The way I remember it.
1976 amidst the political struggle against the Apartheid regime I was ready for school and little did I know of the world save that, it was going to be my first year at school. My recollections of that year is through my revered eldest brother, Ebrahim, who tells me that I cried and would run out of the class wailing to the teachers, “Where is my brother…!” This anecdote mixed with so many other stories gets our family in a jolly good mood to laugh and to reminisce on a golden era in our lives. The life in Evaton. My sister Haajira started school in 1978. I had a chance to tease her because she also cried. Atiyya and Naseema, my sisters were in school and they formed the ring of hope for me and Haajira. Added to that the whole Sujee family’s children too were at school and that is a story on its own. Gosh! how we got along in school and out of school is just a marvel. Sadly, a missed opportunity and flavour of life of many children today.
Today, after about a month of working on this article, ideas began flowing to provide a narrative to illustrate that we all have a story of our lives and when we pen it down, it reveals like a beautiful sunrise and sunset, the people in your life that gave you courage, friendship, love, attention and how all the experiences shaped the person you really are. It speaks volumes of those family members in their esteemed manner and character how they moulded world views such that it became a reality of role modelling. Today, we look back with pride knowing that they were just living their lives as we are today. The difference however, is that the extended family’s living arrangements and lifestyle opened the vistas of life’s greatness best expressed as: Living with contentment.
I was born to a very handsome couple and my story begins in awe of them. Mum and Dad epitomised greatness of life for me and the feeling is still intense. My handsome dad passed away tragically in a car accident in 1983. The sadness still lingers in the heart knowing that so many milestones which I would have loved his presence have passed without him. However they are moments I conjure an imaginary situation just to ease the soul. I feel that today, we would be sitting side by side talking about teaching and my siblings would be saying, “And here they go again…” in jest that would ignite greater love and cherished memories.
I am second of four children. My brother Ebrahim is the eldest then me followed by my sister Haajira and Fathima. We were so accustomed with my cousins, Naseema and Atiyya being like sisters to us. Their mother passed away when they were about 2 and 3 years old and my parents were married by then. My mother tells me that her late sister Haajira, asked my father to look after her daughters should anything happen to her. Haajira passed away suddenly when her daughters were about 2 and 3 years old. My dad pledged he would look after them and yes; he fulfilled that trust like a real dad. My father, his brother Ismaeel and Uncle Yusuf, were married to sisters. My aunt Farida is the most jovial aunt from my mother’s side that I can write a short story on her. Perhaps one day. So in this close knit history, my story is embellished with just about all the love one could have.
My father’s eldest brother, Hassan was married to Miriam, a stylish lady with a fine touch of elegance that adorned her into old age. Her passing on in 2010, was a real shock to the system. My uncle Hassan has three daughters who also lived in the same yard. Their names are, Maimoona, Aziza and Tasneem. Here again, I had three more sisters who would take me like a brother but, they adored my brother Ebrahim. Then my Uncle Suliman, a real stylish man, married had three children; one son and two daughters namely Mohammad Azhar, Nazeera and Zarina. Here again I found myself with my cousin Nazeera in mix of life’s happy moments of many great fun, game and crazy things. My father’s younger brother, Uncle Ahmed married and had three children; Shameema, Adil and Rehana. Adil and I become brothers and are still like that. We have such memories and good times that when we sit, we reminisce with such hearty elation that we laugh, cajole and give thanks to how we all lived in Evaton.
I am not finished yet. My father had sisters that I describe as beautiful, elegant, loving, chaste, bashful, righteous and humble. It is impossible to detail all I want to about them save to say that they are and were the adorable people that you fall in love with over and over again. Their saintly natures is testimony of that too.
