-Written By Aditi Goswami
(Reading Time: 12 min Approx)
Mrs. Braganza was a portly old lady. At 88, she was more social than an 18-year-old.
The grand old Portuguese house she’s lived in for seven decades in Goa, was crumbling. But each wall, each brick seemed to tell a story. She’s been telling her sons to help her with getting the house refurbished but the sons want her to sell the house and move in with either of them who stay in some city in some high rise. But Mrs. Braganza was not giving up her freedom any time soon.
After Dr. Braganza, her husband, passed away, Mrs. Braganza has been on her own. Initially it was challenging but now in the last two decades she’s quite capable of managing her life and its challenges that rear its ugly head from time to time.
How did I meet her?
I was on an idle walk in the by lanes of Goa last summer when I was attracted by the former glory of the grand old house. I made my way in from the small and inviting gate, which was open. No latch, no lock, no bell. It was inviting enough. I was hoping to just admire the greens that abounded the house and maybe take back a few pictures. And though I was tempted to pluck a few saplings to take back home, I knew I will not be able to do justice to the plants.
Soon enough I heard a commanding voice. She had spotted me the intruder. She called me in to where she was. As I discovered later, when she would sit, she would always sit where she was sitting now, pretty much in her “I am the commander-in-chief” mode. This was her vantage point. From this cross-hair position, she could see the gate (and I thought my entry would go unnoticed), she could keep an eye on her house help, she could also admire the greens, which she had so painstakingly grown over seven decades. This was also the place from where she could call out to folks who would be passing her house. It appeared she knew everyone – by name.
She asked my name in the gentlest of voices I had ever heard: “What is your name, Bete (child)?”
Introductions done, she offered me tea and some short eats. I couldn’t help but notice her table – full of medicines, syrups, pickles, fruits, diaries, notes, cash and her mobile phone (not smartphone) – in a case that was hanging from her neck, and a landline. Did she expect or make a lot of calls?
She asked me to open her (weathered) diary and flip to alphabet T and look for Tony. I did. She asked if I could dial it from her phone. (I had some difficulty in dialing through that phone, I’d forgotten how to. But I did.) She made some pretty straight forward and authoritarian conversation with Tony. Then, she resumed her conversation with me in her gentle tone. She explained Tony is the truant fisherman who supplies her fish daily. He needs a not so gentle reminder every day. Mrs. Braganza loves having fish. When Tony brings in the supplies from his fresh catch of the day, her house help Suzie makes a simple curry they both relish with steamed rice.
Mrs. Braganza then told me, (as I’m sure she would have told several passersby) that she has lived a glorious life. She’s traveled the country with her husband and seen a good life. She has two doting sons and a few grand-children. She has never visited her sons in the last two decades, but the sons visit her often. They take care of her fiscal and non-fiscal matters. The sons are dutiful and caring from what I could make out. It’s their jobs that have made them move away from Goa, but they make frequent visits. One of them is always there with her for Christmas or Carnival every year.
Mrs. Braganza buys (or asks her friends to buy) gifts for her family. Her gifts are then carried back to the son’s families dutifully to be handed over the DILs or grand kids. She also said, once she sends the gifts she starts to wait for a call from the DILs and the grand kids to let her know they loved the gifts. At times, if a few days have gone by and she has not received a call she calls them, makes some small conversation and asks if they liked what was sent. Almost always she is told they loved it. And that makes Mrs. Braganza happy. Her next round of gift collections begins, almost immediately.
Among many tales that she told me one stayed with me. After relishing her tea, she said now’s the time I call my elder son. I press 8 to talk to him. I was like “huh”! She had a grin. Under an oath of secrecy, she shared that she likes to call both her sons and give them a scare once in a while about her failing health. If they have not visited her in a while, she makes “that” call. It is almost sure one of them will be there on receiving “that” call. She asked me if I wanted to watch. I actually wanted to take her leave and go back to my hotel, but something told me to stay and watch.
This time she did not need my help in dialing. She explained her sons’ numbers are on speed dial, and others she needs to look up in the diary to call. I sat down to watch.
She pressed 8 on the keypad and said a somber “hello”. When the voice on the other side answered she said a few sentences in a tone that conveyed she’s not well. And then for what lasted about 15-20 minutes all I could hear was muffled annoyed tones from the other side while Mrs. Braganza was trying hard to control her chuckles. I had no idea what was happening. Call done, and Mrs. Braganza called out to Suzie and gave her some instructions in her commander-in chief tone. I looked at her astonishingly. How does she switch between the “Napoleon” and “Bones-apart” tone so effortlessly?
As I got up to leave, she said you must be wondering why I did that. I sure was wondering, and she knew it too. She happily put my inquisitiveness to rest.
She said – “I have everything. I have enough money. I have enough help at my beck and call for anything I need to get done. I have chosen to stay alone and live freely and as I wish to, on my terms and conditions. The only thing I want is not to let go of my sons. They both will stop caring and worrying about me if I do not make these calls. They care and care more if they know I am unwell. If I tell them I am fine there is no need to worry, these daily calls and frequent visits will stop. For as long as I live, I want to ensure I am an integral part of their busy lives. And this is an infallible way to ensure that. So, I press 8 to whine.”