Book Review – Zarina Patel: An Indomitable Spirit by George Gona

One of the least celebrated (maybe least famous) Independent Kenya heroines is Zarina Patel.

In fact, no one remembers any other Indian in post-Independence Kenya that worked for multi-party democracy, social, political and environmental well-being.

In politics, most know of Pio Gama Pinto.

In the environment circles, most Kenyans know the exploits of the late Professor Wangari Maathai.

The book Zarina Patel: An Indomitable Spirit sought to write about a Kenyan of Indian extraction whose story would have disappeared and forgotten.

Ms Patel, 87, is also a historian, environmentalist and leans towards the leftist side of political thought. She has immensely contributed towards the growth of women empowerment movement in Kenya. Some works describe her as a race relations activist.

Most Nairobians or those that have visited Nairobi know of Jevanjee Gardens.

During Daniel Moi’s reign in 1991, some politicians especially Fred Gumo (former Westlands MP) wanted to put up a sky scrapper on that piece of land. The developers who were by then under the Nairobi City Commission (the Nairobi City Council had been suspended due to corruption), wanted to put up storeyed car park and a shopping mall. They had forged a lot of documents to prove the authenticity of their claims.

It is Zarina Patel that protested and stood her ground against this environmental and aesthetic sin. Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement and the public soon joined her in condemnation of the land grab.

Through her actions, Jevanjee Gardens, her grandfather’s gift to Nairobi remains untouched to this day (20th March 2022).

The book delves much on the role of Indian women and Kenyan women in general. In the formative stages, the book is quite heavy on this to the point of appearing repetitive.

Having been sponsored by the Ford Foundation, the book rather leans heavily on the fight for minority rights including women rights.

Zarina has authored several books, Challenge to Colonialism (1997), a book detailing AM Jevanjee’s life. She is also the author of Unquiet: The life and Times of Makhan Singh (2006), Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee (2002), Jevanjee, rebel of the empire (2002).

From what I deduce, Jevanjee owned a large chunk of what is today the Nairobi Central Business District.

She lives in Mombasa.

Get this book and read more about her and Kenyan politics from the Indian angle. The book has a lot of unsaid history parked in it; with some pictorials that takes someone back in the days.

George Gona is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.