Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lepoldin Mai's Christmas Hamper - Konkani Short Story


Lepoldin Mai's Christmas Hamper - Konkani Short Story

A short story by Pundalik Asnodkar
Translated from the original Konkani by Cecil Pinto
--------------

Lepoldin Mai was getting older. Now that was not
saying much. Lepoldin Mai had been old since as long
back as anyone could remember. She was definitely the
oldest person in Tivorlem and was a treasure trove of
village lore. She recounted stories of long ago times.
The one about the time when she first went to sell a
pigling at the Mapusa market, along with her mother,
was everyone's favourite. The thought of someone
actually walking that long a distance with a heavy
basket on one's head, and probably an even heavier one
on the way back, would always draw looks of deep
respect from the young ones. They had never known a
time when there were no buses.

Lepoldin Mai had countless stories to relate which the
youngsters loved.
That there were no benches in the church and people
sat on the floor, that noblemen rode the streets of
Panjim on horseback, that one sent a pallanquin to get
a doctor from the neighbouring village.... all these
unimaginable scenarios kept the youngsters enthralled.
At least the few youngsters that would still listen to
her tales. And those were very few indeed.

Gracy looked out of the open door of her hut as she
swept the cowdung floor. Through the window she could
see her neighbour Lepoldin Mai sitting in the small
balcao of her house next door and gazing into space.
Lepoldin Mai's thick glasses made it very difficult to
know where she was looking, or even if she could see
properly. "Wonder what she thinks of?" thought
Gracy. "Today is Christmas Day. I will go over later
with some Dodol".

It was eight in the morning and Lucy and Romaldin
were still sleeping.
Gracy had been with the little girls for the Midnight
Mass yesterday and the girls would get up later. Gracy
still thought of them as her little girls although
Lucy was sixteen and Romaldin was nineteen. How fast
they had grown.

And to think that Savio Baba, as she called her son,
was twenty four. Why it seemed like just yesterday
that he was sixteen and standing at his father's
graveside. Even at that young age he had shown the
maturity of a grown up man. And how he had been her
strength through all those tough years. A single tear
left Gracy's moist eye, rolled down her cheek and fell
to the cowdung floor.

Now Savio was in Kuwait working as a storekeeper at a
small depot of a very big company. "Praise the Lord"
sighed Gracy. She recalled how Manu Bhatkar
had just made one phone call from his mobile and that
crooked agent had waived his fees. She would go over
to Manu Bhatkar's house too, later, with some of her
homemade Dodol - which he really enjoyed.

This was Savio's first time away from the house for so
long. But he seemed to be faring well. Every first
Friday of the month she would take the girls and go to
Omkar Communication Centre in the bustling Tivorlem
market and at exactly eleven thirty the phone would
ring and it would be Savio on the line. And he would
talk and talk and talk. He would enquire about
everyone; Lepoldin Mai and Manu Bhatkar and Milagres
Bhatkan and Santan Poder and Persu Aunty and he would
go on and on. Whenever Gracy cajoled him not to
waste his money on long phone calls, he would give the
same excuse; about some time being left in his phone
card - whatever that meant.

Gracy would speak to him on the phone for some time
and start sobbing and then Romaldin would speak and
start sobbing and then Lucy would speak and start
sobbing. Ashok Paklo the owner of Omkar Communication
Centre would stand outside the door of his own phone
booth and make sure that nobody disturbed their
privacy. "God bless his soul" Gracy always said, "even
though he is a Hindu". Following these long phone
calls they would always file past the door all teary
eyed and go straight to Pai's graveside in the
cemetery nearby. The walk to the cemetery was always
silent.

Aha! The girls were waking up. Lucy went straight to
the tinny sounding two-in one cassette player and
pressed the play button. The sound of Jim Reeves
singing the Christmas Polka filled the tiny house. The
same tape had been played so often in the past week
that Gracy knew the song sequence and every song by
heart; although she didn't quite comprehend the
meaning of all the lyrics.

"Good morning Gracy" exclaimed Milagres Bhatkan as she
entered the house, "Merry Christmas to you!". "Merry
Christmas Bhatkanni" Gracy and the girls chimed
together. Milagres Bhatkan had brought some Christmas
sweets on a plate covered with a fine semi-transparent
cloth. Gracy could discern the outline of one of those
nice Toblerone triangular chocolates that Milagres
Bhatkan so generously gave them every few months. Her
son Ryan, who was working in England, must have sent
her a very big stock.

"See the beautiful Christmas card that Ryan sent me"
said Milagres Bhatkan as she proferred a big envelope
with a lot of colourful stamps on it. "Ooh! How nice"
cooed Lucy and Romaldin as they ran their fingers over
the glossy card with silver embossing. Milagres
Bhatkan preened with the pride of the superior. She
was always very conscious of her higher status and
expected admiration from her inferiors. So unlike the
other landlord in Tivorlem, Manu Bhatkar, who
commanded admiration, and respect, because of his
benevolent nature.

"Gracy, Lucy, Romalin, Bhatkanni! Merry Christmas!!"
bellowed Santan Poder, as he entered the house with
some complimentary Kanknnam, on his way home from his
morning round. "What news of our Savio Bab?". Santan
Poder smelled faintly of last night's liquor and his
eyes were puffed and bloodshot. This was more than his
normal hangover. A truly Christmas hangover. But
everyone liked Santan Poder. He worked hard and drank
hard. But he was a kind and helpful man.

