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3. Abdul Rasul Alibhai Kassim Lakha, Wazir - page 6

The genealogical tree of the renowned Lakha family draws back to their forefather named Surji. His son was Jairaj, and grandson was Manji. The son of Manji was Lalji, who had four sons, Punja, Virji, Lakha, and Kalyan. They lived in a village, called Berberaja, about 12 miles away from Jamnagar, Kutchh.Lakho, better known as Lakha, was a hawker and lost his house in a terrible famine. Reduced to extreme destitution, he wandered from village to village in search of livelihood. His son Kassim, who was born in 1853, had to toil and moil in Kutchh. Nothing is known of his early life except that he worked in a grocery shop.

The drought and water shortage had remained the buzzwords in Kutchh, and weather conditions had taken a heavy toll onto the economy of the entire region. Consequently, people moved elsewhere in search of subsistence. When Kassim Lakha was 18 years old, he left his birthplace and boarded a dhow at Porebandar, with few Ismailis, and landed in Zanzibar in 1871. He started his work in Sultan Sayed Bargash's firm (1870-1888). Within a year, he was well established with the Sultan. He was promoted to an advance party responsible for providing logistics to the Sultan's campment as he toured various parts of his lands, including Pemba and coastal strip of Mombasa and Malindi upto Lamu. He learnt how to cook for the retinue. He was tall, very strong, and well built and could lift a cooking pot weighing over 100 lbs. When he felt well settled, he called his mother and his wife, Ratanbai Pradhan with whom he had married in 1870, just before he left India. They came both by dhow to Zanzibar by the end of 1871. In 1880, Kassim Lakha's first child was born, a daughter Kursha. In 1884, a son, Mohammad, was born.

It is a known fact that most of the Indian Ismailis came to Africa with entrepreneurial skills in their blood, business in their brains and immense calibre to labour in their muscles, but with empty pockets. This illustration richly permeated the life of Kassim Lakha, who earned his bread and butter by the sweat of his brow.

After having worked with the Sultan's firm for nearly 10 years, he moved to Lamu with his family, where he opened a small grocery shop. His family enlarged with the birth of Fatima, Alibhai, Hassan, Sakina, Rehmatullah, and Jina. He employed a Hindu teacher, Raval, from Zanzibar, to teach reading and writing to his children.

Kassim Lakha was a social worker and focused on helping the Ismailis who came from India. He was also appointed Mukhi of the Lamu Jamatkhana. In 1898, he and his family moved from Lamu to Mombasa, where he stayed for a few years to establish a small shop. In 1903, soon after the railway reached Kisumu, this city became their new home. In 1905, he was appointed by Varas Alidina Visram (1815-1916) to be the inspector of all his shops in Uganda. His son Mohammad was also employed in the same firm as a manager of the Kisumu branch. The other three brothers, Rehmatullah, Hassan, and Alibhai were also employed in the same firm as junior accountants, where they learnt bookkeeping. Kassim Lakha's job required a great deal of travelling, which was difficult because bicycles and bullock-carts were used in and around Kisumu, while dhows were used to navigate on the lake. Because of such excessive travelling and poor medical facilities, he died in Kampala in 1910 of malaria. It should be recorded that the plague broke out in Kisumu in 1905, resulting in heavy casualties in the town. Without discrimination of cast and creed, Kassim Lakha hurled in the field as a saviour by supplying medical facilities at his own expenses. In appreciation of his invaluable services, the government built a clock tower in Kisumu to honor his memory. Sir Robert, the governor of Kenya, performed its opening ceremony on August 19, 1938.

His four sons, Rehmatullah (d. 1943), Hassan (d. 1982), Mohammad (d. 1936) and Alibhai, revived the memory of Kassim Lakha. Kisumu and the districts around were not healthy areas. Alibhai, the son of Kassim Lakha contracted smallpox, and was later on struck by appendicitis whilst at Sio Port, where no medical facilities subsisted. He had to ask Kurji Megji to go by bicycle to the nearest post-office, Mumias located at the distance of 50 miles to send a telegram to Kisumu requesting a doctor's help. His brother Mohammad picked him up with a tugboat, therefore having him operated sooner.

