Friday, March 27, 2015

Two Appa's, Umma and Wapamma

It was the best of times in the 1940s in Colonial Ceylon under British rule since 1805. Our parents married in 1943 and moved to #300 Galle Road at Bambalapitiya. Our maternal grandparents, Rasheed Appa & Ummu Thahira (Umma), together with our maternal uncles Zubair (JumMama) and Faiz (FaMama), and aunt Ummu Naseeha, also moved in with us. Our paternal grandparents, Sameer Appa & Wapamma, together with the rest of their unmarried children, our paternal uncles and aunts, lived next door at #298. The married ones had already moved to their own homes in Wekande in Slave Island and Lily Avenue, Wellawatte.

All three of us, Mumtaz, Fazli & Firoze, were born between 1945 and '50 . Growing up in the two sprawling mansions at Bambalapitiya was a truly memorable experience. The extensive land behind both homes stretched down towards the Indian Ocean and encompassed almost an acre. Coconut, fruits, flowers, and vegetables grew abundantly in the rich soil watered by the monsoon rains.

Rasheed Appa, our maternal Grandpa was a very striking human being with an extremely strong personality, kindness, and charm. He ran his own indenting agency business called "Kingston Agencies" from home and represented many famous European brands of food, clothing, soft toys, and other gadgets. All he had was a portable Remington typewriter on which he used to type and send out his mail to his principals in Europe and clients in Ceylon.

Appa, as we called him, was always nattily dressed in his buttoned up shirt, sarong, and jacket. His chiseled face sported a small beard and his hair was always neatly combed sideways. Often he used an umbrella since rains were always a feature of the city in the tropics. His shiny grey Austin A40 bore the registration plate number CN786.

The nature of his indenting business gave him the opportunity to meet and know many British heads of companies in Colombo with whom he had direct dealing in making sure their orders were executed by the principals he represented, overseas. Pearl Barley from Holland was one of his more lucrative products and our garage at the back was always stacked with crates of the stuff awaiting the importers to call over and collect.

It was related to us by Umma (Ummu Thahira), our maternal grandma, that Appa had visited Europe with a few of his friends and relatives sometime before we were all born and had many an interesting story to relate about his sojourn in England, France, Italy, and Switzerland.

On one occasion in the early 50's, one of his principals from Europe decided to visit Colombo. He had to hurriedly convert the front verandah and living room of our home at #300 into a makeshift office to entertain them. The sofas were moved around, writing desks were put in specific corners, his sons and a nephew, were nattily dressed and seated at the desks posing off as employees, and a sign was also put up at the front of the house. Rasheed Appa's maternal first cousin (mom’s sis’s son) Sir Razik Fareed, Kt, OBE, JPUM, who lived a stone’s throw away at Fareed Place in Bambalapitiya, also participated at the discussions. The visitors were extremely impressed at the posh mansion like office that was apparent.

A costly magazine from Switzerland called Europa Star, which depicted the top wristwatches which included Patek Philippe, Girard-Perregaux, Rolex, Omega, Jaeger-Coultre, Longines,  Blancpan, TAG-Heuer, Tissot, Titoni, Cartier, etc., and another issue depicting exclusive jewellery manufactured in Switzerland, used to arrive alternatively bi-monthly in a year. It is still received by his grandson, Firoze, at his present place of work. 

 Appa was also a very hot movie goer and didn't miss many of the films that were being aired in the cinemas in those times. Tamil movies were mainly his forte and he, accompanied by his sidekicks, Rahman uncle (aka MammaGhouse Uncle), Junaid Appa (JunAppa), and Samsudeen Uncle used to patronize the late night movies that went on till midnight very often.

Gardening was something Appa cherished all his life and he instilled this valuable trait into all of us by getting us to help him in watering, pruning, clearing, and maintaining the massive plantation that encircled the house both, at the front and back. It was fun and we enjoyed it very much and also learned the importance of plant life.

Animal husbandry was another key factor at #300. We had chickens, ducks, turkey, and even a pair of goats, one black and one white, named Laila and Majnoon. Rounding up the hens in the evening and making sure they were all locked safely in their cages, to protect them from the jaws of the polecat and bandicoot at night, was a task we had to deliver diligently every single day. We also had the glorious opportunity to see Laila & Majnoon have kids. Watching the birth itself was a sensational experience for us little kids. An event that will always remain in our minds. At #298, next door, they also had a pair of deer with whom we spent many a time in fun and frolic.

