|Tajddin, Mumtaz Ali Sadik Ali: 101 Ismaili Heroes, Vol.1, Islamic Book Publisher, Karachi, January 2003, p 088|
Ramzan Ali (d. 1886), son of Sabzali Hansraj, a dedicated social worker and businessman in Mundra, Kutchh, had six children: three sons: Mahomed Jaffer (1874-1918), Rahim (1880-1929) and Pir Sabzali (1884-1938); and three daughters: Fatimabai, Jainabai and Sonbai.
Mahomed Jaffer, a successful businessman in Bombay and Europe, generously willed one lac rupees to build a sanatorium for sick and convalescent Ismailis. However, because he passed away before he could build it, it was left to his son, Ismail, to realize his father’s humane dream. In 1931, he actually built a large sanatorium in Panchgani, known as Bagh-e-Rahat, at a cost of approximately Rs. 130,000.
Ismail was born to Mahomed Jaffer and his third wife, Shirin. Mahomed Jaffer’s daughter, Fatima, was born to his first wife, while both his second and fourth wives died giving birth (the latter, giving birth to twins). Mahomed Jaffer himself passed away on October 27, 1918, and only his daughter, Fatima, and his son, Ismail survived.
Ismail, the son of Mahomed Jaffer, fondly known as Varas Chhotubhai in world Ismaili circles, Chhotu Mia’n of Lady Aly Shah, or the Issu of Prince Aly Khan, was born in Bombay on June 5, 1904. Although he lost his mother in 1906, when he was barely two, the void in the infant’s life was quickly filled by his gifted grandmother, Meghbai (1850-1945), who instilled in him a fiercely deep-rooted love for the Imam and service to the jamat.
Meghbai, who often visited Lady Aly Shah at Wadi, Bombay, sometimes also took her grandson, Chhotubhai, with her, as Lady Aly Shah was very fond of him. It was during these visits that she taught him to read the Holy Koran. He was so close to Lady Aly Shah that later on she used to even send special messages through him to the Mukhis of Kadak and Kandi Mola Jamatkhanas. She saw in him a potential leader, destined to render great services to the community.
Chhotubhai attended Saint Mary’s Boys’ High School in Bombay, later venturing into the real estate business and becoming a leading property dealer in 1927. Philanthropic by nature, he devoted himself selflessly to serving the jamat. Many scholarships and stipends to widows flowed unabatedly from his munificent pockets. It was through his own diligence, hard work, and unwavering and compassionate commitment to community service that he raised to prominence, becoming one of the most recognized household names in worldly Ismaili circles.
Over the years, Varas Chhotubhai served in many jamati and civic institutions. First, his nomination as Mission Secretary (1928-1933) and then as Hon. Chief Secretary (1933-1936) and President of the Recreation Club Institute in Bombay, with Itmadi Rehmatullah Virji as Chief Secretary, for a year (1936-1937) was followed by his appointment as member (1934) and Hon. Secretary (1934-1936) of the Bombay Ismailia Council.
Active in Bombay’s civic affairs, he was elected member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation, and had the titles of Justice of Peace and Honorary Presidency Magistrate conferred upon him by the British Indian Government.
Not happy with just giving of his time tirelessly, he generously opened up his pocket book to many deserving causes. At the opening (by Alijah Mukhi Ali Muhammad Ibrahim Virji) of the Fidai Boarding and Orphanage on December 13, 1928 in Bombay, Varas Chhotubhai enrolled himself as the first life patron.
His service to the Imam’s family is legendary: As Prince Aly Khan’s personal secretary, he travelled with him in India, Burma and the Middle East. He also accompanied Lady Aly Shah to Syria and Lebanon in 1930-31, sought his counsel and support from the early 1930s till her demise.
