Avaes Mohammad

India: DHRUB (050709)

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2009 at 6:36 pm


My father was born in Karachi.  He’s Pakistani.  My mother was born in Mombasa.  She’s Kenyan.  I was born in Blackburn and I’m English.  But all three of us speak Kutchi.  This is the language we speak at home and this is what binds us to one another.  Despite our individual cultural differences, when we sit together in one room we have this in common: the Kutchi language and with it, Kutchi humour.  Maybe this is why I feel so comfortable in Kutch, because this one land can hold us all in one place equally.  East Africa is mine and my Mothers.  Pakistan I share with my Father.  But in Kutch all three of us can walk and feel a part of it.

Not far from Mandvi is Mundra, a walled town on the southern coast of this region.  Today it’s a bustling, overcrowded, quite filthy place that has been suddenly jolted into the industrialised world with the building of a major sea port.  Indians from all over the country have rushed to move here in order to milk the cash cow and in the process are bruising it.  Mundra is the town that my paternal ancestors moved to Karachi from.  In 1990 my Uncle showed me which house our ancestors originally lived in, but I wouldn’t be able to remember how to find it now and the town looks so different from then.  Back then Mundra was as sleepy as Mandvi is now.

My father’s side of the family are Turks.  Kutchi Turks.  As if this pot hadn’t enough ingredients already, let me throw in another hard hitting spice to create yet another edge with which to tanatalise tastebuds of cultural cuisine.  Centuries ago, actual centuries, a group of Turks from Central Asia, somewhere around Bukhara in present day Uzbekistan, came to India.  Some people say they came as warriors, others say they came as part of an entourage lead by a Sufi saint today buried in Mundra.  One account tells of this entourage assisting local Kutchi’s in a battle against a community of cannibals.  I’m not sure how they got here and what they did when they arrived, but somehow, whether by conquest or reward, they were allotted a whole village with some of the most fertile land in the whole of Kutch.  Dhrub, a magical oasis of coconut and date palms, banana plants and peacocks lies only a few kilometres away from the dry, dusty plains around Mundra and is still today exclusively the home of Kutchi Turks, the descendents of those original settlers.  In a country where tribe and lineage is still a mark of status and sometimes destiny, these people have attempted to remain ‘pure’ by intermarrying for generations, thus maintaining their centuries old identity as Kutchi Turks.

My father never married a Kutchi Turk.  Out of circumstance rather than choice.  Maybe I’ll share the details later.  As such, I’m ‘impure’.  Strange how I have parents that look similar, have the same language and eat the same food even but yet, I can still be considered a half breed.  Only in India…I hope.

The wedding in Mandvi that took place within the household of my uncles’ friend had taken up a lot of my time but the day before I  left Kutch I was adamant I’d make a trip to Dhrub  and Mundra.  Khaliq came with me and we boarded another Toofan to take us there, crushed like cattle once again.  In India there’s music everywhere, beaming out from temples, shops, homes, trucks, buses and of course people.  The guy I have my right thigh pressed firmly against and whose left elbow is secured against my own ribs is blasting tinny, treble high renditions of bollywood classics through his mobile phione, while singing along with full passion for nobody elses pleasure but his own.  He does this like it’s the most normal thing in the world.  And in India it is, in fact it’s appreciated.  A caravan of camels go by, there’s a road being dug and elaborately dressed and decorated women carry away the rubble on their heads.  Slowly, this deserted, neglected land gives way to the occasional Palm Tree standing tall and then I know we’re close.  We get off and cool down with sweet sugar cane juice a couple of kilometers outside the edge of Mundra.  I was in these parts for the first time in 1990 when I was only 12.  Back then it was nothing here but sand as far as you could see and the occasional tea stall with idle men speaking idly on idle matters.  The port has brought new buildings with shining shops and glass walled offices that reflect the harsh light of the sun and so stand glistening like jewels of imported modernisation.  Dusty jewels alone in the sand.

A rickshaw takes us past the serenity of Rasa Peer’s Shrine, down that straight road from where I saw a snake being chased by a mongoose as a child.