Rattan-weaving was another wonderful task that Appa taught us. We had several armchairs and lounge chairs that were made of wood and rattan. While the task was arduous and painful to the fingers we still enjoyed weaving the defective chairs as and when it became necessary.

Sometime in 1960 Appa decided to make the pilgrimage of Hajj by ship and we were all extremely excited about it. While we missed him tremendously when he was away, his return brought us great joy as he loaded us with so many goodies he had purchased from Makkah and Madinah. The Tahinah Arabic sweet was the most savored by the family. Others received "worry" beads, prayer mats, skull caps, and Zamzam water.

Hameed (deceased), aka Abu, who was almost my age, came to live with us from his village in Rakwana in the 50s. He grew up with us and Appa took care of him like his own grandson. His parents were employed in the tea estate and they had wanted a better life for their son in Colombo. He went on to become a professional electrician and started his own building contracting business, Island Electricals, located on the seaside at the top of Vaverset Place in Wellawatte, Colombo-6.

Abu's brother Sheriff (deceased), joined the family in Colombo and went on to live with Ummu Naseeha, Appa's youngest daughter, in Kiribathgoda. He went on to become a very popular Chef at one of the leading hotels in the North central Province.

Another brother, Zainudeen Marikkar Hassen known as Deen, also came down to Colombo and was raised by Appa until he too went on to join Island Electricals together with his older brother. Deen married a Moor girl from Panadura and moved south to live and run the business from there.

Alvis, our driver, used to work for S S Issadeen, GA at Matara, and had come to live and work for us after he was relinquished of his services there. He was a skillful artist and had some sensational drawings on the garage wall, at the back of the house, which he also used as his abode. He spent many years with us and moved on only in the early 1990s.

Umma, on the other hand was the most patient lady we have ever known. Quiet, unassuming, confined to her little space in the house, she ran the place like a CEO, managing the kitchen help and ensuring that food was always served on the table. She was Appa's first cousin and the family ties, from the "Shothian" family they both belonged to, were very close between the two of them.

During our teen years we were always bailed out by Umma whenever we needed some extra cash for a movie, ice cream, or other delicacy. She used to keep her cash knotted at the end of her Saree fall that was flung over her shoulder from back to front.

A very significant trait of Umma was that she woke up at 5 am every single day, offered her morning prayers and opened all the doors of the house, front and back. They never feared thieves, robbers, or intruders, in those times.

Under Umma's watch the lunch table was ready and served by 12 noon and we had to eat together with the family. In addition the food would be covered up with a large cane basket and left on the table till almost 4pm. During this time many visitors would come in to the house and partake pf the meal. That was her great delight to sit and chat with them while they ate. And then it was tea time. Biscuits and tea properly brewed in a pot. Served in tea cups with saucers. There were no tea bags then. We had to wash before we sat at the table, especially after a sweaty game of cricket on weekends.

During the Islamic month of Ramadan (fasting) Umma would command the house help to have the Cunjee, Dates, Savories, and Curries all prepared and ready by sunset. She even woke up early to cook the early morning meal of Suhur for the family that was usually served by 3:30 am.

Later on all of Mums siblings married and moved on to their own homes in Colombo and the emptiness in the house was most significant.

Appa passed away in the late 60s after suffering a stroke. It was a sad day for the whole family at #300. Umma moved on much later in 1979. They both had 13 grand children from their four children.

Rasheed Appa (Appa) & Ummu Thahira (Umma)

Right next door, adjacent to #300 and also attached to it by a common wall at the back, was #298 where our paternal Grandparents, Sameer Appa (Appa) and Raliya Umma (Wapamma), lived with their seven unmarried children. Three, including Dad, were already married and had moved to their own residences.

The oldest, Rameela Aunty (BigMaamee), had moved with her husband AWM Ghouse and their children to Wekande in Slave Island. Saleema Aunty (SmallMaamee), with her husband, MM Sheriff, and children had moved to her own home at Lily Avenue in Wellawatte. The ones remaining were Aunts Noor Jazeela, Sithy Ameena, Sithy Rahma, Khalisa, and uncles Ismail, Farooq and Sadiq.

