meals consisted of fish that were caught on a daily basis and an evening supper of boiled rice. On days when fish was unavailable, a bowl of boiled ‘dhaal’ (lentils) was served, and sometimes Dates were provided as a treat. Water was stored in make shift tanks, and was utilized for cooking, drinking and washing. Sometimes the slightly unhygienic conditions gave rise to stomach infections and other illnesses. The medical provisions were minimum.

Ibrahim sat quietly watching the dark blue water of the sea that reflected the deep turquoise skies with thinning clouds trailing into each other making pictures that told a story. His tired eyes focused beyond, on the thin line separating the sea from the land, he watched as it grew higher and wider, rising a little at a time from behind the sea, until he saw no more but a lighthouse and the gray stone wall above him.

Please read this link for ancient history of India

1) Seth Ibrahim Karimbux
2) Ambala- Map of Punjab
4) The Trunk Road, Ambala
5) A Dhow
6) Sea Routes from India

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