Memories of a larger than life Appa
It is fifty years since I lost my maternal grand-dad Mohamed Cassim Hajiar Mohamed (MCHM) Rasheed - we affectionately called him “Appa” - on 19 July 1968. I had turned 18 while he made 69.
Born on 11 December, 1898, he stood tall and sturdy at 5-9: a well-built man of powerful stature; a striking personality; always smartly dressed; a leader full of wisdom. A patriarchal figure amongst family who often sought his advice. Appa taught and trained us in many aspects of Islam; of proper speech and conduct; and of patience. The proverbial rattan cane was perched atop his wardrobe as a symbol of discipline, but hardly used. He was the epitome of an exemplary father. He was a landed proprietor and merchant, having established Kingston Agencies, an indenting firm, in the 1950s.
Appa was a great traveller in his heyday, having sailed with two first cousins, Abdul Hameed Mohamed Junaid, Mohamed Ali Mohamed Hussain with his nephew Mohamed Mohideen, through Europe in early January 1930. They journeyed for over 3-months, touring the pyramids of Egypt, sight-seeing Mount Vesuvius in Naples and the vestiges of the Roman Empire, skiing across snow-capped mountains in Switzerland, visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, witnessing the dauntless matadors bull-fighting in Spain, and sailing through the rough seas of the Bay of Biscay, photographs of which he brought home. I remember listening to him in rapt attention with my elders, sister Mumtaz and brother Fazli, relating his exciting experiences of his extensive peregrinations, relaxing in his armchair while lighting that rare filter-tipped Bristol cigarette. In 1960, he left home in Bambalapitiya to Ratmalana airport, to perform Haj in Makkah and covered Madhina in Saudi Arabia.
In the 1950s, his compassion extended to having brought three young brothers from a tea estate in Rakwana and raised them like family. Alwis, a brilliant artist seated aimlessly on the street, was spotted and brought home by book-binder Mustafa-nana who was Appa’s button-man of sorts, later became his car driver. All of their progeny are now doing well.
In the evenings, my brother and I helped Appa write the accounts relating to the labour force, which he strictly supervised at his cousin SLM Abdul Rahman Haji’s construction sites in Wellawatte. Appa was meticulous in his financial dealings to the last cent. It was a profound lesson in financial integrity instilled in us.
Appa was also a great environmentalist; planting in our extensive garden a variety of trees, training us to water them regularly, the fruits of which we greatly enjoyed. Into animal husbandry, he reared a slew of poultry and goats. He taught us the finer aspects of weaving a chair with rattan; the art of skinning a chicken; organizing family get-togethers; and treating guests with honour.
Appa used to take our family to late night South Indian Tamil movies screened at the Plaza, Roxy, and Odeon cinemas. He greatly enjoyed especially the meaningful lyrics, which he explained to us, of those memorable songs, which are still popular today.
He suffered a stroke one morning in July 1968, and was taken to Colombo Hospital in Colpetty. He passed on serenely a day or two later in the presence of his wife Ummu Thahira, whom we affectionately called “Umma.” It was decidedly a heart-rending moment. It was the end of a personality of genuine love, care and concern.
May Allah bless you, dear Appa, [and the rest of your immediate family, my mom Ryhan, Ummu Naseeha, Zubair and Faiz and their spouses, all of whom have departed, Jennathul Firdous (Heavenly Bliss)!]
ST-Plus Publication on 29.07.2018