18. Amir Ali Fancy, Wazir - page 59
Alibhai Lalji is reported to have migrated from Junagadh, India to Mombasa, Kenya in 1880 to explore business opportunities. His son Hussain also came from India in 1912, and settled however in Mwanza. Later on, his son Hasan Ali and the rest of the family joined Hussain in 1920 in Mwanza. They jointly ran a general store, called Alibhai Lalji & Sons, and made steady progress.
Hasan Ali liked modernity in dressing and eating. He was meticulously dressed and was easily distinguished in a crowd of Asians. Due to his modern tastes, he was nick named as Hasan Ali Fancy.
Amir Ali Fancy was one of the five sons of Hasan Ali Fancy. He was born on July 14, 1914 in Mombasa. He studied up to four classes and started his business career at the age of 12 years in 1926. Lots of Europeans came shopping at his store, enabling him to pick up English. His interest grew and he started learning English at the age of 20 years. Amir Ali Fancy married Anarbai Kassim on January 14, 1937.
His appearance in the arena of community services began when he joined the cooperative societies in the Lake District towns of Tanganyika. He also became a member of the Provincial Council, and then the Supreme Council in East Africa. On an occasion, an auction of land took place in Ukumbi village. Some Ismailis together bought a big plot for the Jamatkhana. He suggested them to resell the plot to the shopkeepers at a higher price, and the difference in money should go towards creating a fund to build the Jamatkhana. Thus, the jamat procured a tidy sum to meet the expenses of the construction of a prayer hall.
He was fond of hunting in the jungles around Mwanza and the hills and vales of Sarangati were his favourite grounds. Several times he had miraculously escaped from the lions and the cannibal tribes. When Prince Aly Khan knew about his fondness for hunting, he made special trips to Mwanza.
In 1946, he visited India with his brother-in-law, Meghani, where he found no business opportunities. He arrived in Karachi on July 1947. When the movement of the partition of India was at its climax, he found the Hindus in a frenzy to sell everything and leave for India. Having inspected the situation, he took a decision in nick of time to settle down in Karachi one month before the independence of Pakistan. He concluded a deal to buy an iron and steel re-rolling mill from a Hindu merchant and a godown full of iron and steel scrap at a throwaway price. He intimated his family in Africa to dispose off all interests and migrate soon to Pakistan. This decision marked the beginning of a vast business and an industrial empire he was to build in Pakistan over the later years. The early days in Karachi were trying times, but with hard work and determination, he prospered his business.
He became a business magnate very soon in Pakistan, played a pioneering role in the industrial development of Pakistan and made tremendous contributions to the socio-economic activities. In 1954, he was conferred the 'Order of Merit' (Officer of the Order of Merit of Republique Italy) from the Italian government in recognition of his valuable contribution in expansion of trade with Italy. In 1956, he was also a member of trade delegation to East Africa.
He was the Chairman of Pakistan Oil Refinery Ltd., New Jubilee Insurance Co. Ltd., Pakistan Chrome Mines, Steel Corporation of Pakistan Ltd., Crescent Jute Mills Ltd., Jessore Jute Mills Ltd., Peoples Jute Mills Ltd., Farooq Textile Mills Ltd., Commerce Bank Ltd., Pakistan Tourism, Industrial Management Ltd., etc.
He was also the Director of Karachi Gas Co. Ltd., Sui Gas Transmission Co. Ltd., Pakistan Insurance Corporation Ltd., Karachi Electric Supply Corporation Ltd., Pakistan Services Ltd., Pakistan Industrial Credit & Investment Corporation Ltd., Zeal Pak Cement Factory Ltd., etc.
Besides being associated with import and export houses, the Government of Pakistan had taken him up on the Advisory Panel on Investment, Ministry of Finance, etc. Outside Pakistan, he was a member of the Advisory Council of the International Industrial Conference and an Executive Committee Member of Pakistan Council, International Chamber of Commerce, etc.
He was also the first Chairman of Pak-Ismaili Multi-purpose Cooperative Society, Platinum Jubilee Finance Corporation, Industrial Promotion Service, Pak-Ismailia Publications Ltd. He was also one of the founders of the periodical, 'Ismaili Mirror' which he financed and provided his own office to use it with telephone and other facilities.
