Memories and Tributes to Mo (Sir Mohinder Dhillon)

Sir Mohinder Dhillon, ‘Mo’ to his friends, was a remarkable Kenyan. From an unschooled village lad in the Punjab, India, to becoming a world-famous frontline news cameraman; his life story is the stuff of legends. Official photographer to Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; a near fatal helicopter crash on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro; coverage of the horrific Ethiopian Famine 1984-86; a bone-chilling escape from a firing squad in the Congo; filming Africa’s bruising independence struggles and war situations in Vietnam, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan; dining with Charlie Chaplin; a bizarre association with the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin …. truly the stuff of legends!

And just as amazing are the qualities of this ‘gentle giant’ behind the camera: humble; courageous; generous; caring – a fighter for social justice; chivalrous; erudite; …. these are just some of the accolades friends have used to describe Mo.

We at AwaaZ would like to collect and record the thoughts and sentiments of Mo’s friends in Nairobi to whom he gave so much in one way or another. The national and international acclaim will be widely available. Fortunately he has also left us a memoir – the 3-part trilogy, My Camera, My Life and there is to be a posthumous publication titled Witness to History – an exciting pictorial anthology of pre- and post-independence East Africa.

We thank these friends for their prompt response to our request, and especially to the Kenya Asian Forum for its solidarity and unanimity over the years.

By Mshai Mwongola

Go well, gentle giant, go well.

Child of Asia, who grew up to be a true son of Africa, and a man of the world; who valued humanity and had the biggest heart; whose wit and joy was cloaked in a gentle spirit that redefined the term ‘gentleman’. Knight of Imperial Ethiopian Order of St Mary of Zion, you were born in India, became Kenyan through migration and chose to love Kenya as home.

You will be missed. Deeply. We who loved you and were privileged to know you will miss you, even as we cherish the legacy of history and visual and verbal archives you left us.

My favourite memory of you… the joyful privilege it was to spend time reading through and then talking to you about your amazing autobiography. It was like stepping into a time-machine that zipped me straight back into time. And here you were as my guide, taking me with you from the humblest of beginnings to touring the world as the personal photographer of The Emperor Haile Selassie. From the war zones of the world, to the hearthstones of the homes that made you who you were. That night for the book launch we didn’t stop talking until I stepped out of the car – you insisted on personally making sure I got home, and the stories kept coming until that very last moment.

Shukrani mzee. May those you loved so deeply who went before welcome you to that next phase of life with joyful celebration. Go well.

By Richard Vaughan

When I first worked with Mohinder Dhillon in 1990, he was a world-renowned photojournalist in the golden years of his career. We were filming for the United Nations in Uganda, traversing the foothills of the Ruwenzoris to record child vaccinations in tiny rural villages. I was a young documentary director, fresh from the BBC. He was in his late fifties but physically fitter than many colleagues half his age. The favoured format at the time was 16mm film, a cumbersome medium with which to work in torrid conditions, requiring a change of reel every ten minutes and the transportation on foot of countless aluminium boxes carrying this or that essential accessory.

But Mohinder was like a duck in water. Having started out with the still more unwieldy 35 mm format, he never let a minute go to waste, negotiating all the time with subjects – frequently squealing infants, and on one occasion a young woman in labour – as though he were a kindly uncle who would never compromise their dignity for a cheap shot. It was the start of a relationship that would see me work with Mohinder on dozens of occasions all over Africa, before age and infirmity finally caught up with him.

Mohinder’s career spanned half a century, beginning with stills work for Kenyan newspapers in the 1950s, and ending not long after the murderous bomb blast that shook Nairobi in August 1998. Within this timeframe, he covered the Ethiopian Famine, the Vietnam War, and Britain’s last stand at Aden among many events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century.

He was never formally trained in his craft, but what he lacked in technical finesse was more then offset by his extraordinary physical courage, and he filmed in some of the world’s most volatile hotspots at considerable danger to his life on countless occasions. Despite his international reputation, he remained modest to a fault, his shy demeanour accentuated by a stammer that left him ill at ease in front of the camera himself. 

