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.

Books

The Widows of Malabar Hill – Sujata Massey

The front cover of the paperback
The front cover of the paperback

Having said I’m not into the Crime novel genre, I appear to have read two of them back to back!

But you see, when the main protagonist has the surname of Mistry (as my surname is) I felt a personal obligation.

As an aside, this isn’t always the case. After reading one book by Rohinton Mistry (A Fine Balance) I was left so traumatised that I can’t, just at the moment anyway, read anything else by him. It was extremely good, but the subject matter and the arc of the story just left me in bits.

Incidentally, the main characters in this book are Zoroastrian, as was one of the main characters in A Fine Balance. I asked my dad about the surname. And he thought it meant carpenter, or craftsman. He said it was frequently used by many types of Gujarati people (Gujarat is a state in India where my folks are originally from), be they Hindu, Muslim or Parsi (the Indian term for Zoroastrians).

But enough about history and back to the story at hand. It’s set, errr, back in history, in the early part of the 20th Century, mainly in Bombay (now Mumbai). Perveen Mistry is the first female solicitor to practise in Bombay. Her story is fictional but was inspired by a real woman lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji, who’s mini biog at the end of the book is a fascinating read.

It is 1921 and Perveen has been working for a short time at her father’s practice after studying law at Oxford. A case comes up to sort out the estate of a deceased man who has left three wives, children and a business. What starts off as a routine administrative task becomes complicated by suspicion of duplicity, a murder and the fact that these wives follow a custom of purdahnashin – living in seclusion and completely away from the male gaze.

The story flits back and forth between this case and Perveen’s life a few years before. As well an intriguing ‘Who Done It’, it weaves an interesting tapestry of the lives of people in Bombay at that time. The fairly tolerant juxtaposition of different religious practices and conventions, the casual corruption, and the background tensions of the British presence.

The narrative has an interesting style. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on why but it sounded different somehow. Then it occurred to me that it was like an Indian person speaking English. Excellent English, but more precise and with less colloquialisms than a native speaker might use. Once I got that, it seemed to draw me in more to the time and place of the book. I’m assuming it’s deliberate, as the author was born in England, so it’s really quite clever.

I love a book that is able to keep my interest in the story and able to teach me something new, about different cultures, places and times. This did all that and came with a satisfying conclusion. And luckily for me, it is the first in a series.