Life

A Eulogy for Our Dad

Mr Bhikhubhai Dajibhai Mistry
(23rd Dec 1938 – 4th July 2021)

My Dad in 2019, on our family cruise

Jai Shree Krishna.

We’d like to say a few words here about Dad’s life and what he meant for us.

We set out to organise Dad’s funeral this week and I suspect, absolutely no-one who knew Dad, will be surprised that he was ahead of the game. He had arranged a funeral plan more than 10 years ago, including picking out his coffin.

Organised (and also organiser) is definitely a way to describe Dad. He was the ultimate list-taker and time-keeper and he hated the concept of ‘Indian Time’. At the very least Dad wanted to be about half an hour ahead of the clock to make sure nothing was delayed on account of him. I suspect that my sisters’ marriage ceremonies were the only Indian weddings at the time to run on schedule. Dad, as ‘Wedding Planner’, had delegated all the tasks of the day right down to who would serve the water during the meal.

I used to think that Dad was very much a man of routine, who didn’t like to change his ways too much, but it was only later in life that I realised how adaptable and resilient he was. After Mum passed away, change was forced upon him and, after a bit of time, he adapted amazingly. He made a copy of Hershaben’s Gujarati recipe book and learnt to cook for himself. When he finally moved to Leicester he made the bungalow his own. He kept his home immaculate. He joined a couple of day centres to make friends. He went for walks in Victoria Park and utilised the outdoor gym to give his arms a workout.  He went to the Belgrave Road lunch club and visited friends and family whilst in the area. He continued driving up until the pandemic and relished his independence.

But really for Dad, changes, big changes, had happened many times in his life.

When Hershaben was collecting Dad’s memories of his childhood a few years back, he told her that he had gone to Nairobi when he was 12 years old. The journey involved travelling from Pethan (his home town) to Mumbai with friends from the village, sailing on the steamer to Mombasa in Kenya, where he was met by Bapa (grandad), who took him on an overnight train to Nairobi. When I was 12 I could barely walk to school by myself, never mind do a journey like that.

He lived with Bapa for a year, in a rented room. In the evenings they made the dinner together (where Dad learned to make chapatis!) During the day he went to school while Bapa went to work, until eventually they were joined by his mum and sisters.

In Nairobi, Dad was eventually introduced to Mum, who apparently lived only a mile away, and they married in 1962, on May 6th.

Life changed again when they moved to the UK. Dad arrived first, on the same plane as Devjimasa (one of our uncles). His first job here was apparently as a fork lift truck driver, so that runs in the family1. He was followed by a heavily pregnant Mum and Shilaben a few months later.

As the years have gone by, Dad has had to become more adaptable at managing his polio as it became more impairing. I remember him hammering extra bits of rubber onto the soles of his shoes to keep his foot flat. Later, when he needed orthotic boots, he just got out the sewing box and adapted his trousers to fit. He never made a fuss.

I’m not quite sure at what point I realised that Dad wasn’t like most other dads. I’m not talking about his disability here. But the fact that he did so much for us as kids. I do remember thinking that he never really sat down while Mum was doing housework. He would either dry the dishes, do the ironing, or get the hoover out. He’d do most of the food shopping, and taught us how to compare prices properly to make sure we were actually getting value for money.

Dad cleaned and prepared the chicken and the fish, ready for mum to cook. He laid out five almonds each, vitamin C  and cod liver oil tablets ready for us in the mornings. I still can’t eat a whole apple because he used to chop up our fruit for us.

He taught us to swim, and ride a bike. Our little red bicycle with solid rubber tyres had stabilisers added and taken off so many times it had worn away the frame! He was in a house full of women until Dipak was born, but that didn’t stop Dad showing us all how to wire a plug and change the fuse, And teach us car maintenance, basic carpentry and decorating.

I thought that was what all Dads did, but I since learnt that he was pretty unique. Shilaben remembers that some of her friends in Coventry never left the city, but Dad and Mum took us on all sorts of trips. Granted, a lot of it was to see family, but we also visited the sights of London, safari parks and beaches and, of course, at least one trip to India whilst we were young.

Dad took us to the library each week and insisted the books were read before returning. He and mum regularly read our school reports and attended parents evening. This may be standard practice now but at that time for a father of 4 girls, it wasn’t so common.

Dad was always asked to do the lahkhwanu2 at weddings because he was so systematic and trustworthy. He was secretary for the Prajapati Samaj in Coventry for years and took pride in keeping the culture of our community alive.

Being the dutiful son, he called Ma and Bapa over when they were getting older. Bapa sadly passed soon after  but Ma was with us for several years and eventually Dad took early retirement and became a full time carer for her.

The Covid Pandemic has forced huge changes on most of the world, and I know that Dad really missed seeing people during this time. But again, he adapted. He got the hang of FaceTime so he could see his new granddaughter Thea. He learnt how to ‘Zoom’ and joined the Coventry Samaj bhajans. He told me that this ‘Zooming business’ had made more people join the bhajans than before the lockdown because people didn’t have to leave the house!