After Pir Sabzali, Chhotubhai’s uncle, returned from an extensively long touring Central Asia, he persuaded Varas Chhotubhai and other jamati elders to join him on another long tour of Europe and of the Middle East. To mark this momentous occasion, on May 23, 1924, Huzur Wazir Ali Muhammad Rehmatullah Mecklai threw a farewell party for them at the top of the Taj Hotel in Bombay. Departing Bombay on May 24, 1924 on the mail steamer Caledonia of P & O Co., they landed in England and proceeded to Italy, France, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Germany, Syria, and Egypt, returning to Bombay on November 5, 1924 at the completion of a long, successful tour.
In 1925 Wazir Rahim Basaria asked Chhotubhai to be amongst the ten staff members chosen to serve during the Imam’s visit to Zanzibar, East Africa. So on January 7, 1925, Varas Chhotubhai journeyed to Zanzibar with Pir Sabzali (1884-1938) and other jamati elders, returning to Bombay on April 18, 1925.
Lady Aly Shah was prescient about Chhotubhai’s leadership role in life, as over the years, the Imam and Prince Aly Khan relied on his intelligence, dedication, hardwork, and discretion over and over again. In serving the Imam, his family and the jamat, Varas Chhotubhai undertook many trips: A few years after his East African trip, in April 1930, Varas Chhotubhai was called upon accompanying Lady Aly Shah to Damascus, Palestine and other historical cities, as her personal secretary. Later, she settled into a bungalow perched on a picturesque hill in Sofar, near Beirut.
And when Prince Aly Khan’s steamer, the Merietta Pasha, dropped anchor at Beirut on July 22, 1930, Varas Chhotubhai was the first one to go aboard to welcome the Prince. He then re-emerged with him and introduced the Prince to the governor of Salamia, Mir Mirza Varas Suleman and other dignitaries.
Soon after, Prince Aly Khan and Varas Chhotubhai were on their way by car to see Lady Aly Shah in Sofar. They continued on to Homs, where 400 Ismaili horsemen gave Prince Aly Khan a rousing welcome. As befitted as a beloved Prince, they entered Salamia in a procession, making their way to the Jamatkhana, where a darbar was held for this historical event. In front of the devout Ismailis who waited patiently to catch a glimpse of the heir-apparent, the Ismaili governor of Salamia read this poignant message from Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah: “I am sending my beloved son to you, and you should consider him as equivalent to my own coming. I am sending the Prince in the capacity of my heir-apparent.” Prince Aly Khan used the occasion to bestow the title of Alijah on Kamadia Mir Mirza Haji Mustapha, with the help of a wooden stick.
Although Prince Aly Khan was born and raised in Europe, he felt completely at ease riding horses in Salamia, adorned in Arabian sartorial splendor, which prompted Varas Chhotubhai to remark, “How elegant you look in an Arabian dress,” to which Prince Aly Khan quipped, “Of course! Although I was born in Europe, the Arabian blood of the Holy Prophet nevertheless flows in my veins.” Major A.J. Lakhpati (1884-1947) was so touched by this charming exchange that he ended up composing a beautiful poem to praise the Prince.
Before Prince Aly Khan returned to Sofar, a six-hour drive from Salamia, where Varas Chhotubhai was to join him in a hunting expedition. But the Prince, who had a penchant for driving fast cars, made it to Sofar in just one hour! From Beirut, Prince Aly Khan returned to Europe, while Varas Chhotubhai went back to Salamia with Lady Aly Shah. He went on to visit Damascus and Palestine before returning to Bombay with Lady Aly Shah on October 3, 1930.
After arriving in India on November 21, 1930 on the mail steamer Ranchi of P & O Co., Prince Aly Khan toured Northern India by rail. The “Punjab Mail” stopped at Kalyani before arriving at Gwalior on December 8, 1930. Accompanying the Prince, as his guests were N. M. Dumasia, the author of “The Aga Khan and his Ancestors” (Bombay, 1939), M. S. Jassani, and the Syrian officer Haji Mustapha. Captain Majid Khan (d. 1956), his bodyguard, was helped by Lt. Col. Pir Muhammad Madhani and Major A.J. Lakhpati; Varas Chhotubhai went along as his private secretary.
