AUNTY HELGA WAS A STUNNING GAL!
Of all my relatives, I developed a special affinity towards Aunty Helga for inexplicable reasons. True, she was stunningly beautiful like a princess, when she was young, and for that matter, notwithstanding her maturity, with her unfading beauty, elegance, and finesse, she would still stand out in any company, even amongst youthful models, as very attractive. Perhaps, it was her very light complexion, her facial bone structure, her slim yet curvy figure, her mesmerising charismatic smile, and her alluring soft voice that attracted people to her spontaneously. It could have been those very reasons, as well as her pleasant ways, that attracted me too towards her, as a quite young nephew, in the form of filial love.
HER FAMILY BACKGROUND
Although aunty Helga and uncle Bernard were very well- to- do, being doyens of elite circles mingling within the affluent Colombo 7 society, they were very kind, understanding, and sympathetic individuals, with no ‘airs’ about them. As is the case of any normal human being, it was not unusual they should have their own imperfections, similar to the typical Sri Lankan psyche, especially in regard to the prejudicial social parasitic ideas of caste and pedigree!
Uncle Bernard had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He hailed from a wealthy family, lived in Ward Place, Colombo 7, a prestigious residential area in Sri Lanka, throughout his life. He was regarded and respected as an eminent gentleman in Colombo society even from the Colonial times, he resolutely stood by his principles, even with the British, Sri Lanka was a British domain. Being a sportsman, who enjoyed playing tennis and golf regularly, he maintained an athletic figure, to complement his handsome demeanour, and was very much the dashing young man about town.
I had heard aunty Helga endlessly recounting, like the repeating groove of a 78 r.p.m. gramophone record, about uncle Bernard’s courageous exploits and his ‘no-nonsense’ attitudes. As a schoolboy, I used to spend my holidays in Colombo in their palatial home at Ward Place, but never fathomed or appreciated its gigantic dimension until I travelled to England and realised how identical it was to the profile of the famous Lancaster House building in London!
HER VISITS TO LONDON
Uncle Bernard passed away now over a decade ago due to heart disease. Ever since aunty Helga became even closer to my heart, she visited London quite often. London, in her perception, was similar to roaming around Colombo’s high-end shopping complexes such as Majestic City, Liberty Plaza, Odel, or the House of Fashion! She had lived in England for several years as an adolescent, and was familiar with Central London, akin to Colombo town. Whenever she visited London, she would unfailingly visit Oxford Street, the famous Harrods Store in Knightsbridge, just to satisfy her obsession for shopping.
From the time my wife and I took up residence in London, I assiduously persuaded her to spend her holidays with us, whenever she visited London. Aunty Helga relished the idea, not on account of any inability to afford the best of five-star hotels in London, but, obviously, because she enjoyed the company of her adoring niece and nephew, I suppose! In a manner of tacit reciprocity, I invariably resided at her mansion, whenever I visited Colombo on holiday to Sri Lanka.
She had been living in England for several years, as an adolescent, and was very familiar with Central London akin to Colombo town. Whenever she visited London, she would unfailingly visit Oxford Street, and the famous Harrods Store in Knightsbridge, to satisfy her obsession for shopping. From the time my wife and I took up residence in London, I assiduously persuaded her to spend her holidays with us, whenever she visited London. Aunty Helga relished the idea, not on account of any inability to afford the best of five-star hotels in London, but, obviously, because she enjoyed the company of her adoring niece and nephew, I suppose! In a manner of tacit reciprocity, I invariably resided at her mansion, whenever I visited Colombo on holiday to Sri Lanka.
“Helga was quite a girl when she was young!”, I constantly heard my mother’s expression. “Helga was a typical tomboy”, she once reminisced with her sister, Isabelle. Apparently, an astrologer had told aunty Helga that it was only on account of a malefic karmic action in her past life that she had been born as a female in the cycle of rebirth!
I recall my mother’s sense of disapproval when she described what an indomitable character Aunty Helga had been, during the British rule. She had been one of the rare females amongst the “natives” to sit behind a motorcar steering wheel and drive around Colombo during her primes, or to challenge an Englishman to a game of tennis!
DURING MY SOJOURN IN COLOMBO
During one of my sojourns in Colombo at aunty Helga’s residence, whilst browsing through her impressive and comprehensive library, I came across an enlightening and enthralling literary gem, which I should more appropriately describe as a sentimental autobiographical record of a particular period in her life, which she obviously cherished.
It was one of her old, and well-preserved diaries, meticulously maintained with entries on a day-to-day basis. The contents were not of a confidential nature (decades after, anyway), but more so a collection of high jinks when she had been to a party, as a blossoming young woman! Immediately my mother’s comments to her sister Isabelle reverberated in my mind: “Helga was quite a gal when she was young”.
As I leafed through the pages, I was tempted to delve deeper into this narrative, which relayed compelling episodes, proceeding, and leading up to her marriage! It amply portrayed her daring nature and vivacity. I’m pretty certain that aunty Helga, during that time, would not have been aware of the much-vaunted contemporary phrase, ‘Women’s Lib’. However, if I were to publish it as a biography, I would unhesitatingly give the title, ‘How to win over the man of your dreams’!