In 1910, his brother Mohammad resigned from the firm of Varas Alidina Visram, and with his brothers he ventured into the product business. The family affair henceforth became known as Alibhai & Rehmatullah. Products such as groundnuts, hides and skins were bought by Indians and sold to European firms stationed in Kisumu for export. Gradually, Alibhai and his brothers opened up depots in Kendu Bay, Homa Bay, Karungu and Kisii, all in south Nyanza. More depots were opened in central Nyanza from Luanda and Yala to Asombo Bay, and north Nyanza in Sio Port and Mumias and in Tanganyika at Musoma and Mwanza. The Ismailis at the employment of their family manned the depots. Alibhai supervised the business in Sio Port.

As the family expanded its business, it began exporting directly. Instead of selling the product to English firms in Kisumu, it was being sold through Mombasa directly to the importing companies in England. Prosperity smiled upon the family. Alibhai was sent to Mombasa to open up a branch. Now the family owned a fleet of dhows, running on the lakes under the supervision of Dhanji Manji at Kisumu. In sum, they built up a vast business of cotton ginneries, land and property, import and export, palatial hotels, investment companies, coffee factory, and plantation. Henceforward, each family member began to assume his or her patronymic name as Lakha.

Abdul Rasul was the son of Alibhai Kassim Lakha, who was born in Mombasa, Kenya on November 11, 1916. He was the first family member to access education. He did his early schooling in the Aga Khan School in Mombasa, and passed senior Cambridge in 1933. In 1934, he joined his family business, beginning with cotton ginneries followed by bakery, confectionery, biscuits, whitehouse bakery, and sisal farm.

Abdul Rasul Alibhai Kassim Lakha was a social worker, and like his father, perpetuated the tradition of service in various fields. He was the charter member of the Lions Club in Nairobi in 1958, and later its Chairman (1971-72). He was also the Chairman of the Kenya Cotton Association (1963-1976), the nominated member of Kenya Government on Parastal Board, Kenya Lint & Seed Marketing Board (1963-1975), the nominated member of Kenya Government on Parastal Board, Kenya Sisal Board (1972-1974) and vice-Chairman of the Board (1974-1978), a member of the Executive Sisal Growers Association (1966-1969), as well as its Chairman (1970-1974), etc.

Abdul Rasul Alibhai Kassim Lakha rendered exceptional services within the community. He was a member and Hon. Secretary of the Ismailia Supreme Council for Africa with Count Fateh Ali Dhala as President in 1945-51. He was the Chairman of H.H. The Aga Khan Provincial Education Board (1951-1954), the Hon. Secretary of H.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan Provincial Council, Nairobi (1954-1962) and the Director of the Jubilee Insurance Co. Ltd. (1973-1983).

He was also the President of the Ismailia Association for Kenya (1968-1971) and the Mukhi of Darkhana Jamatkhana of Nairobi (1964-1966 and 1966-1968). Furthermore, in 1952, he was a delegate of the Nairobi Provincial Council at the Evian Conference in Evian, France. He also attended the Conference of the World Ismailia Associations in Paris.

Through his many talents and the incredible service rendered, he merited the title of Alijah in 1946 with a gold medal during the Diamond Jubilee. He was crowned with the title of Wazir in 1962.

Wazir Abdul Rasul Alibhai Kassim Lakha died on December 30, 1998. Two sons, Shamsh Kassim Lakha and Akbar Kassim Lakha and a daughter Nargis ensured the family line.

Wazir Abdul Rasul Alibhai was a robust-tempered man who prioritized his children's education. He often advised them that the only legacy he had given them was a good education. Shamsh Kassim Lakha was the first family member to obtain a post-graduate degree. Wazir Abdul Rasul Alibhai, who was also a literary person, compiled few articles, such as, 'The Sultan's Aide-de-Camp' (pp. 26-27), 'Cotton in Kavirondo' (pp. 152-153) and 'Plague & Politics in Kisumu' (pp. 162-163), published in 'We Came in Dhows' (Nairobi, 1996).

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