Mamingala, Padmini and Peggy
Ever since I was a little girl and heard about Mamingala, Padmini and Peggy I’ve been intrigued by the story that crosses over the borders of two countries; India, and erstwhile Burma. How did these three people get along with each other? Did they even know each other well? Perhaps each one lived individually but all together in one house? Intriguing I must say.
Before I go any further let me remind you that my mind has been weaving tales in and around these three ever since I was introduced to them at seven. I still wonder about these girls who grew into women. There wasn’t much divulged to me but whatever was, fascinated me and does to this day. I wish I could find someone who would tell me more; someone who knew the truth.
In the meantime, I weave my tales around the existing facts as they were told to me. I do not hold myself to speak only of facts because I must build the story based on my premises and surmises. I’ve tried to be logical and rational in my imaginings, but if you find it preposterous, just stop reading...I’m not going to stop writing this. It’s too haunting and I have to get it out of my system. Hopefully it will give me some inner peace.
Mamingala .......The grand-daughter of Ubadoon, a prominent member (Gen Secretary) of a political party in Burma. I wasn’t told the parents names or the complete name of the grand-father. This was one of the main reasons for me to suspect that something or possibly everything was not quite right in Mamingala’s world.
Mamingala’s mother’s name was kept a secret but her beauty was extolled. It seems that she was extremely beautiful and had a complexion like exquisite porcelain. Her hair was very long and black and fell like a cascade to her calves, when it was not bundled up into a bun on her head. She lived a lavish and luxurious life, waited on hand and foot by maids. She loved her cigarettes, which she smoked in slender holders and chocolates were never far from her. There was always a box kept within arms’ reach. Besides her hair she had captivating eyes in an oval face. She had doe-eyes which slanted, ringed with long curling lashes. She loved jewellery and had a large collection of diamonds and Noga rubies. About Mamingala’s father not much was divulged except that he was a diamond merchant who came to India for business. Mamingala was born in a hospital in Madras, now known as Chennai.
Mamingala’s story ends soon, with her mother abandoning her. She was left in the care of the Matron of the hospital where she was born. The matron was a friend. Whether theirs was a patient-nurse relationship or they were friends before Mamingala was born, is not clear. But the matron finally took the abandoned baby under her wing. The reason for her being so cruelly left behind, was said to be because Mamingala was dark. This seemed so untrue because she was fair. I would protest at this and remark at the frivolity of the reason. But later on, many reasons for the reason, popped into my head. My speculations were logical but cannot be substantiated.
Padmini...They called Padmini a very lucky baby. No, she had no near death situations preceding her birth nor any infections or disease that she had overcome. She was a small little bundle lying in the nursery with all the other new born babies, and looked much like them, except she was the fairest of the lot. What separated her from the other babies was her very distinguished visitor who came to see her almost every day. The lady would be accompanied by her woman attendant. She never stayed very long but gave generously to the nurses and servants caring for Padmini. She loved the baby, even though it wasn’t hers. In fact she had named her Padmini. She wanted to adopt her. She conveyed this to the Matron.
“Your Highness, I love her too. Besides, her mother left her in my care. Please don’t take her away.” The Matron was distraught.
“Think it over. I will not insist if it means so much to you. But give it a thought. She is my child already, my little Padmini,” she said looking lovingly at the child who lay oblivious of the manner in which her fate lay in the balance...between life in a palace with a Maharani and a not so opulent but very comfortable life with a Matron.
Mrs D’sylva, the Matron, looked at the Maharani as she made her regal exit. She was worried. Baby Padmini slept peacefully.
Padmini’s fate was decided. The Matron took her home. She was a well-to-do lady of ample means. Her husband had been a doctor and they owned a big bungalow. She had grown up children of her own but she did not believe that Padmini would have a secure and happy life in the palace, so she adopted her. The Maharani would be the only one who would care for Padmini she thought, and who knew the ways of the palace and royalty. Their whims and fancies were as changeable and unpredictable as the weather.
And here ends Padmini’s short story. I was curious about the queen who’d visit her. But although her visits were spoken about, I was made to believe that no one knew why she came or why she named the child or even why she wanted to adopt her. I never did believe that.
