A Eulogy for Jayantibhai Patel

I’ve been asked by a few people to provide this, so here’s the eulogy from my grandfather’s funeral:

I’d first of all like to reiterate what Foi said and thank all the people who have supported us over the past week and for taking the time to be here today.

When I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of hours being babysat in Dada’s office, impatiently flicking through television channels, waiting for him to finish work and take me home. In that office he had a little sign that I thought about as I sat down to write this. It was a picture of a bird and began with the words: “If you love something let it go…”

When you love someone like I and the rest of his grandchildren loved Dada, how do begin to let them go? Especially since without them, the world feels a little colder, a little crueller and it’s jarring to just push on with your life when you know there’s one less person in it who’d help you unconditionally, who’d treat you as a child in the good and bad ways.

I think one way to do it is through understanding, to consider the ways in which they shaped you and the world you live in, and Dada certainly did a lot of shaping. In fact, it is impossible to consider his life outside the context of history because, throughout that life, it was history he was making.

As Foi mentioned, Dada came to England in 1964. He would’ve been 31 that year, the same age I am now. The difference being of course that I am already here and happy with my place, whereas he arrived in this country, along with thousands of Kenyan and Ugandan Asians, as part of an migration wave that was not always particularly welcome.

But to be an immigrant is to be a person of ferocious hope. Of relentless care. It’s knowing that the singular ambition that drove you across oceans must not destroy community but seek to provide for it. It is to not let the hatred of others define your life. It is to know that taking a step into the dark, the unknown, is necessary in search of the light.

What I found remarkable about Dada was how he excelled at doing all of this. Firmly both a family and a community man, he was never intimidated and always compassionate. I think the fact that old school friends of mine, people I hadn’t heard from in years, got in touch to send their regards speaks to the memorable effect, through that compassion, that he had on all of those that he met on his various journeys – in England, in India, in Kenya, in America.

And for us, the children and grandchildren of immigrants, those journeys undertaken by those responsible for our being in this country are our site of understanding, our foundational myths. They keep you honest, warn you of dangers that are best avoided, remind you of values.

So what dangers did he warn me of? What values did I learn from my Dada’s life? A fair bit. The big and the small.

I learned that knowing people is nice. Helping them is better.

I learned that 3/4s of being good at your job is putting in the effort.

I learned that Johnny Walker Black Label is the finest blend whisky known to man.

I learned that a can of Fosters is an entirely appropriate drink to give a five year old.

I learned that the best thing to spend money on is other people.

I learned that when you shave, always shave with the grain and not against.

I learned that, because of my Dada’s diligence, hard work and adventurous spirit, I could be whatever I wanted to be…as long as it’s a doctor, engineer or lawyer.

I’m kidding about that last part but I know that whilst Dada wasn’t initially thrilled about my choice of career, he took my ambitions seriously if I took them seriously myself. One of my lasting memories of him is from when I went to ask to borrow the money to do my Masters. He looked at me, skeptically, as you would do if your grandchild had just told you he wanted to go to drama school at age twenty four and asked me : “What do you hope to achieve?”

I told him I was proud of the economic legacy he had left in this country and I wanted to do much the same and leave a cultural one. And when I put it in those terms, he folded his arms, nodded and told me he understood, something I never expected to happen. That was the mark of the man – often stubborn, but always just wanting the best both for and from you and I have spent the last decade desperately trying to make him as proud of me as I was of him, and I know that’s the same for all of us grandchildren.

To be honest with you, I had no idea how I was going to finish this speech. I thought maybe it should be with what Dada would’ve wanted for us. His last text message to me, sent when I was at a wedding, said simply: “Enjoy yourself”. That felt about right.

But coincidence can be a funny thing. The other night my friend Meghna was telling me, quite casually about the origin of her father’s name. A name he shares with Dada. She told me that it’s derived from a Sanskrit word meaning: “Victorious” or “the winner in the end” and when I heard that, I knew that the way to finish was to go back to Dada’s beginning.

Because although he may now have left us, we that loved him can let him go knowing he lived a life that honoured the name he was born with and seeing all of you sitting here, reflecting on the legacy he has left behind – friends, children, grandchildren, businesses, incredible stories, a way of life, a country changed – there is no doubt in my mind, no doubt at all, that Jayantibhai Shanabhai Patel is the winner in the end.

Going Home

I’ve been a little emotionally shut off of late, but upon my trip home to visit my grandparents yesterday, I felt the first tugs at the walls of non-feeling. My grandfather is not very well at the moment, and my grandma is getting that way too though she’s mostly ok. They’ve both cleared 80 so had a good run, as they say, but both have opposite attitudes to their end. My grandfather, who is currently in constant pain, doesn’t want to go. My grandma seems to be done with life, almost perversely so. She’s pretty relaxed about it (“when God calls me, he calls me”). My grandfather desperately hopes for a few more years, preferably in better health.

Something in this juxtaposition really got me and I felt absolute misery. I suppose it was the dawning that these two people who brought me up probably have around five years left, at the very most, and their days of self-sufficency will be over long before that. They both want to see a great-grandkid before they die, something no one in their respective families has ever seen. Indians had kids young, but they also died young. I said I’d give it a go but to not hold out hope. On the train back to Waterloo, I decided that I’m glad I lived long enough to come to terms with the fact that I will die, though I’m sure I will come to re-examine that apparently certainty as the years pass.