‘Do you want Dhrub the farms or Dhrub the village?’

I didn’t know there was a village.

‘The farms.  Kader Bhai’s farm…the one where his wife lives.’

Kader Bhai was my father’s cousin somehow and died a few years ago.  As a child I had stayed with my family in his grand farm  that mainly grew dates.  Hard, fibrous, sweet dates, yellow and red.  Dhrub dates are famous all over India and get shipped as far as Bombay.  The water here is sweet they say…makes the dates sweet too.  As well as dates though I remember coconut palms, guava and  also fig trees in this magical, shady haven where pink, bright yellow and white flowers blossomed, between which peacocks justify their vanity with dazzling displays of monsoon dancing.  ‘Sange Varee’ the farm was called, except my widowed aunt doesn’t live there anymore and has moved to a smaller adjacent farm since her husbands demise, still with white flowers, figs and palms, though less grand.

We do what I’ve done this entire journey to track down her farm…ask people.  A few near misses later and we find the gates everyone talked about.  A young girl answers our Salaams suspiciously.

Is Emna fui in?  I’ve come from England.

Er…yes.   She’s taking a bath.

We’re given water to wait on the verandah with and it is sweet.  After a second glass of water an old figure hobbles to the front door with a zimmer frame and with a warm demeanour offers her Salaams.

Wa’alikum Salaam.  I’m Avaes.  Shaffi’s son.

She bursts into enthusiastic smiles and approaches me as energetically as her zimmer frame will allow.  As is the custom, I kiss her hand and we sit close to one another.  If I’m honest I never really expected such a warm reception.  I wasn’t sure she’d even know who I was.  I’d only met her as a child when there was no zimmer frame and a tall, enigmatic husband by her side I’m sure contributed to her straighter gait .  Fresh, ripe, luxuriant figs are brought out onto the terrace and we speak endlessly about what it is I do now, my family, Africa and of course the subject of my marriage.

‘We can arrange a nice Kutchi girl.  You’re here anyway.  Do you want to see some?’

Another ‘aunt’, another one of my fathers cousins is at the farm next door.  In her retirement years she chooses to split her time between Dhrub and London.  We arrange to have Lunch with her, on their terrace, amidst their date palms.  As we get out of the car I fail to recognise her, standing aloofly facing us from afar.

‘Say salaam to Ma’, I’m ushered.

As I approach and the face on tall shoulders begins to fit an image in my mind, she cries out


Another old aunt I haven’t seen since childhood that remembers me.

‘Who is it?  Go on…guess!’ Dares Emna Fui.

‘I already did.  I knew as soon as he walked out of the car’, she states proudly.

‘How could you tell?  I couldn’t.’

‘He’s blood.   Of course I can tell.’

Blood.  A symbol of murder, destruction, heinous violence and also closeness, kinship, predestined belonging.  I was raised with the  belief that ‘blood’ was carried through the father’s side.  A child takes the fathers name and is a seed propagating the fruits of his fathers identity and heritage.  The mother a mere vessel, noble enough to forsake her own identity for the sake of this worthy task.  I was young, maybe only 14 when my maternal grandmother told me I could only really be associated with my fathers family, I couldn’t be considered there’s.  That’s simply how things were done.  Fair enough, but I still felt I’d been robbed of my connection to any maternal ancestry.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why I never visited her in hospital before she died.  The professor however, who I met in Mombasa, one of the things he shared with me was this piece of Islamic teaching…’Don’t forget the mother’s side as it is powerful’ he quoted the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, as saying.  On the day of judgement all people will be called by their mother’s name…not their fathers.  When people speak to me of blood I know my blood is cloudy and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Dinner is served, amongst which is Makati Seenya, An East African sweet and airy  fried bread.  Both aunts were Ugandan refugees at the time of Idi Amin and still hold close their memories from there.

‘So how long you staying?’

‘I leave Kutch tomorrow’

‘And you call this visiting us?’

