This letter written in Gujarati by Mohamed Ebrahim Seedat from Newcastle on 12 November 1901 may be typical of the kind of correspondence exchanged between close members of families in India and South Africa. Sulaiman Ebrahim Seedat, who lived in Motavarachha near Swat, is given a somewhat detailed account of business matters in Newcastle and elsewhere, as well as instructions about a variety of family matters. The document is informative about aspects of early South African Indian life. An interesting business letterhead is used. In the Ieft-hand corner is printed: A. M. Amod& Co., Mahomadon Merchants, Drapers, Outfitters, & Grocers. Branch: Estcourt. (The main business was in Newcastle.) Next to it is a drawing of a green flag with a star and crescent, the traditional symbols of Islam. A translation of the letter is given below. Source: Hassim Seedat Collection.
I have not received your letter for many days now. You have not written because you thought we were coming. However, the death of Sheth Ahmed Jeewa has delayed us, and for this reason I have sent you money. Previously I sent a £40 draft, from which £15 was for Aunt Rasool's Ahmed, and the balance was for Ismail's expenses. Therefore, no money must have been left for you. We worried greatly about it. In India if you have money it is good, otherwise living there is not pleasant. But, bhai [brother], you must not worry. Allah willing in 15 days or a month we will be leaving for your place. We are more or less definite, but we are at Allah's mercy. I have enclosed a £100 draft on your name. It is for your expenses.
Two weeks ago Dawjee Barmania from your side wrote a letter to Ahmed Haffejee. It was written that Dawjee Bhayat has sent a proposal. You were told about it, and replied that your brother Mohamed [the writer] will come and arrange it. But our Ahmed says that he does not want to marry because [his prospective] mother-in-law is making fun of him. I was greatly upset and disappointed at hearing this. Ahmed is immature, and it is not good for him to talk in that way. It is a good family and the girl too is good. The girl is a little young, but then Ahmed is not very old. His age is 15 and the girl's is 9 or 10. Now it will be another 5 years before [they live together as man and wife].
If Dawjee Bhayat is prepared to proceed with the marriage, do not wait for us to come. Get him married, no matter what. If possible, wait for us.
Now Ahmed is childish, and Ismail is even more childish. Ismail and Ahmed are corresponding. Ismail sends money to him, and Ahmed sends clothes to Ismail. That is why he is spoilt, but you must keep him under control, and he must not talk like that from now on. We have threatened Ismail here, and from now on he will send no money or write letters to Ahmed.
Further, we have all become very happy knowing that Allah has given you a baby son. We intended to send clothes, but it could not be done because our thoughts were taken up with our coming to you. No matter. We will give whatever we have to give.
Business news is alright. The Harrismith branch is doing well. From here salaam [greetings] from family members Kassim, Dawood, Fatima, Yusuf, and your sisters-in-law. Salaam on your side to family members: bhen [sister] Rasool, bhen Khadija, bhai Ahmed and others.
Make Ahmed understand not to talk anymore about [his] mother-in-law making fun and that he does not want to get married. What has been said is said; from now on do not disclose the story [to others].
After discussions, I have extended [the tenants'] rights to stay. Only Bhanabhai wished to leave after 17 years' occupation, or pay £25 [yearly] rental. So the company has now full right to occupy it. Further, Dr. Osman's place next year will bring in £72. So the Safi building will be started, two shops on the ground floor with one storey. The building will cost about £1,200. So the place will be worth £7,000. There will be a shortage of £200, but its yearly income will be as follows, with 3-year lease for all
|Safi, corner shop||170|
|Another shop to the Jew||170|
|Cuthbert's shoe store||100|
|House behind where Standard Bank was||120|
I will send a copy of the draft in the next letter after a week. Further, you have received blanket from Glasgow. Its cost there is 84 shilling. That has been given to us as a gift. Also we have ordered a few other goods. They will reach you shortly. The 10 yards of tweed is to sew an achkan [long coat] you must have one sewn [for yourself], one for Ahmed, and one for me. Have a gold-tinsel band placed on the collar. Sew [for me] one that is your size but not longer. There are also four suits for my sons. We have sent [all this] in anticipation of our coming. If they are of use to you, it will be good. If not, keep them [there for us].
Further Dawjee Bhayat may have come, and if he so wishes get Ahmed married. But let me know a month beforehand. Send a telegram for money”¦ Write fully and without fail on what bhai Ahmed is learning and otherwise, and how he is faring. Business is good. All are well. Salaam to all.
Aunt Rasool's Mohamed has left our employment. We were prepared pay £36 but he did not stay, and wants to hawk. We tried to talk him out of it, but he did not listen. Now he will go astray. From your family, bhen Rasool, Ahmed and others salaam.
P.S. I had thought of sending a draft for £50 but since Ramzaan Sharif is near, and perhaps my coming will be delayed, and you may run short for the wedding, I have thoughtfully increased the £50 to £100. Spend 250 rupees in the masjid [mosque] for the poor and distribute sinni [sweets], and give some money to our needy relatives and those connected to us. But first give to our relatives who need most.