Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A celebration of Leana Arain

By Mr Jagjit Singh Alhuwalia, whose eldest brother The late Gurdial Singh Alhuwalia was one of the most prominent political and communal personalities in pre and post independent Uganda. Jagjit was a former school mate of John Noronha's and is currently a solicitor in the United Kingdom

Ladies and Gentleman, Family Friends and Members of the Second, Third and Fourth Generations of Shafiq, Leana and Gurdial’s families, we are gathered today to pay tribute to the memory of Leana Arain.  Her life and work was of course closely linked to that of her husband Shafiq and their closest friend Gurdial Singh, who was my eldest brother.  The story of their lives is basically the story of three continents, three families and the setting of the sun on an empire.

It is also the story of four generations over the period of three centuries.  It is a story stretching from the sub-continent of India to East Africa and Great Britain – the centre of the British Empire which they lived through.

So let us start at the beginning.

Leana’s father, Norman Godinho, was born in Goa, then a Portuguese enclave, on 23rd Nov 1886 and travelled to Mombasa in East Africa in 1906 as a young man aged 20, to seek his fortunes.  He worked for a while for Souza Junior Dias, a Goan businessman who ran an import/export business.  A few years later, he travelled by train to Kampala to seek his own fortune.  He ended up being one of the wealthiest businessmen and landlord owning The Speke Hotel, The Norman Cinema and Norman Godhino School. 

Shafiq and Gurdial’s fathers were contemporaries born in the 1890s and both came to Mombasa somewhere around 1915 also to seek their fortunes in East Africa.  They were both from the Punjab – Shafiq’s father from near Lahore and Gurdial’s father from Sialkot which are both now in Pakistan but were then part of the British Indian Empire.  It is believed that they both travelled on the same boat from Bombay to Mombasa and after various jobs, both ended up working for the East African Railways and Harbours.  Shafiq and Gurdial’s fathers would definitely have known about the wealthy and legendary Goan businessman, Norman Godinho, although it is not known whether they ever actually met him.

We then move onto the second generation of Shafiq, Gurdial and Leana.
Coincidentally, they were all born in the year 1933 –Gurdial in February in Kenya, Leana in March and Shafiq in November in Uganda.
 Interestingly, the one man who was to play a central role in their lives, Uganda’s future President Milton Obote was some eight years their senior and was born in Northern Uganda in 1925. Incidentally, Obote shares the same Luo tribal affiliations with Barack Obama’s father from neighbouring Kenya.

They were born and grew up in tumultuous times -  in the dying days of the British Empire. They were all aged 14 in 1947 when the British Empire in India ended with the brutal partition of India into the two independent states of Pakistan and India. The early 1960s, when they were in their late twenties, saw the emergence of the 3 East African countries as the independent states of Kenya , Uganda and Tanzania

All three of them were educated at the Old Kampala Secondary School where they built up an abiding and lifelong friendship in their early teens.
Subsequently, all three attended universities  in the UK from 1953 to 1957.

Gurdial read economics and political science at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar at Lincolns Inn.

Shafiq was at Nottingham University where he studied English and Journalism and Leana was at Southampton where she graduated in Law and was called to the Bar at Middle Temple. It is therefore fitting and proper that this tribute should be taking place here today.

They all returned to Uganda in 1957.  Uganda was then a British Protectorate and 5 years away from becoming an independent state.

Gurdial set up the law firm, Singh & Treon, with Raj Treon in 1958 and one of his favourite stories of those early days was the fact that their net profit for their first year of practice was the princely sum of £7 - £140 Ugandan shillings.

 Shafiq together with his friends set up a magazine called “Sports” which was a novel idea in the sixties in East Africa – having a magazine dealing exclusively with news and articles about sports.
He also set up Publicity Services Ltd – an advertising agency -  which was hugely successful and his first assistant in this business was my second eldest brother, Jasbir, who is now a gynaecologist in Dallas, Texas.

Gurdial and Shafiq were also at the forefront of politics and helped set up the Uganda Action Group which was dedicated to ensuring that the Asians would throw their weight behind the call for independence and not ask for separate parliamentary representation along racial lines which was part of the British design to divide the communities and delay the move towards independence .

Leana perhaps did not even need to work at all given her family background and wealth but as a newly qualified barrister, she was determined to play her part in Ugandan affairs. 

She was the first woman barrister in East Africa.  She was later appointed as the first woman magistrate in East Africa and was also the first woman Queen’s Counsel in Uganda and East Africa.

In this, she was following the footsteps of such illustrious figures as John Nazareth QC, Fritz De Souza and Achru Kapilla, all of whom were prominent barristers and had been involved in the defence of Jomo Kenyatta in the Mau Mau Trials of 1952.

1962 saw the independence of Uganda.  Tanganika, as Tanzania was then called, led the way by becoming an independent state in 1961; Uganda followed in 1962 and Kenya, under Jomo Kenyata, became a free nation in 1963. 

The 1960’s were years of major political change and economic and social development in Uganda.  Shafiq was a member of parliament and rose to become the Minister of East African Community Affairs that oversaw the work of East African Railways and Harbours where both Shafiq and Gurdial’s fathers had once been humble employees during British rule.

