Impeccably-dressed, in a crisp white short-sleeved cotton shirt, light trousers, socks and shoes and a white sailor cap; this is how Shums Mariff is remembered. His passing came as a shock to his family. He left suddenly, without much ado, as was his character. On September 27, two months shy of turning 76, he was preparing to leave for Friday prayers, had bent to tie his shoes, when he collapsed.
One can’t begin to explain the void he has left in his family. He came from a family of seven children who, when they were between the ages of 13 and 2, lost their mother. They grew up with the oldest daughter taking on the role of the mother. When their father (A.F. Mohamed [circa 1905-1973], Proprietor, Shums Stores and Qamar Stores, Pettah) passed away two decades later, Shums Mariff by circumstance, choice or perhaps goodness of his heart, became the default male figure and father to his younger sisters. Later, he was the same to his nieces and nephews growing up in the absence of parents. He was the fort that held together the family, in joy and grief, never claiming any kind of authority or gratitude for it, but being very much present in his quiet, constant and comforting presence. His was the kind of giving that never expected anything in return. He gave and did so generously, with time, effort, love and attention for all.
Poo Maama was father to his nieces and nephews who had lost theirs early. This was no obligation to him; he took pleasure in tending to these children he considered his own. Many of these children grew up with their uncle beside them. One of his nephews notes that it was through Poo Maama that he learnt in the ‘80s, the procedure to obtain a curfew pass during a family emergency. Our uncle was the person everyone turned to during crisis and calm alike. He had great tact and an even better sense of humour. Another of his nephews says it was Poo Maama who took him to Galle Face Green for the first time. That he had learnt the concept of a “trip” from our uncle; of going outside and looking at and learning from the world. A warm memory for most of the children in the family is being piled on to the back of Poo Maama’s white Datsun pickup, the adults in the front, to be spirited off on another exciting impromptu trip. He introduced to these children of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the joy of the “surprise” unhindered by technology. While I can’t claim to have been particularly close to my uncle, a childhood interaction with him remains with me to this day. Once when I was 12, he sought me out during a family gathering and placed a packet of chocolates in my hand, conspiratorially whispering with a twinkle in his eye, “it’s your share, don’t give the others.” That gesture of his, of remembering me amid the ruckus of a family event, moved me greatly. He had a place for everyone in his heart, the big and the small.
Poo Maama was father to his nieces and nephews who had lost theirs early. This was no obligation to him; he took pleasure in tending to these children he considered his own. Many of these children grew up with their uncle beside them
Poo Maama had wide and varied interests and pursuits. Apart from being an avid reader, he undertook photography and gemmology in his youth. Later, he pursued diverse fields in his career of business ranging from curios, gems, jewellery, footwear, importing leather, exporting sweetmeats, spices, coconut, tea and prawn farming, to list a few. His passion for learning and growing never ceased. Poo Maama graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social science in 2013 from the Open University of Sri Lanka at the age of 70. He achieved what he could not during his youth with the same or perhaps more enthusiasm than a 20-something year-old.
His sisters fondly maintain that their Poo Nana could have given a run for Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor’s money at their prime with his charm, intellect and wit. Kind twinkling light eyes behind rimless glasses, an expression showing that you are soon to be teased and an infectious resounding chuckle that accompanied said harmless teasing; all that was missing to complete the Dumbledore-look was the wispy white, waist-length beard. With the passing of Poo Maama comes the end of an era. The memory of Shums Stores of First Cross Street, Pettah is difficult to hold in the absence of Shums himself. To those seven children who had grown up together in the absence of their mother and later their father, who had only each other to lean against, this is the first separation in over forty-five years.
Shums Mariff leaves behind his wife, children, grandchildren, siblings and numerous nieces and nephews. He is sorely missed. May he attain the highest rank in Jannatul Firdaus!
“O Allah, forgive him and have mercy on him and give him strength and pardon him. Be generous to him and cause his entrance to be wide and wash him with water and snow and hail. Cleanse him of his transgressions as white cloth is cleansed of stains… Take him into paradise and protect him from the punishment of the grave and the punishment of hell-fire” – Extracted from Sahih Muslim: 2/663