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99. Shivji Haji, Varas - page 405

The Agra Division comprises of the districts of Aligadh, Etah, Manipuri, Mathura and Agra city, covering an area of 8662 sq.miles. It is situated in Uttar Pradesh, India on the Jumna River. The Mughal emperor Akbar built the city of Agra in 1566, called Akbarabad, and it was a Mughal capital until 1658. Agra was one of those Indian cities, where the Ismaili settlers arrived in later period of British rule. It was famous for having a great deal of hustle and bustle, and the credit to form a small jamat in Agra for the first time goes to Varas Shivji Haji.
Varas Shivji traced his lineage from a certain Ismaili, called Essa in Kathiawar. Jetha was the son of Essa, and the son of the former in succession was Haji, the father of Shivji. Varas Shivji was born in the village of Tanna in Kathiawar in 1868. He had strong leaning towards Ismailism since childhood, and acquired religious education from his father. He left his native place and visited different cities in search of business opportunities. In 1898, he arrived in Agra at the age of 30 years when there were hardly two Ismaili families. He started his business on a small scale. He centered his attention to accelerate his business expansion and became one of the largest importers, exporters and stockists of patent, suedes, glucekid, calf, sambhur, morroccos, chrome, newbak and all kinds of fancy leathers. He was also a largest stockist of sole leathers, kattaies, buffallo- cutting, sheep skins and all kinds of other leathers. His Oriental Boot House in Agra had a branch in Calcutta and supplied military shoes to British India during the first world war. He built his beautiful building at Mantola Street, Agra.

He found insignificant population of the Ismailis in Agra, and it urged him to flourish a jamat in the city. He invited several people, but failed in initial attempts. He was not disheartened and continued his efforts as his mission as best as he possibly could. Gradually, few families from Kathiawar began to drift in Agra, and formed a small jamat.

He had an honour to build the first Jamatkhana in Agra. When it was being built, he looked after its construction from dawn to dust, but the local Muslims constantly demolished it at night. He showed no sign of nervelessness and braced himself to mess the situation as he had a natural knack to tide over the problems. He surmounted the hindrances with singular courage after a few teething problems. Eventually, he raised the Jamatkhana in 1901. Besides, the religious sentiments of the Ismailis had often been rudely shaken by the onslaught of anti-Ismailis, who were making best of their opportunities. Varas Shivji Haji therefore, procured fraternal relations with the Muslims before their hatred developed into a chronic disease. He indeed adroitly weathered the storms. He was the first Mukhi of the Agra Jamatkhana with Kamadia Suleman Ghulam Hussain. The new Jamatkhana attracted the business class to flock in multitude in Agra in search of green pasture.

His untiring and phenomenal services rightly earned for him the coveted title of Varas with best loving blessings when the Imam made a short stay in Agra. The Imam said, 'This location will become like a Kandi Mola (of Bombay).'

He also took few more resolute measure, especially in raising the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Sindhi & Gujrati School. He shared princely amount in its construction. It was inaugurated on October 1, 1918. Master Mohanlal Devji Jivan Babarawala was employed to teach 20 to 25 students.

In 1920, the Ismaili Council Committee for Agra Division came into existence, and he was appointed its first President. In sum, he served the jamat for 28 years between 1901 and 1929 as a Mukhi and President of the Council. The Imam appointed him as his Estate Agent, whose legal power of attorney was registered on February 3, 1921. This was the only office he executed till his last breath.

Varas Shivji Haji's gentility, loving kindness, desire to share, shoulder the burdens of others and restless work marked him out from the beginning of his career quite apart from others. He would never let a poor feel that he was poor. Indeed, the lowly would be given extra consideration. Kindness to others was like a mission of life to him. He would visit the houses of the Ismailis and impart to attend the Jamatkhana daily. He also visited the shops of the Ismailis and guided them to ward off their problems. He was a pioneer in education and encouraged secular and religious education. He always made surprise visit in the Ismaili school. He brought sweets for the students and gave cash awards to the teachers.

Varas Shivji Haji was famous for his dedication. Once he went to Bombay to invite the Imam in Agra. The Imam assured to come in future. His true love can be measured from the fact that he caught the hand of the Imam and said, 'Mawla! You will have to come in Agra.' The Imam laughed to see his zeal and ardent love and promised to visit Agra very soon.

On February 2, 1934, the Imam visited the Agra Jamatkhana and admired the excellent services of Varas Shivji Haji with best loving blessings.

On February 6, 1935, the Imam visited Delhi, where about 700 Ismailis from Agra, Kanpur, Ajmer, Lucknow, Kashi, Mirath and Banaras assembled to behold the Imam. The jamat was lodged in a big bungalow at Civil Lines area. Alijah Jivabhai Ismail, the President of Agra Council, Alijah Chhaganbhai Shamji and Huzur Mukhi Ahmed Punja had made an excellent arrangement for the jamat. The venue of the didar however was known as the Agra District Camp. The Imam made his gracious arrival in a decorated tent with Pir Sabzali and Alijah Varas Ibrahim. The Imam said, 'You have taken much pain to come here. I am much happy to see you. You got me here invited, which is a sign of your love and affection.' On that juncture, Varas Shivji Haji humbly presented a mehmani. The Imam said, 'The Council works calmly. You all are happy. How many villages exist in the Agra Division?' The President said that there were 18 villages. The Imam also extended the duration of the office of Mukhi Ismail and Kamadia Alauddin Shamji, and graciously presented the shawl to Varas Shivji Haji and other leaders. The Imam also graced the didar on 7th and 8th February, 1935 and departed for Delhi on next day.

Varas Shivji Haji died on June 12, 1942 at the age of 74 years. He left behind three sons, viz. Varas Mukhi Ismail (1888-1942), Dhanji and Devji.

Varas Mukhi Ismail followed the footsteps of his father by performing services. He was a prominent merchant in Bombay with branches in Calcutta and Madras. He rendered invaluable services at all the three centres of his business in various spheres of life. He founded the first library in Agra and became its founder President on June 25, 1927. He was the President of the Education Board in Madras, and the Mukhi (1929-1942). He was also the Hon. Secretary of the Council, and its President (1930-1942). He was the President of Ismailia Welfare and Domestic Science Class and Ismailia Cooperative Credit Society in Calcutta. He was a director of the Ismailia Cooperative Bank and the Chairman of the Diamond Jubilee Education Trust Committee in Bombay. In view of his outstanding services, the Imam conferred upon his the title of Varas in 1936.

Prince Aly Khan arrived in India on November 21, 1930. He started his flying visit of upper India on December 7, 1930. He travelled by Punjab Mail for Gwalior on December 8, 1930 and arrived in Agra for the first time in the period of Varas Mukhi Ismail on December 10, 1930. Prince Aly Khan graced an audience to the jamat. During his next historical visit of India on December 14, 1933, Prince Aly Khan launched his another flying visit in some places by airplane, including Agra. On behalf of the jamat, Varas Mukhi Ismail accorded a warm ovation to Prince Aly Khan.

Varas Mukhi Ismail expired on October 18, 1942. He was survived by two sons, Alijah Yusuf Ali (1915-1998) and Kassim Ali; and a daughter, Huzur Mukhiani Daulat (d. 1989). Alijah Yusuf Ali migrated towards Karachi in 1949, where he was appointed as the Mukhi for Ranchhoreline Jamatkhana (1964-1972). He was also the President of West Pakistan Mubarak Society (1970-1990), the B.D. Chairman, etc.

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Shivji Haji, Varas

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