My Grandmother Aunt – A love story with a difference

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Each year, as I returned to school from my summer vacation, my friends and I would always discuss how much fun we had during the break. These conversations almost inevitably ended up being stories about my friend’s grandmothers, who always waited for their grandchildren to visit them each summer so that they could cook their favorite dishes, or read to them at bedtime, narrate stories of the past or knit beautiful sweaters.

When I was born both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were really old.  Whenever I heard what my friends had to say about their grandmothers, I felt envious and wished that my grandmothers too were hale and hearty to play with me and pamper me thoroughly.  As an eight year old, little did I realize that God did send me a loving grandma through another member of my family.

My aunt Veronica was the fourth-born and youngest among her sisters.  She stayed unmarried to help my grandmother with household chores and look after her four younger brothers (one of them my dad).  Her brothers got married and went abroad to pursue their careers while their children grew up in the same house as Aunt Veronica. 

It was Aunt Veronica who accompanied each of her sisters-in-law to the maternity wards till their bonny babies were born.  She stayed with them till they were discharged from the hospital.  Later on, my aunts used to say that the moment they felt their first contraction running down their spine, Aunt Veronica used to jump up with joy and pack her favorite cream and maroon handbag with a flask containing hot water, a torch and a blanket.  She was the first member of the family to hold each of her nephews and nieces (we are 10 in all) and welcome them into this beautiful world with a tight hug.

…After her funeral with tear filled eyes, my youngest sister came up to me and said “Enna was like my grandmother.”….

It was a cousin who while learning to talk found the name “Veronica” very hard to pronounce. He finally gave up and christened her with a new name “Enna” (which means ‘my’ or ‘mine’ in Tulu). Since then, Aunt Veronica was called Enna by all.

Nobody in the house needed an alarm clock as Enna would wake up at 5:30am and start reciting her morning prayers loudly, while the rest of the family members would soon join her. Then, Enna would attend the early morning mass and return home to pluck jasmine flowers which she neatly tied and kept for the flower vendor to collect.

My sisters and I grew up in Oman and hence counted days to our annual summer vacation which we spent in Mangalore each year.  Enna used to anxiously wait by the window-sill waiting for us to arrive. The first person to come and greet us as we arrived at our ancestral home “United House” was Enna. Each time her eyes would fill with tears of happiness and I knew that she too was counting days for our arrival like us.

Enna was vivacious and very active.  She cooked the most delicious and flavorsome biryani in the whole world.  Her truffles with jelly and puddings were a special treat for all her little nephews and nieces. Enna also made the most aromatic ghee.  In the afternoons when all our uncles and aunts were taking naps, we used to gather around Enna who would talk to us about everything under the sun.  Each evening at 7:30pm sharp, she would recite the family rosary and the rest of the 22 members in the family would join her.  After dinner, we fought to sleep in the mattress near Enna?s bed to listen to her ghost stories even though we were terrified and frightened each night after hearing them.

Enna would call me “Vandana potato” lovingly as I was a very chubby baby.  She never let her potato return to Oman without a bottle of her homemade ghee.  Enna would secretly give me the aluminum pot in which she prepared the ghee and tell me to eat it with hot rice.  Till today, no dish from any 5 star hotel is as mouth-watering as fat rice eaten with ghee, containing those half-burnt crispy crunchy betel leaves.

Enna was the first person to shed tears when any member of the family either left home to go abroad, or stay in the hospital for surgery or even stay at a hostel when studying at college.  Knowing her trait of bursting into tears in an instant, I had told her beforehand not to shed a single drop of tear during my roce and vopsun deuvenche (giving the bride away) ceremonies of my wedding, something she found very hard to comply with.

I was waiting to celebrate my baby’s first Christmas in Mangalore excitedly last year in 2005.  As I packed my video camera in the suitcase, thoughts of capturing shots of my four month old daughter playing in Enna?s arms overwhelmed me.  The day before I left for Mangalore, I received news that Enna was not keeping well and was admitted to the hospital.  Enna knew that I was arriving the following day. The first thought that rushed to my mind was to take my little daughter with me to see her as soon as I reached Mangalore.  I was going to India after a year and a half. 

After reaching Bombay I experienced a strange feeling that there was some sad news being hidden from me.  As my flight landed in the afternoon at Bajpe airport on 23rd December, I started getting disturbed thoughts that Enna was no more.  The feeling of restlessness continued as we traveled to my husband’s house in Belle.  I anxiously peeped out of the vehicle window when passing by Shirva where my ancestral home “United House” is located.  I felt that a shadow of sadness had enveloped Shirva.  The normal hustle-bustle of the town was missing.  I also noticed that my uncle was not in his office as usual. Then I convinced myself that it was my imagination that was giving way to these horrible thoughts.  It was not until I reached my husband?s house, when my father-in-law broke the sad news to me that “Ennabai passed away last night”.  I couldn?t believe that I actually had been feeling so disturbed even before receiving this shocking news.

It was not surprising that nine out of her ten nieces and nephews (from the US, Dubai & Oman) made it to the funeral to bid farewell to their beloved Enna. The only cousin who could not make it was heavily pregnant in Dubai.

Enna’s birthday comes first in the calendar year before anyone else’s in the family.  On 7th February 2006 she would have celebrated her 64th birthday.  Just yesterday my sister from the US wrote to me that she was going to buy a phone card as she usually does to call and wish Enna.  Then she suddenly realized that our Enna was no more.  None of us will ever again hear her sweet chuckle over the phone. Neither will we hear her say as she always does that “I am always praying for you.”

After her funeral with tear filled eyes, my youngest sister came up to me and said “Enna was like my grandmother.” Yes indeed, I said as her statement struck me hard.  I too felt the same way like her.  I thank God for the gift of Enna through whom I experienced the love of an aunt but more the love of a grandmother.

When leaving United House this time, there was no Enna standing by the door with her tear filled eyes. One of my aunts told me to wait for a minute as I stepped out of the porch.  She opened Enna?s small brown cupboard and handed me a bottle of ghee.  Tears rolled down my cheeks as I took a look at this bottle.  I treasure this bottle more than anything precious I had ever received; Enna?s last bottle of ghee that she kept for me before her final departure.

Author: Vandana Menezes- UAE

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