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!