Keshavlal Fulchand Karman Shah came to Kenya at the age of 11 years in a dhow from Kansumra. He had done primary education up to standard 3 in Gujarati and tended to the family farm called the VADI. He also taught pupils in the school. His salary was 9 rupees for the year. He taught for 3 years. His elder brother Nemchand Fulchand Shah came to Kenya around 1901 and called his younger brother Keshavlal to Kenya.
Both brothers worked for a while with Meghji Ladha Company and then joined as partners in Virchand Devji & Co. They then split to form their own company called Shah Nemchand Fulchand Ltd in Nairobi. As the business was expanding, Nemchand Fulchand went to Mombasa and opened a branch there. Their younger brother Lalji Fulchand also joined them after a few years.
He was a clever businessman and in 1949, after the Second World War, he went to Europe and the UK with 2 other businessmen to buy goods from the factories. They were among the first businessmen to go to Europe & UK from our community.
Keshavlal Fulchand was interested in the welfare of the Oshwal Community and joined the community committees. He worked in various capacities and became President for 3 years from 1956 to 1958. He was key in many Oshwal accomplishments, the largest being education. He wanted every Oshwal (boy or girl) to have a sound education. He was a powerful speaker. He once gave a speech to the Governor of Kenya in English even though he could not speak English fluently.
Apart from working for the community he also worked at the heart and the welfare of the Indian community at large. He had made friends at most Indian Institutions and was well respected for his quick and bold decisions and guidance.
He was also considered a wise man and many sought his guidance and knowledge in many issues be it matchmaking for marriage, disputes, etc. The classic way of solving disputes in those days was mediation. He would resolve the issue by first listening to the disputes from both sides. Then he would ask them from each side to sign that even the verdict of the two sides it would be binding on them. He would be a neutral trustee. This way he resolved many disputes and marriage conflicts during those times.
He worked for the community for over 50 years. One of the important changes he made was in regards to how the Oshwal committee had decided that everyone from the community should pay Kshs 10000/- per year per family. He argued that this levy for Shs 10000/- was wrong. He said, “how can someone who earns very little pay exactly the same by force as someone who earns much more?” The decision was then reversed and it went back as before, i.e. people pay as they wanted.
Apart from Business & Community work, he was a big advocate of keeping family, including extended family together. He was a foodie too. There was not one day when he would not have visitors to come to see him in the evenings/night. He was also a very powerful speaker. Keshavlal would never let any visitors leave his house if they haven’t had anything to eat or drink. Many remember him rolling his own cigarettes in the sitting room with endless visitors. Keshubhai married 3 times as 2 of his wives passed away. He had 4 sons, 7 daughters, and 32 grandchildren.
Keshavlal Fulchand Shah lives on in his son, Arun K Shah, who graciously shared his father’s story for us. May we all gain something from Keshavlal’s story and learn from his kindness, knowledge, and helpfulness towards others, for men like him are iconic and rare.