Mohinder was always far more than a camera operator. To the end of his life, his legendary compassion kept him busy on his computer, frequently expressing his heartfelt views on the state of humanity to all and sundry. In an age when retirement frequently amounts to a second career, he became an author, recording his memoirs in copious detail in the three volume book, My Camera, My Life. A second, much shorter book, Witness to History, was just being completed when Mohinder passed away.

As a man, Mohinder defied categorisation. With colleagues and friends from all over the world, he was the quintessential global citizen, long before that concept gained common currency. His philosophy of life was driven by the notion that a human being was not really living unless they lived for other people. It was a maxim that governed every day of his life, to the end.

By Attiya Warris

I met Uncle Mo in the run up to the constitutional referendum and we immediately hit it off. Although we were 40 years apart in age I am privileged to have been able to call this wonderful man…’my friend’. We caught up whenever we got a chance and hung out and of course he laughingly bullied me and I bullied him right back. Over the past 10 years of our friendship I attended and danced at his son’s wedding and he counselled me through the passing of one of my dearest friends. He has always had time for me, was always patient and supportive. As I continue to recall and reflect on our endless conversations, debates and discussions I can only hope and pray that I was as good a friend to him and to others as he was to me.

By John Sibi-Okumu

An understated accolade in English is to describe a man as a thoroughly decent chap. Mohinder Dhillon was one such. I should lead the reader to his autobiography, in which he describes our meeting on a film set in 1987. We are the Children was shot in Northern Kenya, yet another initiative to raise money in order to help the victims of the Ethiopian Famine. Mo was assigned to chronicle the experience on camera. For the sake of anecdote, it featured Ted Danson (read Cheers), Zia Mohyeddin (read Lawrence of Arabia), Ally Sheedy (of The Breakfast Club), Stefan Kalifa (a Bond villain) and Judith Ivey (a Tony Award winner). I played the local primary school teacher, unsuitably clad in coat, sweater and tie, despite the stifling heat. Mo took time to come and tell me he was proud that I was more than holding my own in such distinguished company. There was no need for him to do that. Thereafter, I narrated for his company, Africapix. And we met, on and off, at various social functions, having conversations of varying length. But it was my virtual encounter with Mo, as reviewer of his autobiography for Awaaz, which confirmed the qualities I had long suspected. Supreme amongst them was a complete absence of rancour or vindictiveness, allied to undeniable courage, an unquenchable zest for life and an essential humanity. Mo was proof, if proof were needed, that it is within us all to become more than the sum of our parts.

By Peter Mulelu

I joined the Dhillon household in 1985 as a casual labourer in the garden. I was 27 years old. At the end of the month Mzee and Mama Ambi asked me to stay on. Some months on the house-maid left the job so I was asked to replace her. Mzee’s father came to visit us from India, he was very friendly, we got on well. He said I was ‘hard-working’ and taught me how to cook. Mama Ambi encouraged me to get married which I did. Mzee used to travel a lot so I did not see much of him. In one of his safaris he was badly injured and was brought back to Kenya in a plane; I was shocked to see that he could not walk. I decided I would help him to walk again. I massaged and exercised him and fed him good nutritious food and after a year he was able to walk.

I got to know Mzee well – he was the kindest and most generous man I have ever known. I left his employment in 2014 to care for my mother after my father died. Mzee was like a father to me – that is why I had to come for his funeral. I shall miss him.

By Yvonne Owour

It is not possible to speak of such a colossus, an icon of humanity with mere words. The sense of loss is immense, because a library, a museum and an archive of human being-ness has left us. There is an ineffable something gone in a man who could be described in the old sense of a man’s man; one who lives, or strives to live by high values, who roars – to the end – against any form of injustice, a lover of humanity and of nature, a giant in heart and spirit who hungered to know, to understand. Who was not too lofty to be corrected, to be redirected, and to try something new. We shared intense moments as he started the drafting of his memoir, learned things of the heart, of the shadows as he revealed his humanity. I asked about the things humans ask about: how do you forgive? How do you rise above the wounds of life? How do you still choose humanity? His large eyes, his gentle stutter, his subtle shrug, the slight twinkle: I-I am human, as you are. It was a benediction, it sounded like a calling. Cherished Mo… I watched them roll your body on the gurney towards the door behind which the fire lit for you waited to receive you. I heard you say; this too, this is human. I am still learning, my dear Elder. I will not suggest that you rest in peace; that would bore you to death. However, travel well, travel wild and give the forces that disorder existence hell. Your legacy is assured, for you are sheltered in at least a thousand human hearts.

