Canon Simon John Pothen,
Simon’s Dad and my Mum were brother and sister. They belonged to a family of 19 siblings and the difference in years between my Mum and Simon’s Dad, was close to 20 years.
12 of these Siblings crossed 40, to become adults with families of their own and 57 children of the second generation, grew up as first cousins in a world completely different to the one their parents described.
Simon, was the only one of my 57 cousins, who became an ordained priest. I was in School when he was born. I remember the day the telegram came from from Calcutta, announcing his birth.
Telegrams meant only one thing to my Mum. Telegrams meant Death, Doom or Destruction. Telegrams were her cue to run into the toilet, close the door, wail and beat her chest. She could never understand why my husband Sam in our early years, would send me I love you telegrams from the remote places that he travelled to. She pronounced Sam, as Psalm the way most Malayalee Ammachys do.
This Psalm is mad ,she would say, throwing her hands up in the air.
When Simon’s telegram came she was beside herself with anxiety. Then she was beside herself with joy, when I read out Simon John arrived on the 15th of November, a day before my birthday. Later Simon, his parents and younger brother Philip , still an infant, came for a holiday to Singapore. I was Simon’s baby sitter and I failed miserably, when I let him fall all the way down the 20 steps at the Parsonage, a fall he reckons changed his life forever. Mercifully, he was a well padded , chubby toddler and his surprised screams did not in any way reflect the toss he had taken.
Simon sang soprano as a child, in his Dad’s choir. His exceptional voice, was discovered and he went on to cut a record and to play five instruments with panache. He was awarded a music scholarship at Oxford, before he entered the Anglican Church in the UK.
I met Simon the Dude, as his brood calls him, his lovely wife Deborah and their five children Joshua, Abigail, Beth Martha aka Marf and Noah in Pinner, where he was the Parish Priest. I saw how well and comfortably fatherhood sat on his handsome frame. We had a lovely afternoon playing catch with his kids in their backyard. He was a wonderful father, a family man and Deborah his wife and kids were his whole world.
Simon spent two unforgettable holidays with us. He first came out with his eldest daughter Abigail and later with his younger daughters Beth, Martha and their friend Grace. It was 3 magical weeks of fun, fun and more fun. He would play the piano and we would belt out the oldies. We played noisy and boisterous board games and dumb charades. Every time that won, he would prance around, wiggle, swagger and croon
I’m the best, I’m the best, and I’m the best.
It was so hilarious, we let him win most of the time, just to see him perform his victory Dance..
My grandsons, Ashish and Rohan were delighted to have him roll on the grass and fly kites with them. I would tell him all the silly jokes I knew and he would laugh, as if his life depended on it.
Driving back to Chennai after visiting Mohan and Becky, our cousins in Pondicherry, we told each other jokes to pass the time and distance. I could have sworn that he laughed non-stop, for about five kilometres for a particular joke.
I told him the one about the young man from India who had gone as a tourist to London. It was his maiden flight and he was quite exhausted, when he reached his hotel. He decided that he was going to skip dinner and go straight to bed. The bell boy who brought his luggage up was concerned that the visitor was going to bed hungry and he tried to coax him to have some supper.
Why don’t you have something light, perhaps some clear soup? the waiter asked.
The tourist politely declined
No thank you, he said as he closed the door and went to bed.
He had no idea that there was a patient in the next room who was being prepped for a diagnostic procedure at the local hospital. Unfortunately, the nurses got the room numbers mixed up and they entered the wrong room and administered the enema to the jet-lagged tourist. When he returned home, his friends were waiting at the airport to receive him with garlands. They milled around to hear his adventures. When asked if he had enjoyed the trip, he replied in a rather subdued voice
The trip was great, guys
But I have something to tell you, He said
If they ask you to have soup,
Don’t ever ever refuse it….never, never, never
If you don’t have it one way, they will make sure that you have it another way!
Simon laughed long and hard at this. I can still see him stamp his feet and shake all over, as he convulsed in the front seat of the moving car.It would be safe to say, that Simon could never look at soup, the same way ever again.
It was very easy to be happy when Simon was around. He was one of the happiest people, I have ever met in my life. When we were not laughing together, we would talk about men and matters and I was impressed by his knowledge and understanding of life and his gift of counseling.
Not many people know the story of Jesus and the issue of temple taxes. Most people remember His answer “to render unto Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s”. There is another incident in Mathew 17: 24-27. In the Gospel account, the Collectors of the two drachma temple tax in Capernaum ask the disciple Peter, whether Jesus pays the tax. Jesus instructs him to go out and fish and to open the mouth of the first fish that is caught. Peter did as he was asked and legend has it, that it was the Tilapia, known as St. Peter’s fish, that he caught and when he prised the mouth open, he found two coins. Jesus instructed him to pay one for Him and one for Peter.
Many, even young priests, fumble about this reference, but not Simon. He knew exactly where it was in the Bible.
His palate could be quite Asian on occasion and he enjoyed all the spicy food that met him in India. He would help me in the kitchen, wash, cook , clean and learn recipes to duplicate when he went back home. He loved my fish pickle and he took some back on the flight home, despite my disclaimer, that I was not responsible, if it broke or leaked in his luggage.
The smell will linger on your clothes for five generations, I warned him.
I don’t care, he said as he shrugged. He went up on his toes, did a little pirouette clutched the sealed bottles to his broad chest and skipped away like a little boy.
This is going home with me he said gleefully, disappearing into his room, to pack it in his bags.
Mercifully, it survived and he mailed me to say, that he was glad that he had taken it, despite my misgivings and said that he would be back for more.
Seriously Simon ? I wish you came back just once.
He moved on to be the resident Canon at Chelmsford Cathedral in Essex and to shoulder enormous responsibilities, at an incredibly young age.
One day, he wrote to tell me the sad news that he had diagnosed with the Ca of the Bile Duct , one of the rarest of malignant tumours. The size of the Gall bladder and its location make it easier for the cancer to grow undetected. there may be no symptoms for a long while. It knocked my world over, because my memories were pinned around a happy, healthy, handsome human being, a young man who was the life and soul of the party. An unforgettable personality and some. He was my baby cousin Simon.
Simon passed away peacefully on 13.11.2017 , two days before his birthday surrounded by his loving family . I have not been able to come to terms with it.
If I could have given you the rest of my years,
I would gladly have, dear dear Simon
You were truly the best
You were the one we all gravitated to when sad and down
You held our hand and gave us the courage to go on
You gave us hope, when all we saw was gloom and despair
You made us laugh with your histrionics and clowning around
You made happy go up a notch or two
Perhaps God needed you in His Kingdom, across the Blue
Perhaps that’s why he took you so young
In your prime, before time
I will not grieve for this extraordinary human being
I will remember his easy smile, his infectious laugh and his happy ways,
I will thank God for the blessing of having him in my life
You belonged to all of us
To all 57 of us
Goodbye Young Simon
Go in Peace and Rest
We will never forget you