Listed below is the chronology of eldest to youngest:
Fooi (Sakina) is the eldest sister (late). Hassan Mohammed (91 years this year), Ismail ,Suliman Sujee (late), Ali Bhai (late – my father), Gori Fooi (Miriam), Hafidh Ahmed , Yusuf (late. Teacher – Science) and Choti Fooi (Fatima). When I visited my Uncle Hassan Mohammed, he shared photos and anecdotes with me of all his brothers and sisters. They were just so good looking, stylish, elegant, refined and full of congeniality. Today, they still carry the same grace. My Uncle Hassan gleamed when I said this to him about all of them. I cannot forget how he said to me, “I remember the past so clearly as if it was yesterday and; I still recall Ali Bhai’s finest manners.” How touching and heartwarming. The eldest brother, Hassan Mohammed, relishing his memories of his siblings in the Winter years of his life. The joys of their life is very much the Spring of their present.
Their Grandfather, Mohammaed Hassan, I learnt, opened the business, SUJEE STORES in Evaton, 1108 Cradock Road. The license to operate is recorded as 1910 said my Uncle Hassan Mohammed to me. Uncle Hassan Mohammed began working at the age of 13. It was 1941 as he said to me. He remembers becasue it was the third year of WW 2. Today, Uncle Hassan Mohammaed is 91 years old. Uncle Suliman (late) joined the business much later and Hafidh Ahmed worked in the shop later for a brief period. My late Uncle Yusuf studied in Salisbury Islands in KZN, left for Egypt to study Arabic and Islamic studies. Uncle Ismaeel studied teaching in Jhb at the college of education. My father studied in Jhb as well to become a teacher. Their sisters married and began their lives with their new families who were extensions of the Sujee family. Our family tree is carefully maintained by Masoom Sujee. This is story of its own.
Writing in the stream of consciousness means that the storyline appears disjointed however, upon careful reading it becomes clear that thought is largely a ‘collective phenomenon’ as David Bohm said. He says, “As with electrons, we must look on thought as a systematic phenomenon arising from how we interact and discourse with one another.” is true because, here I am writing a short biography but, the flood of thoughts, calls, meetings, sharing old photos, recalling events and anecdotes are like the interaction of electrons charging. This charging appears haphazard but, it actually aligns energy to produce one result. The result is for example, like the light bulb filled with necessary charge to ignite. Therefore, the anecdotes that punctuate are like moving electrons to give life to a message that this article will leave the reader with. The aim is to make it read like a coherent short story, but life events grow and ” There would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time.” ( Macbeth. Act 5, scene 5, lines 16–27.); so I cannot stop the thoughts as they creep into the mind. I write what is on the mind and; leave the pen to record for tomorrow creeps into each thought. The last syllable will make the story whole.
In every big family cousins get along and form their own cliques and they became famous in that way in the family. Their stories are for themselves to share. In my growing years I saw this and recorded it in a fashion that will get them chatting. The chats, I am sure will brings smiles of sheer joy. There was the first group consider them as the little older cousins. Tasneem , Atiyya, Naseema, Mohammed Azhar and my brother Ebrahim. I talk about them here before the elder cousins because my experiences are more with them. I name them the Famous 5 because, they looked so adventurous to me when I was little. Their games, camaraderie and play was in my view the envy of all of us little ones because, they did so many grand things. Today parents will pay strangers to teach their children what the Famous 5 did as hobbies or activities to build self-esteem. I cannot forget their plans of sports and how they would wrap stones in coloured paper for decorative purposes for events they planned. It taught me to grow up thinking out of the box and having fun with no expense to the family. Their playing ‘school-school’ was a real serious school out of school. Gosh! how children play and how role modelling strengthens resolve and ignites the actor in you is inexplicable. This has made us the adults we are today – we have grit.
