My Dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,
મારા વ્હાલા કોમલ, અંજલી અને અમર,
I was going to continue with my Africa stories, but the sad event of last week has overwhelmed my thoughts. The sudden death of Kiritmasa has put my mind in great turmoil and has started a train of thoughts of reminiscence.
This is a tragic loss of a great man who has been a great influence on all of us in the past. I believe his influence will carry on for many many years to come, not only for his immediate family but also his extended family such as ours.
I met him for the first time at Stanley Halls in Norwood at a navratri festival dancing event. I had travelled down to London from my university to join my siblings for this much awaited festival. It was only when we got to the hall and saw Nalinimasi all dressed up (more than we were!), that I realised that something important was to happen that evening. It turned out to be not only the most important event in Nalinimasis’s life but also in all of ours. Kiritmasa was scheduled to ‘interview’ Nalinimasi for the first time! As per his style, he took her out on a spin in his racy sports car! We had celebrated Masi’s 18th birthday only two months prior to this. Within six months they were married! As they say, the rest is history. Lalitaba and my Dad were asked to give their blessings for the wedding as traditionally I should have got married first, being the older sister(cousin). Here I have to remind you that in the gujarati language there is only one term, sister (બહેન) or brother(ભાઈ). There is no title for a cousin. The only way we distinguish between cousins and siblings is to add the words…saggo brother or saggi sister (સગ્ગો ભાઈ or સગ્ગી બહેન)!
Anyway, let me continue…….
He not only presented a handsome figure; tall and athletic with the piercing big eyes, but even at that young age he exuded an aura of a confident man with a great vision in life. Just punch in ‘Kirit Patel MBE’ on the web and you will find loads of stories of Kiritmasa. It is a good thing that Masi was only 18 when she got married. She moulded into their family seamlessly. Though age is not the only factor here, it is Masi’s own character too that has carried her through this liaison. As Rupa put it so succinctly, it is also the Surajba genes that makes up the pillar of Nalinimasi. I introduced to you the phrase, ‘Frame of Life’ some years back, I will come back to it in another letter. For now remember that you too have the Surajba genes and fortunately also the Gangaba genes. Both pioneering women of their times.
As for Kiritmasa, he had a great vision for his business and for his family. All the parties that we attended at their house and of course Rupa and Sam’s wedding celebrations reminds us of the joy we all experienced in his circles. I am still gutted that we were not able to attend Jay’s wedding. The whole family’s warm reception of their thousands of friends and family is just priceless.
My first experience of Kiritmasa’s powerful influence was when I was working in the production unit of the then May and Baker Pharmaceutical firm. He always saw my industrial experiences as a waste of time and a loss for his own ventures. On his insistence I faked a twisted ankle (for which a doctor friend of his gave me a medical certificate!) and ended giving him Pharmacist cover for an emergency at one of his shops! Afterwards all my colleagues at work were amazed at my quick recovery!
When I was working at May and Baker, I regularly worked on Saturdays in the first Day Lewis (wasn’t called that at the time) pharmacy in Southborough. Just before I got married I was working for him on a regular basis. It was Kiritmasa who banished my fear of driving different cars. I would drive up to their house in my little Mini Cooper and then hop in with him to Southborough in one of his fancy cars. Many a times I would end up driving back alone. It took him a couple of months before he asked Masi to ask me to move back the car seat to its original position,…. as otherwise he couldn’t even get into his own car!
I have to relate this one story where I told him off! Just imagine this scenario! He was astounded and complained to Masi with the words, “Your sister told me off today!” I was young and hot-headed and very righteous in those days. He had enticed one of my pharmacist friends, Susan, to come and work for him and had also promised her a flat above the shop! Susan started her post but there was no sign of this flat. Hence Susan ended up staying with us. Six adults in a two and a half bed-roomed terraced house! (we probably had the neighbours mumbling……oh! these immigrants are packed up like sardines in that tiny house!). Then my wedding got arranged. This is when I gave Kiritmasa an ultimatum. Of course the resourceful individual that he was, Susan moved into her flat within a couple of weeks.
He did not stop influencing my life even after I got married. This is where my period of Cross Chemist began. Kiritmasa was instrumental in helping a friend sell his pharmacy to a cousin, who was on a lookout for a Pharmacist. This is where I fitted in. I worked as an employee at Cross Chemist and eventually bought the business, Masa’s input again, and ran it for nearly 15 years, from 1985 to 2000. It all worked out perfectly for me, having a career, having you all three and still continuing with the business.
Kiritmasa was also hugely influential in Atishmama and Neshmama’s livelihoods….Day Lewis Opticians. Achalamasi too worked with him and is still involved in some aspects of this huge Empire. As we had moved to Switzerland, we did not spend as much time together as we could have but whenever we got together, and there were many occasions, we always came away with some nugget of wisdom from him….always being the center of any get together.
I had always assumed that he would be in our lives for decades to come. Life can change in an instant, so live for the moment, just like he did. As someone in the family said, ‘He died of happiness’.
I feel very sad but at the same time I think he left a great legacy and we should all learn from his many achievements. Nalinimasi, Jay, Rupa and Sam had a great mentor and I am certain they will do their utmost to uphold all his beliefs.
Thinking of you all and wishing you the best in all your ventures,
with lots of love, hugs and kisses,