Dastaan – Part 3

Husseinali Datoo


These are only the examples of the extent of desperation and yet also of demonstrations of a struggle for an honourable living by the poor in the absence of many sustainable charitable support or their religious dues known as Zakaat.

Imagine, the dirty clothes intended for washing had to be separated. Those whose appearance was no much embarrassment were dried in the open during the day time; while the few others discreetly during the night time.

The different timing was one of the many ‘strategies’ which the poor used in their life for a damage-control of their family pride in a mixed society of the rich and the poor. They became more sensitive about their pride when it became more bruised in the life of poverty. This sensitivity added to the suffocation in their life.

It is among the poor families that produced also the examples of sons having aged and died single (bachelor) because the small income and the small accommodation did not permit this necessity of life to be fulfilled and some examples of daughters also having aged and died as spinsters because of the lack of a competitive or relative “good look” added to the de-merit of poverty.

Where a marriage was achieved, the unending complaints over the congested accommodation with little personal privacy, the long working hours in the kitchen without a domestic help or the arguments over a few cents over spent here and a few there over grocery were the causes that could affect only a poor family for a matrimonial breakdown as a spill-over from the basic poverty, a loss by an accidental drop and shattering of yet one more than ordinary crockery piece in only one year could become “the last straw that broke the back of the camel” to lead to a divorce.

And there were examples of death from a short illness like a ruptured appendicitis or hernia strangulation or internal hemorrhage or heart attack or indeed maternal complication only because rushing to a doctor with enough money in the pocket was the ability of those who could jingle coins as they walked. They delayed medical consultation for a day or two in the fervent hope that the symptoms, whose cause was unknown to them, would disappear.

In a family with a small congested housing accommodation, children were mostly made to sleep on the floor with no convenience of a fixation of a mosquito net, which anyway cost money also. The children were therefore even more prone to regular bouts of malaria as part of their life. The patients would be seen visiting the Nasser Nurmohamed Free Dispensary with appropriate empty bottle to collect the bitter pink coloured quinine water. Death from malarial the endemic tropical killer, when it occurred, was seen as an additional price to pay for a life of poverty.

And there were those who could afford only a show fare tor visiting the sisterland of Pemba, or the Tanganyikan (later Tanzania) port of Dar es Salaam or Tanga if they must undertake a visit.


What is narrated are only a few known examples of the types of pain and hardships faced by almost half of the community. No more details or personal ones are revealed in order to avoid the identification of exampled families in a community, small as it was then, though two generations have since passed.

There were essential traditions, and yet costly, in the community which the rich could observe with a show of affluence and the poor tried to live up to them and ended very poorly much to their painful public embarrassment.

The rich could continue with the community’s tradition for their women who put on hijab, they used a piece of non-textile see-through niqaab (called “picho” for face-cover which had heavy jeek-jari embroidery along the three sides and costly pure golden chains with tinkled dangling from its lower end. The poor had their old women use a plain picho with no such adornment to reveal their life of poverty in the streets and in the community gatherings.

Young women however from both sides of the economic line who chose to put on hijab would, instead of a picho, provide an extension of the head piece of hijab for covering. Use of scarf was unknown then.

The tradition of each item of dej (dowry) being brought in a platter (thari) before the elders and members of the community for Jamaats records – soon after the nikah was performed – in a show of competition to excel the past displays of others, made the thought of a wedding scary to the poor. The tradition was an essential orthodox part of every wedding.

There were always a few known big Indian money-lenders. However, with the increase in poverty there arose in the community also some small moneylenders living privately on usury in desperation despite the Islamic prohibition.

The superstition that it is an ill-omen to sell the family’s gold ornaments which passed down from one generation to another and their sentimental attachment led the poor to pawning them as security for a loan much less than the value of the ornaments, and many only to lose them, instead of having sold them at a fair market value. There would follow a long grieving phase in secrecy for the loss.

The old women in the family took it much harder on their mind to affect their physical health.

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