Then you had: Aziza, Maimoona and late Shabeer who I name THREES COMPANY. They were the elder cousins that had their space with the seniors of the family. They on the other hand, had a mix with the extended family’s eldest cousins. They were this classy lot who in opinion, appeared like the aristocrats of the manor who looked sleek and smart. Aziza told me recently that, they were always dressed up even when they rode bicycles on the gravel. In awe of them today, I do not recall them clearly then. However, I learnt to carry myself like a gentleman. Priceless. All I know as little cousins we were pampered by these young ladies and men. They were like the ‘go to’ big persons when you had problems with others to resolve. We all played and grew up in the Sujee Family Yard. To get the sense of the yard we lived in, the shop in the front facing the street and the houses that were in one yard, the collage below speaks a million messages from simple living to hard work. And so, here goes my little story:
My cousins Nazeera, Adil, Shameema, Rehana and my sister Haajira and I were the BRAT PACK in name that roamed the big yard and had just so much of fun. On Saturdays Nazeera and I would help out in Sujee’s Stores. Our Grandfather, Mohammed Hassan whom we called ‘Bhajee’, was the most cool grandfather one could have and wish for. He was well dressed sporting Crocket&Jones shoes, a stylish green pants with breeches and well ironed starched white shirt. He would encourage our uncles to give us the space to sell. This was the best skill they gave us. We were given a table and we were told to sell stuff. We placed the table on the porch of Sujee Store and it was the best times of fun and making money. Our competition was the Famous Five but, it was not something we bothered about. Adil, Shameema, Rehana and Haajira would help out too. The skill of talking to people and making a sale was awesome especially to build self esteem and self reliance. I had a stammer and it was embarrassing at times, but this sales pitch gave me edge.
Sujee Store was a department store of note at the time. The branding was unique at the time as we sported our own Sujee Store plastic packet in all sizes. Uncle Suliman managed the grocery, hardware and food section. Uncle Hassan managed the haberdashery, linen, shoes and clothing section. Sujee’s Store had its own timber yard that housed all timber, hardware, sanitary and wooden coffins too; a cement room where we kept cement for sale and a place at the back of yard where Gum poles were stacked. The store was neat, organised and always attractive. Uncle Suliman would dress the windows and that was just an amazing skill that showed off Sujee Store’s charm. We had a bicycle with huge delivery box for deliveries that were for short distances from the shop. Furthermore, we had this green truck that was used for long distance deliveries. All this mesmerised me at the time to think about how all this worked with the shop and its sales. Added to that my late father, Ali Bhai, was instrumental in organising all the storerooms and cleaning them every school holiday with the Famous Five. The unity of the brothers built self confidence and trust such that we could talk to our Uncles. Yes, we were afraid of some because of their stern disposition but, in the main, we could approach them anytime.
At school I had this edge over the others because of the sales pitch experience, being in the company of adults who wanted an explanation of how you sold and what you would do with the money. The positive self esteem as a result of interpersonal relationships with elder cousins cannot be underestimated. Therefore, I am today, the make up of my Uncles and Aunts who modelled life in the best way for me to imitate and yes, there are just so many hilarious stories of us growing up in Evaton where Sujee Store was the hub of activity.
I remember the shop as that place where cousins would meet after school. After school was just a super time of listening to the stories of school. The stories were just the news hour and the anecdotes of school were enriching. We would take the bus to Roshnee to attend school. After school we attended Madressah (Islamic studies given in a school like setting) and then we would return from Roshnee at about 4:30pm. It was quick bite and cousins meet in the shop or outside. The shop, I recall was always the first place to meet. In the main, I picked up values of behaviour from my Uncles and the support staff that were employed there. We were given the opportunity to go out on deliveries as well but, my brother Ebrahim and Mohammed Azhar had first preference as I recall. They were just awesome friends too and did many enterprising things like starting up a business to sell paper made bricks for fires, a charcoal type concept and we worked for them. We received no pay but, sheer enjoyment to see success and to be part of an enterprise. These moments cannot be short-changed because they established fortitude in character.
Character refinement cannot be learnt from a book but, in seeing it acted out. There is one incident that I cannot forget. One day, I made mud balls and decided to throw it anyone in front of the store. I did just that and recall vividly that I threw it at a timid looking girl. Not long after the incident, my father called me to the shop and lo and behold there stood the girl and her father. I was terrified and waited for a slap. My father asked me in the most stern voice about the incident and his awe of a just presence got me singing like a nightingale. My father said that what I did was bad and he did not approve of it. I then apologised to the girl and I remember my father telling me to ask the girl’s name and say her name in my apology. Her father thanked my father and the respect was palpable. This event was a lesson for life on defeating racism – this action of my father demonstrated his fairness, justice and clear hatred for racism. It showed that he did not dismiss the victim on racial grounds rather, he made the perpetrator, his own son, feel the anguish of maleficent behaviour especially when directed to a person of an oppressed class. This is rare even in today’s times. Thank you Dad.