Wapamma (our maternal Grandma) suffered from acute Arthritis and was confined to a bed or wheel chair as far as we can all remember. Yet, she was the live wire of the family and ran the home all by herself with the assistance of her unmarried daughters who lived at #298. Street vendors used to call at our door each morning and Wapamma entertained them in her bedroom, selecting fish, vegetables, and fruits, that were required for the day. Her enthusiasm to make typical Ceylon Moor sweets on a regular basis was relished by one and all. Kalu Dodol was the hot favorite even though it required a massive logistical effort, in terms of preparation, to deliver. Other delicacies were Sheenakka, SurutAppam, Ada, Takbeer Sweet, Awal Cunjee, and Sego Muscat.

Sameer Appa (aka Appa), our paternal Grandpa, used to work as The Chief Clerk at the Colombo Municipality under the British Raj. On retirement he spent most of his days at home involved very seriously in researching Ceylon Moor history, culture, and genealogy. His works have been published by the Moors' Islamic Cultural Home where he was an extremely active member throughout his life.

Appa used to walk us along Galle Road with his black umbrella held high above us, to Wellawatte, and down to Lily Avenue, opposite the market, to Ms Poulier's Nursery School, when we were very little. His oldest daughter, Rameela (Big maamee) lived right next door to the Poulier's, so he spent the rest of the day there until school was over at 11 am. Then, we walked together along the beach back home to Bambalapitiya watching the trains pass, the birds in the sky, fishermen, vendors, and people. many were the questions we had and he answered them all so very patiently and honestly. The lessons learned were invaluable.

Later on, when we started schooling at Royal Primary School, he used to accompany us by rickshaw every morning to school and back.

A significant activity of his was the monthly trek to the CMC to collect his pension. Usually one of his grandsons would accompany him on this venture as Wapamma was very concerned about his safety and also the safety of his pension. The bus ride to the Town Hall was always a very illuminating one where he would relate many an interesting story about the streets, places, homes, buildings, and businesses that we passed along.

At the CMC, Appa had the grand opportunity of meeting with many of his old colleagues from his working days and enjoyed the chit chat very much. After collecting the pension we would take a bus to the Pettah and go straight to M D Gunasena & Company Ltd. where he would purchase all his stationery needs for his work. Foolscap paper, carbon paper, pins and clips, gum, and other items were his needs. Then we would trudge along to The Bombay Sweet Meat Mart down Keyzer Street and enjoy a cool drink of Faludha while we ordered a whole selection of sweets, Muscat, Halwa, Rose Syrup, Jaggery, and other delicacies for the home. Lunch was always at Pilawoos in he Pettah. The trip back was always by taxi as we had to carry all the purchases and it was also more safer even if it was costlier than the bus ride. I forgot to mention that Wapamma would always give Appa a huge safety pin to attach the pension envelope to his inner jacket pocket for safety, so that pickpockets lurking in the bazaar areas of downtown Colombo wouldn't be able to grab them easily.

On returning home, Appa would give the whole of whatever remained from his pension to Wapamma to manage the domestic expenses. He didnt need any money until his next pension. Their relationship was most exemplary and they lived a grand life until the end. Wapamma was the first to pass and Appa wept like a baby. I can never forget that moment. He moved on a few years later.

Sundays were always family day when all the children and grand children of our grand parents used to gather at #298. We played a game of cricket during the morning while the gals prepared kidu lunch which was always served on long banana leaves on the floor. Sunday Choice in the afternoon was always blaring on the Radio and dessert was Elephant House Family Block Ice Cream. The uncles used to engage in playing cards till the late evening when tea was served with Murukku, Pakkoda, and spicy mixture from Ramjee Lodge, the vegetarian restaurant across the street.

The efforts that Appa executed in researching Ceylon Moor history and genealogy was extensive. Towards the latter stages of his life it was us, his grandsons, who helped him out with the typing as his ageing fingers were getting weary. All his research was neatly typed out on his massive Olivetti typewriter and filed methodically in named archives. Appa and Wapamma had 34 grand children from their ten children.

Sameer Appa (Appa) & Railya  Umma (Wapamma)
It is interesting to note that one of the grandsons, Fazli, has carried on Sameer Appa's genealogy research, after his demise, and all of the data is now available online on the internet in the Sri Lanka Genealogy Website.


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