‘I’m going to Khwaja’s shrine in Ajmer.’

Mention of the saint pacifies them a little.

Emna fui asks again.

So what of your marriage?

I’m in no hurry?

No  hurry?  How old are you now?


Thirty!  So what you waiting for now?…Hey!  You haven’t got a white woman have you?

No.  I haven’t got a white woman.

You sure?


Good!  Coz they’ll only give you trouble, trust me.  Pick a poor girl…you’ll give her a  better life and there’ll be no trouble either.

After dinner the fella whose farm it actually is shows Khaliq and I around.  With camera in hand I stroll with them, the fella, a local copper, complains about the lack of  rain and how the dates are smaller every year.  There’s a crash.  I look around and can’t believe the fact that a real-life peacock, brazen as day, has just forced its way onto the farm through a hedge.  My jaw is still on the floor by the time I realise I need to take a decent picture but by then this vision of beauty darts straight back out again.

They’re everywhere, the copper says.  No they’re not, I think to myself.  The hard dates we pick off the trees are delicious and for a moment or two I fantasise about my own farm with sweet water running through, date palms, white flowers in bloom and peacocks dancing in monsoon showers.







We join the old brigade again and this time I sit next to the older, taller aunt, Seru Fui.  You’d never believe what she wants to talk about…


So what of your marriage?

I’m in no hurry

No hurry!  How old are you now?

He’s thirty and he says there’s no hurry

You’re thirty and you say there’s no hurry!  So what are you waiting for?…hey you don’t have a white woman back there do you?

No.  I don’t have a white woman.

Good!  Coz they’ll only give you trouble…mark my words!

I laugh it off.  That way I’m not disagreeing and offending them,  but neither am I agreeing and appeasing them.

It really is a shame you can’t stay for longer or I’d have taken you to Mundra and showed you where your ancestors used to live.

That would have been great.  Another time I hope.  I really want to be back soon.  Who was it exactly that left though?  from Mundra?  Do you know?

I’m not sure.

What did they do?  Do you know that?

Ships.  They worked on ships.  That’s why they went to Karachi.

The day was running on and we needed to also.  After the hand kissings and well wishes, we say goodbye.  The copper gives us a lift to the edge of the village and on the way remembers someone he thinks I have to meet.  I’m not as bothered as theoretically, the whole village is supposed to be somehow related.  The motorbike carrying three people swerves suddenly to the right.

Look who i’ve brought!

An old man with bottle lensed glasses and stooped back hobbles towards us…

Tell him…explain who you are!

I’m Allayas grandson, Allaya from Kara…

Allaya’s grandson!  What are you doing stood up?…Sit down! Sit down!

The old man rushes inside to call out his wife, after which he sits close to me, eyeing me up and down, looking particularly bemused the point at which he meets my hair.

Do you work in films?

I’m a writer.

Yes.  You look like you work in films.

He relays a whole list of Kutchi Turks in England and doesn’t hold back his disappointment when I admit I’ve never heard of them…supposed members of my paternal clan.  His wife, wrinkled but still young looking, loud and brash, sits with us.

Allaya, your grandfather…what a man!  I was still a girl when he used to come here.  He’d come  a lot…the border was easy back then.  He’d come regularly.  Once he took me back with him, to Karachi.  I said I have no visa though!…he said I wasn’t to worry…on Karachi port he knew everyone!…he took me through like his own child…no passport, no visa.  Nobody asked him anything.  I think he worked there.

He was the labour officer there.  In charge of the coolies.

I find family difficult enough without taking on board  an entire tribe and I still feel uncomfortable with the idea that you have to care and be close to someone purely based upon associations of birth, associations you have no control over.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this moment and felt glad for visiting these people.  It provided me with a little snippet into the life of my grandfather and in so doing, made me feel closer to a man of whom I have no memories of my own.

  1. Hallow Avez,
    I have read your article with great intrests concerning our Dhrubh. Plse forward your email so we can communicate in future.
    My email is Khanani@hotmail.com

    A.Karim Khanani

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