Humble Khataw has dined with high and mighty, voted in all elections since independence

Narottam Khataw during the interview. [PHOTOS: JOE OMBUOR/STANDARD
Few Kenyans would stand to be counted if a census of those who have never missed a national day in the past ten years were to be taken.

It is why this 80-year-old former banker stands out. Narottam Mulji Khataw, has cited Hindu prayers at the Coastal City’s Municipal Stadium on each national day since 2004 without fail.

The diminutive Khataw (he hardly stands five feet, eight inches above the ground) is an enigma to behold. At a time when his living age-mates are either too tired to carry their bones around or have resigned themselves to the harsh dictates of age, he regularly joins folks, many of them half his age in workouts of yoga, a series of postures and breathing exercises practised to achieve fitness in both body and mind. He walks unaided.

Khataw is the acknowledged link between the Government and the Hindu community in Mombasa of which he is a past chairman.

Extraordinary excellence

He is a regular feature at virtually every function with national nuances, at the airport in Mombasa during presidential arrivals and departures, at State House - name it and Khataw is there, appropriately attired and primed for the occasion.

A folder that he keeps at his Haile Selassie Avenue spare parts shop in Mombasa, holds more than 100 different letters inviting him to all manner of functions, government and otherwise.

One dated April 24, 2013 and signed by Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa reads: “As you are aware, HE the President Uhuru Kenyatta, is scheduled to visit Coast region on a working tour from April 26, 2013 to April 27, 2013. You are, therefore, kindly invited for a luncheon tomorrow April 25, 2013 at State House Mombasa.”

He is always on his feet. If not moving from one venue of an engagement to another, he is on the wheel of a car he has driven for 20 years, a Toyota Corolla. “I loathe being chauffeured around like an invalid or a security concern,” he effuses, wearing a large smile that eases his many wrinkles.

Khataw is the General Director of Benzer Auto Parts Limited, a family enterprise he runs jointly with his only son, Sharad.

Versatile almost to a fault, the octogenarian is a Director of the Kenya Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a member of the Mombasa District Peace Committee, Board member of the Coast Interfaith council, Secretary of the Mombasa Bhatia Community, Executive Committee member of the Environment Trust of Kenya where he often takes part in activities organised to give the port city a clean sheen and amazingly the chairman of a yoga club in Mombasa that brings together 15 members, mainly from the Asian community.

Remarkably, he has participated in all Kenya’s electoral processes since independence in 1963 when he was only 29, volunteering his services in vote counting, voter education or election observer as happened in 2007 and 2013 on appointment by the government to do so.

An avid hockey player right into his 60s, Khataw won many man of the match awards, bringing much honour to the Mombasa club team.

His tireless service to society has been punctuated with awards recognising him for outstanding attributes. He travelled to Mumbai, India in 2005 to receive the Bharat Gauvan (Pride of India) award from the India International Friendship Society.

The award is presented to achievers who have exhibited extraordinary excellence in various fields of their endeavour.  In Khataw’s case, the coveted award was in recognition of his dedicated service to the Kenya Commercial Bank, his contribution to charity and his all round involvement in sports, business and civic issues.

It ranked him with the likes of Sunil Gavascar, legendary Indian cricket star of the 1970s and the 1980s widely admired for his techniques against open bowling.

Locally, Khataw was in 2009 awarded the Head of State Commendation (HSC) by former President Mwai Kibaki in 2009, a year into his retirement from the Kenya Commercial Bank after 36 years of continuous service.  

The Saturday Club of Mombasa decorated him with the Anant Pandya Award in April 2013 in recognition of his services to the Bhatia Community.

The British High Commission recognised his resourcefulness shortly after he retired from the bank with an appointment in 2009 as Honorary Correspondent to maintain contact with British citizens resident in Mombasa.

A letter of appointment dated October 12, 2009 and signed by then British High Commissioner Rob Macaire reads in part: “The purpose of this letter is to appoint you Honorary Correspondent for the Mombasa Island area. I should be grateful if you would let members of the British community in your area know of your appointment as the occasion arises.

Eventful career

His roles enunciated in the latter include keeping the High Commission in touch with matters affecting the interest of British citizens residing in his area, to inform the consular section of any British citizens needing help, and to assist the High Commission in maintaining an up to date list of British citizens in his area.

Khataw takes a sip of his black coffee as he embarks on a walk down the memory lane to his childhood days in what he describes as “a peace flooded island”.

“The Mombasa of my childhood days knew no terror or extra judicial shootings that rock the city today. The place was spotless clean. There were areas set aside for particular races, but people coexisted peacefully

“I went to Allidina Visram High School up to 1950 and joined then National Bank of India in 1951 as a clerk earning Sh800, which was not little money at the time. The bank became National and Grindlays Bank in 1958 and was renamed Kenya Commercial Bank in 1970, the name it has retained to this day.

From clerk at the Treasury Square that had a workforce of only 45, most of them Europeans and Asians, Khataw retired 36 years later in December 2007 as manager of the Town Centre branch. He boasts of training many bankers during his long and eventful career.

The father of three, a son and two daughters is a widower. He lost his wife,  Madhuri in May 2002.

Narottam Khataw election