I woke this morning feeling dehydrated and before my coffee, reached for the carton of coconut water. It flooded me with memories.
It is impossible for me to see a beach or palm and not think of my childhood holidays in Bombay (now Mumbai). Every summer we would look forward to the 19 hour train trip from the heart of India to the coast. My parents had siblings living there. We looked forward to being with aunts and uncles and cousins. I had one favourite aunt who remains vivid in memory. Still vibrant, she died young in her early 60s.
She was my mother’s younger sister. The two were very close in a sibship of ten. My mother often regaled us with her memories of childhood with great affection. It was always my aunt leading the charge. Like the time, as a pre-teen, she rolled up straw in a newspaper and attempted to smoke the giant cigarette she made. Coughing and spluttering, she insisted my mother do the same. She was the life of any party, the first to sing and dance without inhibition. She was an athlete, an Olympian. Her hair was thick and glossy, dark as a raven’s wing in flight. She brushed it off her face with impatience in one hand and, in the days before it was acceptable in that society for a woman to smoke, a cigarette in the other. She looked at propriety in the face, threw her head back and laughed at it. I was mesmerised by her presence. The world is a quieter place, by her absence.
I remember so much about her but it is the smaller details I remember more vividly. She was a walking contradiction. An elegant tomboy is the best description I can come up with. Her home was styled so beautifully. I think I developed a love for sculptures from her. Her sense of fashion was amazing. She wore bright colours with dare. Silk saris in turquoise, hot pinks, emerald greens, draped effortlessly. Despite being a mother of four, she was slender as a reed.
She lived on the first floor of a large, period house right on the beach. In the monsoon season, the high tide reached the back door, bringing with it coconuts that fell from the palms in the backyard.
This morning I recalled the memory of tucking into the soft, sweet and gelatinous flesh of tender coconuts, still green on the outside. There is nothing similar to describe it in taste and texture. One experiences it.
Although she passed away many years ago, her loss is so intense, we rarely speak of it. When we do, we smile through tears because she is forever young. Forever irreverent. Forever fun. Forever loved. Forever missed.
Now that’s one memorable legacy to leave behind.
Until next time
a dawn bird