This is a belated post. Yesterday, I was sitting at a small café in a tiny farming town of Kellerberrin, Western Australia. I have passed this way many times but there is nothing much here, so stopping was a perceived waste of travel time.
Previously, I had noticed a small café with its stark black and white signage, “Coffee Food Catering” and a few plastic chairs out front. Not exactly the most alluring of signs. Plastic strips hanging above the door frame, caught the breeze noisily. The welcome out front is typical of an Australian ‘corner shop’ in a small town. There are no fast food outlets here. I assumed it was small shop well used by truck drivers. One day, in desperation for early coffee, I stopped by. To my amazement I had entered into an Aladdin’s Cave of gourmet delights. All locally sourced and home made. Starting a conversation with the owner was easy. A love of food does this among strangers.
In the early 1980s the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Perth. I was doing some banking in the city and got caught up in the crowd. While waiting for the city to return to normal, an Indian lady next to me started a conversation. “I know you, child”, she says to me, thoughtfully. “What’s your name?” (Those of you familiar with the Aunty Maggy videos on You Tube, this style of conversation among strangers, will resonate). After a few exchanges, none of which satisfied her curiosity, she asked, “Are you related to Isidore Coelho”, peering into my face, searchingly. I told her I was his granddaughter. With a voice filled with emotion, she told me, she had looked at his picture for years, almost every day. It is at the front of ‘The Chef’. She stated, “You look like him!”
‘The Chef’, she went on to tell me, was part of the bridal trappings for Goan and Mangalorean brides. Prior to settling in Perth, her husband was a Captain in the Indian Navy. She took the book around the world. A prized possession. Her kitchen bible. It was part of India she was unwilling to renounce.
I am unsure if I look like my grandfather, but I have inherited his passion for writing. I am happiest when my fingers are flying over the keyboard. Sometimes, they go faster than my thoughts. I have also inherited his love for good food and I love to cook as well. Although I’m not sure whether he spent time in a kitchen.
It is only fitting that I remember him now as it is his birth anniversary this week.
Isidore Coelho, the author, needs no introduction to those who know his work. But few knew the man, because he was private and humble. To us, his family, he was remarkable. He was the only grandparent I knew, and, for only a few short years.
Among other office jobs, he worked as a Morse Coder during the British Raj in India. He never reached the heights he should have because of the way of the times. So his intelligence and creativity found better expression in writing and authorship.
A prolific writer, he was published in several languages in India. Long before computers, he wrote with a fountain pen on foolscap paper. I recall, a ‘nib’ and inkwell, too. A memory of him hunched over a desk, writing, is a favourite one, and etched deep. It was where he died, doing what he loved best.
A widower, he mourned the loss of his beloved Sabina, for the rest of his days. They had five surviving children and had lost the sixth, a young son, Stanley, a teenager, to illness. Stanley was a brilliant student. His full potential forever lost. It was a grief my grandfather carried in his very being. I’m sure it cut him in half some days. On others, it made him ten feet taller. But at all times, my grandfather wrote. And, he wrote. And, he wrote.
Although my grandmother and Stanley died long before I was born, it is my first memory of watching someone experiencing loss. I take after my grandfather. I tend to carry loss within me. I rarely cry tears. Except, in words.
The name Isidore Coelho evokes cooking from the heart. His book is part of kitchen lore for many. Author of ‘The Chef’, little did he know his book would be prized by new brides and taken to far corners of the world. Little did he know with the advent of the internet, ‘The Chef’ would still be sought, and invoke chatter among strangers for decades after his earthly journey ended.
Today, I am ten feet tall because I am his descendant.
Little did he know, this would be possible.
a dawn bird