Fly, little one, fly!

Every family has a history. One, which records the courage and sacrifices of an earlier generation, made in order to lend the next in line the wings to fly higher than they did. One, which speaks volumes of each successive generation of parents who did their utmost to say, “Fly, little one, fly!”

I have been in Kuala Lumpur for the last few months to take part in the wedding celebrations of Trishay Trada, the son of my friends J.J. and Aruna Trada. In the time I have been here, I have heard some incredible stories of Indian migrants who came to Malaysia in the 1940s and 1950s. To my way of thinking, the courage and sacrifices of these migrants laid the foundation for the quality of life now being enjoyed by their children and grandchildren.

Today, I present one such story of Kishor Timbadia who came to Malaysia as a young man of just 19 years.

Kishorbhai (as he is affectionately called – bhai means brother) was born in Vadia, a small Princely State in Saurashtra (Gujarat), on November 24, 1934.

Vadia, being little more than a small town, offered few opportunities for advancement. Recognizing this, Kishorbhai left his hometown when he was a mere lad of 17 to seek his fortunes elsewhere.

In those days, extended families would help each other and take in nephews, cousins and assorted relatives into their fold. Kishorbhai’s family was no different. When Kishorbhai decided to leave Vadia, his paternal uncle offered him a job in his export firm in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata).

That job, I guess, gave Kishorbhai his first exposure to Malaysia as the firm primarily exported jute products and hemp to Malaysia and Singapore (it is to be noted that Singapore at that time was part of Malaysia, separating only in 1965).

A young man’s imagination must have been fired with all kinds of possibilities in a foreign land. Especially when he heard stories of the opportunities available from fellow Gujarati migrants there.

Let your mind wander to imagine a young man in the India of the 1950s. Visualize the starry-eyed look he must have got each time he heard stories of how migrants led a better life in the regions of the Malacca Straits. Then take a look at this picture of Kishorbhai as a young man. Can you see the dreams and determination shining in his eyes?

Kishor Timbadia as a young man. Image courtesy Kishor Timbadia.
Kishor Timbadia as a young man. Image courtesy Kishor Timbadia.

Those dreams led Kishorbhai to sail off on the SS Sirdhana from Calcutta to Penang in 1953. The SS Sirdhana was one of the larger passenger ships commissioned in 1947 by the British India Steam Navigation Company.*

Destiny was certainly calling out to Kishorbhai. It certainly seems that way when he told me that the Indian immigrants on the SS Sirdhana were the last batch to be allowed into Malaysia without any questions. Post that, Malaysia closed its doors to free and easy immigration.

I asked Kishorbhai if he wasn’t scared to travel all by himself to a foreign land with a different language and unknown customs. After all, he was so young when he embarked on the voyage.

He shook his head in the negative, explaining that he wasn’t alone. You see, in those days, people helped each other a lot to navigate foreign waters and shores.

When he reached Penang, Kishorbhai easily obtained a job with another export firm, Govindji & Co., which dealt in the trade of betel nut and other spices.

Describing those early years in Penang, he spoke of how a number of Indians would live together in a dormitory. He narrated how they lived a simple life, working long hours, saving every penny they could so that they could send money back home.

Kishorbhai worked with Govindji & Co. for 13 years, before striking out on his own to set up his own firm – J. Kishor & Sons. The enterprise failed due to trouble with his partner. Falling on hard times, he had to send his family (he was married by then) back to India and look for another job.

He got one with Patel Holdings, a very large Indian-owned company then. The job he held was to represent Patel Holdings to Malaysia Weaving, Printing & Dyeing. It appears that the Chairman of the latter was taken up enough with Kishorbhai to offer him a job, which he took up.

After many years of working there, Kishorbhai once again tried his hand at setting up his own business, starting a company called Tin Pal Co. From that point, Kishorbhai’s fortunes began climbing upwards, allowing him to make some investments in other companies such as Alkaria and Pinvi Carpets, which paid off.

From the time a young man of 19 sailed from India in 1953, it took some 30-40 years of hard work and sacrifices to reach a point where he and his family could lay claim to a materially comfortable life.

Today, Kishorbhai’s 3 children are well-settled. He has one son in Malaysia, one in the United States and a daughter in India. From what I know, all 3 children are doing well thanks to the foundation laid by their father. A foundation that gave them a comfortable roof over their heads and an education that allowed them to reach for bigger heights.

It’s the baton handed over to each successive generation by the previous one.

A baton that says, “Fly, little one, fly!”

At the end of my conversation with Kishorbhai, I asked him if he felt life was better today. He went pensive for hardly a second and then said, “I think life was better when I was a young man. People helped each other then!”

One simple statement but one that is highly poignant and reflective of the world today where too many barriers are erected within families, and between neighbours, communities and nations.

Let me leave you with this picture of Kishor Timbadia in 2015. It is a coincidence but I find it rather telling that he is pictured against a backdrop of a ship being tossed around on stormy, high seas!

Kishor Timbadia in 2015. Image by Lata Subramanian.
Kishor Timbadia in 2015. Image by Lata Subramanian.

Author’s Note: If you enjoyed this post, do look out for one tomorrow where I will introduce you to Prabha Mami (mami means maternal aunt), more popularly known as the Prabhudeva of Malaysia!

Featured Cover Image Credit: Learning from a parent. Image shot in KL Bird Park by Aditya Seshadri.

*SS Sirdhana – Wikipedia


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