In 1954, as a member of the Supreme Council for West Pakistan, he was actively associated with Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah. Before the Platinum Jubilee, the Imam summoned a meeting of the leaders and told them that the amount collected for the jubilee was to be utilized for the welfare of the jamat. He also got a hand-written letter of the Imam that he desired the amount to be used in such a way that the Ismailis learn to stand on their own feet and not become dependent economically, or otherwise, on anyone. He at once responded to the letter and committed himself to carry out the Imam's wishes. He went ahead to form a Special Committee, of which he became the Convenor, and worked out a viable programme to establish cooperative societies and recommended the setting up of the Platinum Jubilee Finance and Investment Corporation to assist the cooperative credit societies at a low interest rate of only 2%. The proposal met Imam's approval and the Corporation came into being in August, 1954, of which he was elected as its first Chairman. Subsequently, he was also elected the Chairman of Platinum Jubilee Cooperative Bank. In recognition of his meritorious services, the Imam conferred upon him the title of Wazir on July, 1955.
The Aga Khan Charitable Trust came into existence in 1960, and he was its first Chairman. Prince Sadruddin played an important part in giving advice and partly financing this Ismaili rehabilitation project. 10 blocks of 24 flats each were initially planned to rehabilitate the poor Ismaili families. A large piece of land was acquired in the barren area of Federal 'B' Area, Karachi. Before he retired, he saw to it that the Karimabad colony got an official status with the formation of a local council.
His family's benevolent fund came into existence in 1960 with a capital of Rs. 16,00,000/- known as the Fancy Foundation. He was its Chairman since its inception. This foundation provided scholarships to deserving students. It also donated a large library to the Staff College at Quetta.
The Ismailis of the Common Wealth presented an honour to Queen Elizabeth in Karachi in February 1961. He represented them along with industrialists.
In summary, he was the Chairman, the Managing Director and the Director of 36 to 40 companies before his death, including his own multi-million family concerns of business, industry and mining interests, and controlled a total work force of almost 4000 employees. He was also the Director and an Advisor to a few government and non-government organizations.
His career of leadership in a real sense began when the Imam established the Ismailia Federal Council for Pakistan on March 21, 1961 and had the distinguished honour of becoming its first President. The foremost task he took up was the framing of the constitution for the jamat in Pakistan. He held innumerable meetings and drew up a workable constitutional framework. This work was his first major achievement. During his period, the Imam visited thrice Pakistan. The Imam also graciously accepted his invitations twice to stay at his bungalow, Aminar in Karachi. The first time in 1964, and the second time in 1970 with Begum Salimah.
The Imam was so pleased with his works in planning the Aga Khan Charitable Trust, and the Aga Khan III Foundation schemes in Karachi that he was specially assigned to do the ground work for the Aga Khan Foundation in Geneva, which he did, and which is now one of the finest of its kind.
In resettlement of the Ismaili refugees from Burma, Varas Amir Ali's timely action proved productive. As soon as the distress was reported, he flew to Burma and met with the Ismaili leaders and worked out the shifting of the Ismailis. He organized further action and flew to Dacca and made necessary arrangements, and the mission to resettle the Burmese Ismaili refugees was successful.
The birthday of the Hazar Imam was celebrated on December 13, 1964 in a grand darbar at the Aga Khan Gymkhana, Karachi in the presence of over hundred thousand Ismaili, including delegations from around the world. This unique occasion would forever remain carved in the hearts of Ismailis, because the Imam personally graced the celebration of his own birthday for the first time with his followers. The Ismailis were submerged in the ocean of mirth and joy. On that occasion, Varas Amir Ali Fancy delivered a welcoming speech on behalf of the Federal Council and said, 'To us, our great Imam, you are a symbol of truth and justice. We feel that it is through your illuminating presence, whether you are in our midst or not, we continue to march on the road to salvation, success, peace and prosperity. In this material age, when our worldly happiness and benefits take control of the human mind, our Imam's constant guidance, forethought and words of wisdom to follow the spirit of Islam give us more and spiritual upliftment.'
Accepting the homage, the Imam said, My happiness at being with you on this occasion is deep and pure, all my thoughts, all my hopes and all my prayers are for you.'