By Susan Githuku

I met him when we featured him in my book, WISDOM OF THE ELDERS: Personal Reflections of Over 70 Kenyans Who Have Lived Through Changing Times. His personal story for the book was wonderfully captured by the noted poet and playwright Sitawa Namwalie, aka Betty Muragori. It sprawled over several pages, many more than the other featured stories, as his was a winding and deeply fascinating life journey that could not be distilled into six pages. It needed space.

I was immediately folded into his fatherly embrace and his magnetic personality that breathed warmth and kindness. This bespoke human being who arrived in Kenya from India several years ago and built a formidable international reputation as a pioneer photographer, news cameraman and film maker. Chivalrous. Courageous. Erudite. Urbane. Humble. This man who had cheated death on several occasions as his time was not yet, and who lived to enthusiastically regale many with memories of those escapades.

Sir Mo later wrote his biography in an inspiring trilogy, MY CAMERA, MY LIFE that reads like history. In the last two years he was determinedly working on his next book WITNESS TO HISTORY – an exciting pictorial anthology of pre- and post-independence East Africa which he had recently completed and sought to publish.

Sir Mo was a dear personal friend.

Our souls met over our shared love of words, pictures, designs and books and we would discuss these with endless passion. I watched him fight ill health with a fierce determination and humour and it humbled and yet inspired me!

I shall miss his wise counsel, our long winding discussions, typically held on his dinner table – the glorious food he served and how we both would eat with gusto. I know that he may miss the pink and white lilies I would unfailingly bring to him.

For those who may have known him and been touched by his intellect and humanity, he would no doubt want us to keep meeting in friendship; pondering on the real issues; eschewing by-standership and simply seeking to make this world better for our fellow journeymen.

I shall miss you my friend.

From StammeringKenya

Sir Mohinder Dhillon I will call you a big hearted man. A big heart behind a stuttering tongue makes a gem. I was surprised to see a man your age at Nairobi Stammering Support Group meetings. It is young people who struggle to make head and tail of life amidst their stutter who frequent the group. Old people have made peace with it and moved on, but you came diligently to give back to these young souls. You shared your stories with a tinge of nostalgia and grandfather’s grace. You made us see the end from the present. It was reassuring. As you rest, I am happy I met you. You left a mark. You are not only a photography legend but a legend to the Stammering community in Kenya too.

Go well Sir.
Kenyatta Otieno.

By Emma Shah

I met Sir Mo some time ago when I was working as a Speech and Language Therapist in Nairobi (2000 to 2014). He approached me as he wanted to join the Nairobi Stammering Support Group which I had set up together with another SLT and some adults who stammered. At that time, it was the only support group/ organisation for people who stammer in Kenya. We had no funding (they still have no funding) and relied on the goodwill of two hospitals (initially Nairobi Hospital and then Aga Khan Hospital) to give us a room to meet in, one evening a month.

Sir Mo was very interested in helping people who stammered and was an inspirational character in the group, having achieved so much despite his dysfluency. He was very open with group members and described how his career choice was influenced by his stammer (as is true of many people who stammer). People in the group could see that having a stammer was no barrier to an amazing, fulfilling and exciting life with many challenges and achievements. He was such a humble person; if you sat down and talked with him, he had so many stories to tell and these were eventually compiled into a book. Our group consisted of many younger people and students, parents of children who stammer and often teenagers as well so they really appreciated him talking to them as equals. Sir Mo believed in equality. He told how he was treated badly by the British in colonial times and I think felt an affinity with all people in desperate and difficult times all over the world. He knew they were all people just like he was and empathised with their situations. I think that may be why his photography had such impact. He was a busy man and we certainly felt gratitude that he was able to find time in his schedule, among all the big and famous people that he knew, to spend time and share his wisdom with young people who stammer and their families. I am grateful to have met him and got to know him a little. When I left Kenya, he gave me one of his paintings – it was of a mother leopard with 3 cubs.