By December 10, they arrived in Agra to visit the legendary Taj Mahal. Another 23-mile drive brought them to the fascinating Fatehpur Sikhri. The next day in Delhi, they toured the Delhi Fort, Grand Mosque and the enchanting Kutb Minar. Then it was off to Jalandar, where Capt. Dass was waiting to welcome them on behalf of Kapurthala State. Two days later, on December 13, after a short 14-mile drive, their caravan reached Kapurthala, where Maharaja Sir Jagjit Singh welcomed them to Jagjit Palace. Their days were filled with sailing and hunting waterfowls, as well as deer in the jungle. Two days later, on December 13, after a short 14-mile drive, their caravan reached Kapurthala, where Maharaja Sir Jagjit Singh welcomed them to Jagjit Palace. Their days were filled with sailing and hunting waterfowls, as well as deer in the jungle.
Taking their leave after two days, they drove to Amritsar, and from there another 28 miles to Lahore, where more historical sights captivated them, including the Shalimar Gardens, Emperor Jahangir’s tomb, and Shahi Masjid.
After getting to Ratlam by train, they drove another 84 miles to Indore, where Mukhi Nur Mohammad Somji of the Ratlam jamat welcomed them. However, as guests of H.H. Maharaja Dhiraj Raj Rajeshwar, they spent the night at his palace before returning to Indore, where they were met by Vazir ad-Dawla, the Prime Minister of Indore. Then they left for Dharampore by the Punjab Express. After Pir Sabzali joined them at the Godhra station, they reached Surat on December 20. In Dharampore, they stayed at the Narshih Vilas as special guests of Suryawanshi Maharana Shri Vijaydevji. The next day, on a hunting trip in the jungle, Prince Aly Khan managed to hunt down a 71/2-foot long panther and a deer. The magnanimous Maharaja of Dharampore, who presented Prince Aly Khan with a fine robe, also gave a gold ring to N. M. Dumasia, gold buttons to Varas Chhotubhai and Capt. Majid Khan, and robes of filigree to the others.
All too soon, Prince Aly Khan’s Northern Indian tour came to an end, and he and his party returned to Bombay on December 24, 1930 by the Kathiawadi Express. Prince Aly Khan then departed for Europe on January 17, 1931. As his personal secretary, Varas Chhotubhai had remained by the Prince’s side during the entirety of his month-long tour.
At the completion of his successful and eventful Indian tour, on Prince Aly Khan’s return to Europe, the Imam sent the following telegram to his Bombay jamats:
Children - Bombay
My son arrived. He sends his best affectionate thoughts and I, my paternal blessings to all the councils, jamats, ladies volunteers, punjebhais, boys, and girls for so much loving attention during his short visit . Our affectionate thoughts always with you.
In 1908, when other Indian communities benefited from their co-operative institutions, the Muslim community had none. In 1930, Varas Chhotubhai was instrumental in the establishment of a co-operative institution to help the Ismaili victims of economic depression and unemployment that eventually became a leading financial institution, registered under the Government Co-operative Act by twelve promoters. It was the first of its kind, not only amongst the Ismailis, but amongst the Muslims of Bombay as well.
Prince Aly Khan, who visited the office of The Ismailia Co-operative Bank Ltd. on December 15, 1933, was warmly received by the community leaders, and after inspecting the bank premises, he asked many questions. Varas Chhotubhai singled out by the President for his meritorious service, as the steady progress of the bank was mainly due to Chhotubhai’s hard work and persistence, was presented with a shawl by Prince Aly Khan.
After Prince Aly Khan’s departure, Hussain Ali M. Rehmatullah, the Mayor of Bombay commented in the visitor’s book: “During my visit I was pleased to see the fine progress made during only a few years, and the efficient manner in which its affairs are managed. I congratulate the Committee on their achievement and wish the Institution a long life of still greater utility.”
