Zuhair “Kash” Kashmeri, Dec. 3, 1946 – Dec. 21, 2018
Zuhair “Kash” Kashmeri has died, and left a hole in the heart of our community much larger than his slight frame.
Many locals would know Kash as “Carlotta’s husband,” or “the gelato guy,” a warm and chatty man-about-Queen-Street. They might not know him as an award-winning, groundbreaking journalist, author, deeply spiritual man, and champion of rights the world over.
Born and raised in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, young Zuhair was taught to be curious, to question things. His father was one of the top Bollywood screenwriters — but “still made time for his family,” says Kash’s brother Sarwar — and his mother was a social worker, championing the rights of women and minorities. “There were lots of protestors at the apartment when we were growing up,” says Sarwar with a grin.
Kash’s inquisitiveness and thirst for justice naturally led him to journalism. He received degrees in India and England, and returned to write for the Indian Express. According to Sarwar, in 1971 Kash’s employer said, “You’re so good you need a bigger stage,” which propelled the journalist to Toronto, Ont.
The bigger stage he chose was the Globe and Mail. In his 15 years with the national newspaper, Kash built a reputation for covering delicate and complex topics, such as the Middle East, and Sikh culture. In fact, he was so well known for his sensitivity to the former that Yasser Arafat granted him an interview. Kash was in fact the first journalist in North America to be given time with the then-leader of Palestine.
The dogged journalist also broke the scandal around a famous Air India bombing; “He saved the image of Sikhs throughout the world,” says Sarwar, telling the story of a Toronto cab driver who recognized his family name and praised his brother’s work. “Zuhair was know for old-fashioned journalism,” says his proud older brother. “Get the story, get more than the story.” He recounts tales of exploding buildings and race riots. “He was a storyteller; he wanted to put every story in perspective, to provide the truth and the facts.”
Kash had many other career successes, including as an instrumental editor and journalist with the then-startup Now Magazine, now a weekly alternative news powerhouse. He wrote two non-fiction books, made a documentary about his father, and consulted for National Bank Financial, and the list goes on.
He also married and had two children, to whom he was devoted.
But what he could be most famous for is his love for Carlotta — and hers for him.
“Death is gracious for the dead, not for the living,” says the grief-stricken widow. Normally known for her Italian effervescence — spumante personified — Carlotta is flattened. “When people ask me how I feel, I want to tell them I feel shitty. I don’t care if people get shocked or offended,” she says in her rich Italianate English.
In 2001, Kash had a quadruple bypass. “I think he was living a good life,” says Sarwar, “Indulgent.” He also blames the stress of journalism. After the successful surgery, the indulgences shifted: “He changed his food, he changed his life. He travelled the world looking for Carlotta,” says his brother with a twinkle in his eye. In fact at this point he didn’t know Carlotta existed.
Kash travelled to Costa Rica on vacation in 2004. Carlotta happened to be managing the resort where he stayed. “I decided to study Spanish Literature in Costa Rica — I’ve always loved the Spanish language,” says the diminutive Italian. “I was offered a job for six months, and stayed for five years. They’re still waiting for me in Florence,” she says with a chuckle. “I said I’d be back in six months.”
Kash was smitten from the start, and returned to the same resort in Costa Rica every two months for a year. Did Carlotta know he would be the love of her life? “Absolutely not.” But she didn’t have much of a chance when it came to the man who won over Arafat and survived death threats and heart surgery. Kash won her heart too. Completely.
Carlotta moved to Toronto in 2005. The couple had two weddings in 2007. “Nothing was normal with Kash,” says Carlotta, shaking her head.
Both ceremonies were held in the tiny town of Reading, Vermont — population 300. Sarwar and his wife Deborah had a farm there which was a favourite place of the couple’s.
Kash had decided he wanted the officiant of their wedding to be a world authority on Islam and Christianity. “Unfortunately,” says Sarwar, “he was not ordained as a minister in Vermont and therefore the marriage had to be performed by a justice of the peace.”
The justice of the peace in Reading also happened to own a garden centre, and that’s where the ceremony was held. “We were in this big arboretum, we popped the cork,” remembers Carlotta. “He was drunk, to tell he truth. Such a character,” she says, describing their first officiant.
