My Mom Rozina (Daya) Maherali Nanji, 1943-2014
By Karima (Nanji) Murji, Edmonton, Alberta.
It’s been just over two years since I laid my head down on mom’s pillow at the University of Alberta Hospital and wished her a happy journey into the afterlife she had been waiting for ever since dad passed away. I did not cry nor did I move from her side until I was sure she was safely on her way. Her body as per her wish was donated to the research department at this hospital.
Rozinabai Mulji Daya was born in 1943 in Kampala, Uganda. The family owned a store called Bombay Bazaar where the store was downstairs and upstairs was their home. Mom was the second youngest of eight siblings. In early 1962 my dad saw and was instantly attracted to mom. They became friends but as her family was extremely strict it was a short courtship when dad approached the family to ask for her hand in marriage: Bapa (her dad) was totally against the idea but finally agreed under pressure from the rest of the family. She was married by the present Imam Prince Karim Aga Khan IV on October 9, 1962 (Uganda’s Independence Day) to Maherali Abdulrasul Nanji of Nairobi, Kenya at Malik Lakha’s bungalow where Hazar Imam (HI) stayed. I was told that they made a prompt decision to get married by HI however it had been too late to register for the Jamat Khana (JK) but my dad’s parents were close friends with Sir Eboo Pirbhai so they approached him to see if he was able to get permission for this. HI agreed and asked them to come over but did say he had a meeting to go to and would be back in half hour and told him (Sir Eboo) to serve the family cold drinks. HI returned and met with the family and jokingly said so you were offered soft drinks, did you have some? Then laughed and said I know. After that he performed the marriage. I was promptly born in 1963! My younger brother Alykhan, my only sibling, was born six years later. My parents considered themselves extremely fortunate to have served the Imam as kamadia, Darkhana, Nairobi in 1970; jamati kamadia at Nakuru 1972-73; jamati mukhi at Cambridge, Ontario 1975-76.
No matter how much we tried to dissuade her she was not going to miss her morning JK. …yes, she was going, no matter what.
The first of the tragedies struck when dad passed away in 1979 of a brain tumour, at age 38. Mom refused to remarry for our sake and raised us as a single parent. I left home by the age of 16 and thus was the black sheep of the family. My relationship was more with dad and so I rebelled and gave mom a very tough time. However, as a true mother she never gave up on me and would keep tabs on me through others. My brother Alykhan graduated as an Internal Medicine specialist. Mom did all to provide him with everything he requested including taking out loans to finance his undergraduate studies. She would cook loads of food, freeze them and send it through Greyhound to Hamilton, Ontario where my brother was studying at McMaster University! He was the apple of her eye right to the very last breath. He made her proud as he got his education and was succeeding in life, something every parent hopes for.
From the day my dad passed away, mom started going to morning JK regularly, sharp at 3:15 am, even in the harsh weather conditions of latitude 54˚N (where it often dips to 25 degrees below zero Celsius) – scraping and clearing ice off her car windows – and even with, later, her second tragedy, that of cancer which she was diagnosed with in 1996. Not even chemotherapy stopped her from her attendance. On top of all that, she also went knowing she had a stalker who had threatened her life in 2005 by placing a note in her mailbox to that effect. [The note was given to the police, the suspect was confronted and he was not seen for a period of time.] No matter how much we tried to dissuade her she was not going to miss her morning JK. We lived in a townhouse in Millwoods where parking was a 3-minute walk to the car outside. She would look out the upstairs room window and then would dash off to her car – yes, she was going, no matter what.
While in remission (from breast cancer), she volunteered at the cross-cancer hospital as an interpreter, support person and travelled with her doctor to conferences to share her story.
Mom only completed Grade 8 at Kampala Aga Khan School. She then moved to Mombasa with her sister Roshan and family where she learnt typing and shorthand after which she moved back to Kampala and immediately began working for Fazal Abdullah Furniture Store. [This is the reason mom was very firm about us and her grandkids getting properly educated.] After marriage, she worked for Margaret Kenyatta in Nairobi as her personal secretary. She then worked for Shell when we moved to Nakuru. Her last job was with the Government of Alberta social services, then went on LTD when diagnosed with breast cancer complicated by lymphodima. While in remission, she volunteered at the cross-cancer hospital as an interpreter, support person and travelled with her doctor to conferences to share her story. She was also known to have helped many seniors in our community get the assistance they were entitled to.
