The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Monday, July 16, 2018

Eulogy: Shiri Uncle

It's been almost 3 months since we lost our uncle... crazy how time flies, and crazy how it still shocks me. We had some prayers at the Gurudwara a few weeks ago where friends and family came together to remember him, and I gave a short speech. Not easy to do (I haven't yet gotten around to watching the video yet...) but I managed. Thought to share it here for those who weren't able to attend. <3 p="">


They say a man dies twice... the first is when he takes his last breath. The second is when his name is uttered for the last time. 

All those of you who knew Shiri Uncle even a little bit can attest to the fact his name will live on for a VERY long time to come. As my brother-in-law so aptly put it - his grandkids will be in some remote location 20 years from now, and when people find out that they're Kohli's grandkids, they'll definitely get some special treatment! 

Friends and family, first of all, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to be with us today. Shiri Uncle's loss has hit us incredibly hard, and your support during this time has been invaluable. 

Though I'm sure that no words will ever be able to do him justice, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't at least try. As Shiri Uncle would say to me - "You can do this, baby!" 

All those of you who know us know that the Walia clan is full of a multitude of different personalities - personalities that can be a bit overwhelming if you don't know us - but personalities that Shiri uncle managed to navigate and balance just fine. I remember growing up and being around this jolly, tall man who always had a smile on his face and a joke to tell, and was never afraid to be a kid himself if that's what it took! He always had an abundance of love and joy and kindness to give ANYONE and EVERYONE. 

I remember, when I was around 14 or 15, I had to write an autobiography for an English project in school. One of the chapters I was to turn in was about 'a special person'. Was there really ever any speculation over who that person would be? I'll read a few snippets from this chapter, as I stand wholeheartedly behind what I wrote then. My writing style may have changed, but my sentiments certainly haven't..

"Jolly, kind and a general favourite are the words every nine people out of ten would use to describe him. He hardly ever loses his temper, and even if he does, he hardly shows it.
As a child, he was a fun loving person with many friends, and he changed very little as he grew. He was a bright university student who would actually walk out of his final exam because he knew all the answers and so found it boring (and I'm not kidding, he actually did this!)
Even now, he still hasn't lost his humorous side, and is a person who knows how to get on the good side of children, never having forgotten, as most adultss have, that he too was once a kid. He can bring a smile to anyone's face at the most dismal times, and has a way of making the worst situations possible seem hilarious.
He is like a brother to my father, and like a second father to my sisters and I. Indeed, he is very special, and everyone who knows him can testify to this, and wish there were more of him in this world."

What a man, indeed. I remember sending him this and him telling me that it moved him to tears.

One of my younger cousins shared with me some of his memories of Shiri Uncle that definitely resonate strongly: 

"Masarji was like a second father to me, no hyperbole in that at all. He gave me my first taste of beer when I was really young - a vivid memory especially because of how foul I thought it was, and how we both laughed about it afterwards. He bought me my first shaver and taught me how to use it, something I've often remembered as I go to shave in the past few years. He was that rare kind of person that treated people with an almost inhuman fairness - never making me and Rohan feel like kids the way so many other elders did. I know he would be proud of the legacy he has left behind in Sim and Nikku, and in the many ways he touched the lives of so many others, myself included. Although the times I got to spend with him were few, I miss them, and him, dearly. I know he would have wanted us to celebrate his life, and that's what I will try to do, by embodying the wonderful qualities he possessed of humour, kindness and selflessness among the stars."

A few words from his daughters: 

"Since I was a little girl, having grown up with a dad like mine - I can only describe my childhood as one big, happy party. My dad's magnetic personality always meant that we were constantly surrounded by friends and family as everyone wanted to be around him. He just had this aura about him. He has made me laugh so much, I would nearly cry.
Have you ever been invited by friends and are told...bring your dad? It happened to me all the time.... and sometimes I wondered whether they would have bothered whether or not I turned long as my dad was there.
You taught us to be independent, to be loving, to be generous. You taught us to always live life in the present, to grab opportunities when you see them.  When I came 2nd in school and went and told him...he said coming first is very simply get everything right. But coming that needs to be carefully executed...and it made me feel so much better."

Man, can I relate! I remember when I was younger, always being so excited when going to seee Shiri uncle because it always did feel like a party! He always spoke to me and never brushed me off the way that many adults seem to do to kids. I remember telling a friend of mine a few weeks ago - when my uncle gets better and he next visits Kenya, I'm going to bring him along on one of our nights out! While that reality didn't pan out, Shiri uncle, you can rest assured that we definitely will have a big party when I next see you! 

From his other daughter, Simi: 

"People tell us their facebook feed will never be the same. most folks started and ended their day reading a joke he posted...thank you Pa for shiri piri piri.
He was so open minded...sometimes more so than us... he welcomed change . So many people are amazed at how he moved to a different continent so much later in life...but still embraced the lifestyle and made the most of everything."

Shiri uncle's facebook! I was reading through the multitude of messages we have received after his passing, and there were so many thanking him for his good humour and his constant jokes on facebook! You may be surprised - then again, maybe not - at the amount of friends of his whom I got in touch with who he'd never met in person, but who were his friends because of his jokes!

As I mentioned before, Shiri uncle was much beloved by everyone. He had many friends spread across multiple geographies, and he loved them to bits - I see many of you in the audience today, and I hope you knew how much he cherished you! In return, they loved him and gave him their loyalty, which in this day and age, is a testament to the kind of man my uncle was - and always will be. 

Friends, many near and far have wonderful memories of Shiri uncle - even people who only met him for a few hours! A dear friend of mine attended my sister's wedding and wrote me when she heard the news about how impactful her meeting her had been. If I were to stand here and recount everyone's memories, rest assured, we'd be here for decades to come - but I'd like you to know that I am planning to collect many more and put these together, so please keep them coming! 

Shiri uncle, our world will never be the same without you. As I've told a few others in the previous month, I'd never thought as much about my future as I have in these few weeks - because the unconscious vision I had for that future has now changed. When I think of any important upcoming milestone, you would have been one of the first people to know, and the person cheering and dancing the most! You may not be with us to do this physically anymore, but rest assured, I'll do my best to give you MANY more reasons to cheer and be proud of us and have a celebratory drink wherever you are. Thank you for being you. Thank you for teaching me all that you have. Thank you for being the inspiration that you have been - and that you continue to be, no matter where you are. 

A few lines most of you will recognise that I thought seemed fitting for someone like Shiri uncle:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sun on ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

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