Ratanshaw (Rati) Rustomji (1928 – 2017)

Volume 15, Issue 1  | 
Published 13/07/2018

In 1904, a Parsi watch repairer known as Jehangirji Rustomji travelled from India to East Africa and arrived in Nairobi. He did not join the Railway as was the usual tradition then but set up a small watch shop in the old Indian Bazaar, beside the then Jeevanjee market, opposite Jeevanjee Gardens. In 1928, Jehangirji moved his business from the Indian Bazaar to the then Government Road.

Rati, the youngest son, studied in a primary school on Whitehouse Road (now Haile Selassie Rd) and completed his studies at the Jamhuri High School. At the age of 15, Rati joined his father’s business of watch and jewellery repairs and took it over when his father passed away in 1954.  He was renowned to be one of the best watch repairers in the country.

His friendly, personalized and affordable service used to be sought after even in those days gone by. Then, unlike in today’s increasingly corporate culture, the customer and the shop-keeper exchanged pleasantries and got to know each other. While purchase or repair of the watch was the central issue, a relationship developed. As a result the cost of the repair and the time factor could be modified, even credit facilities considered and a refund of the payment made if the repair work had not been successful. Advice would be freely given regarding the purchase of a new watch. A one-time customer would stop by such a duka just to say ‘hello’ even if his or her watch was in perfect working order.

Yes alas! Modernization, while marvellous in its technological achievements, often rides rough shod over human values. Rati was a man one of a kind. Always happy to greet courteously and humorously, he brought out the best in everyone he met. Rati used to say: ‘I have seen Nairobi change from a village to a town and then a city. Industrial Area was once a part of the national park. During the dry season, animals used to come right up to the railway station.’ He remembered walking as a child with his father to near the Norfolk Hotel to watch the train as it came from between the present GPO and Nyayo House.

Those days are long gone. The business which was incorporated 100 years back by his father in 1906, closed in 2006. Rati passed away on 9 December 2017 at the age of 89, leaving us with memories of a truly noble human being. 

 Zarina Patel

Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2018 16:46

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