I was on my home visit in Kerala when I got the disconcerting news of Simon’s unexpected death on June 1, 2018. Then, I recalled an article which I have written on my friend Simon with the following actual story.
Some years back Fr. Paddy Magh of happy memory told me about his home visit and meeting his widowed father in Australia. Both the son and dad were enjoying a quiet evening at home.
Fr. Paddy then told his aged father, “Dad, after some years, you will be no more. Your children, children’s children and many relatives and friends gather around your dead body. Some of us will say, what you are, what you have been to many people. They will recall your achievements, your living for your family; and the many fantastic things which you have done and achieved.”
“Yes, son. Those things usually happen. But why do you tell me now what will happen then?”
“Dad, when people say many good things about you, you will be lying in the coffin. You will not hear them! So I want to say some of those things now when you are alive.”
Then Fr. Paddy told his dad what an inspiring and encouraging person he has been to Paddy himself and for his siblings and to his wife and family, to his relatives and neighbours. Fr. Paddy recalled many concrete things about his dad as a loving and caring father, as an ideal husband to his wife, as a great friend to his neighbours and as a model Christian for everyone. There were tears of joy in his dad’s eyes as well as in Fr. Paddy’s own eyes.
Fr. Paddy’s story moved me. It inspired and made me think a lot. While reflecting on the story, Simon Francis Parmar came to my mind. I loved, respected and admired Simon but I felt that I never communicated to him all that he is and what he means to me. Of course, we have been good friends and we have mutual respect and appreciation. We supported each other. He has said publically more than once that I am his mentor in writing and journalism. I am happy to recall here that Simon wrote a very encouraging and appreciative Preface to my first book in Gujarati: “Jivan Patolama Dharmani Bhat”.
While I was DOOT Editor, Simon, as Assistant Editor, has given voluntary free service in helping me to edit DOOT for ten long years. So I was happy to suggest his name to succeed me as the Editor of DOOT. From the beginning of DOOT history, competent lay persons have helped the priest-editors in carrying out their editorial responsibilities. But Simon Parmar has the distinction of being the first Editor as a lay person. What he did as a lay person editor was remarkable. So after Fr. Paddy’s story I wrote an article about my friend Simon.
Over the years not only our mutual support and collaboration in running DOOT increased but also our personnel friendship deepened. I was able to take him not only to a number of national meetings, seminars and conventions of Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) but also to a World Congress of the International Union of the Catholic Press (UCIP) in Ruhpolding,Germany in September 1989. On the occasion we also visited the eternal city Rome. If I remember well he was also a member of a group 12 writers whom I took to attend the UCIP World Congress at Bangkok, Thailand in October 2004 and an international seminar at Colombo, Sri Lanka later. In my article I also listed many of Simon’s human and religious qualities like strong faith, hard work, loyalty, dependability, generosity and availability. As a model family man and ideal teacher in St. Xavier’s Loyola School, I often looked up to him for guidance especially on family matters.
Describing all these things I was happy with my ‘master piece’ and Simon too liked it; but he did not want to publish it in DOOT as he told me, “Father, you can publish it after my death.” I do not know what happened to that article after I left DOOT as Managing Editor and Publisher in 1996. In my time DOOT filing cabinet had a file called ‘Morgue’ where good things written about living persons are kept. I learned such practice while working in St. Anthony Messenger (magazine) office for three months in Cincinatti, USA.
While Simon became the Editor as my successor he used to publish every month my article in DOOT. Later he was irregular in publishing my articles. Then, my friend Navin Macwan came to my help taking me to his friend Mr. Jashwant Raval who edited ‘Madhyandar’ daily published from Anand. Mr. Raval requested me to write a weekly column in the Sunday supplement of ‘Madhyandar’. So Simonbhai indirectly helped me to become a regular columnist and writer in secular press and I have been deeply grateful to Simon for it; and our friendship continued to grow.
While I was DOOT Editor and even later Simon and the secretary in DOOT office Ms. Agnes Macwan were the first critics of my articles. When Simon or Agnes objected or strongly disagreed with my writings I always gave in and rewrote the objected matter as I perceived them better judges of people’s perception as I am a non-Gujarati writer writing in Gujarati.
As a family friend of Simonbhai and Kusumben, I enjoyed visiting them and some time sharing a meal cooked by Kusumben. Simon grew up at Bandra, Mumbai and started teaching in St. Stanislaus School, his alma mater. Then, after his marriage he came to Ahmedabad. When I first met him he and Kusumben were staying in a lonely rented farm house not too far from St. Xavier’s Loyola School, where he was teaching. Later, he moved into his own ground floor flat in Memnagar. When builder-developers took over the building Simon bought a first floor flat in a multistorey housing society where his son Joseph too got an adjoining flat. As a sign of the father and son getting on well, the two flats were redesigned into one big beautiful home. It is here Simon lived all his retired life with Kusumben of happy memory and his youngest son Joseph and family.
From time to time Simon used to visit me in my CISS office just for a chat and sometimes to give me a donation for CISS. I always made it a point to invite him to my birthday celebrations in Gurjarvani Residence every year.
When ICPA was announced its annual meeting and convention at Indore in March 2018, Simon requested me to book his rail ticket together with mine. I got Simon’s and my tickets booked both ways. But Simon could not make it. A day before starting the journey I called him to join me in CISS office to go together to the railway station. But then he said he was not feeling well to travel. There was no time for me to get his both way tickets cancelled. Returning from Indore I went to meet Simon in his house. He was okay and spoke to me about his plan to go for a Holy Land tour. But Joseph told me that about his loosing memory. Once Papa went to visit a friend. On the way back he could not find his way back home nor give his home address to the auto driver. Joseph and party searched for him and brought him home. “Father, now we accompany him even to go to Church,” Joseph told me.
Simon was a healthy person. He maintained very good relationship with all people, family, friends, neighbours, students, etc. he was a rare personality with no enemies. He was also a very accommodative person. When Simon was the Editor, the then publisher and the Director of Gujarat Sahitya Prakashan, Anand shifted DOOT office from Ahmedabad to Anand. Simon went along going to Anand as often as needed even staying and sharing meals with the Jesuit community there.
Even after leaving DOOT editorship after two terms Simon kept up his interest in literature by writing articles and translating from English into Gujarati. His last literary enterprise was writing the Church history. More than once he complained to me that the typist was not responding his repeated phone calls. His typist who had worked with me had resigned from CISS office and I did not have much contact with him. I could not help Simon as I was busy preparing to hand over CISS to my successor and go for my home visit. I was at home in Kerala when a friend called me and gave me the sad news of Simon’s death on June 1, 2018. I called Joseph to confirm the news and convey my condolences to him and the whole bereaved family: three sons and two daughters, their spouses and children. May his soul rest in peace.
As a close friend I am sorry that I missed attending his funeral service and subsequent condolence meeting. But I am happy to hear that many people paid glowing tribute to his memory. Here I quote our mutual friend, former President of Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) Fr. George Plathottam, SDB: “May God grant eternal rest to our dear Simon. He has been a wonderful person, a great human being, an inspiration to all of us as a Catholic journalist. We miss his calm presence in ICPA. My sincere condolences to his dear family members.” .
Changed On: 16-06-2018
Next Change: 01-07-2018
Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2018