By Radha and Seeta, nee Ruparelia

What a privilege we had, as 2 young girls, becoming neighbours with a world renowned figure, Mohinder Dhillon. We felt a little intimidated on what is appropriate to say to someone so accomplished, and so highly regarded. But we soon learnt that Mohinder Uncle’s signature trait, was one of remarkable humility.

We are both so happy that he managed to capture his epic life in this first book, My Camera, My Life, which is a wonderful read that brings to life, not only Mohinder Uncle’s personal story, but world history, as well.  It is especially interesting for Asian Africans to read, as it captures the migration and risks our community undertook. There is one particular paragraph that is so catching, that he left home with 2 pairs of clothes, only to return many months later… those were the uncertain times, and he always appreciated Ambi aunty’s steadfast strength throughout his career. 

Mohinder Uncle developed a keen artistic talent in his older age – it was incomprehensible how someone who had not painted before, could paint so well – and capture African landscapes as well as animals. Somehow he imbued into himself some of Ambi aunty’s artistic ability.

Mohinder Uncle was a devoted father, and full of praise for his daughter in law. Sam and Seema, we can understand your grief, such big shoes are hard to fill and it can feel like  an overwhelming responsibility and a lonely place. Mohinder Uncle always comforted us on the loss of our father… and we hope we can do the same for you.  Take comfort in how deep the blessings he has left for you, and the world will continue to show you the way. 

By Kul Bhushan

A tall, lanky man of few words, Mohinder Dhillion’s camera spoke thousands of words when he captured a happening news. Mostly seen lugging his bulky Arriflex movie camera on the news front, Mo Dhillon, as he was popularly known, captured current history as it unveiled. And he took immense risks to get his footage or photo by venturing into conflict zones no newsman dared or flying precariously in small planes to click the elusive footage or shot.

His scoops are legendary and too many to enumerate. His coverage of the Ethiopian famine startled the conscience of the world to bring relief to the starving thousands. Covering around ten African presidents and an Emperor in the Sixties and the Seventies, he went to the Middle East and even Vietnam on assignments and distinguished himself time and again.  But he never lost his common touch and his humble background. No wonder he was knighted for all these achievements.

Even after retiring from active photojournalism and documentary film-making, he won accolades with his monumental memoir, My Camera My Life, when he was in his mid-eighties. Yet he was humble and smiling at all times. He was also helpful and a sincere friend of all who came into his contact. And he became a legend.

By Sitawa Namwalie

I first met Sir Mohinder Dhillon when my friend Susan Wakhungu-Githuku sent me to write his story for her excellent book Wisdom of the Elders published in 2014. To write his story we agreed to meet at 6.00 am for two weeks. I am not an early bird. Now that Mo is gone I can admit that I only did it to impress him. On that first morning I realised that Mo had been a presence all my life. But over the next few weeks I was privileged to get to know a man without limits.

The world knew him as Africa’s celebrated photojournalist and film cameraman. I knew Sir Mohinder Dhillon as a caring gentle giant of a man. Mo taught me that it is possible to live with passion even in old age. I met him in his eighties and he still cared about the environment, he was still a courageous human rights activist lending his voice and presence to myriad causes in this country, he had become a good painter and he kept up a daily exercise regimen. 

But the thing that captured my imagination about Mo was a caring nature that took action to help people in need in practical terms. He regularly fund-raised for the Lions Eye Hospital and I met a person who told me how Mo had paid her substantial hospital bill, even though he was retired and no longer received a regular income.

By Amit Tyagi

It could be said that everything about Mohinderji’s life is known from his autobiography and ample journalistic coverage of the events of his life. In the same breath one has to wonder if written words really cover any part of a person’s life.

Where does any word say that Mohinderji had grown close enough to my wife for her to go to his house when we had a fight at home. She used to call Mohinderji ‘s house as her ‘maika’ (girl’s home in Indian languages) in Nairobi.

