|Aunty Lila, Mom and Uncle Peter about a month back.|
Sundays were always different, especially for Mom. She went to work. Well, actually she attended cooking classes in the vicinity conducted by Aunty Lila. Mom had a natural flair for the culinary arts. With these classes she aced various cuisines, right from Continental to Chinese, East Indian to Thai, and Goan to Moghulai. And the next 8 years she helped Aunty Lila conduct them. Come to think of it, there was no formal name or classic advertising of these classes. It was simply known as Lila’s cooking classes. Pretty ingenious, eh?
Aunty Lila was sunshine personified. Some of my best childhood memories are of her house parties. Great food and wine matched with perfect cutlery and glassware, and always topped with two or more mouth-watering desserts. I used to think she had a secret pair of hands that she saved for these special occasions. She made an extra effort to ensure everyone was comfortable. Our plates would always be lovingly refilled just as we would get goodie bags whilst leaving. The fine art of entertaining was something I imbibed from her.
Lila D’souza was born on 22nd February, 1925. Bandra, Bombay (now Mumbai) had always been her hometown. Like every other girl, she grew older, got married and had four sons. Life happened unexpectedly when she was widowed at a young age in 1965. She devoted her time in bringing up her sons with the help of her supportive in-laws. A young bachelor, Peter Karunan, fell in love with her. That she was a mother of four, did not deter him. She however did not wish to take this alliance further. He went a step ahead and spoke to her in-laws. A lot of convincing and five years later, in 1970, they were wed. A commendable feat for the day and age, then and now.
A sole earning member supporting a family of six was proving to be difficult. Four young boys had a whole lot of growing needs. That is when Lila , now Karunan, knew she had to pitch in financially.
“Peter, I want to run cooking classes.”
“Are you sure, honey?”
“Yes, Peter. This is all I know.”
So armed with recipes from her mother’s kitchen along with her savings, she set sail. She invested in a cooking range, utensils, cutlery and stools for students to sit. 1971 saw the beginning of Lila’s cooking classes. Sundays, 2 to 4 were fixed as the class timings. A meager Rs 30/- per month was charged as fees. An additional Rs 10/- was taken every class for typewritten copies of the recipes and a sample of the cooked delicacy. Initially, she had locals who trickled in. Soon, the word spread and people, yes, men too, came from far and wide to learn. Aunty Lila, as she was fondly called, taught with the patience of a mother and the flair of a Master-chef.
Over the 20 odd years that she ran the classes, Aunty Lila must have taught thousands of eager students. Tell her this and she haughtily adds, “The girls knew my Desmond was a bachelor.” Yet, right from new brides-to-be to wives looking for newer kitchen avenues, chefs in training to students with the aptitude for flavours, men who wished to floor the women with their culinary skills to partners of mixed marriages wanting to learn new cuisines, they came. Aunty Lila imparted her infinite knowledge to them all. Adorned in an apron right in her living room, her classes never had a dull moment.
With about 75 odd ladies frequenting the premises four times a month, a story or two was a given. So women found alliances for the young men in their families while many girls became best friends. Most of all, they became an extended part of Aunty Lila’s family. She took the girls to movies, picnics and outings. She made it a point to attend all their weddings and birthdays, as far as she could. Aunty Lila was never good with names, but even today as she goes grocery shopping or for a walk, a familiar face comes up to her and says, “Aunty Lila, Remember me ? You taught me to cook.” “That oft repeated sentence”, she says “is the best feeling in the whole world, no matter how many times I hear it.”
For an ordinary woman with no formal training, Aunty Lila went on to give lectures in SNDT Women’s University, YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) and YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). She even taught for a fair amount of time at St. Catherine’s Home in Andheri West. As chairperson of the YWCA, she was called to judge numerous cooking competitions across the length and breadth of the city. Aunty Lila was the perfect example of where there is a will, you can make the way. She walked the path as an equal with her husband. Together, they settled their four sons to the best of their abilities. Today, as proud grandparents of nine grandchildren, they are on their way to becoming great grandparents. In her words, “When life hands you lemons, think Chilled Lemon Cordial with a dash of mint.”
Present day, both Aunty Lila and Uncle Peter are 88. He still makes the morning tea. She still cooks their daily meals. Anyone who visits them still comes away with a packed tiffin box of goodies. She loves entertaining, even though health restricts them both. Pudding Aunty as we refer to her is the closest family we have out here. Why Pudding Aunty? That is the name my sister, her godchild, gave to her when she was 3. She simply made the best puddings in town. She still does.