The national drive to get people to wash their hands more was again pre-empted by Dad as he has always been a stickler for hygiene and had drummed into us from childhood to wash our hands as soon as we came into the house – from anywhere. So he was ahead of the game even before this became a ’thing’

It would be nice to think that we, as kids, have learnt some of Dad’s adaptability and organisational skills. I, for one, often have lists written on carefully chopped bits of scrap paper, tucked away in various pockets to aid my memory. But I can’t say I’m the most punctual of people.

We have lost a wonderful Dad, an excellent teacher and role model and it feels far too soon. But we will cherish our memories of him and try to make him proud.


  1. Mum was a fork-lift truck driver for many years at Britvic, later on. We absolutely loved that we had the mum with the coolest job for a woman, plus we had a never ending supply of fizzy drinks!
  2. In pre-internet days, a desk was set up with two responsible people fastidiously recording the presents or money that people brought to the wedding.

Life

Grief in the time of Covid

It was a two bottle of Gavi kind of evening. That is two bottles between two of us, in case you’re counting.

Yesterday morning we sent Anne’s brother Mark off to the ‘inn at the end of the world’ (G.K. Chesterton – The Feast of the Snow).  Where, under normal circumstances, the church would be filled to the rafters, there could only be 30, and instead people gathered a safe distance apart in the carpark and outside The Crows Nest in Crosby, Mark’s ‘inn’ of choice, as the hearse drove by.

I have been to just a few funerals but this one reminded me of my mum’s, over 15 years ago, when Covid was not even a twinkle in a bat’s eye (allegedly). That hall WAS packed to the rafters but the words spoken were the same. That sense of family, and love. For Mark, his son Patrick talked so eloquently about a father who would do anything for his four children, as my sister once talked of our mum. There was a little laughter and some tears and actually, despite the restrictions, it was beautiful. To have such a testimony read out of a life well lived although much, much too short.

I think I was worried, before the service, that there weren’t the usual avenues to start the grieving process in this crazy time we’re in. No wake, no hugs, no real together time. In the Hindu culture, (pre-pandemic) there is a period of time (sort of like a long wake without the alcohol) where the family sits in mourning and relations and friends come to the house to sit, sing hymns, talk and share memories about the person who has gone, and to cry. In fact, I remember when I was a child, older women used to say that they were going to the house of mourning in order to ‘cry’ with the family. As if this was the main purpose.

It was a caterwaul sometimes, and the buttoned down, western part of my psyche baulked and was embarrassed by the effluent sounds, wondering what the neighbours would be thinking. It also got my waterworks going and half the time I didn’t really know the person who had gone, so it must have done something to the actual bereaved.  Irish people may recognise these old ladies as ‘keeners’ in their own traditions, and I’m sure there are many other variations in other cultures, but it is, ironically, a dying art, because it seems I wasn’t the only person who felt uncomfortable by such public displays of emotion.

Mark was, according to his family, a reserved quiet man. He would have hated such histrionics and probably preferred the more intimate service that he had. The priest was a family friend who had married Mark and Carole over forty years ago. His homily was personal and delivered with a lovely gentleness that was never grave or sombre, but thoughtful and uplifting. As we sat listening, separated into bubbles and not all squashed up, Anne told me later, that this gave her the space to go into herself a little bit and listen feelingly to the words. He spoke directly to Mark’s mum and acknowledged her own personal loss, so similar to my grandma’s. And gave his final thoughts to Carole, who’d done the lion’s share of caring for him as the Motor Neuron’s Disease took more of a hold. We followed his coffin out to the theme of Z-cars for his beloved Everton Football Club.

Although Mark was quiet, he enjoyed a good time and would definitely have liked his wake in the Crows Nest and as soon as it is possible we will be there, raising pints of Theakstons (or something more palatable) to remember him. In the meantime, Anne and I did a little zoom call with the family in the evening to raise a glass or three and then had our own personal wake for her brother.

The poem below is by Rabindranath Tagore and was read out at his cremation.

 Farewell My Friends
 Farewell My Friends
 It was beautiful
 As long as it lasted
 The journey of my life.
 I have no regrets
 Whatsoever said
 The pain I’ll leave behind.
 Those dear hearts
 Who love and care...
 And the strings pulling
 At the heart and soul...
 The strong arms
 That held me up
 When my own strength
 Let me down.
 At the turning of my life
 I came across
 Good friends,
 Friends who stood by me
 Even when time raced me by.
 Farewell, farewell My friends
 I smile and
 Bid you goodbye.
 No, shed no tears
 For I need them not
 All I need is your smile.
 If you feel sad
 Do think of me
 For that’s what I’ll like
 When you live in the hearts
 Of those you love
 Remember then
 You never die.