Father Francis Kotwani

In the final chapter, I mention Father Francis Kotwani. He was the family’s parish priest in Kotri. Many family members moved to Kotri, about 30 miles from Karachi, over the years. It is where my mother, Dagma, was brought up.

Father Francis was (at the time) the only Sindh Hindu to convert to Catholicism and become a priest. He was the editor of The Christian Voice newspaper. 

He used to visit our home in Welwyn Garden City when he came to the UK. I remember him having a booming voice which quite frightened me. But his loud voice was just enthusiasm for life and a passion for the topics he discussed with my parents, usually religion.  He said very little to us. But he was clearly a kind and religious man.

He was popular with us six kids because he always arrived laden with Indian sweets such as halva and ladoos. If he had stopped his journey in Rome on his way from India, which he often did, he would bring us Italian chocolates too. So we eagerly awaited his visits!

 

Father Joseph Cordeiro (1918-1994)

In the book, Fr Joseph Cordeiro gives Cecilia the last rites. I do not know whether this actually happened, but I wanted to include him in the book as he was a significant part of my family’s life in India and a link to it after they came to England. Like Father Francis, he was my mother’s family parish priest in Kotri. They were good friends, remaining so throughout their lives.

He would also visit us when he came to the UK.  I remember him well. His visits always heralded a cleaning frenzy in our little council house, as my mother insisted everything must be spick and span for him. Personally, I think he probably never noticed the state of anyone’s house, he was too spiritual for that.

Like Father Francis, he didn’t really speak to us kids. Unlike Father Francis, he didn’t bring sweets either. But we loved him nevertheless. He was as quiet as Father Francis was loud. He was charismatic with an aura of calm. He spent most of the time talking to my parents about deep matters that I didn’t understand, although I listened intently to their conversations.

As he rose through RC ranks, Father Joseph had less time to visit us at our house. He had to come to the UK on official visits to meet the RC Cardinal of Westminster who, in those days, was Cardinal Heenan. Fr Joseph’s lack of time meant we had to go to Cardinal Heenan’s offices, behind Westminster Cathedral, to meet him. I remember this happening on more than one occasion and being very impressed by the large, grand rooms with high ceilings and the velvet with dark wood sofas. I think we must have jumped on them a lot as we were eventually not allowed back. After that, we had to sit in my father’s car, which he parked in a Westminster side street. We would wait there while my parents met with him inside. Predictably, the car waits ended in chaos and fighting, so my mum and dad gave up on that idea. They then would leave us at home while they went to London to see him. We were always very excited by this as we knew they would be out of the house for a long time, meaning we could get up to no good without fear of being caught.

My parents kept in touch with him - and he with them - until his death from cancer. They visited him in Karachi not long before his passing.