I grew up under the shadow of my grandfather whom I loved dearly. I cannot forget the time in school when I was troubled with exams and getting embarrassed because of my stammering. Gosh! Today, I cannot stop speaking. Anyway for a few Saturday mornings, I used to make tea for him and sit ask for help. He told me to read Surah Muzzamil from the Holy Quran. He would also recite for me and he loved the Holy Quran. I cannot forget how he directed me to the Holy Quran before he spoke to me on what he felt I should do. In his old age of a terminal illness where he lost the use of his limbs, I remember him turning the pages of the Holy Quran with his nose. Today, I tear when I think how all of us would assist him and do things for him all because; we saw our uncles take care of their father like a loving mother who takes care of a vulnerable baby. Really, this is so deeply etched in my soul that when I see my uncles, I see a personification of respect and compassion. So my grandfather and I came close and he gifted my cousin Adil and I with expensive Rotary wristwatches. The story however, with the cousins is that I was coaxing him on Saturdays for that watch. Again, there was no malice or jealousy amongst us all because we saw how our uncles behaved when each of them were blessed with something or the other. They were happy, cordial and kind for each others achievements. This won the admiration of all of us to this day.
The BRAT PACK had done one thing that makes us all giddy with laughter but, the lesson is wholesome. Uncle Ismail and my late dad loved books and together they shared many shelves of books. Uncle Hassan moved out of Evaton and lived and Roshnee and came to the shop from Roshnee. We then decided to use his house as our play house. So, the pantry became our library and the books we got from the shelves of Uncle Ismail and dad. Nazeera, Adil and I as the leaders then were concerned about ‘readers’ get sick in the library so we decided to get a medicine chest. It was the idea to ‘get’ all the medicine from the shop and my word, we really got a stack full.Crazy! Towards the time when Uncle Suliman and family were also planning to move to Roshnee, we decided that the library must close. It was a feat to note that we labelled shelves of books and fiction, non-fiction, comics, magazines and newspapers. Nazeera and I decided that we must put the medicine in their home and the sachets and tablets must be buried. We did just that! Uncle Suliman caught us in his house putting medicines in the cupboard and it was time of real reprimand and strong words. He did what he did and never shared it with his brothers. I tell you why. Uncle Ismail was studying and he was digging a hole at the back to learn about the soil. He uncovered this huge stash of sachets of tablets and he said something to Uncle Suliman and that was the end of it. Nazeera and I told the pack and it was a horrible episode but, the lesson learn was how to face the brutal facts, own up and take what comes your way. Again, our Uncles taught us never to hold grudges or keep a deed against someone when matters are resolved. This is a quality that has given me so much leverage in my life because it liberates you from carrying emotional baggage. Furthermore, it establishes the kindness of forgiveness.
The Brat Pack had no real competition but, had to deal with HENNY PENNY and their lot. Henny and Penny were the nicknames my late father gave to my darling little sister, Fathima and my cousin Adil’s youngest sister Rehana. Henny & Penny were always with Zarina, my cousin Nazeera’s youngest sister. They were adorable and cute and spoilt by all. Now one day, Adil and I decided to take Henny’s (Fathima) huge teddy bear and do something to it. What we did was cut it in one place and then throw it on the roof of one of the garages. My word! My dad was angry as we learnt later. When Henny & Penny complained to him and said who the culprits were he did not say anything to us and you can only imagine how Adil and I played victors to the anguish of Henny, Penny and Zarina. My dad said nothing and then one day, we were on a family trip somewhere. I recall it was my dad, mum, Adil, Fatima (Henny) and I. My father had a green Peugeot at the time. On a gravel road back to Evaton, he pulled off and said in a ‘movie like scene voice’ to us to get out of the car. Tears welled up and fear gripped us and my mother pleaded but, my dad insisted we get out. We opened the door like scared mice and then stood on the side of the road and watched the car move off slowly. Adil and I were in disbelief and shock and we did not know what to do. Suddenly, in the distance, the car stopped and we ran eating dust on the way. My father got us back in and for the life of me, I still recall how he looked at us that day. From that day, we never messed with Henny & Penny. Their victory is still celebrated today. A joy to relish. Today, Adil and I talk about this and have a jolly good laugh but, it made us realise that my Dad and our Uncles respected the property of people, did not like anyone to be hurt, especially the girls of our family.
