Today, I say goodbye to my maternal grandfather (my Nana), Vaghji Velji Gudka, who passed away aged 93 in Mombasa following a peaceful death.
The name Vaghji Velji Gudka resonated with several East African Oshwals. I recall my Mom saying to me that if ever I got lost at the Mahajanwadi (the Oshwal community centre in Mombasa) or anywhere else in Kenya for that matter, all I would need to say is that Vaghji Velji Gudka is my grandfather. That name in itself would instantly provide anyone with an indicator of the family I come from.
When I think of my Nana, I think of a pioneer for the East African Oshwal community, a man who lived through the British colonial Raj in India and East Africa, the second World War, Kenya's independence from the British and the attempted 1982 coup against the then Moi government in Kenya. All of these events brought gigantic personal socio-economic challenges for Nana. At a time when scores decided to migrate from Kenya, Nana remained steadfast and sought to make the best of any socio-economic skirmishes that so naturally emanated from such radical changes in the East African political landscape. Somewhere, he had a deep-seated conviction in his newly adopted homeland of Kenya. Or perhaps he was all too aware of the challenges that emerge with migration, himself an economic migrant from Gujarat (Navagam) in India during the time of the British Empire.
My enduring memory of my Nana is of 1997, when I was in secondary school at Oshwal Academy, Mombasa. The Oshwal community was celebrating 100 years of Oshwal settlement in Kenya and throughout the country families and social institutions grouped together to document their ancestors' heritage. I was one of a few students selected to interview Oshwal pioneers to develop a narrative for a special centenary publication that was to be released at the time. I remember interviewing my Nana in Gujarati, asking him to recount the challenges he faced when he first set foot ashore in Kenya. I remember him describing with much fervour the optimism with which he arrived at Mombasa with very little to count as wealth. He recounted several hardships that he and his wife, Late Jayaben, encountered in their pursuit to establish a new life in Mombasa and their resolve to put community service at the helm of their lives. He described ideals of nation-building, social service and "brathrubhaav" (brotherhood), all of which he had sought to imbibe in his new life in Kenya. I remember him breaking into tears when describing the loss of his wife, my Nani, and what that meant for him. What struck me at the time was how he was so proud of my Nani's achievements in women's welfare work and social service, all of which extended much beyond the kitchen, and how he had continued to encourage her to work towards the betterment of women's lives in the local community. This was the first time I saw my Nana cry. This was the first time I realised my Nana, in stark contrast to many of his peers, was for his time a rare feminist.
Today, I say goodbye to Vaghjibhai, simply for me an inspiration.