Yahya Ali Lohawala
A true soldier of Bohra Youth
They would all come to his shop. The leaders, the activists, the idlers. Some would come to talk and discuss important matters, others to just pass the time. If you had any stake in the reform struggle you knew who Yahya Bhai was and where his shop was. Yahya Ali Lohawala was a passionate reformist. And his shop in Awhini Bazar, Udaipur was the unofficial headquarters of Bohra Youth. Nothing got him going more than the talk of reform. His principled, committed stand earned him many admirers, and also detractors. Yahya Ali had no patience for people who sat on the fence or talked from both sides of their mouths.
Yahya Ali was a man of strong opinions and did not suffer fools gladly. For him the movement and its well-being came first. For him the cause of Bohra Youth was larger than petty internal politics. Bigger than feelings and friendships, because he knew that the movement was weak, like an orphan, it needed support, and uncompromising commitment. He never compromised. Even when his friend and avowed guru capitulated and went to the other side he stood his ground. He had the courage of his conviction and nothing in the world could make him accept the tyranny of the Kothar.
If the reform struggle in Udaipur has survived for more than four decades it is because of people like Yahya Ali. Like so many other unsung heroes he never climbed the podium to receive awards for his contributions, nor will his name ever figure in the annals of the movement. But it is people like him who have quietly served the cause without any motive for power or name. You could not sit in his company for more than five minutes and not expect the talk of the Sayedna, the Kothar or reforms to come up. He was consumed by it. When visiting the US and Canada he made many friends on account of his enthusiasm for reforms. His passion was infectious.
During the long years of struggle he helped the movement with advice, insights and generosity. Not many people know that he financed the Progressive Dawoodi Borha website for a number of years. He was one of its avid readers, especially of the Forum. He knew all the contributors by name and discussed their posts with deep interest. He always belittled his contributions to the cause. But those who knew him can vouch for his sharp mind and his ability to reason and anaylse a situation. He took long-term view of things, and often came up with a view, an insight that others had missed.
Many people came to him for advice and support, and he helped with a generosity of spirit that is rare these days. Yahya Ali had great hopes for the reform movement, and always marveled how it survived after every setback, and how it succeed from milestone to milestone despite all the difficulties and attacks. “Allah alone is running this movement”, he was fond of saying.
Yaha Ali was also a man of great personal courage. When cancer struck him and took away his larynx he lost his voice. But he did not lose his personality. With the aid of a prosthetic he continued to speak his mind. He never lost his optimism, and his anger at all things Kothar. His spirits and positive attitude helped him survive two heart attacks. On November 16, 2014 he succumbed to pneumonia and complications arising from it. He was 75. He left behind a loving extended family, a large circle of friends, and a movement much poorer without him. He was a true soldier of Bohra Youth.