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Phiroz in Bombay

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By Robert Mehta

Named after Sir Pherozeshah M. Mehta, Phiroz’s parents wanted him to follow his brilliant namesake to the Bar. Realising, however, that a skilled barrister could free a guilty man or convict an innocent man, Phiroz rejected this path as being an unjust one, and has sought instead, throughout his life, the justice of the “religious life” path which extends worldwide.

Almost everyone has a love of their birthplace, and the longing to return to one’s roots towards the end of a very long and diverse life must be a strong force.

Thus on 27th May 1993, leaving Heathrow London at 10:15pm, I flew with my father and his sister, my aunt Ala, to Bombay. A frail old gentleman of ninety and a very lively lady of seventy nine and myself sat between the two of them. Having hardly left the house all year, he stoically and resolutely faced the drive to the airport, the nine hour flight and the hour and a half drive from the airport in Bombay to the flat. We left on a cool, wet May evening and arrived in a mid-morning 95° humid heat. Phiroz was carried in a chair up the entrance steps of the flats to the lift, and over the entrance door of the eighth floor flat a friend of my aunt had hung garlands of flowers to welcome Phiroz back and printed “chalk dust” patterns on the floor.

The flat is very spacious with the main room being about 65 feet long by 25 feet wide. There are double French doors out onto balconies overlooking the sea about half a mile distant, flowering trees and shrubs inland and the skyscrapers of Bombay along the coastline. Birds call and swoop around all day, crows, pigeons, sparrows, red kites and the more exotic parrots and koels (a relative of the crow with a distinctive call).

During the fortnight I was there, Phiroz slept a lot, gradually recovering from the journey and making great efforts to keep walking with the help of walking stick and helping hand. He was quiet, even subdued, and only occasionally drawn out into conversation on subjects he knows and loves or occasional reminiscences of his childhood or earlier life.

Through me he sends love and thanks to all his kind friends who wished him well through letters, cards, telephone calls or just good thoughts. His eyesight is now very poor and he can only just read very large print. His handwriting is very slow and only just readable. He still of course welcomes any cards or letters which can be read to him by his sister but can no longer reply.

It is unlikely that all this would have been possible without the devoted care of Laila de Lys over the last two years. I myself, and I am sure all Phiroz’s friends, would like to thank her for this and to congratulate her on her success with her studies at SOAS.

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