Mrs Mackertich

A GUEST POST by my aunty Dr. Bindu.

In May of 1960 my sister Pritiben, Sita and I spent a month in Simla staying at the YWCA.  A Mrs Mishra, tall, young, businesslike with a no nonsense approach, was the manager.

Elegant with a confident stride she wore beautiful sarees and had her hair stylishly done up in a bun. She listened to the complaints of the residents, many of whom stayed for months on job assignments, patiently but per the long term residents she did little about them.

Her assistant, a Mrs Mackertich, in striking contrast was old, short, more than a bit overweight, bent with age, wearing ill fitting frocks with faded floral prints, walking with a broad sway, coaxing her hips and knees up and down the stairs. Mrs Mackertich was in charge of the kitchen and general upkeep both of which she worked hard at but with indifferent success.

I took a liking to Mrs Mackertich, who had time for a young girl of 12. I spent hours in her company. She was from Ooty (Ootacamund or  Udhagamandalam) in the Nilgiris, an Anglo-Indian who came to Simla with her husband decades ago. Her husband had died  and with little income Mrs Mackertich took up the job at the YWCA. It provided her with a furnished room to stay in as well as meals.

Mrs Mackertich possibly had relatives, a Google search reveals a John Mackertich who was Sheriff of Calcutta, a Stewart-Mackertich Wealth Management Company exists in Calcutta and boasts a legacy of a 100 years. Clearly though she was not one of them, maybe these Mackertiches were ‘pukka’ English or Scottish, whereas our Mrs Mackertich was Anglo-Indian and therefore not as privileged.

She was a kindly woman, her crease drawn face testimony to the many ups and downs she must have faced. She sat on a padded armchair, her feet up on a stool, and did crochet work. She chatted away with me many decades her junior as though she was with someone her own age.

One afternoon Mrs Mackertich was up and about, busily searching for something in her room. She soon found what she was looking for – a razor blade. She proceeded to remove her socks and shoes and socks and showed me some corns on her feet. “They are very painful” she sighed. I was appalled at the sight of her corns. She was going to cut them with the razor blade. Alarmed, I exclaimed “that will hurt!”. “No” she replied “I do it often and find it is the best way to treat these awful things. It bleeds for a little while and then stops and I can go on for a few months before I need to do it again.” I could not bear to watch Mrs Mackertich hurt herself as she cut her corns and quietly left the room.

Once a week at tea the YWCA served a slice of barfi (a sweet) and a samosa as a snack. I did not care for the barfi at all, indeed for any sweet dish but I loved the samosa which was delicious. How nice it would be I thought if 2 samosas were served and the barfi eliminated. Pondering about this for awhile it struck me that I could get Mrs Mackertich to do it for me.

One afternoon as we chatted in her room I innocently brought up the topic of the tea snacks. I claimed that no one cared for the barfi and replacing it with a samosa would be much appreciated by everyone. “Hmm” said Mrs Mackertich, “that sounds fine”, and sure enough from then on it was 2 samosas and no barfi at tea.

What the other residents of the YWCA made of this change I did not know. There were no complaints though. No one suspected that a cheeky young girl had used her friendship with the gentle Mrs Mackertich and banished the barfi!

10 thoughts on “Mrs Mackertich

  1. So lovely to hear a charming childhood story, Bindu!

    from your friend Linda, in Gardiner ME, USA
    Hope all is well


  2. That was so sweet. It brought back memories.
    I was in a boarding school in Shimla for 4 years. It was run by Missionaries and we had a matron like the one you described. She was English and had stayed back after the war. Apparently her fiance had been killed in some battle.
    She was lovingly called granny as she was frail and old but excellent at her job. Miss Rivet had one idiosyncrasies, she used to go berserk on Independence day and as children we would be cruelly amused. Maybe it was her fiance she remembered.
    But all the students remember her fondly for she was gentle and caring.

    Just thought I’d share.
    Nischint Hora

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were so many memorable characters when we were in school, I hope you write an essay about Mis Rivet.


  3. loved the story about samosa and barfi. It was so cute, conjuring up little Bindu nudging the old lady towards two samosas.
    Your stories of your childhood are so vivid and humorous. You should write more of them. Any publisher in India would be delighted to bring them out as a book.
    Hoping to read more of them in the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Comments that came on my email forwarding of this piece:

    Love this!! xo Of course you asked for two samosas :): Larissa

    very touching…full of heart. Fond memories forever: Leila

    What a lovely piece of writing, Bindu. And you know, my father used to cut the callouses on his toes, formed by wearing closed shoes, with a blade! No blood though. His toe nails too were dealt with in the same way What a lovely piece of writing, Bindu. And you know, my father used to cut the callouses on his toes, formed by wearing closed shoes, with a blade! No blood though. His toe nails too were dealt with in the same way: Vibha

    “She chatted away with me many decades her junior as though she was with someone her own age.” …Sounds like someone I know! : Monal

    That was a nice pen portrait of a remarkable individual who befriended you.
    Please continue to write such essays BUT take care to collect them together from time to time and publish a series of books.These will enthuse many, certainly in India and the US.:Sunil

    A lovely story, Bindu.:Jade

    dear bindu, how wonderfully written. a lost time and era, gently brought back to our notice. :Ramani


  5. I’d say you were more precocious than cheeky!! And “Banish the Barfi” sounds like a title for poem or rap song. You should write one.

    Liked by 1 person

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