The second service was held in the same small church where Kash’s brother was married. Three hundred of their closest friends and family attended. “Oh, the wedding,” says Carlotta. “It was a multi-cultural service with Hindi, English, Italian and Spanish spoken. Each of our friends and family were reading their speeches in their language,” she recalls with a sigh of joy.
In 2008 the pair made the move to Niagara-on-the-Lake to run a bed and breakfast. “We thought the prettiest town in Canada would be the best location for a B&B,” says Carlotta, logically. They bought the Burns House on King Street, and dubbed it La Toscana di Carlotta. “He loved this crazy old house,” says the business’ namesake.
“We started the B&B in the spring, my mother helped. We were a good team of three,” Carlotta says. “Kash was a wonderful host. He was my personal encyclopedia.”
Sadly, in the first of several harsh blows, Carlotta’s mother died three years ago.
Most B&B owners will tell you that running a successful guest house is plenty of work, but Kash didn’t stop there. “It’s a funny story,” says Carlotta. “We were travelling in Italy and always having lunch in gelaterias. One night we were having dinner with my brothers and one of them said, ‘Let’s open a gelateria.’ Kash said, ‘I’m in,’” she says. “Always the best things come from dinner together.”
The next morning the three of them met and, over a cafe breakfast in Florence’s Uffizi gallery, hatched the basic business plan for Il Gelato di Carlotta.
“Zuhair was always a big fan of slow food and as organic as possible,” says Carlotta. “It took months to find the products and ingredients we wanted. He also wanted to promote Niagara products,” she recalls. “We started with the amazing marketing that Zuhair did.”
They opened their first gelateria on Queen Street five years ago. The growing empire has spread to four locations, with a fifth in Florence: a modern, high-end gelato food truck.
In his “spare” time, Kash remained thoroughly engaged. He working on ways to encourage kids to read over the summer; wrote poetry; walked their beloved dog Maia through the parks and streets of town every day, often stopping to chat with other locals. He meditated daily, and participated in silent Vipassana retreats regularly, for 10 days at a time — which, for such a garrulous man, was quite an accomplishment. He played tennis regularly, and had a very active and satisfying social life.
“On Tuesday night, the 20th, we had friends here,” says Carlotta. “We had a toast to Kash’s excellent health.” He had recently been to the doctor for his annual physical, and everyone was very happy with the results.
On Wednesday, Dec. 21, Carlotta went to open the Queen Street gelateria. She says, “I said, ‘Okay Kashi, I’m going now,’ and he said, ‘Okay, I’m coming with the dog but first I have to put away a load of wood.’” Having not heard from her husband, Carlotta called him at 3:27 p.m. There was no answer.
“At 4:20 I came home,” says Carlotta in a soft, sad voice. “Maia was there and the kitchen was cold. I saw the door was open, and I was ready to say ‘Oh Kash, you left the door open.’ I walked out into the garden, the wood was all put away — he was on his knees with his head on the wood.”
“I grabbed him, I called him, he was so cold,” she says.
Carlotta called 911, and was coached through what to do until the paramedics arrived, but there was no hope. “The coroner said it was probably instant,” says the bereaved wife. “It is what he would have wanted.”
The day after Kash died, Carlotta went into his desk and found a poem he had been transcribing in calligraphy for his brother. Originally a sermon by Henry Scott-Holland, it begins, “Death is nothing at all,” and concludes with, “All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again.”
Zuhair “Kash” Kashmeri leaves his wife Carlotta Cattani; his children Shamil and Shireen and their mother, his ex-wife Hera Kashmeri, as well as his brother Sarwar, and four grandchildren.
Carlotta says some of his ashes will be spread on the beach in Mumbai where he played as a boy. Some will be in Toronto with his children. And some will be buried in a cemetery in Florence. “He wants to be next to my mum,” says Carlotta. “He interviewed the nun who runs the cemetery because she protects Roma, hires them to clean,” she continues. “How is it possible in Italy we are so racist against Roma?”
“What Zuhair did was instead of being scared, he was wanting to know how we’re different. He wanted to let them keep their own culture,” she says, of the man who respected all people’s rights to their own truth and justice.