On December 14, 1933, Sultan Mohamed Shah together with Mata Salamat and Prince Aly Khan stepped off the Rajputana of P & O Co. to a welcoming thunderous applause. Varas Chhotubhai once again served as Prince Aly Khan’s private secretary during this visit, and accompanied him by air to Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Agra, Jubblepore, and other cities. They also visited Rangoon, Burma from January 7 to January 17, 1934. On the way back from Mahableshawar by car on December 25, 1933, when the Imam and Mata Salamat stopped briefly at the sanatorium at Panchgani, Varas Chhotubhai welcomed them warmly. As the Imam inspected the premises, he asked Dr. Ghulam Ali Chandu and Jusab Allana Manji many questions, and after blessing them, he returned to Bombay.
When Prince Aly Khan visited the “Ismail House,” which Varas Chhotubhai had built at Sandhurst Road, Bombay, on December 14, 1933 at 10.15 a.m., he was warmly received by Varas Chhotubhai, Dewan Mohammad Ibrahim Mohammad Rawjee, and Ramzan Ali Machiswala, along with other distinguished guests. Entering the study, Prince Aly Khan smiled as he looked at a photo of Chhotubhai’s late father, and noted: “The shadow of the central part of your father’s image is seen in your face.” Prince Aly Khan then entered the main hall where he accepted the family mehmani, and talked freely with all those present.
A few weeks later, the Imam accepted Chhotubhai’s invitation to visit Ismail house as well. In preparation for the Imam’s visit to “Ismail House” on January 9, 1934, a brightly decorated tent was pitched at Sandhurst Road (East) for a grand banquet, and Varas Chhotubhai, Pir Sabzali, Ramzan Ali Machiswala and Alijah Ghulam Hussain Bandali Somji welcomed the 1500 guests at the main gate. When the Imam arrived at 10.30 a.m., he granted the family a private audience and accepted their mehmani on the first floor, and lauded Varas Chhotubhai’s significant and considerable services.
At the reception, where the Imam stayed for 45 minutes, he presented Chhotubhai with a gold medal with the Imam’s image on one side and an English inscription on the other, on behalf of the Ismailia Cooperative Bank’s directors. And before the entire audience, he also pledged the sum of one thousand rupees for the Fidai Boarding on Varas Chhotubhai’s behalf.
So on January 20, 1934, when the Imam and Prince Aly Khan visited the Fidai Boarding, Varas Chhotubhai translated Prince Aly Khan’s speech into Hindi for the audience. As he approached the microphone, he blurted out, “This is the first time I have ever used a microphone,” to which Wazir Ghulam Hussain H. Thavar (1907-1963) remarked, “But it is one of the best opportunities to do so.” Overhearing their little exchange, Prince Aly Khan cheerfully added, “Yes, it is a very fine opportunity.”
After the Imam’s departure from India, The Central Panjibhai Club of Bombay hosted a grand reception at the Recreation Club Institute to honor the new title-holders and leaders on March 17, 1934. The programme began with a stirring speech by Huzur Wazir Ali Muhammad R. Mecklai, as one by one, he highlighted the meritorious services of the distinguished leaders. Referring to the services of Varas Chhotubhai, he said, “Alijah Ismailbhai Mahomed Jaffer, known as Chhotubhai, is Prince Aly Khan’s personal secretary, and the Imam casts a graceful eye on him at all times. He was destined to serve the community and religion since his childhood, and became a leader at a very young age. He has served with great sacrifices, travelling to Syria with Prince Aly Khan, where his services were highly valued. And he has recently been appointed a member of the Bombay Council.”
In 1934, when the Ismailia Students’ Education Society was first established, with Ghulam Hussain B. Somji as its first President, it faced many challenges. However, under Varas Chhotubhai’s dynamic leadership -- as its second President -- the society engaged in a flurry of constructive activities: for example, it organized regular elocution and essay writing competitions, debates, symposiums, social gatherings, sporting events, and numerous other activities to enhance the students’ opportunities and education.