In the bonds of love with my Uncles we learnt the values of being human. No doubt, my Uncles and Aunts had their differences, but it was never a public display. It was a private affair all the time. This is an indelible imprint of their profound humanness. How profound that all of this was conveyed through real models without any show or performance on a grand scale. It was done sagaciously with humility all because it was how they lived their lives. Astounding but never a case of bewilderment because, real heroes live heroically everyday and seek no cover page for affirmation. Today, social media has eroded this noble learning experience.
Sadly, in 1983/4 the tricameral parliament was instituted by the Apartheid regime and that caused greater bitterness amongst the oppressed people and it led to immense social upheaval. The ground swell led to riots and nation wide protests against this system which further disenfranchised the indigenous people of South Africa. Sujee Store faced the wrath of the angry mob and Uncle Suliman and his cousin, Uncle Moosa Sujee were in Evaton on that awful day.
The awful riot almost claimed their lives as they had to flee from haunting danger. I remember how late Uncle Suliman recounted the events at Uncle Hassan’s house that fateful day. It was an escape that would fit a movie script in relation to trepidation, violence, unsolicited help from strangest of sources, running from danger and hiding in a van under rubble to reach a safe zone. It had all the ingredients of an action movie and when they told their story, it was just so mature because, in no way were there racial slurs. The narrative was all about the imbalance of Apartheid and how it had plunged the whole country into uncertainty. My Uncle narrated how the shop was looted and saw it aflame. We lost everything and to this day, when the subject comes up, there is no narrative of hate or malice. Just prophetic behaviour. Uncle Hassan and Uncle Suliman held the family bond and started their own businesses and worked hard. Uncle Hassan opened a general dealer business in Vereeniging and Uncle Suliman purchased a takeaway in Meyerton. In the ensuing years, members of Famous Five, Henny & Penny Pack and the Brat Pack worked in these businesses too and gave that long standing bond a flavour of admiration. Today we live off their blessings of sacrifice, patience, gratitude, compassion, kindness, courage, perseverance, forbearance and fortitude.
In the meantime of all of this, my Dad had employed members of THREES COMPANY and the FAMOUS FIVE to teach in the madressah, namely Evaton Madressah. He was the Principal of the madressah too. Here again, we as the Sujee children were now taught Islam by the very same people who we played with and we did not find any incongruence in behaviour and attitude. The crowning glory for me was the time my father was by the Librarian of Roshnee Secondary School and when he asked us: THREES COMPANY, FAMOUS FIVE, HENNY & PENNY and the BRAT PACK to help him cover and label all the books. We did it and, Roshnee Secondary School had the best library from all the schools we knew.
In the dawning of the a new life as an adult I look at the years passed making sense of the experiences. The group names I gave is an illustration of how animated our lives were and I realise now more than ever that, I would have it no other way. When I remember my days of the life in Evaton it reads like Alice in Wonderland. However, my characters were all real and were rooted in the vicissitudes of life and yes, they ‘drank life to the lees.’ Sujee Store gave us a life that would otherwise be uneventful and dull.
2020 vs 1976 is a new beginning for a new narrative on the fascinating lives of those who choose to live and not die before their time. The world awaits to read your story because it can change lives. Seize the moment!