Freedom fighter's kin keen on making Indian Titanic

Aug 15, 2010, 07:19 IST | Rinkita Gurav

Shipping tycoon Haji Kasam's great granddaughter is keen to make a film on the dramatic sinking of his fastest ship, Titanic-style

Shipping tycoon Haji Kasam's great granddaughter is keen to make a film on the dramatic sinking of his fastest ship, Titanic-style

Sharifa Soubani looks at a photo of great grandfather Haji Kasam. PIC/ Nimesh Dave

Haji Kasam

Most Gujaratis must have heard the song Haji Kasam tari Vijli at some point in their lives. What they may not know is the inspiration behind the famous folk song. It was a song written after a man named Haji Kasam, and his ship, Vijli, that sank in the Arabian Sea in 1888.

Vijli was a steamer carrying 798 passengers travelling from Mumbai to Mandvi, and sank 20 km off the Mangrol coast. This incident occurred 22 years before the Titanic sank, giving India its own sea tragedy.

Though there are no official records available, several poems and a book called Vijli Haji Kasamni by Darshak Itihas Nidhi have been written on the episode. Now, Haji Kasam's great granddaughter Sharifa Sobuani (75), a resident of Yari Road, Andheri, is keen to make a movie on her great grandfather's life. Soubani says, "It was India's own Titanic. The passengers on it were newly married couples, families and students. It will be my way of letting the world know about my great grandfather who built 99 ships, of which Vijli was the fastest."

Soubani has documented various facts related to her family history, their shipping business and properties they owned in and around Mumbai.

Soubani had once approached noted filmmaker Shyam Benegal, but she returned disappointed. "Six years ago, I discussed details with Benegal but he returned the documents saying he was busy with three films already," says Soubani, who claims the director is known to the family.

According to her, a poor man blessed Haji Kasam while on a journey to Mumbai, and predicted that he will build 99 ships, and turn into a rich businessman. It all came true for him, but family disputes later down the years led to a loss of fame and fortune.

Soubani's father Haji Yusuf Agboatwala may have died early at the age of just 46 years, but he spent his life fighting for India's freedom, and participated in the Khilafat Movement. "During the Hindu-Muslim riots post partition, he drove around in his truck, picking up the injured and transporting them to hospitals.

Since Agboatwala was not registered as a freedom fighter, Subani does not enjoy the privileges the government offers.

Haji Kasam was a zamindar who held prominence between Borivali and Dahisar, and operated  out of an office at Abdul Rehman Street in Mumbai. The family lived in the plush area of Malabar Hill, and owned weekend bungalows in Matheran and Mahableshwar. Haji Kasam Chawl in Mumbai Central is named after him.

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