Mom was a very strong-willed lady and rarely told us when she would go to the hospital or was not well. What surgeries she underwent besides the one for the cancer we never knew and will never know now. I would be told that she will be out of town visiting her friend Rita but in reality, it was some minor surgery. She preferred being independent and thrived on it. But she told me how tired she was of life and wanted to die for many years. She did have friends and would go out occasionally to lunch with them but most of her time she spent at cross-cancer, providing moral support to other patients, or at the hospice, holding and praying with those that were in their last stages of life. She would regularly cook and drop off food for her brother and her mom (while maa was alive, and even after that, continued it for her brother). Due to my health issues mom was always worried about me and made time to come over to cook or bring food or to take me out to boost my morale. She was always fearful that I may have cancer, even though I would assure her that was not the case. Although we were not very close she was always there when I needed her. I feel so blessed that I got to pay her back for everything she had done for me in her last 5 months of life. Just like her, I set aside my illness and would cook for her and stay with her in the hospital until she said it was okay for me to leave after I had tucked her in. Once, she asked me to move over to the far end of the sofa, then laid her head down on my lap and went to sleep. That was her way, I feel, to say I love you!
My son would take the bus and study at the university library and then come spend time with mom and drive me home as by that time my pain would have escalated and I would need help walking back to the car, and due to the pain, I would get blurry vision. No, I never let on to mom that I was in pain because just as she was strong, I wanted to be strong for her.
Her faith was so strong that to her this [donating her body to science and research] was more important than a funeral or any rituals.
On November 17, 1998, mom decided to donate her body to science: The Anatomical Gift Program at the University of Alberta for the study of Medicine and allied Health Sciences. This program is used for teaching courses in human anatomy to medical, dental and allied health profession students, essential for understanding the progression and treatment of human diseases. Anatomical donations are regarded by the medical community as precious gifts to medical education.
This was a wish that mom would regularly remind us of, that no matter what, this was her wish and we were to follow her request. Her faith was so strong that to her this was more important than a funeral or any rituals. She never gave us the reason as to why she wanted to donate her whole body and not simply her organs. However, as she was in remission she surely must have felt that this program may help medical science in finding a cure or treatment and also as she was so involved with volunteering at the Cross-Cancer palliative care centres and hospice she must have realized the importance of all that benefitting from this donation. [Despite challenges and the attendant stress of carrying out her wishes in a community not used to it, it was carried out. Her soul was off on its journey while her body as per her wish was donated to the research department at the university hospital. This episode is a whole story in itself but that is for some other time and in some other pages.]
During the commemoration at the hospital for all the donors, when the 2-year contract was ending (when you donate your body they could keep the body anywhere from 6 months to a maximum of 2 years), we got to hear how much her donating her body helped with research for dentists, doctors and surgeons. Surgeons got to perform their very first surgery on a real body which got them past fear, ready to help the living with confidence. Students expressed their gratitude and explained how much difference learning hands-on makes versus via computers or books.
Mom would have been happy with all that, no doubt.
My daughter Zakhiyya writes: “As a child, I spent a lot of time sleeping over at Rozynani’s place. I would attend morning mosque with her, which is something she never missed, and we would always have a big breakfast after. It is because of those big breakfasts I am still an avid lover of chai in the mornings.
From a young age, she sparked my passion for reading. She would buy $1 books from hospital fairs and bring them to me every few weeks. It is because of her that I got lost in the world of historical fiction, political biographies and classical poetry. Rozynani was a firm believer in continuous learning and would push me to read, write and research as much as I could.
I cannot remember a time when my grandmother was not a volunteer. Every weekend that I spent sleeping over was filled with visiting hospitals or care facilities to see how we could help. When her best friend Hanrietta was diagnosed with Alzheimers, Rozynani made it a point to visit her every week and take her out to restaurants or bring her books and games to keep her happy. When her other friend Georgette was ill, my grandma would bring me to the farm to spend time with Georgette and her family, to bring more laughter in the house and boost everyone’s mood.”
My son Shaheed (Shem) writes: “My favorite memory of my grandma is how she would take me to McDonalds and Galaxyland when I was little. It didn’t matter how tired she was or if she was feeling well or not, she always took me out when she visited.
During my elementary years, my grandma would look after me, before and after school. What nobody knows is that if it was my birthday, she would let me stay home! – so I could have a day to do whatever I wanted. I would play video games and she would make me all my favourite foods! It was such a fun time for me and we bonded so much during this time.
My grandma always pushed me to help others and supported me in whatever I was pursuing. She made sure I was doing my homework but balancing that by having fun. These skills of balance and facing challenges are what I still take with me today in my day-to-day life.”
This memoriam is dedicated to all moms, grandmas…
Karima (Nanji) Murji, Edmonton, Alberta.
[Editorial assistance provided by Zahir K. Dhalla, Toronto, Ontario.]
Previously on Ismailimail…
‘Aesthetic approach of Islam is the way forward’ – Professor Ali Asani of Harvard at Habib University, Pakistan