Thursday, May 08, 2008

Golden Jubilee Games - Ismaili Sporting legends

Zee's Notes: Being at the Canadian Ismaili Games brought back a flood of memories for the likes of me - I played in many of the Triangular Games in the 70's and 80's -back then there were no restrictions on what sports one could participate in. I remember playing soccer, basketball, International Volleyball and Cricket. What transpired was that this weekend I met with so many of the friends from those days - from all parts of Canada. So personally for me it was all about the reconnection of friendships going back some 30 years.

One aspect we always forget is the pioneers who indeed were legends in their respective sports. But the interesting thing is the stories that come as time progresses and it never seizes to amaze me that each individual has his or her own unique story. Here are some I met this weekend:

Fayaz Hasham (Keshvani) - a Kenyan cricket legend who now lives in Toronto. In the early eighties he first lived in Vancouver, where I played on the AK Club with him,before he moved to the Centre of the Universe (Toronto). I found out his son Shahid is a very promising cricket player who represented Canada at the Under-19 level and is currently on track to try out for the Canadian National Cricket Team - I hope he gets there.

Kamru Shamasdin - another cricketer fom Nairobi also in Toronto. Kamru is one generous human being - I remember one year 5 young Vancouver cricketers showed up in Toronto without a place to stay and without hesitation he took us to his home in Pickering and it was one of the most enjoyable weekends that I can remember - better than any 5 star hotel. His sporting genes have carried on famously with his sons - son #1 Jamil went to Harvard University on a Track scholarship and son #2 Irfan went to Brown - also an Ivy League University - on a Tennis Scholarship. Irfan and a third son Adil were at the CIG games playing tennis.

Badru Jinnah (Bhamji) - if you were from Dar-es-salaam then this man needs no introduction. Bhamji was Ismaili Cricket in Dar. He was one of those leaders that when they stepped on the field you felt your team was safe - no matter what the circumstance Bhamji would either hit some boundaries or bowl out the opposition for the win. Now his son took a different turn - seems Bhamji for years owned a farm in the Vancouver suburb of Chilliwack and since there is no cricket there Hanif decided to be a rodeo star and a few years ago he was almost the Canadian Calf Roping Champion at the nationals.

Aziz Meghji - probably there has never been any Ismaili athlete in the last 50 years to compare to this gentleman. Aziz Meghji stands alone in stature and he has been called, by those who watched him perform in his heyday, as the greatest Ismaili athlete - EVER ! Aziz had the unique ability to master any sport he tried - people still talk about the cricket games he won for the Aga Khan Club in Nairobi in the 1960's and he was the first Ismaili ever, I think, to represent a country (Kenya) at the Olympic games in Mexico City where he played Tennis. After coming to Vancouver in the early 70's he started playing golf and in his late 60's this amazing legend was a scratch golfer - something people never achieve in their lifetime - truly a master athlete. His niece's 19 year old son Adam won the CIG golf tournament this weekend.

In the days to come I hope to highlight some more stories from the games....

Road to Kenya - or back to my roots...

Zee's Notes: Inshallah in 6 weeks i'll be joining the athletes and spectators on the Road to Kenya as part of the Golden Jubilee Games to be held in Nairobi. Now for me it's going to be 35 years since I left as a young lad with my family. Though I am born and spent much of my childhood in Dar-es-salaam, it is Nairobi, where I spent just 2 years, that has forever stayed etched in my heart as being the best place I ever remember in Africa. I vividly recall the Hirani Estates in Parklands where we lived, I can never forget the Aga Khan Academy where I studied and I hope that ice cream place run by the most kindly gentleman from South Africa is still there. My dream as a youngster was to play for the Aga Khan Cricket Club and many afternoons after school I would go watch the likes of Fayaz Hasham, Kamru Shamasdin and Shamshu Allidina, to name a few, practice at the Parklands facility - heck sometimes they would even let me bowl a few at them. The irony is that many years later I would play cricket in Canada with these very same legends of East African cricket. Life was simple and when I go back I hope to connect back to that time when the world seemed so conquerable and Africa was a land of great optimism and promise. I look back and consider myself darn lucky to have the opportunity to grow up in Canada but going back will bring back those days - well you know the feeling - it's not going home but it's going back to your roots...Here is something I saw on the net yesterday - hope you like it...

