Chaman Lal Chaman. 1934-2019

Volume 16, Issue 1 | Published 07/06/2019  

Life is a dew drop.

This I know.

And yet. And yet!

This Japanese Haiku (traditional three-line poetry) sums up the life of Chaman Lal Chaman. Penned by a poet in agony at the death of his beloved, it deserves a deeper understanding. ‘Life is a dew drop.’ Like a shiny diamond in the morning sunlight on the blade of grass, life shines brilliantly. ‘This I know.’ According to the law of nature, he knows it will end as time goes on. There is no escape from death as ordained. The head understands this. ‘And yet. And yet!’ The heart protests; why?

As long as Chaman lived as a super active person, he was glowing with love and laughter. And above all, a bubbling energy. His puckish humour and his positive attitude was infectious. He glowed, bubbled, flowered.

Born in 1934 in small village near Jalandhar in Punjab, he lost his mother at the age of three. He grew up with his step-mother whom he loved no end till she passed away.

During his high school, he recited his first poem on Guru Nanak’s birthday which was well appreciated and he got a prize of One Rupee! After passing matric, he enrolled for a degree course but had to leave for Kenya in 1953. On passing the Kenya Civil Service examination, he joined the posts and telecommunications department as a clerk.

After a year, he resigned to enroll for a teacher training course but he veered towards broadcasting and in 1956 joined the Asian Service as an announcer and news reader.

Urmila Jhaveri: 1931 - 2019

Volume 16, Issue 1 | Published 07/06/2019  

It is little wonder that as soon as news of Urmila Jhaveri`s death spread, heartfelt tributes started pouring in on the A-O forum, on Facebook and elsewhere. These came from close friends and other people who had known her through her writings.  All of them spoke of the warmth of her humanity, her humility, her unfailing courtesy and the uplifting and inspiring nature of all her interactions with everyone. These qualities epitomised her moral integrity, strength of character and singular determination to do good which underlaid all her actions.

So who was she?  Urmila Jhaveri was born in Pemba in 1931, the eldest of four children, to parents who had migrated to Zanzibar from India. Her father had been recruited to the colonial customs service in the mid-1920s and was posted to Pemba but, after about 6 or 7 years, left it to join his elder brother`s business of a drug store in Dar es Salaam, which then became her home city for the next 75 years.

Fortunately for us, her memoir `Dancing With Destiny` (published in 2014 when she was 83) gives a graphic account of her trajectory and progress through life in characteristically modest fashion.  Her idyllic childhood and schooling in Dar es Salaam`s colonial setting was interrupted by WWII, when the family moved to India, where she was betrothed to a promising young lawyer, K L Jhaveri, whom she married on her return to Dar, after he had arrived there having finished his legal studies in London. That was just two months short of her 17th birthday and before she could complete her School Certificate, though that was not to be a handicap.  Her fate was to `dance with destiny` as it unfolded,  grounded in her cultural roots and a solid marital relationship with a loving husband whose liberal ethos enabled her to flower into a confident self-educated woman of great intellect and personal and social accomplishments.

Kantilal Jhaveri was a distinguished lawyer cum politician whose own memoirs were published in 1999 under the equally catchy title of `Marching With Nyerere`, alluding to his part in the fight for independence alongside the Mwalimu.  So inevitably Urmila too got drawn into the struggle and to know all the leading figures of the time, who used to meet at their house and with whom she could converse in Swahili which she spoke fluently.  She also became a much valued activist in her own right as a member of TANU and in the women`s movement, `Umoja Wa Wanawake Wa Tanzania` (UWT), which entailed travels across the length and breadth of the country as the only Asian, the only non-African, with her colleagues who all formed a close-knit network of friendship and sisterhood. Her book gives a fascinating insight into her UWT and other activities within a vast hinterland of her tremendously varied interests - see


The UK’s East African diaspora mourned the passing on of Chaman Lal Chaman, the iconic East African broadcaster, poet, Bollywood film lyricist, and a war correspondent who died in London on 4 February, aged 85. He was ailing for some time.

Chaman’s funeral, attended by his family, relatives and many fans was held on 12 February, at the South West Middlesex Crematorium in Hounslow Road, Hanworth, west London.

Fondly called the King of Airwaves, Chaman won the hearts of thousands of fans with the magic of his soothing voice behind the radio mike. His 63-years career spanned Asia, Africa and the UK.

Chaman ruled the air waves for decades in Kenya where he broadcast in the Asian service of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (later Voice of Kenya) and made an indelible mark continuing his career in the United Kingdom after leaving Nairobi.

His last assignment was as the lead presenter at the Punjabi Radio in the largely-Asian dominated suburb of Southall in west London.

As soon as the news of his death circulated in the community circles, there was a torrent of tributes from his close friends, media colleagues and multitude of fans in the UK, Kenya, Canada, India, Pakistan and the USA.

Chaman’s biographer, the prominent former Daily Nation journalist, author and family friend Kul Bhushan recorded the iconic broadcaster’s career in his book the Fragrance of Chaman, paid an emotional tribute to him. “A legend in Kenya, he also made a name in the UK as a broadcaster and presenter. A poet, lyricist, writer, orator, author and, above all, a sincere person oozing with love and laughter. He lives forever in the minds and hearts of thousands of his listeners and fans. He was close to all of us.”