Remembering Jamshed Uncle

The late Jamshed D Adrianvala at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club
A generous host and a lover of eggs, both Devilled and Kejriwal
A man with a big heart and the unfettered spirit of a sailor
A man we were fortunate and proud to call Jamshed Uncle

Meet Jamshed Uncle

Well he is not my uncle. He is my wife's uncle. Actually he is not her uncle either. More like a family friend and a guardian. But he is like family to us even if not family.

It was always a bit complex for me to explain to people who 'Jamshed uncle' was but at the end it was very simple. He was someone who loved us very much.

In the process he became an uncle to many of our friends too who knew him through us and who loved him back. Except that he would have them call him Jamshed. He was young at heart and wanted young people to see him as a friend and not an 'uncle' you see.

Jamshed D Adrianvala might technically have been family, but our ties became stronger than that of blood. My wife was special to him, and with that, everyone who was a part of her life was special to him too.

He would call my wife his 'grand-daughter'. That gave me the license to call him uncle. Otherwise, he would pretend to have not heard you if you called out to him as 'Jamshed uncle'. 

"Just Jamshed is fine, dikra (or dikri) " he would smile and say.

The man who welcomed me to the family

Jamshed uncle was the first 'member of the family' that my then future wife had introduced me to. We met at The Yacht Club of course as we did many times over the next 16 years.

He was the only 'non-family' member to be present at our wedding a few months after our first meeting. Over the years he welcomed my mother, my brother, my sister in law, my cousin, my uncle, when they came to Mumbai, making them a part of his life.

When he was lying in the hospital towards the end of his life, I would show him pictures of my niece from the family whatsapp bank. He would smile and say out her name with great joy....Kim-a -yaaa. The last time this happened was when he was in the ICU for the n'th time during his stay. He had tubes through his mouth which wouldn't let him speak. I showed him little Kimu's picture and he leaned forward and smiled to bless her.

When I went to the Tower of Silence last night to bid him farewell, I remembered how he sat with me outside the prayer halls there when my paternal grandmother in law had passed away.  Non-Parsis can't go into the prayer chambers and he wanted to sure that I never felt like an outsider. 

I remembered how a few years later when age and sickness had made taking each step a battle for him, he sat all night inside the prayer room the night my father in law had passed away.

I could not go inside myself of course and eventually went home at night but Jamshed uncle sat on till dawn bidding farewell to his young friend.

Telling him to rest in peace as he was there to look after his daughter and wife and son in law.

Now, they are both up in the sky joining the stars that light up our lives.

He was the one host whose dinners you wouldn't want to miss

I got the news of Jamshed Uncle's demise when I was at an event last evening.

This was for the first public reading of my book. The programme was organised and hosted by a friend of mine at her studio. The food was catered by another friend. I was surrounded by friends and readers and my wife and my mother in law. People who had who had assembled to share my moment of joy. 

My wife and her mom left on hearing the news. I finished the event with the spirit that 'the show must go on'.

Telling myself that Jammie would be happy and at peace to see me surrounded by people who loved me and wished me well.

He was the most wonderful and generous host that I had ever known. I don't think he would like it if I had left midway or if our guests had gone back hungry.

He was born to be free

The magnitude of the loss hit me last evening when I travelled from Powai to Cuffe Parade in a cab after the event. I was alone with my thoughts. The driver in front politely ignoring my silent sobs when I found myself on the Eastern Express Freeway.  I remembered how thrilled Jamshed uncle was when the freeway was built.

"It takes just 11 minutes," he would tell everyone with childish glee. "I have timed it."

I thought of the number of times he had wanted me to try out the Freeway and I didn't as it was not in my way. I had finally listened to him last evening but surely was not how it was meant to be. 

I then remembered Paris Bakery in South Mumbai which he earnestly entreated me to go to many times. 

I made a silent vow to go there one day and buy us pack of khari biscuits from him.

The food connect

Jamshed uncle loved good food but more importantly he loved to feed. He often wanted to tell me about how produce today didn't taste the same anymore and about tricks of the trade of the hospitality industry but I would gently push him away when it came to that as I didn't want to yearn for what could not be.

Our meals at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club is what I looked forward to the most. He introduced me to the eggs Kejriwal there and much later the pigs in a blanket. I loved the cheese chilli toast and baby cheese naan and prawn cocktail too here and for mains, the mixed fried rice and prawn chilli dry. He was very fond of ordering devilled eggs which he'd pronounce as 'dee- vile- d eggs'. When our dinner was done he would insist on packing food for everybody and for me ham sandwiches. If you told him you wanted something he would order two portions of that and then two more and would ask me me to call my friends, who had a standing invite with him, and order many many lobster thermidors.

If he figured out you liked something he would keep getting it for you. Take the sweets from Trupti for example which he got for our wedding signing. I later told him that I liked it. So every anniversary he'd sent me a lavish box even though I am now older, plumper and shouldn't have so many sweets.

