She had always been there for us, as far back as our childhood memories would take us. She was always there when we went to visit grandmother in the big, rambling, red tiled house in a sleepy village in Goa.
Tia Luzia was grandmother’s spinster sister who shared the house and the household chores with her. She was a plain diminutive woman, her hair pulled back in a top knot, usually wearing a long skirt and loose blouse of sober colours.
But on Sundays, she set out for her one weekly outing to church dressed in one of her good silk dresses, gifts from a nephew in faraway Africa as she’d tell us time and again. Yes, her life was intrinsically woven with that of her nieces, nephews and their offsprings.
How we loved this grand aunt! We felt secure and snuggled down deeper in the old bed knowing that Tia Luzia was up at cock’s crow, pottering about the house, watering the garden or drawing water from the well.
She was always busy cooking, cleaning, weaving abolim and mogras into garlands. Afternoons found her perched on the window seat making innumerable cloth buttons, knitting socks or just mending the linen. And we loved to sit around and watch her while Grandmother took her siesta.
It was such a treat to go with Tia Luzia to gather dried leaves (kholiyo) on the wooded patch across the road for she knew which berries were good to eat like chunna, ansaye, charam, zamgam.
She could bring down juicy cashew and tart kokum fruit (bindam) with the long-hooked stick she carried on these expeditions. She knew just what we liked — a half ripe tamarind (amorpik), roasted cashewnuts or jackfruit seeds and a special sticky toffee of jaggery and peanuts.
The best time of the day was sundown when a lamp (ponti) burned dimly in the kitchen and we all squatted beside Tia Luzia as she fed dry leaves into the fireplace to heat bath water in the big copper boiler (cãlderao).
The kitchen was redolent with the special fragrance of burning leaves. Drowsy after a busy day, we listened to the stories Tia Luzia told on village lore, family stories, or memories of her own childhood in her paternal house.
And then the years flew and we grew up and went our separate ways. On rare visits to Goa, like homing pigeons, we went to visit the old house and Tia Luzia was always there. But one day grandmother died and the old house had to be closed.
Tia Luzia was uprooted from her familiar surroundings and brought, unfortunately, to the house of a nephew in Bombay. No one asked her or knew how she felt about being taken away from her beloved Goa.
No wonder she began to lose her memory and live more and more in the past. Her favourite question to all was: “Have you been to our house in Carren?” And that would lead to a host of ramblings about her own childhood and life in Goa, which meant nothing to many of the younger ones who had never really known Tia Luzia.
And before we knew it, Tia Luzia left us too. We laid her lovingly in a white coffin with lots of white flowers which made a little great grand nephew say that Tia Luzia was looking like a bride, and then ask, “Why is she going to Heaven in a boat?”
And in that white boat, Tia Luzia, who had travelled so little, set out on her journey to the distant shores of eternity, leaving us dazed in our sorrow. How could she leave us? We’d expected that she’d always be there for us. And if she had, we’d have continued taking her for granted as we’d always done.
Today, some of us wish we had tried to know more about this simple good woman, her thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it’s better that we didn’t. For then, she wouldn’t have been ‘Tia Luzia’!