Prince Aga Khan arrives May 19

Unb, Dhaka

Prince Aga Khan, Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, will arrive in the city on May 19 on a four-day state visit to Bangladesh.His visit marks the golden jubilee of his Imamat. Prince Aga Khan became the Imam on July 11, 1957.Habib Hirji, president of the Aga Khan National Council, told reporters at a local hotel that during his stay, Prince Aga Khan will call on the president and the chief adviser and hold meetings with several advisers.Prince Aga Khan will lay the foundation of the Aga Khan Academy at Basundhara and a permanent Jamat Khana of the community.The Aga Khan Academy was built on 21 acres of land at a cost of around US$ 50 million to teach brilliant students from the primary to the secondary level, and impart training to teachers. An official of the Aga Khan Foundation said some 750 to 1200 Bangladeshi students will be admitted to the Academy on the basis of merit. The medium of teaching will be both Bangla and English.


Thousands of Ismaili Muslims from across the country gathered in Vancouver this weekend to celebrate the 2008 Canadian Ismaili Games. The games, which celebrate 50 years of the Aga Khan’s leadership, take place May 2 to 5 and involve about 1,000 athletes. Winners will represent Canada at the Golden Jubilee Games in Nairobi, Kenya, in June. Some of the athletes are Olympic hopefuls and compete at the national level. The Canadian Ismaili Games are a National Golden Jubilee program and part of the first-ever global Ismaili sports festival. The theme of the games is Celebration Through Sport, reflecting the spirit of commemorating the Golden Jubilee and showcasing excellence in athletic accomplishment. Pictured here is the Calgary Spirit Squad performing at the Games Village at UBC.

