Enamoured by elegance

The doctor's wife 'Umaunty' as we called her became my first model of social etiquette.

Having been born into a traditional business family, I grew up amid conservatism and orthodoxy. Every festival was celebrated with due diligence with appropriate propitiation of the divine.

My parents, who had moved from the land of their roots to another for business prospects, did quite a neat job in adjusting to the dry climate of the migrant place compared to the humid one of their origin. Their social appetite soon became well known as lavish rituals were conducted, and several invited and sum-ptuously fed. But the heart always grew a little warmer when they heard of any new settlers from the land of their roots.

So, it happened that an unlikely friendship was struck between a doctor’s family and my parents. Their lifestyle and cuisine were different but what sealed the bond was the common language of their land, albeit of different dialects. Also, my partly-educated mother’s innate sense of etiquette which matched that of the doctor’s literate wife, along with the overwhelming respect she cultivated towards my mother added to the affection.

Needless to say, the worthy doctor became our family physician, who would gladly come over to our house in case of dire necessity. Thanks to the rapport and symbiotic influence between the families, we children, born in a conservative family, got to study in the reputed Good Shepherd Convent as the doctor’s children got in there. The friendly ties were further strengthened with the camara-derie sprouting between us children too.

The doctor’s wife, or ‘Umaunty’ as we called her, became my first model of social etiquette. Though she stood tall and sturdy, over five-and-half feet, she was gentle and soft spoken, kept her house wonderfully neat and her sense of haute couture in traditional saris turned heads. She would, however, wield a tough hand when needed with deserving recipients.

As I was the youngest and the most shy among the brood, I would always be treated more affectionately and given a larger portion of the delicious vanilla ice cream she was wont to prepare. My mother would always carefully be served only fruits, suiting her orthodoxy.

I remember that Krishna Janmashtami held a particular fascination for Umaunty and she would sit up late listening to divine melodies. The next day, my mother would send her delicious laddoos and chaklis. It became a tradition that performance of any orthodox ceremony at our house would mean a large tiffin carrier to the doctor’s house! 

It so happened that I resettled in my home town during a brief stint of my career. My generation had lost some of its conservative outlook. So, with excitement, I extended a warm dinner invitation at my home to the dear doctor couple and another friend. Needless to say that the soiree was mutually soothing and a huge success. Recently, when I heard that the dear lady was no more, I mentally drew down the curtains on the epitome of elegance and etiquette.

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