For me, Mohinderji was a gentle loving soul, full of stories, young at heart even with his body giving way. I used to ask Peter, his man Friday at home, about Mohinderji’s health, as neither Mohinderji nor Sam would tell me the truth. Peter would gaze shyly at Mohinderji but would tell me the truth.

I will remember his house and his stories on how each tree and shrub in the garden was planted. I had seen and heard stories of each of his cameras, relished every moment of that. And now, to imagine that I won’t hear that voice full of warmth ever again is hard.

But that’s life, our loved ones have to leave their bodies, and we are left only with memories.

By Aleya Kassam

Mohinderji was kind in a way that is unusual in today’s world, he took his time before he spoke; he really thought about what it was that he wanted to share with you, and when he did, it was with the utmost respect. Every interaction I had with him, I left enriched. And I haven’t even begun talking about his photography. I didn’t know him that well at all, but I will miss him.

Mohinderji’s legacy is not just his remarkable, enormous and globally influential body of work, it is also the way he touched the hearts of all those who had the fortune of meeting him. Not just the big people, but even the small ones – not just during important meetings, but also the seemingly inconsequential moments.

I was incredibly fortunate to have interviewed him twice on a panel, and once was invited to do a reading at his book launch. Each time, I would find the most gracious thank you email in my inbox afterwards. They were beautifully written, with care and such generosity. It is not the norm to receive even an acknowledgement from a panellist…. in fact it should have been me writing to thank him, not the other way. But that is my enduring memory of Mohinder. He saw you as a human being. He took the time to acknowledge that, to honour it, to respect it and to connect to it… what a gift!

By Shamlal Puri

Sir Mohinder Dhillon, whom we fondly call Mo, is a towering giant in the world of African journalism.

I had the honour of walking with him when covering numerous assignments for our respective news organisations.  

He was a very humble and totally unassuming and a real gentleman. We always greeted each other warmly. He often told me if I need any help, to ask him.

I remembered covering with him the visit to Dar es Salaam of Cuban President Fidel Casto and numerous other national events in Nairobi and Africa-related assignments internationally.

Mo’s name will be carved in golden letters for his contribution to TV journalism, particularly concerning the Ethiopian famine, which we, field journalists, witnessed at first hand.

We have lost two legendary journalists – Mo Dhillon and Mo Amin. Today, Africa is much poorer without them. 

Shamlal Puri, London

Journalist, Author, Photographer. Formerly lived in East Africa.

By Sunita Kapila 

I can’t remember when I first met Mohinder. I feel like I knew him forever – he was that kind of a man: perennial, rooted, larger than life and always warm and effusive. I don’t think I ever saw him without that wonderful smile and the sparkle in his eyes. He was always bubbling with something new and interesting to share – in person, over the phone and more recently over WhatsApp. His stories enthralled whenever I had him over for a meal with other friends and the treasure trove of his adventures ran deep and wide. The happenings of the last afternoon he spent in my garden show what an incredible human being he was. 

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon as Mohinder walked over from the parking, leaning on his driver, to the armchair on the lawn. The driver then went back to the car, put on his jacket, came back, left the car keys with Mohinder, and went off for a wander. At about 4 pm as guests began to leave, Mohinder phoned the driver several times to return and drive him back to his home – the phone at the other end was switched off. After several attempts, Mohinder and I walked to his car to check on something: 400,000 shillings that he had taken out of the bank that morning and left in his briefcase in the car. The money was gone. Mohinder had walked into the bank supported by the driver and withdrawn this money just before coming in for lunch. Once we had double checked that the money was indeed missing, we walked back to the garden and sat down to figure out what to do next. The driver had worked for Mohinder only a day or two; brought to him by a friend’s driver. Mohinder called the person who had referred him but there was no news on the missing man’s whereabouts. So what did Mohinder say after the initial shock had worn off? No outburst of rage – instead, these words spoken calmly, ‘Well, the money will help out this man – maybe he will set up a business. So it will be put to good use. It is a donation’. This is the man that Mohinder was! 