Shafiq and Gurdial were both instrumental in setting up the Milton Obote Foundation – the first of its kind in Africa - and were involved in almost every facet of the political and economic development of Uganda.

Going back to their personal lives
Gurdial and Darshi were married in August 1961.  Milton Obote and Maria were married in 1965  and the following year saw the coming together of the Arain and the Godinho families when Shafiq and Leana were married in 1966.
Both of these were celebrity weddings in East Africa.

The warm friendship of the families has continued into the  third generation – with Gurdial and Darshi’s children – Hardeep, Baldeep and Kamaldeep and Shafiq and Leana’s children – Mona, Selma and Sasha.

The families fortunes came to an abrupt halt in January 1971 with the coup staged by Idi Amin with the connivance and active assistance of  Israel and Britain.  Shafiq and Leana then moved to London and Gurdial and Darshi and their extended family moved to India.  They continued to assist President Obote to overthrow the military regime of Idi Amin and this was finally successful in December 1979 when, with the assistance of the Tanzanian army, Amin was overthrown. 

Both Gurdial and Shafiq were with Obote in their triumphant march with the armed forces from Bushenyi in December 1979 to Kampala when Idi Amin was overthrown

Elections were held and Obote’s party, UPC, the Uganda People’s Congress  was returned to power.

 In 1980 Shafiq was appointed Uganda’s High Commissioner to London and Gurdial was appointed High Commissioner to New Delhi. Both were the closest confidantes of President Obote.

Ten years of Amin’s brutal rule however were difficult to overcome and Uganda was torn apart by military and tribal conflicts.  The Government was overthrown again in 1985 and Obote went into exile in Zambia.

Following their move to London 1971, Leana had started practising law in London as a barrister.  She was instrumental In setting up the Commonwealth and Ethnic Barristers’ Association in the 1970s which was later renamed The Commonwealth  - in England Barristers’ Association (CEBA).

During the 1980’s when Shafiq was Uganda’s High Commissioner in London, Leana also helped to found what has now become a very successful charity for differently enabled children in Uganda and East Africa generally.  This is the highly successful charity now known as AbleChildAfrica.

Going back to the families, the third generation – the children of Shafiq and Leana and of Gurdial and Darshi are now all  professionally qualified and living in different parts of the world - Mona graduated from Edinburgh and with her husband, Stefan, now runs a hotel and restaurant business in Spain.

Selma graduated from Sussex in languages, married Mark Crawley and has a homeopathy practice in London .  Sasha graduated in Law from Surrey and is a property developer in Arizona.

 As for Gurdial and Darshi’s children :  Hardeep studied medicine in Bangalore, Baldeep graduated in economics and commerce from Chandigarh and they both run the family business in Delhi and Kamaldeep read law at Newcastle and practices in London. 

Proudly, the family association continues into the fourth generation – Shafiq and Leana’s three grandchildren – Cassim, Mahalia and Luka and Gurdial and Darshi’s nine grandchildren who are all at various universities in India, America and England. 

This is therefore the story of four generations of the three families – the Godinhos, the Arains and the Singhs - over a period of three centuries and spread out over three countries at the time the sun was beginning to set over the British Empire.
The Inscription on Leana’s father’s tombstone in Kampala reads:
Sweet is the memory/silently kept/of one we loved / and will never forget.
These words apply equally well to Leana

A few weeks before his death in November 2005, Gurdial had put up a poem by Rabindranath Tagore on the notice board in his office which read:

“Death is not the extinguishing of light
It is merely putting out the lamp
Because dawn has arrived.”
By a strange coincidence, the main political players in  this story  all passed away in 2005.  Shafiq in Marbella, Spain in March, Milton Obote in Johannesburg on 9 October (Uganda’s independence day) and Gurdial in Delhi in November in 2005.


In a poem about the death of his father, Dylan Thomas wrote:

“Do not go gentle into that goodnight:
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light”.

In the case of Gurdial , Shafiq and Leana, we can comfortably say that there is no need to rage against the dying of the light.  Their lives were lived to the full and they are a shining example of service to their fellow humans.

Shafiq and Gurdial achieved a high measure of success in their chosen fields, in law, politics, diplomacy and in serving the country of their  birth at the highest levels. 

Leana achieved many firsts – as the first woman barrister, magistrate and Queen’s Counsel in Uganda and East Africa.  She did sterling work together with other like-minded people, in setting up CEBA in the 1970s and the charity AbleChildAfrica in the 1980s.
There is therefore no need for them or us to rage against the dying of the light because for them as for Tagore, death is not the extinguishing of light;
it is merely putting out the lamp because for them a new dawn has arrived – in their personal evolutionary journey back to their creator – which is the true meaning and purpose of human life.

In writing about his wife, the American Poet, E E Cummings, once wrote:

I carry your heart/ I carry it in my heart.

All those whose lives were improved and enriched by the works of these three people, Gurdial, Shafiq and Leana and, in particular, the differently abled children who are the beneficiaries of the charity that Leana helped to found and sustain – Able Child Africa, will all be able to say:

We carry your heart / We carry it in our hearts.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Family Friends: Thank you !

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