I AM NOT GONE
I am not gone, While you cry with me. I am not gone, While you smile with me
I am not gone, While you remember with me. I will come, When you call my name
I will come.
Michael Ashby, Sidmouth
Even in a family of amazing cooks, Gulzar Mami stood out. Mum had a lot of mamis but there was no question about who was her favourite one. They even shared the same name. Gulzar Mami and Mohammedali Mama lived in a four bedroom house in Highridge. It was a quiet road with shady trees. Mama’s brother Hyderali Mama lived in an even bigger house across the street. When I was a child, Nanima, my great-grandmother, Fatma Bai lived with them. She was an old lady whose hair was dyed red with henna. She stayed in bed but was alert and alive, telling me long, complicated stories in Gujarati. Nanima died in 1968. I spent most of her funeral playing in the Gussal Hall parking lot with the other children. I was too young to understand what had happened, but I was taken to the funeral anyway. Mama and Mami were a very elegant couple. Mama liked to wear blazers with loafers and grey flannel trousers when he wasn’t in a suit. Mami had her jet black hair coiffed at the hairdressers once a week in a bouffant bob style like Jackie Kennedy’s. She was a bit plump and petite with a beautiful, creamy white complexion. She dressed in expensive saris or dresses. Unlike a lot of Nairobi ladies Mami never over did it…she never went too far with shiny saris or too much makeup and jewelry. Her look was carefully calculated but understated.
Mama had a much respected position in the Community as President of the Ismaili Council. In 1972 when the Aga Khan visited Kenya, he came to Mama’s house for lunch. He told Mama he could invite his family. “I thought you were only inviting your family,” the Aga Khan said surprised to see about a hundred people. They are all my family, Khudavind, “ was Mama’s reply. It was typical of Mama’s kindness that he would share the Aga Khan’s presence with the whole clan.
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Author: Shelina Shariff- Zia grew up in Nairobi, a tomboy who climbed trees and was always getting into trouble. She is the fifth generation of an Indian family who moved to Kenya from Gujarat. She attended Loreto Convent Msongari, a convent school run by Irish nuns. The author grew up speaking English, Gujarati and Swahili.
At nineteen, she moved to Texas to study Literature at Rice University. After an M.A.in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, she went back to Kenya to work at the Aga Khan Education System. Moving back to New York, she became a Wall Street reporter covering chemicals and finance.
After living in Nairobi, Kampala, Karachi, Toronto, Cincinnati and Miami among other cities she has settled in New York with her family. She teaches English at the Bronx Community College.