By Yash Ghai

There is no one who has inspired me as much as Mo. Given the range of his interests and knowledge, one could listen to him for long periods as he recounted his history – which fortunately he put down on paper in three volumes. I had the pleasure of lengthy discussions with him as he worked its draft. He seemed to have enjoyed every moment of his life – a life full of peril as he covered one war after another. I can think of no photographer who covered so many conflicts.

But his interests went beyond wars. He was a gentle person who wanted to serve mankind – as I learnt when we began our discussions in KAF on the welfare of Kenya, as we set forth on our campaign to explain to Kenyans the value of the draft that became our constitution.      

By Davinder Lamba

The legacy of Mo Dhillon lives in his memoirs My Camera, My Life, the odyssey telling many tales of his journeys – photographing and filming wars, human suffering and turning points around the world. In my school days, I belonged to a photography club, started by a teacher who was an ardent amateur photographer. He invoked my passion for photography by showing us photographs and telling us about heroic photographers like Robert Capa, the greatest combat and adventure photographer and photojournalist in history. I never imagined, later in life, I would befriend a heroic photographer, filmmaker and photojournalist of our time, Mo Dhillon.

This was in early 2010 when a group of us, constitutional and social change activists, formed the Kenyan Asian Forum (KAF). Mo braved the Yes Campaign trail of KAF in the country for the 2010 constitutional referendum. Though reliant on a stick, he walked with us, including on the Judicial March of judges around the City Square, led by the former Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, to demonstrate that the halls of justice are for all and not just the few.

Mo was a secular Sikh committed to the vision of Guru Granth Sahib (the religious scripture of Sikhism) of a society based on divine justice and without oppression of any kind. He signed off his mails demanding a better world for everyone with the belief that ‘Service to humanity is service to God’.

By Mohez

Mo will for ever be part of my being.

I met Mo over a decade ago and had the honour and privilege to walk with him on the continuing journey to achieve and establish social justice and equity in our communities and world at large. He was a great gentle giant in this endeavour and never relented to speak from his heart on issues concerning the same. He spoke straight and with great resolve on these issues. He taught me to speak out and never fear to defend truth and justice. He was humble, kind and compassionate in his dealings with everybody around him. He shared with us his vast exposure and experience with people and places he interacted with over a long and successful professional career in photo-journalism and made us so much richer in our knowledge and understanding of the world.

I will miss Mo immensely but forever be thankful that I had the opportunity to walk with this great soul, albeit for a short distance. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

By Jill Cottrell Ghai

Mo Dhillon had cheated death so many times – as his autobiography shows – that one almost believed he was indestructible. But maybe he was some sort of cat (the lion of course) with nine lives and he finally used the last one up!

He led an extraordinary life. But maybe that was because he was a remarkable person.  Certainly he was that. But his remarkableness lay not just in what he had achieved and experienced but because of his passionate commitment to justice. When many would have focused their energies on their own well-being, indeed survival, he continued to care deeply about injustices in the world – near to and far from home. 

It would have been hard to meet him, read him, and hear him without being affected by him.  He will be very much missed.

By Madhukant P Shah 

Mo. He was a warm person with a big heart, and in spite of his ill health, welcomed us and held Kenyan Asian Forum meetings at his beautiful and tastefully decorated flat, with drinks and dinner thrown in, for good measure.

He was very alert and lived his life in the NOW, being well aware of the goings on in the world, and spoke his mind. 

He contributed a lot to each meeting and his wide and deep experience stood him in good stead. 

By Diana Lee-Smith

Mo Dhillon was inspired by many people and inspired others daily.

In his piece ‘Passport to Happiness’ he writes of the Urdu poet Allama (Mohamed) Iqbal whose poem he freely translated: ‘Make yourself so strong and fit that before writing your destiny God himself asks you – hey man, how high do you want to fly?’ He remained a ‘kibarua’ all his life and cared little for money or national borders – only human relationships.

So nothing stopped him from his stated goal of devoting his life to others rather than himself. He was not stopped by his speech impediment, or by falling out of a helicopter over the Rift Valley, or photographing in war.  And he saw everyone as his equal, from Harry Belafonte, to Julius Nyerere, Haile Selassie, Mother Teresa and all of us in KAF.