After providing the Society with suitable premises as well as generous financial aid and books, Chhotubhai became known as the father of the I.S.E.S., as he continued to nurture it with his paternal guidance, helping the disadvantaged students with scholarships and textbooks. Additionally, he also set up a library and an information bureau for the students.
The following year Chhotubhai was called upon to get involved in the significant Jubilee celebrations. In response to the Imam’s telegram to the Bombay Ismaili Council on August 12, 1935 asking them to set up a committee (of active, educated members) to prepare for his Golden Jubilee celebrations, the Aga Khan Golden Jubilee Committee was formed, with Lady Ali Shah’s help and advice, which she inaugurated on October 16, 1935 at Bombay’s Aga Hall.
Sir Ibrahim Rehmatullah (1862-1942) was named President and Ghulam Ali G. Merchant Vice-President; Pir Sabzali, who headed up a working committee responsible for collecting donations, sought Itmadi Ghulam Hussain’s support to include Varas Chhotubhai in the Committee as well. The Working Committee, which met at Varas Chhotubhai’s home, debuted their fund-raising campaign with the Kathiawar jamat, succeeding in raising five million rupees.
Nine sub-committees were also set up to synchronize the various aspects of the Jubilee celebrations. To eliminate duplication, Varas Chhotubhai, President of the Control Committee, which coordinated with the Presidents of the Reception and General Arrangement committees, ensured that the thousands of guests were received and seated appropriately.
Five short months after the prodigious groundwork was laid, the great moment finally arrived. The historic Golden Jubilee celebrations were held at Hasanabad on January 19, 1936, and Ghulam Ali G. Merchant, the Vice-President, read a welcome address on behalf of the jamats. In his response, the Imam expressed his happiness at the occasion and accepted the gold presented by his followers, pledging to use it for the upliftment of the Indian jamats. So, to put that plan into action, he asked Ghulam Ali G. Merchant, Rahimtullah Chinoy, Kassim Ali Manji Nathoo, Ali Muhammad R. Mecklai and Varas Chhotubhai to form the Gold Grant Committee.
That same evening, though, the Imam, with Begum Saheba, took a drive through Ismaili neighborhoods to enjoy an unsurpassed display of illuminations: they headed for Mazgon from the Willingdon Sports Club, arriving at Dongri via Hasanabad, and were met by homes adorned in ribbons of light, bursting in color.
According to “Golden Jubilee Granth” by N. M. Budhwani (Dhoraji, 1937, p. 32), “Ismail Mahomed Jaffer, J.P.’s ‘Ismail House’ at Dongri was more attractively lit than all the other buildings in the neighborhood: The garlands of red and green bulbs encircling a multi-colored crown were extremely eye-catching.”
On this unique occasion of the Golden Jubilee, Varas Chhotubhai was awarded the Gold Medal with the Straight Bar for his extraordinary services, and was appointed President of the Recreation Club Institute (1936-1937). Itmadi Rehmatullah Virji (1910-1982) served as Executive Secretary.
Also during the Golden Jubilee, after the Ismaili missionaries of India and East Africa presented the Imam with a historical medal, which he graciously accepted, they had a group photograph taken with him. Included in the photograph were: Missionary Hamir Lakha, Jamal Virji, Pir Sabzali, Tar Mohammad Rawjee, Ghulam Hussain Virji, Moloo Alarakhia, Hussaini Pir Muhammad, Nagji Mohammad Ali, Badruddin, Varas Chhotubhai, and Ali Muhammad R. Macklai.
