Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chanel No. 5

       “Get Out you Dirty Scum..!You will spoil my Carpet. Get Inside the Bathroom this Minute.What manners has your mother taught? Do you know how expensive that carpet is?Bah..what do you know. Balti Kid.Has your father ever spent two pice on you?What will you know? Now get out of my sight” – I ran.
       That was My Grandma, on my Mother’s Side. Grandma with rollers in her hair and Gold Rimmed Glasses and her Pink & Pistachio Colored Printed Frock.Mrs. Isabella Victoria Rodriguez. Wife of Captain Rodriguez who died in 1939 and left behind a terrible Thing called Grandma with her snobbish attitude.
       Grandma Isa as we children called her was a prim and ‘propah’ lady. A Mademoiselle to Perfection. Her Hair was always coiffured and piled on top of her head. Diamonds glittered on her hands, Ears and Neck. There she stands on the Eve of her wedding day in 1928 dressed in a white gown. Her arms hooked to Grandpa Stewart Albert Rodriguez's, her eyes looking out haughtily at the camera and do we spy a lil tilt to the head?
       I am her fourth grand-child of a brood of nine and I get special treatment – I am the darkest of all. Grandma’s obsession with fairness began when Grandpa came to see her sister for marriage but chose Grandma. The two sisters have not spoken since, that is another story of course. But Grandma puffed up with pride when Grandpa spoke of his wife’s peaches and cream complexion to his audience. The Only things Grandma was scared of was that her children would take after Grandpa’s color which could not come in the ‘ fair ‘ category. As Luck would have it, All of her four children came out with white and pink feet. Except. Except     My mother that is.
       Mother was the most beautiful; Unfortunately for Grandma she was too brown. Mummy always got the last of cakes or pastries or chocolates. The last of the choicest chicken wings or skewered lambs or softest idlis. The least liked of Grandma’s jewellery or saris or fancy footwear.
       When my Mom married my father against the wishes of her family, Grandma outcasted her from the family. For five years after her marriage, Mother was not welcome. However realizing later that my Father was the Most successful Business man of all her Son-In-Laws and Most Loving, she grunted her appreciation and took back my Mother.
       When I arrived bawling into the doctor’s arms, Grandma took one look at me and said – ‘She cannot be my grandchild’. Flashback-The same way she saw Mother and said’ She cannot be my child’.
       Like Mother Like Daughter. Grandma never took me on her rounds in the Village, never took me in her lap, never let me enter her room. I was the Balti kid. The one who bathed with tin buckets and not bathtubs like Grandma. Hence the screaming you witnessed when I came out of the bathroom all dripping wet and looking for my ducky to play with in the Bathtub.
       She had this huge bath with this huge tub-all ceramic and mosaic.It had beautiful ivory taps and faucets and an ivory sink. Grandma’s toiletries were elaborate and always took an long time. She still lived in the 19th century and pretended she was one of those ancient English ladies. She took bath in Rose Water and had 2 maids-in-waiting –one to dry her white hair and one to coiffure it. She applied sandalwood powder from an Antique box with a non-existent powder puff and applied Rose paste to her hands and feet.
       Grandma was always stingy with her things. None of the kids – even the fairest- was allowed to enter her room when she was not there. We were not supposed to touch her powders or creams or perfumes..Oh The last of all- She had so many perfume bottles with her. We never knew if they were full or empty since she locked them up in her bureau. Her Most favorite was that small bottle of something called Chanel No. 5. I didn’t even know what the bottle looked like – she guarded it so well. I just smelt it once on my mother-she got it as a gift on her wedding and it was so hugely expensive that she wore it only a little at a time. It smelt like Heaven and It took me to wondrous clouds of scents and fragrances and gardens filled with wild exotic flowers all smelling like Chanel No. 5..!!Oh what joy a whiff of that perfume was to my 8 yrs old nose..!
       I tried unsuccessfully so many times to creep into Grandma’s room and wear a little of that wonderful scent. But even if I did manage to get into the room, the Bureau was to high for me to try to pry open the drawer. Always I came back disappointed.I wanted that perfume so badly that I decided to ask Grandma if she could let me have it. We gathered for dinner and the elders were discussing about a neighbour who had died and keft everything to her son without giving anything to her daughter, when I asked at the top of my Voice..”Grandma, When you die will you pls write off that Chanel perfume to me in your will…?” The Gathering became silent all of a sudden.And Grandma peered into my face, pointed at me with her wiry thin bony fingers and said “ Never”..With that none spoke and everyone hurried through their dinners and rose one by one. I sat at the table long after and cried hot tears of sadness.Nothing could explain to my foolish mind about the unkindness of the world.
       A year later Grandma Died. I do not remember us Grandchildren missing her ,since her death just meant we could roam in the house however we wanted, climb on any bureaus or tables or armchairs, sit with our elbows on the table, or play in the bathtub. For Me her death meant freedom to walk on the carpet in my dirty wet feet, sleep on her bed barefooted, have pillow fights and most of all look into her treasured chests of ancient clothes and accessories that smelt of naphthalene balls.
       A week after her death, when the House was quiet after the last of the relatives had gone, I went to her room.The bed was unslept in, the curtains drawn over the windows, the floor a little musty..And Behold! There stood the great chest of Drawers with its enchanting treasuries of powders and creams and perfumes!
       I ran to it, felt the wood with my hands and smelt its polished odour.I quickly fetched a stool and opened the First Drawer and looked in. Nothing in there except some ivory combs and hair clasps! The second Drawer had a lot of ribbons and Clasps as well. Frantically I looked around and then saw that the Mirror revolved to display a small Drawer behind. And in it were the perfume bottles!About 12 of them! I Took them all out..To my dismay they were all either Empty or the caps were missing!! An unpleasant smell arose from the drawer, a smell of things kept for a longtime, unused and therefore rotten. I searched and there at the back lay a Box and inside it - the Chanel No 5 bottle!!! My Heart skipped a beat .. Oh Yes it was full…!!
       My Joy knew no bounds and I ran to the bed prancing, hopping, skipping. My Heart thudded as the object I desired most and pined for so long was in my hands. I slowly removed the cap and the smell rose in my Nostrils. After that I remember nothing. I blacked out. When I came to, Daisy, the Oldest servant was fanning me. The Room smelt horribly unpleasant and I crinkled my Nose at it. I looked around and felt a piece of paper in my hand. It was the label on the box. A sheet of textured paper that said ‘Manufactured-1931-Paris’

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