"I remember Farouk from the age of two: I was 3 years older. He was energetic, dashing, quick, impulsive and accident-prone — one of my late father’s friends used to call him ‘lightning’... There was evidence of an entrepreneurial streak; our cook taught him to count up to 10 in Tamil. This he would do for visitors for a fee of 1 anna (the equivalent of 1 old penny).
As the years passed, however, he became somewhat eccentric, perhaps he cultivated it. Although generous with others he developed and perfected the art of not spending more money than was absolutely necessary on himself."
His father’s position as a captain in the British army in India meant frequent moves so that Farouk soon found himself attending Saint Patrick’s School, Asansol (near Calcutta), which was run by the Irish Christian Brothers.
Later the family moved to Hampshire where he attended grammar school in Portsmouth. Here Rustum introduced him to a sixth former, called Jim Mahoney. Jim’s parents were Irish and Farouk became infected with his new friend’s enthusiasm for all things Irish.
Later, as a young man in London, he met an old Scotsman who taught him to play the bagpipes. Thus it was that when he was appointed to the staff of the Inland Revenue in Llanishen, Cardiff in the early 1960s it was a natural step for him to become a member of the Saint Patrick’s Pipe Band in Grangetown. He took part in the great occasions, such as the grand Corpus Christi procession in June, which in those days would wend its way through the sun‑splashed streets of the city, with bands, banners and seemingly thousands of children. There were also the many little, local occasions, the weddings, the funerals, the parties, the Hogmanays, the Burn’s Nghts, at which Farouk would be a willing and welcome guest, as piper and as friend.
He was a paid‑up member of the Grangetown Catholic Club and one of his treasured memories was of the night, over 20 years ago, when he, a Zoroastrian from Poona, ‘signed in’ the present writer, a Catholic from Cork! He would often tease me about that.
Another treasured moment was that day in Cologne, about 1980, when he came across a crowd of about 100 people surrounding a lone busker who was playing ‘all the tunes of glory’ on a nice‑looking set of bagpipes. Farouk gently eased his way through, went up to the piper, spoke a few quiet words, and was then handed the pipes. He then amazed the delighted crowd by playing his own favourite tunes while the busker – who in fact turned out to be a German who had spent seven years in Dungarvan – passed the cap around. I can report that they got more than a few pfennigs for their impromtu double act!
Of course Grangetown was, and is, a place with strong links with Ireland. The history of the Catholic Parish of St. Patrick’ s goes back to 1866, to the post‑famine period when Irish Catholics and their children were numerous, poor and ostracised (the census of 1861 shows 10,000 Irish in Cardiff out of a total population of 31,000). Almost every Parish priest has been Irish (the present incumbent, Fr. John Fahy, is a Galwayman). Farouk’s long involvement with Grangetown served to strengthen his links with people of Irish birth and descent and to forge bonds with them, their country and their culture, that endured to the end.
His love for Irish music led him, to the amusement of his friends, to divide all music into three categories as follows:
a)’Category 1’: Farouk’s ultimate accolade: Irish traditional music and song and the great pipe music of Scotland.
b)’Category 2’: other traditional music, including the music of Wales.
c)’Category 3’: all the rest, from Mozart to Madonna!
Farouk sought out and collected music that was ‘Category 1’ and he would listen, with polite interest, to ‘Category 2’. However, when the words “Category 3!”, were uttered by Farouk in his inimitable laughing way, they were a judgement against which there was no appeal and it was definitely time to leave!
During more than 30 years living in Cardiff Farouk regularly visited Ireland. He has seen, it is said, almost every county in that country and he cherished his memories of each one of them.
He had a particular interest in visiting the ‘Gaeltachts’, those areas in Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Donegal and Meath where Irish is still spoken. This man from Asia, whose immediate forebears spoke Gujarati and whose remote ancestors spoke Persian, paid Ireland the ultimate tribute of learning, not just its music and its songs, but also its language, that “language the stranger does not know”. He was a founder member of Comhluadar Caerdydd, the society for the Irish language in Cardiff. Set up in January, 1994, it has published four editions of the magazine, An Briathar Saor, held weekly Irish classes, and organised the public meeting in November, 1994 which resulted in the setting up of the Wales Famine Forum.
On his visits to Ireland this unexpected speaker of our language would go into pubs in the various ‘Gaeltachts’ (Irish‑speaking districts) and order his Guinness in competent Irish. The looks on the faces around him on such occasions give him much cause for amusement, which, expressed with his unique chortling glee, he would later share with his friends in Cardiff.
He took early retirement from the Inland Revenue, hoping to have more time for his many interests. He planned to buy a holiday home in Ireland. He wanted to give more time to umpiring hockey matches, a game which, as well as cricket, he had played to a good club standard. He wanted to improve his piping and to have more opportunity to speak and read Irish.
In early 1995 the first symptoms of kidney failure appeared but he said nothing to his family or friends until, in May of that year, following his return from a week’s holiday in Bray, County Wicklow, his final visit to Ireland, daily dialysis became necessary.
This treatment, which alone kept him alive, he endured with characteristic nonchalance until, in July, 1996, he received a kidney transplant. After that his health and fitness began to improve, he began to drive again and even umpired some hockey matches.
In early November Seán Ó Sé, the well‑known singer from Bantry, was at McQ’s Club in West Bute Street in what used to be called ‘Tiger Bay’. Among those who heard Seán regale his audience with songs in English and Irish (‘An Poc ar Buile’, Seán’s signature tune!) from the old country was an apparently fully recovered Farouk.
On being introduced they had a pleasant conversation in Irish! That was probably the last time Farouk was seen among friends in an Irish setting.
During Christmas, however, he developed an infection which apparently caused a recurrence of kidney failure. Within a few weeks, to the grief and surprise of his family and friends, he had died.
The chapel at the Thornhill Crematorium in Cardiff was overcrowded – those who arrived late had to stand. Although he never became a Christian or openly religious (“The nearest Zoroastrian temple is 5,000 miles away, so I can’t really go very often,” he would quip) the Committal Service was a deeply religious occasion. The coffin was brought in by four pipers in uniform, Eric Almroth, Tony Elquezabal, Billy Chisholm and Bernard Slaughan. ‘Abide with Me’ and ‘Rock of Ages’ were sung. The Vicar of Thornhill, Canon Neville Jones, said the old familiar prayers. Then, at the close, his friend and fellow piper, Bernard Slaughan of Grangetown, played one of Thomas Moore’s most poignant melodies, ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’.
A light has gone out of all our lives – we shall not see his likes again.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
May he rest in peace.
Photo of Farouk