Once again, when the Imam needed help with a cherished project, he singled out Chhotubhai in 1939 to take charge of merging the various Ismaili sports and recreational clubs in Karachi, including the Khoja Panjibhai Club, the Young Khoja Ismailia Sports Club, the Aga Khan Sports Club, etc. into one organization. Chhotubhai responded with alacrity, travelling to Karachi as a Special Commissioner of the Imam, where he stayed with Abdul Mohammad Juma Valliani in the Garden area for one month, and meeting with the respective club leaders to brainstorm the idea of replacing the existing myriad sports clubs with one that would please many persons. His mission accomplished successfully, with characteristic proficiency, in a written report to the Imam, Chhotubhai recommended creating The Aga Khan Gymkhana, a plan the Imam graciously approved in mid-1940. It was thus that on November 2, 1940 history was made in Karachi, and the Aga Khan Gymkhana opened its doors to all Ismaili sports enthusiasts; Wazir Dr. Pir Muhammad Hoodbhoy was named its first convenor.
In 1942 Varas Chhotubhai first moved to Mombasa, East Africa and then to Nairobi in 1966 to live with his son Mehdi. In 1974 he went to live with his son Mahomed Jaffer in Karachi.
While in Kenya, Chhotubhai became a partner in the Kenya Fish & Provision Supply Co., and also worked as a property and estate developer. However, as community service, his first love and true calling flowed untiringly in his veins, he was soon enlisted, along with Count Fateh Ali Dhalla and Count Kassim Ali R. Paroo, to take an active role in the construction of the new building for the Jubilee Insurance Co., which marked an important milestone in the East African Ismailis’ progress. Lord Michel, the governor of Kenya, formally opened the building in a ceremony held on September 10, 1951, and later presented special gifts to the above-mentioned three leaders, on Chairman Count Ibrahim Nathoo’s (1905-1962) behest.
Varas Chhotubhai was also appointed member of the Ismaili Council in Mombasa, and the Imam tapped him in 1953 for his Syrian projects to assist Ismailis in business.
On February 20, 1954 he was also invited to attend a token 20-minute ceremony of the Platinum Jubilee at the Semiramis Hotel’s Cleopatra Hall in Cairo. In the presence of 62 delegates, the Ismaili leaders presented the Imam with 70 gold guineas, a gift the Imam graciously accepted, and then gave away one guinea to each leader, including Varas Chhotubhai, whom he asked to go back to Salamia to complete his projects.
During his second trip to Syria with Count Hassan Kassim Lakha (1892-1982) in 1953, Varas Chhotubhai got the Ismaili farmers – who sold their cotton to the local Jews at a very low price – to form a cooperative movement, and established a cotton ginnery for them, which still exists today. On February 23, 1955, after departing for Cairo from Zanzibar, he made another trip to Salamia, where he stayed until 1956, coming into close contact with Dr. Mustapha Ghaleb and Prof. Arif Tamir, whom he brought with him to Africa in 1956, to deliver lectures on Ismailism.
When the Ismailia Association was first formed in 1951, it was headquarted in Nairobi, Kenya. Count Nazar Ali Madatali Suleman Virji, its first President (1951-1953), was followed by Wazir Ghulam Hussain K. Issani (1954-1955), and when Varas Chhotubhai became its third President (1955-1959), with Rai Mohammad Ali Rashid as an Hon. Secretary, the Ismailia Association headquarters was transferred from Nairobi to Mombasa. Once again, with his unflagging commitment and enthusiasm, Varas Chhotubhai became an active and dynamic President, implementing many important, original programs.
Varas Chhotubhai’s original idea to send East African teachers to Pakistan for Mission teacher training under the supervision of Wazir Dr. Pir Muhammad Hoodbhoy (1905-1956), pleased the Imam, who then sent the following message on January 3, 1956 to the four students - Shams Tabriz G. Dhirani, Amir Ali G. Jinnah, Hasan Ali H. Nazar Ali, and Ismail H.J. Khan:
My dear Dr. Hoodbhoy,
Regarding the four mission students from Africa recently arrived in Karachi, will you please convey to them my best blessings and my wishes for their great success.