I’m still not sure what a good death looks like. The closet I can think of is one where say, after the age of fifty, an assassin is automatically activated and at some point between now and the next forty years they will put a bullet in your head and kill you instantly. Clean and painless; One minute you’ll exist and then you won’t and you’ll never know when then switch’ll happen. If you have a preferable ideal death, let me know.

Think this will all feed into my project with Christoph which, for the purposes of labelling, I will give the working title of Grand Romance.

On Saying Goodbye To A Cat (or why Cloud Atlas is the modern Bible)

“I can’t make the casting, I have to go see a cat before it gets put down.”

Sounds like an excuse. A really bad excuse. It wasn’t. But it didn’t seem to have the gravity of a good excuse, even if putting down a family pet surely is up there in the distress stakes.

The cat in question was a tabby called Oscar, my aunt’s cat, but he’d spent a lot of time at the family house so we all knew him quite well. My grandparents, who spend more time at home than anyone else, were particularly enamoured of him and so Oscar was certainly well looked after. For over half my own lifetime. He was one of the constants that anchored my growing up, and I was always pleased to see him. Oscar had been around at one of my sleepovers, and my friend tried to stare him out. For twenty odd minutes. It didn’t work. That friend is now married and a fully qualified dentist. That cat’s seen a lot of changes.

The Curious Cat

After seventeen odd years of decent health, Oscar was now ageing badly. Arthritis, sight difficulties, a touch of dementia, incontinence, all turned up, all ailments that were not going to get better and had degraded his quality of life.

Yet when I went to see him to say goodbye, he seemed perfectly fine. Gave me his usual welcoming nip on the hand, and we just sat there in each other’s company. He’s always been quite calm with me in a way that makes my little cousin sister envious. She is, perhaps, a little over-zealous with her affections and Oscar never seemed to appreciate it. He did appreciate me rocking up and feeding him a tonne of treats. My aunt warned that we’re only supposed to give him twenty or so a day, but she immediately realised it didn’t matter, a horrible intrusion of clear-eyed reality in what was otherwise a “business as usual” day. In fact, it had been so usual that I had begun to question the need to put him down. He seemed happy enough whenever I saw him. But I wasn’t there to see the suffering. The peeing, the shitting, the vomiting, the unsteadiness. All I saw was a cat who just liked a bit of kip in his old age and felt queasy at the idea that in a few hours he was about to get an eternity of it.

Even when you know it’s the best thing to do, there’s something sinister about putting an animal to sleep. Partly because it seems like a betrayal – you know what’s coming, the animal does not – and partly because it makes you wonder about your own ending.

The person in my family who is perhaps the most distraught about Oscar (after my aunt and my cousin) is my paternal grandfather. They were an amusing pair – the old man with an old cat, two old souls loafing about the house and loving it. I wonder if his distress is informed by the fact that  the afflictions for which we ended Oscar’s life so closely mirrored his own. Times like this make me feel that a moment shared, between any sentient being, is the axiomatic block of civil existence. Your life is both unique and universal, and a shared experience is where the contradiction between those two states collapses and gives way to empathy. (That I don’t necessarily think this is limited to humans somewhat reinforces my vegetarianism).
Needing to get home and finish some work, I made sure to run through all of Oscar’s defining attributes that I’d learned over our years together one last time. I blew on his ear, and watched it twitch, I stroked the cold fuzz on his nose, I rubbed a specific part on his neck, til he purred himself to sleep. I gave him a kiss and went to leave. He jolted as I stood up and eyed me wearily, as old animals tend to do. Obviously you don’t know what they’re thinking, but I believe that right then he kinda had an idea about what was coming. All that fuss, all that attention…
Not quite accepting it was the last time I’d see him, I had to repeat my parting glance, and found he was still looking in my direction. No pleading, or anger, just looking. Maybe he didn’t have a clue, maybe he didn’t want to put up a fight.
The cinema has always been my temple, and so seemed the obvious place to dig myself into once I was done with my tasks. I had wanted to see Cloud Atlas, and it was in many ways just the right film for the occasion. I won’t talk about it too much, but will give a couple of impressions. The film was always going to be a glorious failure. The book made the most of the luxuriant form of the novel. It was packed with detail and because it knew you’d have to stick around for a good long time, that detail had time to seep, letting the connections between the stories naturally filter through without them having to be too explicit. The movie, lacking time and needing to use a more cinema-friendly structure builds its momentum through the explicit invocation of those connections. The cut and the cameras gaze are unsubtle compared to a passing line in a book, but such a method in a film would mostly go completely missed because of the primacy of the visual, especially in the eye candy store that this is. I applaud the Wachowski’s for their ambition, even if the movie is sometimes ham-fisted, and falls into that Trap of Good Intentions somewhere between art-house sensibility and studio necessity.

If the book is a love note to civilisation and our need for each other, the movie is more precisely a paean to compassion, the role it plays in enriching our lives and keeping humanity ticking over. The message that’s reinforced across the six narratives (parables, really) is that what survives you after death is not your physical or “spiritual” presence but merely the actions you take, which are always of your choosing – a humane comfort for a God-sick age.

A long movie short, sentient existence is but a continual string of shared moments, stacked on top of one another, that’s best understood outside of your own sphere.

Recalling the moments I’d shared with Oscar, I checked my phone, and found it was just past the time I knew It was going to happen. I had a text from my cousin:
“He went peacefully within seconds :) xxx” – Who could hope for more?
Sleep well, little fella.
Oscar