Ashleshaa Khurana,TNN | Jan 10, 2015, 07.23 AM IST
SURAT: As businessmen from across the world arrive for the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors' Summit beginning this Sunday, here is the story of an original globetrotter, who sailed on a dhow and made his fortunes on foreign lands, only to use them in the favour of interracial community service.
Khoja Allidina Visram, born in 1851 at Kera, 22 km from Bhuj, sailed to Zanzibar at the age of 12, to serve as an assistant to businessman Sewa Haji (Paroo) in 1863.Quick to learn the tricks of the trade, he set up his own caravans into the interiors, this further helped him establish his firm in several places from Dar-es-Salaam to Ujji to Congo. Functioning on a barter system of trade, he ex changed cloth, salt and grains against local produce such as cloves, wax, and honey .
Visram's fortunes grew when he began dealing in ivory. He also came up with the brilliant idea to provide packaged food for the hunters. Upon the death of Haji Paroo in 1897, Allidana took the caravan trade far and wide to Uganda. He turned `King of Ivory'.
He set up shops of food supply along the upcoming railway lines in Uganda. This helped him obtain contracts of paying salaries to railway workers as well as funding the authorities. A study of Ismaili diaspora says, "Allidana Visram was practically a bank. Cheques given to him at the Coast could be cashed in the interiors at a commission of 35%."
He ventured into agriculture in 1904 and soon owned seven large plantations which cultivated cash crops like sugarcane, cotton, tea and rubber along with flowers, fruits and grams. In 1910, he began his first cotton ginnery at Entebbe, exporting it to India. Allidina invested in sailing crafts and set up transportation hubs for better busi ness connectivity .
He employed thousands of Hindus, Muslims and Africans. Visram was well known for his immense philanthropy. He inspired thousands of peasants to immigrate from Kutch for a better future, and 90% of Ismailis settled in Uganda and Kenya owe him all that they are today . Multi millionaires Nanji Kalidas and Manu Madhvani considered him their 'inspiration and spiritual guide'.
Visram sponsored schools, hospitals and jamat khanas. Aga Khan III bestowed upon him the title of 'Varas''Vazier', a first to any Indian. Upon his passing away on June 30, 1916, a street in Kampala was named after him and his son Varas Abdul built a high school to commemorate the name of Allidina Visram - pioneer of prosperity in East Africa.
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