At the completion of the first group’s training, Varas Chhotubhai sent a second batch of 18 students to Karachi in 1958 and 13 additional students in 1959.
Not one to rest on his laurels, he had several booklets on Islam published at his own expense for circulation among Ismailis and other Muslims. The East African Muslim Welfare Society, Mombasa, distributed it freely among the new converts in Africa.
In 1955, Prince Sadruddin visited him at his home in Nairobi, as did Prince Aly Khan in April 1956.
After attending the Imam’s didar in London on May 4, 1960, he was blessed with a personal audience with the Imam in Paris, where he also met the President of the Ismailia Association for Kenya, Wazir Lutfali Merali, who was touring Europe. They took this opportunity to hold a meeting and dined at the residence of Mukhi Mohammad Pirbhai in Paris.
Just a few days later when Prince Aly Khan was tragically killed in a car accident near Paris on May 12, 1960, Varas Chhotubhai was still in Paris. But his final burial took place on July 10, 1972 in Salamia, Syria, as Prince Aly Khan had willed. In deference to the Imam’s wishes, only 36 delegates from India, Pakistan, Africa, Europe, the United States and South East Asia were able to attend the ceremony. Additionally, four special guests were also invited: Varas Chhotubhai (Nairobi), Dewan Ghulam Hussain Jindani (Mombasa), Tutti Hussain (London), and Varasiani Gulzar Muller.
The delegates and guests first met in Nice. The embalmed body of Prince Aly Khan was transported to Damascus on July 10, 1972 by a chartered Air France plane. Next, the coffin was taken by helicopter to Salamia from Damascus, accompanied by Prince Amyn Muhammad, six delegates, and four special guests, while Prince Sadruddin traveled in another helicopter with the other delegates. The coffin was lowered into its final resting-place on the same day.
The Imam commissioned Mr. Kamal Khan, his estate agent for Syria, and Varas Chhotubhai to devise a plan for a mausoleum, which was successfully completed, after many challenges, at a cost of 15,000 British pounds.
He also held the office of estate agent for the Imam in India until his retirement in late 1964, when he returned to Kenya.
Prince Sadruddin visited Varas Chhotubhai twice in Nairobi, once when he was operated on at the Nairobi Hospital in 1966, and a second time at his home in 1973, when he underwent treatment for his eyes.
For his dedication and services, he received the title of Alijah in 1932, Rai in 1936, and Wazir during Diamond Jubilee in 1946.
In 1974, he relocated to Karachi to live with his son Mahomed Jaffer. He had fulfilled his father’s dream to build Bagh-e Rahat, the sanatorium at Panchgani, Bombay in 1931. As a life-patron of the Fidai Academy & Orphanage in Bombay since its inception on December 13, 1928, he visited it several times and also generously donated funds to it. On his October 19, 1930 visit, though, he commented in the visitor’s book, “The general discipline of the boarders was exemplary. We examined the building and appreciate their sleeping accommodations.”
In 1976 he donated Bagh-e Rahat to the Fidai Academy & Orphanage, in loving memory of his father. (Rai Akbar Ali Itmadi Alibhai Tyrewala was President and Rai Kassim Ali H. Zagmagia was the Honorary Secretary at the time.) The Imam sent Varas Chhotubhai his best loving blessings in 1978, after the property’s legal transfer.
In August 1978, when Varas Chhotubhai fell ill and required surgery, he chose to return to the same surgeon who had previously operated on him in 1966 at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi. His three sons and two daughters immediately went to Nairobi, to be by his side. His son Rai Sadruddin flew from Los Angeles via Paris, where the Imam graced him with an audience on October 21, 1978 and said to him, “He has served several Imams.” The Imam added that he was praying for the health of Varas Chhotubhai and sent him his best loving blessings, as well as holy water for Varas Chhotubhai and the family.
Although the operation was successful, due to his age and some post-operative complications, he passed away within a couple of days of his surgery, on October 30, 1978.