Whilst becoming overwhelmingly engrossed in reading the daily logs of her memoirs, it became crystal clear in my mind, just how determined she had been on marrying the man she desired, and what pranks she had been up to in eventually grasping her aspirations!
FIRST IMPRESSIONS ON UNCLE BERNARD
Aunt Helga’s very first entry referred to a most exciting occurrence in her life, which had been written in bold letters, thus; I was introduced to this handsome dashing young man today at the tennis club. We conversed for a moment or two very graciously. He seems a rather shy fellow. That very moment something, of which I cannot express, happened within me. It’s a kind of feeling that I would like to be near him all the time and keep on chatting to him forever! He is the most attractive, polite young man, who has ever crossed my path so far. I must ensure that I am there whenever he comes to the club again.”
This ‘tall, handsome, dashing young man’, who made aunty Helga’s faculties go numb, happened to be uncle Bernard. Uncle Bernard, being a member of the local Tennis Club, suited aunty Helga’s purpose admirably. In subsequent entries in her diary, quotations such as, “Mr” seemingly had been transformed into ‘Dear Bernard,’ and with what rapture must she have recorded the following words:
“Today, dear Bernard asked I accompany him to the Club Dance. Oh! How tall and splendid he looked! His graceful Foxtrot, rhythmic Quick Step, electrifying Jive, elegant Waltz and frolicking Cha-Cha! How much I enjoyed dancing the Tango with him!! We shall make an ideal couple, and I intend to be an excellent wife to him.” As I kept on reading, I gathered that her growing affection towards uncle Bernard knew no bounds. It became more and more interesting, further and further, I kept on browsing through each entry in her diary that followed. I must say, it was akin to reading a Denis Robins’ love story. I continued enjoying every entry that followed.
“Today I met dear Bernard again at the tennis court. I think he is beginning to care for me……! He gave me a bottle of imported Nescafe and chatted with me for a long time, of course, touching on the subject of coffee cultivation in old Ceylon. I bet it was only a ploy! Wonder how soon he will ‘speak’…!! If Ranjith gave me a jar of coffee, I think he would have suggested to make him a glass of Irish coffee rather than consider holy matrimony!”
Despite uncle Bernard’s little gifts & invitations to dances, no proposal of marriage had been forthcoming vis-à-vis her frustration. This obviously had worried aunty Helga considerably. In her next entry, she logged something of interest, about an incident that had taken place whilst she was sitting by the river, at the back of the club grounds, ‘sighing and yearning’ for her beloved. In fact, she had been planning her next strategy as to what she should do!
Uncle Bernard, after a game of tennis & a double Scotch at the Clubhouse, had strolled towards the river, puffing his Peterson pipe, to get some fresh air. Eventually, he had ended up at a shady spot where aunty Helga had been concentrating on her strategic planning process but had fallen asleep under a coconut tree on the river bank.
Uncle Bernard, in his slightly inebriated state, had placed himself on his side, close to aunty Helga’s face, enchanted by her beauty. while propping his head on his hand, with his left elbow supporting that position. How long he had kept on gazing in that posture was not mentioned, but when aunty Helga suddenly refocussed and opened her eyes, she found, to her amazement, a face within inches of her own. The shock made her bolt upright, shrieking.
By doing so, in her excitement, she had accidentally knocked uncle Bernard’s arm from under his head, making him slide slowly but surely down the riverbank on the slope into the river! Fortunately, it had been the shallow end of the river. Nevertheless, he got fully drenched up to his waist, and looked a pretty sorry sight indeed, according to her notes.
Having grasped the situation aunty Helga, with her presence of mind, had suggested to the embarrassed uncle Bernard that they go behind the Bokutu shrubs at the river bank, where she had removed her top skirt and let uncle Bernard wrap it round his waist, until at least his trousers became reasonably dry, rather than remaining in soaking wet tennis shorts.
In the meanwhile, aunty Helga’s mother, Sita Achchi getting unduly worried about her daughter’s late arrival after playing tennis had sent Seeya (grandfather) immediately hotfoot in search of aunty Helga. Seeya having walked through the tennis club and gone towards the clubhouse, and making matters worse, he had spotted some activity adjacent to Bokutu bushes, which made him walk towards the river. Having spotted aunty Helga’s ladies bicycle leaning against a coconut tree near the river, Seeya had walked straight into the Bokutu bushes, just in time to catch dear uncle, Bernard, literally, with his pants down and his girlfriend adjusting her skirt!
In her next diary entry, Aunty Helga described how her father changed his countenance, had gone red in the face with rage, and begun to splutter, having seen the couple in such a situation! In her next entry, in bold letters, she had described how her father (Seeya) insisted, there and then, that dear uncle Bernard made an honest woman of his daughter.
Within the next few weeks of this occurrence, Aunty Helga’s engagement to Uncle Bernard had appeared in the ‘Daily News,’ in a prominent box, under the matrimonial column. Her final entry in the diary summed it all up, interestingly, with much hilarity, as follows:
“How strange it is the way lady luck plays in our lives! “ If dear Bernard had not fallen into the water, there wouldn’t have been any need to remove his trousers, let alone me having to get into the Bokutu bushes with him, especially had we known my father was anywhere near”!
Sub-edited and Administered by Rowena Fernando: email@example.com