His intelligence, technical skills and keen and loving eye enabled him to create those photos that moved people.

We miss him because he was so alive but now he is not.

By Abdulhamid Slatch

Mohinder Dhillon, was one of the most revered photojournalists of his time. He brought Africa to the world through his daring assignment. The Ethiopian Famine in 1984 was the assignment that brought him international recognition.

My first encounter with Mohinder was in 1962 when I visited his studio to get a passport photograph which actually was shot by his wife, Ambi. This was the beginning of our acquaintance, my father had a camera repair shop in town near market lane, and he would visit time to time for camera repairs. I vividly remember my wedding portrait was shot at his studio Africapix.

During the campaigning for the change of constitution, he was one of the frontline cameraman following the civil society protestors. I remember an incident when the activists had gathered at Freedom Corner to protect the mothers of the political prisoners who were going to curse the government, when without warning the GSU charged at the crowd firing tear gas and chasing us with batons. Fleeing for my life I ran towards All-Saints cathedral and leapt over the fence. Mohinder photographed me jumping over the fence and later showed me that photo.

Mohinder joined the Kenya Asian Forum as a member and participated fully in their human rights and social justice programmes. He was a lovable, hospitable and friendly person, his personality stood tall. He will be missed dearly.

By Awaaz Editors: Zahid and Zarina

Sir Mohinder Dhillon, ‘Mo’ to his friends, was a remarkable individual. From an unschooled village lad in the Punjab, India, to becoming a world-famous frontline news cameraman; his life story is the stuff of legends. Official photographer to Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; a near fatal helicopter crash on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro; coverage of the horrific Ethiopian Famine 1984-86; a bone-chilling escape from a firing squad in the Congo; filming Africa’s bruising independence struggles and war situations in Vietnam, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan; dining with Charlie Chaplin; a bizarre association with the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin …. truly the stuff of legends!

And just as amazing are the qualities of this ‘gentle giant’ behind the camera: humble; courageous; generous; caring – a fighter for social justice; chivalrous; erudite; …. these are just some of the accolades friends have used to describe Mo.

We at AwaaZ would like to collect and record the thoughts and sentiments of Mo’s friends in Nairobi to whom he gave so much in one way or another. The national and international acclaim will be widely available. Fortunately he has also left us a memoir – the 3-part trilogy, My Camera, My Life and there is to be a posthumous publication titled Witness to History – an exciting pictorial anthology of pre- and post-independence East Africa.

We thank these friends for their prompt response to our request, and especially to the Kenya Asian Forum for its solidarity and unanimity over the years.

We will forever treasure the ‘Mau Mau Trilogy’ that Mo gifted to us in 2005 when we organized the Mau Mau Film Festival; Jomo Kenyatta had banned those films earlier. But we got to know Mo better when we constituted the ‘Kenyan Asian Forum’ (KAF) on 4 June 2010, and we travelled with him during the national Civic Education campaign in support of the Constitution.

Mohinder often invited Zarina and me to his house for lunch and a chat, which we thoroughly enjoyed. What came across time and again was his constant quest for justice and the amount of time and often money he put in to help one cause or another and all this at the age of 80! His reach, his networks and the respect he commanded from people from different sectors of society amazed us.

During the last two years, Mo made a request for KAF to meet at his place, as he was increasingly immobile and did not want to miss the stimulating conversations and camaraderie that he encountered within the group. He hosted us in a grand style, starting with drinks of our choice and then a three or four course dinner followed by a delicious dessert.

For the third issue of AwaaZ 2019 Zarina and I reached out to him for an article on ‘Indian Cinema in East Africa’. As always ever willing and enthusiastic, he noted his memories. He also made a generous $200 contribution to AwaaZ. When the issue came out we received a warm appreciative email, printed in this issue.

On the week that he was in hospital, Zarina and I were out of town. When we got back a friend informed us that Mo was in hospital so we called him. He responded and we chatted – ‘I’m fine’ he said in his usual style and went on to tease us for going on holiday without taking him! That was on Friday 6th evening. Little did we know that it was for the last time.


Mo never compromised his dignity for a cheap shot
Never say die