“I don’t want to go to boarding school,” wailed little Peggy, as her mother petted and consoled her. Once again she repeated all the pros of a residential school, hoping that Peggy would calm down.
Peggy was an adopted child. Her mother had brought her home without consulting her own kids and the big age difference didn’t help. They were grown up and although they weren’t mean to Peggy there was no bonding either. She was accepted as one of their mother’s whimsical philanthropic gestures. One they would have to live with and tolerate.
Boarding school was the best option under the circumstances as Peggy was growing up and beginning to notice and resent the way she was isolated from the other children in the house. So she was packed off to Bangalore, with promises of frequent visits.
Peggy D’sylva passed out from school and returned home. Her mother had selected a few colleges for her to choose from. But Peggy had other plans. She was going to join the WRINS. Her mother was shocked.
“What are you going to do there, Peggy?”
“Work, of course,” answered Peggy matter-of-factly.
“Yes, that’s clear to me young lady. But as what do you intend to work as? You go through your college and then join the Force.”
“No, I don’t want to go to college. I’ve already applied for a secretarial course with Pittmans. I’ll be a stenographer.”
“Do you know how much they pay stenos? You silly girl, you spend more in a month than they’ll pay you in two.”
Peggy stood her ground. She was as stubborn as the proverbial mule.
Peggy D’sylva joined the Navy. She moved to Bombay now known as Mumbai. Along with her went Mamingala and Padmini. She never did leave them behind. Over the years it became quite easy to see the traces of each.
Mamingala was a snob and very fastidious. She was also very stubborn, wanted a lot of attention and was self-absorbed. She was fashionable and loved to dress well. Her favourite haunt was The Taj Mahal Hotel. This is where she’d go for breakfast or even a cup of coffee. Even then the hotel was a five-star hotel and not one where a mere stenographer would go. But her mother sent her an ample allowance every month. Her mother knew about Mamingala’s love of the good life. This was Mamingala’s strongest phase.
Padmini was very much a South Indian. She’d lapse into a distinct southern accent. Her gestures and expressions would be different. She’d tell everyone she was a Tamilian, and look directly at them defying them to disagree. No one dared to, even though they’d carry big question marks in their eyes. Padmini could pass off as a Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean or any such race but certainly not a Tamilian! The food she’d eat or serve would be South Indian fare and she’d discard her airs and dig into the rice with her hands. Padmini’s influence grew stronger than Mamingala’s over the years. She even decided the people Peggy should befriend. Needs no saying, all were from South India. Padmini was defiant. She was rigid and had a smouldering temper. She could be mean and even unscrupulous on rare occasions. Padmini was also a doomsday prophet. She was negative about everything.
Peggy was the jovial, funny, giggly Anglo-Indian girl. Her foster parents were of Portuguese descent and their way of living was westernised. She’d be free with her expressions and speak only English and treat every other language, especially Hindi and Punjabi, with disdain. She’d inform everyone that her mother tongue was English. Some of the everyday terms she’d use are still typically Anglo-Indian ones and I’ve heard them used only in these homes. The food would be continental, or Chinese or Goan in flavour. Peggy could be shy and took offence easily. She loved to sing and write poetry. Peggy could be quite immature at times and would even compete with youngsters.
As life took her on a roller-coaster ride, the first casualty was Mamingala. I was sad to see her go. She was the one who added a bit of style and spice to Peggy’s life. Padmini held on tenaciously. I think Peggy liked her a lot. But as she succumbed to ill-health Padmini departed leaving behind Peggy. When Peggy died, she died alone.
I have theories about my mother’s birth and parentage, but these are not based on proof. I’m sure each one of you will draw conclusions from existing knowledge and known facts. I too have been doing that for years, trying to complete the jigsaw puzzle, but it remains incomplete. I kept asking my mother for the truth but she wouldn’t tell me. Probably it hurt her too much, or the resentment and anger hadn’t died and she couldn’t reconcile herself to the abandonment. My heart has always been heavy with her concealed pain. I wish she had spoken about it and released the agony; thus saving herself the confusion about her identity and living her life as the person she believed she was.