Babu Has Taught Me To Be An Active And Engaged Member Of The World

This is a photo of my mum and I with my Big Babu (Babu’s father). 2011 or 2010

My first defined memory of Babu is from when I was about four years old. He had just gotten me some dinner: a plate of plain spaghetti with parmesan cheese and a bowl of his bell pepper ‘concoction’, and was reading to me from an unabridged copy of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This specific moment holds the foundation of our many experiences together, all of which have affected the way I live my life and how I see the world.

First, there is the concoction. Due to his health, Babu was always experimenting with different methods of cooking food, most of which he would share with me whenever I was around. The concoction was one of said experiments, and is one that has lasted to this day. It consists of an amalgamation of vegetables (primarily bell peppers) that are boiled or pressure cooked along with turmeric, garlic and salt. Regardless of how unappetizing this dish may sound, I genuinely enjoyed it as a child. In addition to this, Babu would make his own breads and pickles of varying types, my favorite of which was bread with cranberries baked into it. As I grew up, babu began to include me in his culinary endeavours. We tried our hand at making ubuyu ice cream, pumpkin pudding, and even our own cat food, for the two cats that he and Nani (granny) adopted. Cooking with Babu was always fun, though I did not enjoy having to squish raw meat and bread together, regardless of how much I loved taking care of Prue and Simba. In these various adventures, Babu demonstrated a creativity that I have not been exposed to in any other aspect of my life.

Then there is Alice in Wonderland. Babu and I read so many books together, and while there are many impressive titles in that list, the impact that this had on me was not limited to my intellectual capabilities. Babu helped me to foster a love of reading that was boundless, in addition to an extensive imagination. My love for reading did not come from the books we read, but the way in which we immersed ourselves into the worlds that resided on those pages. I still immerse myself into books in the same way, however it is not always constructive as it makes it difficult to put a book down once I’ve started reading.

This is a photo of my little brother Samir and I from summer of 2020.

While Babu tends to be a very serious person, the most memorable moments that I’ve had with him (especially when I was younger) have been more playful than anything. A favorite of mine is Goblino, the goblin who used to live in our walls. Babu would tell me stories of how he and Goblino would talk late into the night as they ate his pickles. Goblino loved pickles, and would even write songs about them for me. According to Babu, Goblino moved to Zanzibar in 2008, but he would send me postcards signed by Goblino, and more pickle songs. I still have not made up my mind about whether or not Goblino existed, nor if I want to know if he ever existed, but he was not the only magical being or even that Babu and I spoke of. When Babu had gone to Norway, he came back with many different trinkets and a book about the trolls who lived in the Norwegian mountains. In addition to this, he would do the occasional magic trick. It was always the same one: he would show me an empty handkerchief and a whole toothpick. He would then wrap the toothpick into the handkerchief and break it into small pieces. He would then say some magic words then unravel the cloth and out would fall the toothpick, as whole as it was before. I still don’t know the trick to this, but I hope he will show me one day.

Babu was always very supportive of my interests, and would always go above and beyond to aid me in exploring those interests as thoroughly as possible. There was not really such a thing as an idle interest to him. One of the biggest examples of this is my shell collection. The two of us started collecting shells when I was very young, so young that I don’t even really remember the start of all of it. We would collect and categorize my shells together. He bought me many books to help me identify the different species of shells, and would always bring me more shells whenever he came to visit me in LA. When I started going to visit him in Dar every year, we would go to the beach often to find whatever nice shells we could. I still have so many of the shells we collected together, as well as the ones he had brought me. This was not the only hobby that Babu dove into with me, though it certainly was the most extensive and longest lasting one.

In middle school, I began to write fiction stories. I had participated in National Novel Writing Month one year, as part of my English class, and Babu was particularly impressed with the story I had written. That summer, he set up a separate room for me to write in, and every morning for the entire month that I was in Dar he would send me there with snacks for a few hours, and I would just write. I actually completed an entire story in that month. In high school, I began to express genuine interest in the field of ornithology, so Babu sent me a heap of books on the subject in order to help me explore that interest. He continues to do so, whenever I tell him about any interests that I may have.

The most important thing that Babu has taught me is to be an active and engaged member of the world. In every lesson and book that he has given to me, there is always a connection to the current events in the world. There was never a time where I felt that what I was learning from him did not apply to the world at large, even when he taught me the basics of multivariable calculus. There was always an application somewhere, and he always made sure to point that out to me. I have not seen Babu in a few years, but I know that he is continuing to stay connected with the world just as he taught me to.



  • Has just turned 20 and is currently working towards a degree in Ecological and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She is Prof. Hirji’s grand-daughter.

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