Varas Chhotubhai was quiet, unassuming, generous, kind, and compassionate. A gentleman who liked to call himself a servant of the jamat, preferring to sit in front of the Mukhi rather than in the specially designated area for title-holders in the Jamatkhana.
He left behind a widow, the well-educated, home-schooled Varasiani Ashrafbai, born in 1911. She was the daughter of Kamadia Alijah Musa Jaffer Pradhan (1850-1925), a famous merchant and commission agent, who built the three-storied Musa Building at Palkhi Molla, Bombay, for Rs. 250,000, which he generously donated to the jamat for the use of 55 indigent Ismaili families. Though one floor of the building was reserved for a maternity home, known as Sakinabai Maternity Hospital, built in loving memory of his wife, Sakina, to provide free treatment to the sick. Dr. Jarbai Pestenji Khambata was the physician in attendance. The opening ceremony of Musabhai Building and Sakinabai Maternity Home was performed on May 15, 1918 by Sir Currimbhoy Ibrahim (1840-1924). Alijah Musa Jaffer Pradhan, who was appointed Kamadia of Bombay’s Darkhana Jamatkhana soon after the death of Kamadia Ismail Kassimani in 1909, served for six years until 1915, and was given the title of Alijah for his services. The British Indian Government also awarded him the title of Justice of Peace.
The marriage of his daughter Ashrafbai to Varas Chhotubhai was solemnized on February 22, 1928 at Valkesar bungalow. The Imam recited the nikah as the vakil of the bridegroom and Syed Mushtaq Ali represented the bride. Varasiani Ashrafbai is about 90 years old and lives with her elder son, Wazir Mahomed Jaffer, in Karachi.
Varas Chhotubhai’s three sons and two daughters have followed in his footsteps and continue to serve the jamats in many ways.
His son Mahomed Jaffer, born on September 1, 1930 in Karachi, is a barrister-at-law, was Hon. Secretary of the Ismaili Council for the United Kingdom (1954), a member of the Ismailia District Council for Dacca (1956-1961), President of the same Council (1961-1969), member of the Federal Council for Pakistan (1969-1972), member of Owner’s Representative Board of the Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College Foundation (1976-1994), member of the Constitution Review Committee (1984-1986), Chairman of the Shia Imami Ismaili International Conciliation and Arbitration Board (1987-1993), and Chairman of the Aga Khan Foundation, Pakistan (1994-2000). For all his outstanding services, he was given the title of Wazir during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee.
Varas Chhotubhai’s second son, Sadruddin Jaffer, born on June 22, 1934, was the first Mukhi of Los Angeles jamat in 1967, and thereafter the first President of the Council for Western USA. He has been given the title of Rai.
His third son, Mehdi Jaffer, born on September 18, 1936 married Zaibun, the daughter of Tajdin Rahematulla Kassim Lakha (1914-1999) in 1961. A pharmacist by profession, and also a businessman, Mehdi Jaffer settled in San Diego, California in 1969. His community service began in the 1960’s with the Education Board in Kenya, and continued in California in various institutional and jamati positions. He has served as Mukhi of San Diego jamat several times over the years: 1981-82, 1984-85, 1985-87 and 1996-99.
His daughter, Fatima, born on June 2, 1938, married Shahabuddin Juma, and was the Captain of the Ladies Volunteer Corps of Los Angeles jamat and a member of the National Conciliation and Arbitration Board of USA. She received the title of Huzur Mukhiani and then Alijiani.
Leila, the youngest daughter, was born on October 18, 1940. She is noted for fund-raising drives for the jamat in Los Angeles and is an ardent social worker.
The love, dedication and service to Imam and jamat, which characterized and guided Varas Chhotubhai’s life, continue not only in his children but also amongst his grandchildren and great-grand children. They continue to serve and volunteer in various institutional and jamati positions in the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Europe and North America.