Feb 182008
 

I lost my Uncle Homi yesterday. “How do you mean you lost me?” I can hear him asking, as he quickly picks up on the many meanings of that statement. He was always an admirer of the more formal English of India rather than the more casual and sloppy English of Canada and the US and would not be too impressed with that first sentence of mine. So I shall amend.

Yesterday, after several months of believing that his end was near and a month after he suffered his first stroke and was admitted to a Québec hospital and then transferred to the more competent Ottawa General, my Uncle Homi, more precisely my father’s older cousin on his father’s side, died.

A big man, like his father and his father’s father, my Uncle Homi had told me back in early January that at his age he feared catching pneumonia the most. Of all the ways to die, that scared him because he had seen his patients suffer terribly from that infection. I am amazed at how many people treat pneumonia as if it was the common cold — trundling out and about, shedding bacteria or virii willy nilly, putting more stress on their labouring lungs — rather than the deadly respiratory infection that it can be. Well, unfortunately his fears were realised, but he was stronger than the invading pathogens, and he won that battle. I wonder though if he was like my Grandma, who back in 1981 wasn’t too thrilled to discover that she had survived her quadruple operation when she awoke and who then went on to die of unknown causes (and presumably to join my Grandpa in the afterlife). Uncle Homi… (“Why do you still call me Uncle Homi? I told you to call me Homi!” I hear him averring.) As I was saying, Uncle Homi didn’t die mysteriously like she did, but like Grandma (and in a way, like Judy Taylor at the very end of her life) he was ready to pass on and was none too pleased to discover he was still here on earth.

Actually, he didn’t believe he would “pass on.” Let’s just say he didn’t believe “in all that nonsense.” He was eight when he told his mother and father that he would not wear the sudreh and kusti. Apparently, they didn’t say anything because they just didn’t. He stopped wearing the Zoroastrian ritual garments — except when it was expedient for him to do so, as for instance, when the Muslims and Hindus were warring in India in the 1940s or ’50s and he didn’t want to be caught in the middle and so found it useful to put on the visible protection of Zoroastrian ritual garments — because he literally couldn’t understand the prayers. He didn’t speak Gujrati, and I assume his mother, who did, taught him the prayers in that language. He found it all a bunch of mumbo jumbo anyway.

He told me some time ago that he had made funeral arrangements with a local funeral home in Ottawa both for himself and his wife Addi. He didn’t want a lot of fuss or any of that nonsense, referring to the Zoroastrian prayers. Like most religions, Zoroastrianism has funeral rituals. They are designed to assist the soul in its journey to heaven, and I think, to help the living accept the fact of the death. Priests come to conduct the prayers for three days (Zoroastrian priests are volunteers), at the end of which time the body is buried. It’s important for the body to be buried as Zoroastrians believe in the resurrection of the body. That’s why traditionally, vultures pick the bones clean on the Tower of Silence in Bombay. God then uses the bones to knit together the body in the resurrection. Of course, that was a surefire reason why Uncle Homi told the funeral home that he and Addi were to be cremated. His soul didn’t need assisting — was there even a soul? Nope, none of this resurrection nonsense for him, no matter what his parents had taught him. Rebellious to the end, he further instructed no funeral, no memorial, not even an obit. He was to pass into oblivion unobserved. Sigh. Stronger creatures than I am could not have budged him on this decision of his, no matter how much they would have argued for the needs of the living.

But having that same rebellious streak, in smaller measure, I am writing this remembrance to Uncle Homi (“Homi! Not Uncle Homi!” Yet he smiles broadly as he remonstrates me, again), writing out my feelings of loss, writing my way to coping with an earthly life without him. I may not have been able to say good-bye in the traditional, time-honoured way that tells the heart “he is gone,” but I can say good-bye in this way, in a way that lets me know with finality that he is gone, for at the end of this post is a gallery of his photos. I would not be posting these — I would not even have possession of his photos — if Homi was still alive. If he was still alive, I’d still be looking forward to receiving one of his autographed photos for my birthday or Christmas. But I’m not.

Homi was a passionate amateur photographer. He was first and foremost a physician, and being easily bored, he switched specialties and homes a few times, finally settling down to the community life of a well-loved GP in Ottawa. (Apocryphal but true: He had to take an IQ test for medical school. As he couldn’t believe anyone wanted this as a measure of his competence, he doodled along in his boredom until test time was up. His mark was so low, it was, as he told me, at the “level of a moron.” That was technically an IQ of 51-70 at that time. The “moron” relied on his excellent memory to always come first in medical school.) But he also loved photography. I saw his cameras today: Comtrax and Zeiss Ikon. Three. With very different lenses. And very heavy too, for they were of a well-constructed vintage I haven’t seen since I was a child. These three were his current cameras; I didn’t see his other ones.

