She was part of out large household, and used to do hand embroidery as also assist the tailor with hand work. Her time schedule was from 8.30 to 5 o lock. We children used to be ecstatic when she had to stay over. ‘Cos she was a wonderful story teller.
Her father was a small time fish vendor whom amma patronized. One day he asked amma whether she could give some employment to his daughter. The only skill she knew was hand embroidery. Those were days of famine and amma, with her compassionate nature and strong aesthetic inclinations, asked him to bring his daughter over. She thus became part of the household for more than two decades.
As she embroidered delicate designs on the fabric, she would tell us stories. She was a voracious reader (I remember, on the days she stayed over, she used to ask us to get all the magazines and whatever books we could lay our hands on and would read, oblivious of the surroundings. while we hung around with excitement, waiting for her to tell us the story she had read just then). She must have had access to books too. It is from her that I first heard the various episodes from The Song of Roland. I still remember the excitement with which my brother and I listened to that episode where Roland, as a small boy, snatches a dish from Emperor Charlemagne, not knowing that the latter is his uncle. I still remember the expression of distress on my brother’s face as I stole a look at him through tears, as thaathi gave graphic description of how the wounded Oliver was put in a salt well by the Saracens. Cecily thaathi used recite the verses and then explain the lines in the language we understood. And she had this habit of switching over to the recitation at the climactic moment, thereby sustaining the suspense for a few minutes longer. I remember, when a few references came from The Song of Roland in our PG lectures, I could nod intelligently and call out a few names of characters and episodes, much to the surprise of both my teachers and classmates, for I was, as a rule, the silent one in the class. Looking back, I think thaathi must have had access to the scripts of chavittunadakam which was a popular Christian art form. Whatever her source, she could fire our imagination and cause our small horizons to widen. Both my brother and I have a love for history and I think we can give the credit for it to Cicily thaathi.
She told us the story of the good and virtuous Pulomaja. I don’t remember where the story was set or any other details; but I remember that the story was so captivating that we were 15 minutes late for lunch, and got spanked royally- both for coming down late and for slowing down thaathi’s work. But we went back to her, time and again to hear the stories - fables and myths, story of Maria Goretti and Alexander and and - - -. After we heard Maria Goretti’s story, we began to suspect that our ironing man Alexander was the reformed Alexander who killed Maria Goretti. One day, my brother and I decided to confront him with the big question, making sure there were enough people around to protect us while we sprang the question “are you the Alexander who killed Maria Goretti?” The audience comprising the cook and the domestic help went into peals of laughter while Alexander did not seem amused. “yes” he thundered, his white eyes staring fiercely at us from his ebony face, and we ran to Cicly thaathi with the confirmation that the Alexander of the story was down there ironing clothes. How thaathi laughed. Tears streamed down her face while she told us that the villain Alexander, though still alive was in ‘uuuuurope”. “But he has admitted killing Maria Goretti” I insisted. “He was only trying to fool you’, assured thaathi.
I have a lot more to tell of the spinster Thaathi who lived a life of extreme dignity till the grand old age of 85, sewing(though almost blind) till the moment she got up from the mat on which she sat, in her own tailoring shop, to cross the road and got fatally knocked down by a speeding vehicle.