ME AND MY CLOTHES 3 -Memories of a yellow outfit that’s making me feel blue.
I still remember that day long ago and for some inexplicable reason, I clearly remember what I wore. I had paired a long-sleeved turmeric yellow shirt with a bias cut plaid checked skirt in shades of turmeric yellow, charcoal grey and white. The fabric was a polyester-cotton blend. At the suggestion of my aunt and my mom, I had accessorized the outfit with a large yellow fabric flower on the shirt lapel and black kitten heel shoes. I was participating in our annual parish music talent contest. My aunt with whom I shared a very close and loving relationship had trained me to sing the song and she was to accompany me on the piano. I was to sing “Thank you for the Music” a song made popular at that time, by the well-known Swedish band ABBA. And though my aunt had chosen this song for me to sing, the lyrics and theme of the song were a perfect description of my aunt herself.
Yes, she ‘ had a talent a wonderful thing and everybody listened when she started to sing….’ And sing she did. Starting out herself in the same parish zonal talent contest as a little girl, then accompanying other singers on the piano as she grew older, then singing in operettas and choirs as a star soloist on Bombay’s classical western music stage as a young woman and then being the music teacher for many years in a well-known girls school. Her school ex-students recall how they enjoyed her classes which were much less stressful than the academic math science and language classes. They also recall how she imparted the intricacies of singing in two or three-part harmony, with the right balance of repetitive practice and fun-filled moments.
My aunt was the life and soul of our numerous extended family get-togethers, singing solo and accompanying herself on the piano and also accompanying other family members singing in spontaneous harmony with one another. She infused laughter and joy into our family get-togethers, not only with her music but also with her mimicry of quirks and eccentricities of family members and her humorous accounts of life’s not so perfect situations.
If I had to choose a colour that symbolised her disposition, it was undoubtedly yellow — the colour of sunshine and hope, joy and positivity. The colour yellow also symbolises creativity, friendliness and confidence, all of which she was blessed with.
There is another colour that could describe her personality and that is grey. On the face of it an unlikely choice to most of us who knew her. She did not have much grey or beige in her wardrobe. Her wardrobe had a rainbow of colours accessorised by scarves, shoes, bags and jewellery (often in a smart, subtle mix of real and imitation) in matching hues. But grey denotes neutrality, stability, and respect. And in times when there were hurtful remarks against her husband and children, she always tried to understand why the other party was reacting the way they did. Much to the annoyance of her husband and children. Being wife and mother to sports celebrities, she was used to the extremes of success and failure in all their sporting ventures but managed at all times to maintain an emotional equilibrium in her home.
In fact, if ever there was a discordant note in the relationship between my aunt and me, it was over the colour green. Her hobby was gardening. And she had carefully nurtured the ornamental garden around the family home, where we have our own individual residential spaces and jointly shared open and garden spaces. In recent years I experienced a need for a car -parking spot. It meant that a part of the green lawn in the garden would have to be paved over. She was extremely upset about this. But very very reluctantly she agreed to it. Having less greenery around the home, in favour of a modern convenience, could have become a permanent thorn in both of our sides. But it did not. And she continued to be the same loving aunt that she had always been to me. Our heart to heart chats on my spontaneous (without prior notice) visits to her continued as before.
And then the coronavirus struck the world and turned all of our lives upside down. Extended family get-togethers and sing-along sessions around the piano came to a grinding halt. Holy Week and Easter 2020 felt strange. Solemn church services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and the joyous Easter Vigil Mass which are usually held outdoors in many parish churches in Mumbai shifted online as large gatherings of people were prohibited in the lockdown that had been imposed to curb the spread of the virus.
Both my birthday and my aunt’s birthday often coincide with Holy Week or the Easter Octave. Two of my favourite birthday gifts in past years were from my aunt. A chunky white pearl choker necklace and an ‘opera’ length necklace of creamy butter yellow coloured beads. Either of these necklaces can instantly uplift any of the traditional but very simple ethnic Indian kurtas in my capsule wardrobe to a Sunday best level! The ‘opera’ length necklace became one of my favourite accessories for an Easter Vigil Mass. Its long length meant I could wear it in different ways. Its creamy yellow colour had a summery feel and paired so well with any coloured kurta. And paired especially well with grey, on the rare occasions that I did wear a grey kurta.
My aunt herself owned several opera length bead necklaces in different colours and designs. And though she was one of the few women in Mumbai who could sing difficult opera songs with effortless ease, I don’t think she knew that in fashion terms the extra-long (28 inches to 34 inches long) necklaces that she so loved to wear are known as ‘opera’ length necklaces. Anyway, with churches now physically closed, opportunities to wear your Sunday best had completely diminished.
Shortly after Easter 2020, my aunt lost her brother and brother-in-law (who died of natural causes other than covid). For me also they were dearly loved uncles. But due to covid restrictions, we could not meet or grieve together as a family to bid adieu to our loved ones.
Christmas 2020 was certainly not a Merry Christmas, but a cautious Christmas in Mumbai. Though lockdown restrictions had been partially and in a phased manner unlocked, in general people were hesitant to party as they normally do in December.
Sadly for my aunt, the coronavirus struck her in January 2021, despite having taken every precaution possible. For the last days of her life, she was in a hospital with no physical contact with any family member or friend. Thanks to modern technology and hospital authorities who allowed her limited use of her personal mobile phone, she was able to keep in touch with her husband and with her children. Doctors were hopeful that she would pull through. But it was not to be.
A hasty physical funeral with only a few of us younger relatives present and not even being able to have a last glimpse of her (because of the sealed protective covering over her body) was something none of us could have ever envisaged for her.
It is hard to believe that the lady who spent a significant part of her youth training in Western classical singing, which involved hours of practice in perfecting breath control, succumbed to a disease that destroys your lungs. It's hard to believe that the lady who was once considered to have the best soprano voice in Bombay, and whose ‘sound of music’ we so often heard live in our own home will no more sing ‘the song that reached my heart’.
So in an attempt to take my mind off the dull ache in my heart, I was looking at some fashion photos of the weekend supplement of a newspaper. It said the Pantone colours of this year are ‘Ultimate Grey’ and ‘Illuminating Yellow’. Splashed all over the page were pictures of clothes in combinations of butter, lemon, canary, sunflower, turmeric and mustard yellow and of silver, steel, pewter, ash and charcoal grey. This year's fashion colours have an uncanny similarity to the colour combination of clothes I had worn years ago when my aunt had accompanied me on the piano while I had sung ‘Thank You for the music’ at our local talent contest.
It's ironic that the two colours that symbolised my aunt so perfectly in her life, are the colours of the year in which she passed away!
In a few weeks, it will be Easter again. I know that my aunt's soul is in the realm of heavenly eternal light. And in the words of another popular song that she taught me to sing, she’s now in a happier place, “ somewhere over the rainbow… way up high”
But down here on earth “I’ll have a Blue Easter without her”.