My Aunt Joyce’s dress was the perennial deep-frozen length that all Catholic women wore in Bandra, Bombay in which, like an enchanted sleeping kingdom, fashions never changed. Christian women wore frocks ending just above the knee, a length unchanged from the Raj. By the sixties however, most grown Indian Catholic women in other parts of India, my father’s sisters, for instance, shed their anyway unbecoming dresses for saris, for now exposing your legs (“bacon and eggs,” the cognoscenti said in Cockney rhyming slang) suggested you might be Anglo-Indian (who, the British gone, were now, by popular consensus, considered the progeny of the Saturday night flings of English Tommies and Indian maids).
Her hair hung lank, her make-up was perfunctory, her figure had thickened; as a young girl, however, Joyce had been pretty.
At proposals from the most eligible bachelors, she had sobbed, “but I don’t want to leave Mummy.” Others came from rich men who, when the Portuguese began to convert our ancestral town of Mangalore nearly five centuries ago, had not, unlike my grandparents, been Brahmins. (The Brahmins, the most influential caste, had been converted first, with each extended family given a Portuguese surname, Lobo, Mathias, Gonsalves, so that even today, surnames are a rough, though not infallible, guide to caste and class; and, anyway, the community remembers).
My grandfather was aghast, “How can you even consider it? Centuries of dirt flowing in his veins!” And so Joyce remained in the house of her youth, a dragonfly in amber, nervous, harassed by the day’s Sisyphean worries, whom I remember like a cautionary tale when I shiver on the shores of the great river.
And St. Andrew’s Church, across the road from her house, loomed and towered over her life. Every Monday, I went with my aunt Joyce and her friend Laura to St. Andrew’s to count the Sunday collection, tens of thousands of rupees, the mite of widows, paupers, princes, golden lads and lasses… The gleam and chink of money! Engineering feats: towers of pentagonal five paise coins; hexagonal twenties with Asoka’s lions; round rupee coins, and eleven-sided twos.
And when the Parish wanted money, I went with my maiden aunt and her maiden friends to play Housie (Bingo). And how intense was the concentration as we listened for jaldi five; two fat ladies, 88; one and six, sweet 16; all the sixes, 66; hockey sticks, 77; top of the house, 90, and then, sudden jubilation—Housie!
Start Date—August 27th, 2012
Completion Date—September 1st, 2013
Word Count Goal-120,000
Words per day Goal—425
Progress (Aiming to write 6 days a week, excluding Sundays)
Day 13—5542 words—17 ahead of goal J