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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

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Government Gazette

Miss Hot Water

My father was a colonial fossil who believed in the philosophy, “discipline first.” He insisted on following a routine, which he never thought of changing. He expected all of us to get up at five a.m. and after the morning ablutions, we should observe the religion in front of the statue of Lord Buddha, in the corner of our front room. Then before leaving to school all of us must study, or at least pretend, to study.

Next, all of us should be dressed up in school uniforms and wait for the school van. Through all these procedures, my father exercised strict supervision.

During school vacations so many interesting things took place in our family circle. My father was proud to say that he had only one sister. Further he used to say emphatically that she was “convent educated.”

During school vacations, some times my father anxiously waited till the postman brought a letter from his sister.

She used to write the address of my father in beautifully shaped cursive hand. My father was boastful of his sister’s discipline and English education which was “flawless”.

She spoke with perfect English accent while producing speech sounds according to received pronunciation of the Londoners.

The slightest mispronunciation of an English word would produce hilarious laughter between my father and his sister.

My mother and all of us had to bear with our sophisticated aunty as a “necessary evil.” My aunty had been an English teacher in a school in Kandy. Now she spent her retired life practically doing nothing. She had been a spinster right throughout her life, and she lived in a house in Kandy, which she inherited from her father. She employed a fair number of servants to run the house, which was of a fair proportion.

My father perhaps showed an uneasy anxiety to get the letter from my aunty, informing of her arrival at our house “for the vacation” and to “see the children.”

We were rather willing to have her company, as it provided us with lot of fun, until the next vacation, which we repeated among ourselves, amidst laughter. My mother also was used to share in this fun which originates around the personality of our aunty.

Myself and my brother had nick named her as “Miss Hot Water?” This nick name was very well used among our family members. It was not known or even felt by Miss Hot Water herself.

During one school vacation, we received the long awaited letter from Miss Hot Water.

The arrival of the letter itself provided us with enough fun, with its Lavendor smell. Even the father was a bit jovial, by remarking, “Children! Miss Hot Water has expressed her desire to visit us, during the vacation, if it wouldn’t convince us.”

Her arrival was a mixture of inconvenience and fun. Although she was on the wrong side of sixties, she was plump and had a fresh complexion like that of a vegetarian Hindu lady.

She always has a pleasant smile, which was attractive to many of us and her smile was bewitching due to her dentures, which she had bought during one of her trips to England.

She told us with an element of pride in it, that she kept an appointment with a London dentist, to get her dentures done. At home she was dressed in Kimonas, which she possessed in an array of gorgeous colours.

She religiously had her hot water bath, in the mornings, meticulously, under the supervision of the “Aiyah”, that came along with her.

She expected her Aiyah to mix margosa leaves and small chips of saffron in the pot of hot water to “preserve her complexion.” Before her hot water bath, she applied a special medicated oil all over her body. She got the application of oil done by her “Aiyah”.

When it was being done, the entire house contained a smell similar to that, which one would get in a store of native medicine. She took a very long time over her bathing.

Sometimes my father would sarcastically comment on his sister’s hot water bath, as “dieying by bathing.”

During many occasions we, as youngsters who were inquisitive about things that happened behind closed doors, attempted to peep into the bathroom. Yet, we were too nervous to go ahead as peeping Toms.

During times of meals too our aunty was very serious about the “table manners of the children.” Even on normal days my father had assigned places at our long dining table which would accommodate ten persons at a time. Miss Hot Water always preferred to occupy the seat on the right of my father who sat at the head of the table.

During my aunty’s stay at our house, she insisted that the children should get used to eating with forks and spoons.

This was a real torture for us, who would not enjoy our meals. But no objections could be raised, because of our father’s feelings for his one and only sibling.

During some evenings, Miss Hot Water used to give us elocution lessons including recitation of English poetry.

She always emphasised that, the production of ‘f’ and ‘th’ sounds were defective among many native speakers of English.

She strongly objected to our utterance of “my pather is parming in the pield.” She annoyingly corrected it, by shouting shrilly, “children! it should be, “My father is farming in the field.”

When she corrected the pronunciation, in the production of ‘f’ sound, she had to struggle hard to keep her dentures in place, inside her mouth. With great effort we suppress our giggles.

One fine evening, I heard Miss Hot Water passing the door of our room and entering the bedroom of my father.

The brother and the sister whispered and had occasionally suppressed laughs for fairly a long time, during which I heard only an incoherent babbling. After a little while, my father was seen relaxing in the armchair in the verandah. He looked at me with an ironical smile.

I returned the smile and was inquisitive about his irony. As my mother came to my father with his morning tea, again the same whisper was exchanged between my parents. Then my mother audibly remarked “A marriage at sixties?” My father replied,” yes man! The London Dentist who prescribed the denture for my sister had proposed to marry her, through a E-mail.

She inquired from me whether, I approve it!” My mother shouted, Oh! children! Very soon, you’ll get a white complexioned, Mr. Hot Water.”

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