A few years ago, he closed up his dark room, metaphorically speaking, and moved it onto the computer. Now being Homi, he held no truck for these new-fangled computers. He liked the original Corel Ventura just fine, the version that Corel produced after buying Ventura and its utilities from Xerox. I liked it too, but being the computer geek that I was before Y2K, I really, really liked buying a new computer built to my specs every couple of years or so. That meant, of course, new software. Not always, but sometimes. All that newness and challenge of learning kept me happy for awhile. But the very idea of upgrading horrified Homi. Win98 suited him just fine. Dial-up was good enough. And the old Corel Photo-Paint gave him the control of fixing his photographs bit by bit, or occasionally pixel by pixel. I used to work on graphics with Corel Photo-Paint at the pixel level in my old pre-injury days, and I know what concentrated and skilled work that is. Retirement a couple of years ago meant he could devote more hours to that sort of work…when he wasn’t writing his newest book, that is. He was writing about water. I wonder now what will happen to all his research… But I shall not mull on that, instead I present to you my favourite flowers of Homi’s and a farewell nod to his three beloveds in life.

Two Daisies Gerbera Sunflower Lilies Orchids Three Icelandic Poppy Three Autumn Leaves Babe Cottage Addi at School Yard

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  • ADDI

    Dear Shireen
    Thank you so much for the nice words you wrote about Homi. It is a beautiful remebrance and good to read about. Also the pictures are fitting nicely into your blog.
    Thank you so much again
    Addi

  • ADDI

    Dear Shireen
    Thank you so much for the nice words you wrote about Homi. It is a beautiful remebrance and good to read about. Also the pictures are fitting nicely into your blog.
    Thank you so much again
    Addi

  • Meher Jeejeebhoy

    Dear Shireen
    Your words say it all,he was quite the guy who lived life to it’s fullest. He will be missed by us all
    Thank You
    Love Uncle Meher

  • Meher Jeejeebhoy

    Dear Shireen
    Your words say it all,he was quite the guy who lived life to it’s fullest. He will be missed by us all
    Thank You
    Love Uncle Meher

  • Shireen

    Addi and Uncle, I’m glad you liked it. And yup, he was quite the guy! It still seems rather surreal that he’s gone.

    BTW: If you click on the photos, you can see larger versions of them. When I was going through them, I noticed he had a preference for portrait mode rather than landscape. I hadn’t noticed that before when just looking at his prints.

  • Farida Jeejeebhoy

    Dear Shireen,

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Uncle Homi. When Mike and I heard that our Uncle Homi had had a stroke we just knew we needed to help him and Addi through this time. After arriving to his remote cottage in Quebec with our 3 kids in tow, he was touched by the sight of Asha, Katrina and Thomas. But we needed help to get him from his cottage to the hospital which was in another town 40 minutes away. I have to say that the care he received in Quebec was exceptional, from the ambulance attendants that helped get him from his cottage and to the hospital safely, to the amazing and ever so compassionate nurses in the ER, and to the very competent medical staff that cared for him until he was transferred to Ottawa so Addi could be in the same city as the hospital and in their home. I would like to acknowledge the care that he received at a time when he needed the compassion, skilled care and understanding that he was skilled at giving to all of us and his patients………

    Gratefully,
    Farida

  • Farida Jeejeebhoy

    Dear Shireen,

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Uncle Homi. When Mike and I heard that our Uncle Homi had had a stroke we just knew we needed to help him and Addi through this time. After arriving to his remote cottage in Quebec with our 3 kids in tow, he was touched by the sight of Asha, Katrina and Thomas. But we needed help to get him from his cottage to the hospital which was in another town 40 minutes away. I have to say that the care he received in Quebec was exceptional, from the ambulance attendants that helped get him from his cottage and to the hospital safely, to the amazing and ever so compassionate nurses in the ER, and to the very competent medical staff that cared for him until he was transferred to Ottawa so Addi could be in the same city as the hospital and in their home. I would like to acknowledge the care that he received at a time when he needed the compassion, skilled care and understanding that he was skilled at giving to all of us and his patients………

    Gratefully,
    Farida

  • Walter Lefeber

    Hi Shireen. I read your beautiful story about Dr. Homi Feroze Jeejeebhoy. I’m quit interested in him, because his wife Addi is a relative of my mother Jetty, being a descendant of Willem Vincent Helvetius van Riemsdijk. Her great grandmother Albertina Benjamins was a cousin of my great grandmother Theodora. I sure want to know a lot more of him.

  • Walter Lefeber

    Hi Shireen. I read your beautiful story about Dr. Homi Feroze Jeejeebhoy. I’m quit interested in him, because his wife Addi is a relative of my mother Jetty, being a descendant of Willem Vincent Helvetius van Riemsdijk. Her great grandmother Albertina Benjamins was a cousin of my great grandmother Theodora. I sure want to know a lot more of him.

  • Shireen

    Farida, I heard that Asha was the one who got him into the ambulance. He was like his own father in that way, easily persuaded by children — though I’m sure he’d say “Nonsense!” to that.

    Walter, thank you for that. Perhaps over time I will write more stories about him and his cousins, my father and uncle. He was an interesting man who had great stories to tell!

  • Walter Lefeber

    Shireen, I look forward to hear more stories about this very interesting man.

  • Walter Lefeber

    Shireen, I look forward to hear more stories about this very interesting man.

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