It's customary for a Memon woman to spend the final days of her first pregnancy in her parent's house. The hospital and medical expenses are also borne by her parents. In my case, my parents lived in Bombay after marriage in the house of my mother's parents, as my father was working in that city at the time. I should therefore have been born in Bombay but the fates decided otherwise.

In April 1944 (five months before I was born), a ship carrying explosives on its way to Bombay was loaded with cotton in Karachi, even though the captain warned that it was dangerous. But those were war years and his warning was not heeded. A few days later, while the ship was in Bombay harbour, it caught fire and explosions rocked the city. Many men died, and for many hours there was no news from my father (in those days there were no telephones). He returned home after many hours. In Colombo eight years ago I met a man whose near relative had been tossed into the sea (while working in the harbour) and remained missing for ten days. When he returned, his relatives thought they were seeing a ghost-they had announced his death and had even gone through the religious ceremony of "soyem" or "ziarat" (the offering of prayers and other rituals on the second day after death).

Due to lack of communication, my maternal grandfather didn't know about the fire in the ship, he thought the Japanese had bombed the city (they had already captured Rangoon, and were fighting British Indian forces in northern India). So he sent my mother away to his ancestral home town of Savar Kundla (a small town about a thousand kilometers from Bombay). This town has the distinction of being the birthplace of the late Indian prime minister Moraji Desai.