Vali Jamal’s Opus!

From the pen (or mouse) of Vali Jamal


I am currently writing a book by and about Ugandan Asians based around our expulsion from Uganda after contributing to its economic development for nearly a century. The pioneers’ stories are told by their progenies and the trauma of the 90-day expulsion deadline is told in peoples’ own words. The book celebrates their success in their diaspora countries and trickle-back to Uganda. There’s a timeline of the 90-day expulsion period, of the 8-week Canadian rescue mission, and background on key events in Ugandan Asian history. Childhood memories of playing gili-danda and cricket on common greens are recounted with fondness. Stories of pioneering in UK and Canada are told. Now and again the author breaks into screenplays (My Big Fat Desi Wedding; The Unsuitable Boy aka It Ain’t Me Babe) to make some points and into old songs to evoke the 1950s. He gives a “socio-economic history” of Asians in East Africa, recording “income” trends over the century, demographic transitions, and changes in fashion and eating habits. The book’s currently at 540 A4 pages (600 ww per page + 1 image) and will wind up at 620. There are around 400 pictures. It will be issued in three volumes in a box around March 2010.  


Cynthia Salvadori did our community a service which the community paid back in advance by lining up to contribute accounts of themselves and their ancestors. Not all stories are of “pioneers” and Ms Salvadori fails to show us who is/was who and when. For example, there are several stories of and by the Lakha and Verjee families but only those in the know would know their epochs. Ismailis predominate, yet I could make up a list of at least 30 Ismailis only that she missed. Pictures are mostly generic. The manuscript facsimiles (>200) do not come with captions to inform us what we are seeing.


It’s been lamented that we don’t write our own history. Our is a very emotional story of being relegated to the side-lines by the colonialists, written off as “coolies”, and scapegoated by the post-independence leaders as exploiters of the masses as dukan-waras. We were both more and less than that. Slavadori fails to capture any of this emotion in her XV pages of introduction. She has a few excerpts from government reports but fails to make much of them. For example, quite early on she quotes from a report where my great-uncle Ebrahim Jamal (grandfather’s brother) is cited as “a coolie” who has just arrived at Kisumu (around 1912; about 12 years old). Well, in the second volume she actually got a chance to sit with my great-uncle Ebrahim, in 1994 or so. She fails to tell us that hey this is the same person referred to as coolie by some British babu and does he look like a coolie to you? I mean folks, this person was actually mentioned in a colonial report by name, even if dismissed as a coolie. She could refer the reader to the story of another great-uncle of mine Hasham Jamal (eldest of 4; my grandfather being #2) and point to the photograph of the four brothers, all of them attired as sheths of their times, Ebrahim as the youngest in a dapper dark suit. But let’s be grateful at least she did get to interview my great-uncle, the only person in her book that actually met the great pioneer Alidina Visram. Had I had that chance, I would have extracted much more from Ebrahim chacha than the one pararaph Salvadori did – I mean just that this man wore “embroidered suits” of the times and carried himself with dignity? We missed our chances; that generation is gone and if I don’t hurry, the generation that lived through the expulsion will be gone too.


I think only us people feel such emotions.


Limited edition of 2000 authenticated copies. Of course gone gone gone by now. How muchi?

Of course, I’d say all that, wouldn’t I?

Wur ne kon wakhane? Wur ni ma. Who’ll praise the groom if not his mother.  Heap calumny on my head.   

Vali Jamal


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: