Monday, December 15, 2008

Tuan Zaheer Mohamed

A true friend who will live on in our hearts and minds

Tuan Zaheer Mohamed

My first meeting with Tuan Zaheer Mohamed was back in 1980. A group of us, including the late Lakshman Jayawardena, a well-known figure in the tea trade, had decided to form a tea export company. At the time, I was working for an international management consultancy. Lakshman and I had an appointment to meet a prospective financier for the tea project. His name was Zaheer Mohamed. My role was to convince Zaheer of the project’s financial viability. I had done a fair amount of preparation, and I arrived early for the meeting.

Half an hour later a man turned up on a scooter. I assumed he was a messenger bearing a note from Zaheer. It came as a big surprise when Lakshman welcomed the man, saying, “Zaheer, you are late as usual!”

I was expecting the financier to arrive in a luxury car, in full suit. In fact, I was worried that I may not have been appropriately attired for the occasion. Zaheer was casually dressed, and he apologized for being late. He said his family was using the car, so he decided to take the delivery boy’s scooter from his travel office.

On my very first meeting with Zaheer, I was struck by his humility and lack of airs. Over the years, throughout our friendship, I would repeatedly observe this quality about Zaheer.
The meeting started. I explained the financial aspect of the project. Halfway, Zaheer stopped me and declared he was confident about my capability, and that he would like to know how much money was needed, and when. That demonstration of trust is something I will value for the rest of my life.

The company was finally formed in November 1980, and today it is one of Sri Lanka’s leading tea exporters.

Zaheer was more than just a business partner to me. He was a true friend. Unfortunately, my interaction with him was limited after I retired from the company, apart from the occasional courtesy call.

One day, as I was driving along Galle Road, I noticed that the car engine was heating up. I needed help. The first person who came to my mind was Zaheer. I called, and he said he would come over soon, as he happened to be in the neighborhood.

He turned up in a three-wheeler and promptly got down to the job of checking the radiator. He soon identified the problem – the radiator tap was leaking. He took out the toolkit, removed the radiator and took it with him in the three-wheeler, asking me to wait by the car. He was back in an hour and put back the fixed radiator.

I wonder how many businessmen in the middle of a busy day would do what Zaheer did for me that day. Gestures like this are the mark of a true friend. Such friends live with us forever.Yes, Zaheer will remain “a living friend” to me.

R. Nadarajah
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Fond memories of a beloved cousin and friend

Tuan Zaheer Mohamed

It is hard to believe that my cousin Zaheer Mohamed is no more. In a way I am glad I was not around when he recently crossed the Great Divide. I want to remember him as alive and well. I will not grieve his death, but rather celebrate the good life he lived.

Zaheer and I were the children of two sisters. As Zaheer’s father was based in Dickoya, it was only natural that he stayed with us in Colombo when he entered Royal College.

My first memories of Zaheer were of a little boy with a passion for cars. Whenever my mother made “pol roti”, he would take a circular roti and hold it like a make-believe steering wheel and make sounds like a car purring along. When my mother told him to get on with his dinner, he would eat the roti, wipe his plate clean and then use the plate as a steering wheel as he continued his car-driving fantasy.

Another memory etched in my mind is of attending the Royal Primary School sports meet and being taken by my parents to see Zaheer participating in the obstacle race. He was about nine years, and he was a plump kid. One of the obstacles on the course was to crawl through a barrel. Plump Zaheer got stuck inside the barrel. Our uncle, the late B. J. H. Bahar (Junior), vice-principal of Zahira College, Colombo, was present as a special guest. He gave the little boy a sharp push to his bottom and Zaheer emerged from the barrel. The sight caused much amusement among the spectators.

When Zaheer moved on from Royal Primary to Royal College, he was boarded at the hostel. He was still mad about cars. At 13 years he could drive a car. He was a competent driver and would drive his father’s car whenever his Dad came to Colombo.

In later years the two of us were joined by two other first cousins, Haji Rasseedeen and Bolly Johar, and we formed a close foursome. More than being cousins, we were great friends. We joined the Colombo Malay Cricket Club. We were in our 20s and we became party animals. Not a week would go by without some get-together.

It was at this time that Zaheer met Kerima. They married and had three wonderful children – Aasha, Anusha and Shiran. The girls went to Holy Family Convent, and the son followed his father by joining Royal College.

As the years rolled on, we started to go our separate ways. Zaheer went to the UK and then to Australia on different stints, and not long after Haji and I went overseas to better our prospects.
On my return to Sri Lanka, I got together with Zaheer and we did a few business deals – importing cars. Better things were in store for Zaheer when he teamed up with old Trinitian and former Havelocks and Sri Lanka rugby player, Gamini Fernando, the late Lakshman Jayawardena, former Thomian cricketer Kumar Boralessa and R. Nadarajah to form a company, Ceylon Tea Marketing Ltd. Zaheer offered me a part of his stake in the company, which I accepted and for which I am grateful.

Zaheer’s eldest daughter Aasha married early, and is a devoted wife and mother of three children. His second daughter Anusha created history when she joined SriLankan Airlines as the airline’s first local female pilot. A few weeks before Zaheer’s untimely death, she was promoted to the rank of captain, marking another first in the country’s aviation history.

Zaheer’s son Shiran has also joined SriLankan Airlines, and is now a First Officer. Zaheer was a gem of a person– so good, so rare, so precious. He lived wonderfully well. In his final weeks, Zaheer’s mind was clouded by his illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again – more himself than at any time on this earth. As his last journey took him beyond the sunset, I like to think – in the words of John Bunyan – that “all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side”.
Farewell, dear Zaheer! May Allah grant you the bliss of Jennathul Firdous.

Branu Rahim

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