For my Dearest Younger Brother
By his great admirer and friend James Norwood Pratt
Devan Shah and James Norwood Pratt
Devan, Faith, and Pearl Dexter at World Tea Expo in Las Vegas
Devan posing for The Tea Almanac, 2012 at ITI’s old location in Pico Rivera
Before I pronounce this eulogy for our endlessly great and endlessly dear Devan Shah, let us perfume our ears with the words of Saint Francis, patron saint of my adopted city San Francisco and namesake of our Holy Father Pope Francis, who began his first Encylical as Pope with the words Saint Francis uses in this poem, Laudato si, Misignore, that is “Be praised O my Lord.” Francis praises God for all creation, brother sun, sister moon and the stars, air, water, fire, mother earth and for forgiving hearts and he ends his poem of praise saying, in English translation:
Be praised, my Lord
for our sister bodily Death
from whose embrace no one alive escapes
Woe to those who die in mortal sin
Blessed are they she finds doing your most Holy Will
Death does them no harm
Praise and bless our Lord
And give thanks and serve him with great humility.
It’s hard for an older brother to deliver a eulogy for his baby brother, and Devan and I have loved one another like brothers for almost half his life and a third of my own. We loved one another and we still do: some things don’t change. What will survive of us is Love, the rest is dross. “What thou lovest well remains,” as the poet says: “What thou lovest well shall not be reft from thee.” But the truth of Love is not for words to speak of nor describe. I know this because words failed me when I tried to describe the brotherly love between Devan and me all these years. And his very great love for his great big family, love for us his friends, more numerous far than those of us now present, and his inspiring love for tea, for sharing with anybody and everybody who came to him his own enjoyment of tea and great respect for the meaning of tea. He reached tens of thousands directly, as we know, and indirectly reached millions more who were perfect strangers. He was a great man, this Devan, and most people who met him realized that. It is the great love of a great man that has brought all of us together here. And nobody knows that Love better than you, Reena, and you Brendan and Bianca, and you Margaret Mahesh, and you his sisters Shilpa, Charu and Yamini, and all the family here from India and the States and me also—we all of us have felt Devan’s Love. It’s a Love words cannot describe, I tell you, because I have tried and failed. And therefore I almost decided to read words from some of the many letters of condolence I received from people who knew Devan and recognized all the love he had for me as well as themselves and his many teas that he shared with us. But no—I will not do it. I will not read you letters written in the shock of fresh grief. Life lends us only feet—Death gives us wings. His funeral was yesterday; today we celebrate his life. Let us put aside all folly and all grief. Let us wrap our tears in an oolong leaf and leave them under a stone. Nor need we further testimony to his numerous achievements—they speak for themselves. None of us in the world of tea would be where we are were it not for Devan. When he arrived in this country the tea trade was not just sleepy, it was comatose. Devan first introduced us to chai, today’s second best-selling category of tea nation-wide, but I shall not list his many achievements, founding Chado Tea Rooms, mass-marketing White Tea, empowering and supporting countless tea retailers around the country, creating the first Tea Sommelier course, even driving me to begin and finally finish our Tea Dictionary. I shan’t go on. Today I only want to talk about this man I call my brother. He did his utmost to educate us in excellence, not only in our tea life but in our whole life, such was his unmistakable integrity and generosity, his enthusiasm and powerful positive energy, his endless helpfulness and constant effort to bring us into a higher awareness of what he saw and knew was possible. Purity of heart is to will one thing and Devan seemed to will, with all his might, to be the change he wished to see in this world. That single-mindedness of his has helped make our American tea scene by far the most interesting, welcoming and, yes, profitable one anywhere in the world. He inspired us to respect and cherish tea and one another the way he did. This is the secret of his astonishing success. It is a success not simply measured by his profitable businesses but by how greatly our tea community has been transformed since he arrived and began his tireless work among us. He succeeded above all at being the best sort of human being. This is true success and it is what explains his receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award when he was barely over 50 years old—What a brother!
The way he lived his life spoke more eloquently than ever I could do of Devan Shah’s true greatness. It manifested the greatness of his love. It is that, all that love of his and love of him that has brought all of us over many seas and across many borders to be together here today. I invite you, I invite us all together, to spend a long few moments returning Devan’s love. I ask you to observe silence, close your eyes and picture Devan to yourself as you knew him. Please keep your eyes closed until I ask you to open them.
(PROLONGED SILENT PAUSE)
Whenever we think of Devan and picture him to ourselves, there is one thought in particular that should come to us. It is a thought of pure joy, a thought of peace, a thought of limitless release, limitless because all things are freed within it. So let us let our Devan go with God to rest in the Heart of Love. Rest in peace, Devan, and the peace of God be always with you.
Please open your eyes. Let us go forth from here resolved to continue along the path Devan has shown us. And the peace of God be always with you and remain with us all. Amen.