Wishes were being exchanged when the sound of a car
horn interrrupted.
Everyone tromped out to see a blue Maruti van pull up.
"Is this the house of Gracy Fernandes?" a decent young
man seated near the driver asked in English. "Yes
baba, what happened?" said Milagres Bhatkan
immediately taking control as she considered herself
more 'English speaking' than the rest. "Are you Mrs.
Gracy Fernandes?" enquired the young man. "No, but you
can tell me what is the problem" said Milagres
Bhatkan. "No problem at all ma'am" said the young man.
"We come from EXPRESSIONS - The Flower Shop in Panjim
- and we have to deliver a Christmas hamper to a Mrs.
Gracy Fernandes".

Gracy stepped forward "What is this hamper thing and
who has sent it?" she questioned. The young boy just
smiled as he went to the back of the van amd emerged
again with a huge hamper lined with rich red satin
cloth and seemingly filled with expensive things. Lucy
and Romaldin could not believe their eyes and rushed
forward to examine the contents. "Please sign here
ma'am" said the young man as he proferred a small
booklet and a pen.

"But who has sent this?" asked Gracy incredulously
"Are you sure it is for us?". "Yes ma'am, it is for
you and the sender's name is on the card. Mr. Savio
Fernandes from Kuwait". "But how?!" exclaimed Gracy,
"How could he send it from Kuwait?!". "I know! I
know!" said Romaldin. "Savio must have used e-mail. I
read something about it in the Goa Today magazine
which Manu Bhatkar always gives me after he finishes
reading it".

Before the young man had even got back to the van the
girls had started opening the packages. "Cassettes!"
shouted Lucy. "Oh see this beautiful Christmas tree!!"
said Romaldin. Santan Poder had removed the chocolate
cake from its box and was sniffing it. "Aha! This is
what you call a cake!" he exclaimed, "These A
Pasteleria people really know to make cake. They use
pure butter and not margarine like those other
bakeries". Milagres Bhatkan was enviously examining
the elegant dark green champagne bottle from the
hamper. She had tasted champagne once, at a relative's
wedding, but never actually held a full bottle in her
hand. And here...

"Natalncho Dhobazo!" shouted Lucy. "This is the latest
tape that everyone's talking about". She promptly
ejected Jim Reeves and put in the new tape. The
resonant voice of Goa's Nightingale, Lorna, rent the
air as she belted out Christmas Carols in Konkani to
popular English tunes. Romaldin and Lucy were singing
loudly along as they soon memorised the chorus.

Again the sound of a car horn interrupted. Milagres
Bhatkan used the opportunity to quickly go out so that
the others could not see the envy in her eyes. The
same van. The same young boy. "Excuse me ma'am" the
young boy asked Milagres Bhatkan, "Where is the house
of Mrs. Lepoldin D'Souza?".
"There she is" pointed out Milagres Bhatkan, "Don't
tell me there is a hamper for her too?". "Yes there is
ma'am" said the young man, "And then we have to
deliver to a Mr. Manuel Mascarenhas". "Even Manu
Bhatkar!" exclaimed Milagres Bhatkan.

Santan Poder helped guide the van down the narrow path
to Lepoldin Mai's house. Lepoldin Mai could not
understand what was happening. "Arre!! But
who has sent it?" she asked stubbornly. "The same
sender ma'am' replied the young man, "Savio Fernandes
from Kuwait". "Oh! Savio Bab! How sweet of
him to remember an old lady like me" said Lepoldin Mai
through moist eyes as she looked at the rich hamper.
"I always said he was a man of respect. I
knew he would do well in life and I know he will make
it big some day. Aha! That boy always had a heart of
gold".

"Lepoldin Mai, can I take the champagne?" asked Santan
Poder. "Get lost you bum", Lepoldin Mai chided, "Savio
Bab has sent it for me and not for you.
On Saturday I will have a ladain at the cross. Then
you can open this bottle and serve it to everyone".
"Ok! Ok!" sulked Santan Poder.

They both turned around to the sound of gentle
sobbing. It was Gracy coming walking slowly towards
Lepoldin Mai's house. There were tears in her eyes.
Tears of joy - and a little sadness. Her lips and
eyes constantly changed shape pursing once into a
smile and then the next moment into a shy frown.
One could not make out if she was laughing or crying.
She held in her hand the elegant Christmas Card that
accompanied the hamper. Her eyes suddenly alighted on
the hamper in Lepoldin Mai's balcao. Her face broke
into a grin and a sob in one. She broke into a trot
and then started runnning. She ran right into Lepoldin
Mai's open arms. They hugged and they cried, and in
between the sobs were tears of joy. "Oh that Savio
Bab!"."Oh that Savio Bab!"

"Hush now. Don't cry" Lepoldin Mai comforted Gracy. "I
told you that boy of your's would not forget his
family on Christmas Day!"

Wed Dec 12, 2001


=====
To Goa with Love
Greet your loved ones with fresh flowers this Xmas Season
Expressions - The Flower Shop (Panjim, Goa)
www.goa-world.net/expressions/xmas
Email: cpinto@goatelecom.com - Order by email.

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