The Imam performed the cake-cutting ceremony on the same day in the evening in the presence of distinguished leaders at the bungalow of Varas Amir Ali Fancy.
He laid the foundation of Platinum Jubilee Co-operative Housing Society Ltd. at Hyderabad on October 4, 1964.
The first ever World Ismaili Socio-Economic Conference was held in Karachi in December 15, 1964. It was a landmark in the Ismaili history, therefore, he worked hard for its success. He was elected as the President of its Executive Board with Dewan Sir Eboo Pirbhai and Itmadi Ali Muhammad C. Padamsee as the Vice-Presidents.
Miss Naseem, the daughter of Varas Amir Ali Fancy was married to Mr. Zulfikar Pyar Ali Khanbhai of Nairobi on December 19, 1964 at Muslim Gymkhana, Karachi. The Imam graciously attended the marriage and presented an emerald to the bride and a shawl to Varas Amir Ali Fancy.
The Imam established I.P.S. (Industrial Promotion Service) in 1964, and he was made its first Chairman.
As the President of the Federal Council, he hosted receptions and dinners for some important personalities of the world, such as Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II, Mr. John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of United States, Malaysian Prime Minister, Sheikh Zaki Yamani, Minister for oil and petroleum of Saudi Arabia, etc. On November 14, 1962, Field Marshall Muhammad Ayub Khan, the President of Pakistan performed an opening ceremony of the Pakistan Oil Refinery Ltd. at Korangi, about 10 miles off Karachi, and then attended the dinner programme at the residence of Varas Amir Ali Fancy with ministers and distinguished leaders.
The prestigious Standford Research Institute of the United States appointed him a member of the executive committee. The organization holds an annual seminar, when eminent business and industrialist magnates and economists of the world are invited to deliver talks on economic matters at global level. He had the singular honour to be invited from Pakistan. He was also invited to attend meetings of the International Monetary Fund at Washington.
His quality of leadership won him universal admiration, not within but outside the community. He was always kind, sympathetic and a great philanthropist. He retired from the post of President at the Federal Council for Pakistan in December 1972. The Imam showered upon him with best loving blessings for his incredible services.
He dwelt in Abu Dhabi since 1975, where he was appointed Special Advisor to Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan al-Karimi of Sharjah. He was confided to work out a plan for some important industrial projects in North Yemen.
The last few years he travelled extensively inspite of being handicapped by a serious cardiac ailment. His spirit, courage and capacity to work were a matter of constant surprise for his relatives and friends. Almost two months prior to his death, he developed serious complications in his lungs and kidneys and was quite unwell. He desired to be brought home to Karachi, and kept cheerful till the last day when he said, 'My journey home has started.'
A few weeks before his homeward journey, the Imam in Paris fortunately granted him a private audience. When he took leave, the Imam said, 'I admire the way you have been struggling. If there were more persons of your fortitude, the face of the jamat could change.'
He returned to Karachi on August 10, 1978. His condition shattered on August 12, 1978. The doctors were not sure if he would survive that night. His wife Varasiani Anarbai was worried and had already telephoned all her children abroad to reach Karachi. She told her husband that, 'The children are coming home. I have not told them how critical your condition is. Will not you wait till they arrive? How would I face them if you depart now?' Varas Amir Ali was in virtual comma, but he nodded his head, implying he would wait for the children. After few hours he opened his eyes, regained consciousness. He breathed his last on the evening of August 13, 1978 after seeing all his children.
During the sad demise of Varas Amir Ali Fancy, the Imam sent following telex-message to Varasiani Anarbai Fancy: -
I have learnt with greatest sorrow of the passing away of your husband Wazir Fancy and send to you and all the members of your family my warmest and special and most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings for courage and fortitude in your bereavement and for the eternal peace and rest of the soul of Vazir Fancy. For eleven years the late Wazir set an example of dedication and hard work for the jamat in Pakistan in his capacity as President of the Federal Council and during those years the jamat made note of the worthy progress much of which was due to the immense personal effort of your husband. At a national and international level the late Vazir was one of Pakistan's most respected entrepreneurs and his passing away is a deep loss to his country, to the jamat and to me personally. You and your family are at this time of sorrow particularly in my heart, thoughts and prayers. My wife has especially asked me to tell you how much she too participates in your grief.