It is 5 years 3 months and 2 days since I became an orphan. Losing my Dad in the physical world has made me acutely aware that I am next in the queue. There is no pity or sadness just a recognition of the seismic emotional change and growth. My Dad would say finally, I have grown up but I still have a lot to learn.
Death can be an invaluable friend if we see death in that light. Certainly my Dad knew how to live in the now. His difficult days never held him back. He had this amazing innate ability to see the bigger picture and enjoy the present. My parents separated when I was five. My Dad raised his children, ran his business and did what he believed he must do for the greater cause of humanity. He never re-married so as a single parent which in those days was rare especially for a man and without any family network to rely on he got on with doing his duty towards his children and the community. I always admired him for the sacrifices he made.
Legacy can be a burden or a gift depending on our perspective.
Last week I had the good fortune of attending an 80th birthday party for a lovely lady. Almost 60 years ago she, my mother and another lady travelled together on a steamer from India to England with their little children in tow. It must have been very hard, a new country, a new language and a new culture but together they supported one another as they started their new life. It was the first time some of the children of these ladies were gathered under one roof.
This lady whose party I attended is a beautiful soul. She happens to be the only person here who knew both my parents quite well. Around 200 guests were invited at this very exclusive celebration. There, her daughter talked about her mother’s journey and the challenges she faced with courage. Now the reason why these three women were on the same steamer was because their husbands were close friends. The daughter in her speech while celebrating her mother’s glorious life mentioned my father and what she said touched me so deeply that I feel I want to share this here. She said my father had encouraged her Dad to go into business the result of which was that her Dad became a hugely successful entrepreneur. This family are very wealthy but they are so down to earth and humble.
She went on to acknowledge that my father was a pioneer because it was my father who founded the first Temple in this country. Since then there are of course many more majestic Hindu Temples all around the country but someone had to have a vision and someone had to make a start. In those days there were a small group of Hindu families but they had no community hub to get together. My Dad was not a religious man but he was astute enough to know how the community can be brought together. He was blessed with some fine kindred spirits who helped him with this vision. My father wrote more than 30 handwritten letters to various estate agents in the city asking them to bear in mind the need for a large building with a decent amount of land around it. In those days there was no email. A building was bought from the Salvation Army and now that temple has been in place for more than 52 years. The Temple started with a handful of people using their own homes as collateral to acquire this splendid property.
New visitors to the temple will not be privy to this but for me it is a matter of deep personal honour for my father to be recognised in this way. As my father was mentioned I stood up to accept this accolade amidst a round of applause. My only qualification or entitlement to receive this gift was because I was there as his daughter. I remember feeling proud beyond words yes and a tad emotional too. It was wonderful to hear my father’s contribution recognised in such a public way.
He was a man who could see beyond. After he retired which he did so twice, once at the age of 58 and then at the age of 76, he spent only three years in India after his first retirement. In that short space of time though there was turbulence in the family he managed to buy a paints factory and set up a store to sell paints. He also built our home, grew vegetables and yet had time to start a Bank from scratch for the benefit of the farming community. I doubt many know that but I remember as a teenager how he used to come up with these seemingly great ideas and then go about bringing his dream to fruition. I was used to late night meetings in our home both in India and here because it was me having to make endless cups of coffee and type the minutes of the meetings. In my eyes he was a man of substance and grit. He managed to be combine his many roles. To say I love my Dad doesn’t go far enough. After my Dad, Nelson Mandela is the next man I admire the most..
Early this month there was another event this was at the Banqueting suite at our local Civic Hall. It was an event hosted to mark 40 years of a local hospice. I had received bereavement counselling through them so I do when the opportunity arises like to lend my support. I had been interviewed for the event at home. As this was being shown on the big screen I was talking about the great work the hospice does for our city. In the backdrop my father’s picture was on display then the eureka moment happened… around 35 years ago in this very same Banqueting suite at the civic hall my father had hosted a reception for the Indian High Commissioner. Amongst the dignitaries were Sir Keith Joseph, the then Education Secretary and Sir Denis Healey, Deputy leader of the Labour Party. I remember running down the steps to get their autographs. I thought wow, here we are again the both of us after all those years, amazing grace. I’d forgotten about this event like I have so many such events but I am glad I made the connection. I came home with a big smile on my face feeling mighty proud. Now my Dad was not an educated man nor was he part of an elite group but he had the uncanny ability to connect with many. I feel so happy just thinking about that.
I am his youngest and the luckiest of them all as I carrying his legacy. It is a responsibility I am very aware of and I know while I can never match him in the many things he did and the way he made people feel I do aspire to be good enough so that when people look me in the eye they see a bit of my father in me.
To conclude on the subject of death and legacy we are all our parents legacy or gift to the world. We have a responsibility to add value for the next generation like they did with their pioneering hard work. They set the foundations to give us a decent head start. Life was not easy for them but they did more than their best. They did more than just provide for their families and we need to acknowledge their contribution and follow in their footsteps as well as leave our own mark in the sand. Of course we must do so in our unique way but no matter how important we believe ourselves to be we must never forget we are because of them. I am proud to be known as my father’s daughter I do not need any other accolades or labels to define me.
I heard a lovely talk on the subject of death recently. The essence of it was that we must see death as a trusted adviser to remind us to be in the NOW. Especially when we feel agitated or stressed by the most mundane of things. Life is happening when we are on our way busy going somewhere or doing something sometimes important and necessary sometimes not. Now if we think about this carefully we would not have music but for the silence in between the notes yet we hardly notice the silence as we are too absorbed in the doing part.
So my take from this experience is this it helps to remember we have a limited life span. We only have one chance to live life and get it ‘right’. It is inevitable that one day we too will die. What do we want our legacy to be ? Hopefully, it is to make a difference and to leave a positive albeit tiny mark on the world.
Pause especially when we feel we can’t breathe. Listen to our inner voice that is our guide.
Say yes (within reason) to life and finally, when possible rest and be kind to you because you matter..we all matter. We are one part of the whole. Enough said, you will understand.
Peace be with you.
1st April 2019.