Vimala Chandran Milner
Vimala taken on her last birthday 28.12.2010
Vimala Chandran Milner was one of my dearest friends. Someone I will never forget as long as I live.
When my parents built their home in St. Thomas Mount, the first floor was built as a flat for rent. Tenants in any part of the world can end up as walking nightmares or as relationships made in heaven. My parents struck gold when Vimala moved in with her family to be the only tenant my parents ever had. The Milners became Family that stayed upstairs and paid rent.
My Dad had just one rule for both the houses. No maids or house-help were to be shared between Upstairs and Downstairs. This would eliminate the tittle tattle that would inevitably lead to misunderstandings between the families. My Dad was a very wise old Man.
Vimala had the stunning looks of the yester-year film star of the Malayalam screen, Srividya . She was an accomplished Kathak dancer and played the piano in her sleep. Her husband Milner Victor had a deep and powerful Tenor that did not match his slight frame. When he sang, people turned around to see where the voice was coming from. An extremely musical family, their beautiful daughter Sheryl flew with Air India. Their son , Sunil, a proficient black belt, composed popular jingles. Son-in-law Krishnamohan, an Ad guru with Ogiilvy Mathur was as musical as you make them and live music would play from their terrace when all their friends met for jam sessions and Vimala’s legendary cooking
Vimala never hid the fact that she loved dogs more than she did human beings. When we met for the first time, she had 5 white Pomeranians. Chinthanu, Juno, Tito, Snowman and Oja. Two of them did not get on with each other and could never be left in the same room at the same time, despite being connected through parental lineage. Chinthanu the older male dog, the daddy dog was an alpha dog. He would attack his son Tito and they had to be kept in separate rooms. Whoever got locked up, got the lady dogs Juno and Oja as company. Sometimes someone would forget and let the dogs out and world war 3 would erupt with Vimala bleeding from multiple injuries including bleeding from her nose when they pulled at the beautiful nose-ring that defined her. Her heart broke when her K9s passed on.
Vimala was an excellent cook. She was generous with her recipes and used to punctuate them with audiovisuals that had us in splits. Heat the oil ,she would say. Add the mustard seeds till it goes “putt putt putt”. Add the onions and fry it ‘kuju kuju kuju” till it turns brown. Add the ginger and garlic paste , green chillies and tomatoes till it goes “pish pish pish” etc…
She was extremely kind to my parents who lived on the ground floor. Anything she cooked, would find its way down to my parents dining table. My Mum’s culinary approval meant a great deal to her and she picked up all my Mum’s expert cooking tips. When my Mum had family or guests visiting, Vimala would come down, help my Mum with the cooking, set the table and disappear up the steps when the guests appeared.
My kids loved Aunty Vimala, the Milners and all the K9s upstairs. When the kids came on holidays from Nepal on their own, she used to take Rekha and Anish upstairs, entertain them and feed them all sorts of goodies that she made. They watched in awe as Sunil flew across the room with his Karate moves. When the kids had to return to Kathmandu, my Dad would book them on a flight with Sheryl when they were treated like VIPs on board and got to visit the cockpit. Mohan had a motorbike they all rode pillion on, with Rekha and Anish seated between Mohan and Sheryl. Sometimes Mohan would take Anish fishing. If they did not catch anything they would buy fish from the market to pass off as the Catch of the Day.
As my Mum’s eyesight worsened, she found it hard to read the inland letters her family sent her, written in Malayalam. Vimala was from Calicut and she used to run down and read the letters out to my Mum and write the replies for her. Needless to say, she knew most of the family secrets , family skeletons and recognised all the black sheep when they came to visit .
The Milners never ever stepped over the boundaries of the threshold . My Mum and Dad never became Uncle and Aunty. Nor did they become Appachan and Ammachy . However the respect and love when they addressed them as Rev Baboo and Mrs. Baboo was tangible. They were with my Mum and Dad till the very end. When the ambulance took my Mum on her final journey to the Apollo Hospital, Vimala was by her side holding her hand. When my Dad needed his final admission to the Balaji Hospital it was the Milners who accompanied him.
Vimala was a wonderful grandmother. When the grand-kids Divya and Priyanka came along , they were a permanent fixture on her left hip. She did everything with them perched on her hip. She had cardboard paper on several walls all over the house with AT, BAT, CAT etc written all the way down the alphabets. She used to sing them nursery rhymes and read them stories from the books they loved. She never let them down or out of her sight. She was a devoted Grandma.