He loved simplicity in food and the puri bhaaji made by his house help and charvaloo eedu (scrambled eggs with green garlic) were his favourite and he'd once invited us over for that. Correct that to 'he invited us over many times and we went once.'

I still remember the big bar of foreign chocolate that he gave K and me when the two of us took our first out of town vacation and the chocolate he gave us for every holiday since. But then K was special to him. Knowing that she liked smoked salmon, he would get his nephew from Dubai to get us a pack or two actually, and for other friends of mine, every time he came to Mumbai.

Once Kainaz had said she liked aleti paleti and masoor ma paya and bheja cutlets and chawra ma khadia, classic Parsi dishes, and he got them for us, again and again, specially made by his friend Amy Bilimoria in quantities that could feed the whole of Sam Manekshaw's troops.

The tale of a fighter

As I drove down to the Dungarwadi (Parsi funeral premises) to see Jamshed uncle for one last time, I wondered if the poignant drive down the Freeway was what I wanted to remember him by.

I suddenly looked out the window and saw the restaurant, Soam. I remembered a lunch there from sometime back. We had invited him to  join us for it but he had declined as his cancer treatment injection had left him exhausted. 

"Please don't mind," he replied to my text asking whether I should pick him up "I will not make it this time'.

I replied saying, "it's ok, rest please". I sat down for lunch at Soam the next day when suddenly the door opened and in came Jamshed Uncle holding his stick, assisted by the smiling gateman. 

"Don't give up on me yet," he said and sat down beside me. In gatherings he always insisted that my wife sit by his side and me by the other.

Turned out that had got into a taxi by himself and come down to be with us on the happy occasion battling every limitation that life had thrown at him.

His words came back to me each time I met him at the hospital for the past month or so before he finally told us, "just take me home, I have had enough'.

He had fought cancer and won twice but the third time, and a fall, broke his spirit reminding us that even champions are human.

But let's not forget that Jamshed Adrianvala was a stubborn man. He had after all appeared in a country-wide exam in his youth to get his flying license. At an age where few Indians had traveled abroad, he travelled across the world on work to strange lands with the the odd bit of racism among the many challenges thrown at him.

If he was given a task, he would do it. If he had set his mind on something, he would not rest till he achieved it.

A spirit of challenge and learning was what kept him young regardless of what his biological age was. When the company he worked for folded up due to nationalisation, he reinvented himself as a freelance consultant to startups at a time when these terms were not trendy. Post retirement he learnt how to sail after he joined the Royal Bombay Yacht Club which was after all meant for sailors. He didn't believe in tokenism after all. He sailed ever since in the open seas in the years and was commended by the former commander of the Indian Navy for his commitment to sailing.

In his 80s he got himself an iPad and taught himself how to use the email so that he could stay in touch with us who often didn't have enough time for him. He would earlier cut newspaper clippings of topics of interests and send them to us along with the programme at the club. He then learnt how to surf the net on the iPad and would then mail us articles that he thought would be of interest to us.

His niece told me yesterday that he would email his family stories from my blog or of that Kainaz's work.

He took pride in the achievements of all his adopted grandchildren and which is why he was never alone though he didn't have any children of his own.

The Soam story reminded me of another which I must share. This was of the time when he read about about the award that Aaswad had got for their missal pav and got me to take him there to try it. He gave a note of appreciation to the owners of Aaswad and then requested the kitchen staff to be called out so that he could felicitate them. In the year that followed he reminded me of their foundation day which was coming up. He could never make it to Aaswad again but the folks there are some of the countless many whose lives he had touched and whose prayers touched his.

His happiness came from making others happy

It is not easy to be selfless and the very best falter on this count. 

Yet, I have known very few people who have put the interests of others above anything else the way Jamshed uncle did. The way he looked after his sister was exemplary and their love and affection for each other was the stuff of legends. 

Those who know him can tell many stories of Jamshed uncle's selflessness but here are some from as recent as a month back when he was in the hospital.

Even when in the hospital, his concern was for everyone but himself. "How is Perin?", he would ask about his sister. To his adopted granddaughters he would say, "please go home, it is late". 

To everyone who would come to visit him he would say, "I am so sorry to have inconvenienced you. I feel bad about it"

In one of my last visits I found J battling pain in his room and he asked me for a painkiller. I called a doctor who saw the way he was lying and requested me to help him adjust Jamshed uncle's position in bed. Suddenly, the man who barely had the strength to speak by then, pointed to me and assertively whispered to the doctor, 'not him, he has a back problem, his back will hurt. Call someone else to help you.' 

The thing about Jamshed D Adrianvala was that once you were in his life, he never forgot you and that is why he will never be forgotten.

From the acknowledgement page from my book
Jamshed Uncle hung on long enough to see it and bless it before he left