Hollywood North: Producers hope to help kids

Ward Perrin / Vancouver Sun

Sanjay is a kid who has just moved to North America from Mumbai. He is a sarcastic comedian who loves Bollywood. He also wants everybody to agree with him.
Damaris is Cuban and Spanish-speaking but she has been living outside of Cuba for most of her life. She is a shy loner who escapes this world through books, making her the exact opposite of the typical Spanish cartoon character.
These are two of the eight lovable characters from around the world who make up the eclectic, colourful cast of a new animated television show for kids being produced here called Mixed Nutz. Its aim is to make kids curious about different cultures through entertainment.
"This business is something we believe can help change the world," said Shabnam Rezaei, who launched it with her husband, Aly Jetha. The pair, who have just moved here from New York City, come from as diverse backgrounds as their characters.
Rezaei, who speaks five languages, was born in Iran, but moved to Austria when she was 10 to attend an international school. She and her brother were sent there to avoid the Iran-Iraq war.
At the age of 18, she moved to the U.S. to get a degree from the University of Pennsylvania in computer science and literature.
"When I graduated, I went to New York to get a good job like a good Iranian girl would in a good solid field with a good salary. That was in financial software," she said in an interview in a trendy Yaletown warehouse where the pair have set up an animation studio.
She cruised through various companies like Deloitte Touche, also setting up shop for a company called Exis in London for three years. Each company tried to hold her interest but she quickly grew bored each time.
Jetha was born in Ndola, Zambia. His family lived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, for two generations. His forefathers are Indian from Gujarat and Ismaili. He moved to Vancouver when he was two.
Talk about multicultural.
Like his wife's, his professional background is about as far from the entertainment industry as Bambi is from hip-hop. His curriculum vitae sounds more like a high-flying serial entrepreneur than a maker of film: graduation from St. George's private school, an undergraduate degree in political science from UBC, two years with the United Nations as a representative of the Canadian government on various international political matters, law school at Berkeley, a member of the California bar, management consulting for Bain & Co. which is a consultant to Fortune 100 companies, launching a semi-conductor computer chip company in 1998, becoming a founding member of a New York-based telecommunications and transaction processing company called Via One. He remains that company's chief executive officer.
In 2003, he married Rezaei and moved to New York, putting a new spin on life.Despite the pair's heavyweight business backgrounds, their passions obviously lie elsewhere.
That became clear when Rezaei, while working for a company that produced trading and operational accounting software for banks, started a website called the Persian Mirror. It was phenomenally successful, drawing around five million hits a month.
Because there was so much interest in Persian culture, she and Jetha aimed to make the equivalent of a Charlie Brown's Christmas for Persian kids. But instead of Christmas, which has no status in that culture, they settled on the Persian new year.
The result, Babak and Friends, which has both English and Farsi versions, screened in more than 30 museums in the world. The response was great from Persians and non-Persians alike. Non-Persians wanted to know where they could buy special goat cheese and bread to feed their kids for breakfast. The kids were asking for it. They had seen it in the show.
The success of Babak and Friends just fuelled the fire. The couple wanted to do bigger and better things. That drove them down the nutty road of making Mixed Nutz.
By the fall, they hope to have completed 26 22-minute episodes that will be dubbed into five languages to be shown around the world. It's all originating from here.
The pair hastily set up shop over a two-week period over Christmas and New Year's. Big Bad Boo Studios, as their headquarters is called, has a makeshift look about it but it is a cauldron of creativity. You can hear the faint squeak of pencil on paper and the steady click of computer keys as this mini animation factory works out the nuts and bolts of Mixed Nutz.
A glimpse into some of the episodes show a delightful romp into the lives of a group of fictitious children from around the world who the animators bring to life. The show turns the daily stuff of a kid's life - schoolyard squabbles, food issues, fights with parents, trying to fit in - into grist for a grander message about everyone from everywhere getting along.
Norooz Productions, as the couple's company is called, has 20 people working here, four in Los Angeles and two in New York. Why, you might ask, did they set up shop here?
Jetha has no problem answering that. Having grown up here, he loves Vancouver. Both he and Rezaei found that in Canada, pluralism and multi-culturalism are a much greater part of daily life than in the U.S. "When I moved to the States, I realized people were not as geographically or culturally aware of anything outside their borders," said Jetha. In that sense, locating the studio here has helped raise the bar for Mixed Nutz. While many here might not realize it, the Vancouver area is a world hub for animation.
Finally, the government's tax credits proved a powerful magnet. They made setting up shop here viable.
On a recent trip to their studio, Rezaei and Jetha played snippets of their show. Each has their favourites.
For Jetha, it's one where Sanjay gets a childhood crush on his teacher. He envisions her in a Bollywood film.
For Rezaei, it's when the character Sousanne has a fight with her mother and decides to run away from home with Damaris who lost her mother when she was very young. Damaris wonders why Sousanne is running away when she is so lucky to have a mother.
"I really identify with Damaris because I think anyone who has been displaced or has had parents missing from their lives can really identify with her situation," said Rezaei. "She is a very sweet character."
To avoid getting cheap laughs on the backs of ethnic stereotypes, the pair have brought in cultural advisors. "That makes the show smart," said Jetha. "We don't want to portray cliches. We want to stay away from on-the-nose lessons."
The pair have taken a decidedly different route than the makers of most animation productions who usually go to a network and pre-sell to fund the show. "We are pretty passionate about what we are creating," said Rezaei. "We wanted to just fund it ourselves. So we raised money from private investors as well as some foundations."
The pair knew, too, that their success depended on getting the right people into place and creating a team.They brought on board Emmy award winner and composer Randy Rogel, who has written music for shows like The Legend of Tarzan and Batman.
Alfred Gimeno, a real icon in the animation industry, has won three Emmys, worked on shows like Madagascar and the Smurfs and for companies like Disney, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. He, too, was brought on board.
The animation director is Glen Kennedy who trained under Hanna-Barbera, the old Hollywood behemoth that produced many successful cartoon shows like The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Flintstones, Top Cat, The Yogi Bear Show and The Smurfs. He has been running animation production studios in Asia for about 22 years.
Together with their talented staff, Jetha and Rezaei are on a mission. "Anything that brings people together, especially kids, is a good thing," said Jetha.
"It's important to realize," said Rezaei, "that at the end of the day, we are all the same."