She was one of the sweetest and most generous person I ever knew. Sheryl used to bring her all sorts of exotic things from all the corners of the world that she flew to. Vimala would save something for me from her goodies. A bar of chocolate, scented soap, a lipstick. Something she thought I might like. No matter how much I protested she would make sure she gave it to me..
Eventually they moved out when my Parent’s home at 1/54 Butt Road was renovated after my Dad and Mum passed on. It was then that we became the best of friends, when we stayed in the Defence Colony a couple of streets away from each other.
After Milner passed away, and her two lovely grand daughters, Divya and Priyanka grew up, Vimala slowed down. She was no longer directly responsible for any K9 or the kitchen and she seemed to have more time to herself to watch the Mohanlal Movies on Asianet. I used to take her with me whenever I went shopping, to the Mall or to eat at the Malayalam Restaurants dotted all over Chennai. If we heard that some restaurant served Nadaan Kerala Food, we would find it to check out their Kappa and Meen curry , their signature Tapioca and Fish Curry and our own all time favourite. Sometimes she used to come to the Clinic and spend the day reading a book while I saw patients. It was a easy and low maintenance friendship, though we were more than 10 years apart.
She had a wicked sense of humour , told the most amazing stories punctuated with comic audiovisuals, was great fun , great company and we had a lovely time together. Young at heart, she was always game for any mad adventure I suggested. The kids used to call us “Loosie & Soosie” , secretly pleased that we were having a good time..
We even went to Singapore together on holiday when we stayed with my cousins, Sony and Sheila. Out shopping, she tripped, hurt herself and nursed a fractured toe that had to be taken to the Changi Hospital by my friend Preima Doraisamy. She hated hospitals and did not like meeting Doctors. When she saw the doctor coming ,she jumped off the stretcher and had to restrained to get the plaster cast on. When we flew back to Chennai, we managed to slip in some extra luggage, thanks to her wheelchair status.
She taught me an important lesson in life. Having someone to love you is not important as having someone to love. Be it a goldfish, a pet hamster or a lizard on the wall. You live when you love.
When Vimala could no longer look after K9s, she adopted a squirrel, who took all of her time, undivided attention and love. She had a cage made for Mr. Squirrel, christened Mr. Chips, who used to live in it and wander about the room with closed windows, when they were alone together. The rodent’s diet consisted of fruits cut into tiny pieces mixed with small bits of nuts placed in a bowl in the cage next to his milk. She had trained Mr. Chips to a routine that left me amazed. When she called him, he actually came, looked up at her with immense love and twitched his nose gratefully, before demolishing his food .
When we moved to the Beach House in Uthandi, Vimala used to come and stay with me when I was on my own, when the Psalm traveled. She always brought Mr. Chips with her when she came over. I was terrified that the caged Mr. Chips would escape when he came into our verdant acre and take a free run on our trees. I could have survived the great escape , but consoling a bereft Vimala would have been impossible. When Mr. Chips finally escaped from her home, she refused to be consoled.
We used to play board games and Scrabble was a great favourite. You had to watch Vimala on the Scrabble board. I had just scored a fantastic score with the 7 letter word, YAWNING. I was doing a victory jig and took my eyes off the board for a fraction of minute . When I next looked again YAWNING had become AWNING . No guesses for who had the Y.
With time Vimala became a ghost of herself and was anchored to her bed. Sheryl had equipped her room with a hospital bed with railings and had home nursing 24×7. Vimala stopped speaking. She seemed to be just existing. The lights were on, but there was no one there. When I stopped by, she would look at me as if I was a stranger. It used to make me so sad and so angry. I felt so cheated that she had moved into some vast expanse far from me and without me. She did not remember any of the mad escapades we had shared. She stopped laughing at our old jokes. She was there but not there.
Vimala died on the 27th of April 2011 and was cremated in the Adayar Crematorium as she did not want a burial. She hated the thought of the worms eating her up in the coffin. We dressed her in a beautiful red saree and she looked like the Vimala we remembered. We did not stuff cotton wool up her nose. She had threatened to come back and haunt us if we dared do anything like that. I went through all the motions of saying goodbye, but I felt as if I was saying goodbye to a stranger.
I had lost my friend Vimala long before she slipped away to meet her beloved K9s on the Golden Bridge.