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Phiroz Mehta (1st October 1902 – 2nd May 1994)

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By Robert Mehta

The trouble with having led a good, honest life is that the physical body won’t die!

Phiroz was clear that we cannot ourselves choose the moment of death, but must wait until the ‘appointed’ time, however difficult our continued physical existence may be.

Having become increasingly frail over the last years, Phiroz was unable to recover from a severe bronchial illness, and died peacefully on the morning of 2nd May 1994, having had his last half cup of tea at breakfast time.

Almost one year earlier, on Thursday 27th May 1993, although frail and barely able to walk by himself, Phiroz had decided to return to India for the remaining span of his life.

“This is the exciting bit”, he said to me as the big jumbo jet accelerated down the runway at Heathrow airport.

All Phiroz’s physical needs were well provided for at the beautiful flat of his sister in Bombay, however the ‘mini-strokes’ he had suffered earlier had taken their toll and his short-term memory had become very confused, to the extent that he no longer realised how far away he was from England and his family and friends. So, although his sister was there and one or two old friends of his own generation, he began to miss his friends back in England. So, five months after leaving, he wrote to me to make arrangements to bring him back.

On the eve of his departure from India, his very good friend Mehra (who had helped to arrange his concert tours in the thirties) came to wish him goodbye. She knew it would be their last meeting, and as she left with tears in her eyes she took his hand and kissed it.

The flight back was long and arduous, and Phiroz found the constant vibration too much to allow him to sleep. In spite of this stress, one of the Singapore Airlines stewards commented that he had rarely met a passenger who was so polite.

Back in this country, Phiroz was obviously in need of full-time nursing care, and I found a well-appointed nursing home near my house in Stroud. The staff, although sometimes a little inefficient, were very caring and became very fond of Phiroz.

To the very end he retained his strong will and sense of humour:

“Watch me do my frog walk” — this meant working his way slowly from his armchair back to his bed using hands alternately on the table and bed.

One day when I told him about the rooks building their nests in the trees outside and making rather a lot of noise about it, he said, “If I try to sing, even the crows would weep!”

His funeral was as he had wanted it, both moving and dignified. I’m sure he will forgive me for not fulfilling one of his final requests. Ever careful with money, he said I should not waste money on his funeral.

Don’t bother with a wooden coffin — a cardboard box will do!

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