Mumbai resident Elvira D’Souza is all set to score a century on the scoreboard of life. Elvira (99) is turning 100 today Saturday September 1, a landmark birthday that is going to see celebrations in full swing at Dabul area, in Charni Road where she lives.
Elvira is one of the residents of a charming Goan-centric area behind S K Patil Udyan at Charni Road. The little lanes zig zag wildly once you leave the main road and walk behind the garden. The Church of St. Francis Xavier and St Sebastian Goan High School, incidentally, Jeetendra and the late Rajesh Khanna were students at the school are two landmarks. For many in this community, both buildings have played a momentous role in their lives, from studying at the school and attending the parish.
Elvira D’Souza is the oldest person in the St Francis D’Assissi community. She reclines on her couch at her home in Golden Jubilee building. At 99, she still looks spry, is more mobile than many 20 years her junior but, “now tends to lapse into forgetfulness,” said Ann D’Souza, Elvira’s daughter. Ann stays with her mother, “I am with her 24 hours, I feel so lucky to have had my ‘mummy’ for so many years,” said Ann becoming a little emotional at the thought of her mother turning 100 today. Elvira has another daughter, Celia, Ann’s sister, who says Ann, “Is based in Florida (US). She wanted to come down to see mother turn 100, but, she could not make it, unfortunately. She was here last year, when we celebrated her 99th birthday; we had a special celebration at home. Elvira’s grandson George was also here.” Incidentally, Elvira is a great grandmother as George has a one-year-old daughter, “she (Elvira) has not seen her great grandchild though,” said Ann smiling.
Elvira now does not talk too coherently, “and I do not know if he recognizes me anymore,” said Dwayne D’Souza, a neighbour, who Elvira smiled at as he entered her house. Dwayne though, along with six other youngsters has played a pivotal part in organising celebrations for Elvira’s birthday. Dwayne says, “Today (Saturday evening at 7 pm) the parish priest Fr. A Nazareth of St Francis Xavier’s Church is to give a special one hour sermon on Elvira. Post that, we are going to have a party for her in the St Sebastian Goan High School hall. We expect about 100 people, both at the mass and the party. At the party, there will be cake, snacks; we have a few games… We are so proud of the only resident here,to reach 100, I don’t even know if I will reach half that age!” laughs Dwayne.
Ann says with a hint of tears, “I don’t even know what has been planned for birthday celebrations. I am alone, so I cannot do much, but all my neighbours, my friends, this community has planned this for her.”
Elvira, say Ann and Dwayne “will be taken to church today, in a wheelchair.” The wheelchair belongs to a neighbour Selma D’Silva, who had used it earlier for her father. Spunky Selma is a former hockey Olympian who was part of the Indian women’s team for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Says Ann, “We will take her for Mass, and then, I do not think she will be able to attend the party, she may be too tired.” Selma, Dwayne and Ann laugh when asked if they have bought the 100 candles for Elvira’s cake. Elvira is mirthful too, though she does not quite comprehend what is going on.
Selma says, “I will be saying a rosary here at the cross (there is a cross at the end of the lane where they live) at 5 pm in honour of Elvira. All are free to come. This will remind me of the old days, when she would tell all of us to do the rosary.” Selma also reminisces how the children in the area, would call Elvira ‘Papa Aunty’ to distinguish her from all the other uncles and aunties in the area. Ann and the others say that just one year ago, Elvira was as sharp as a pin. “She would attend church regularly, she would go to the bazaar, and it is only since Christmas 2011 that she has started forgetting things.”
Ann says, “Till two years ago, she used to pack my lunch for me, till the last day that I worked, she was 98 then.” Ann attributes her mother’s longevity to, “her regular habits, also correct eating. Today, at 100, she has no diabetes, no blood pressure, and no physical ailment in fact; she only has a weak memory now. She loves vegetarian food, though, like a typical Goan she is partial to her fish-curry-rice.”
This 99-year-old is just a gal at heart. As the photographer took her pictures, she badgered Selma to give her earrings. “I want a pair like yours,” Elvira said even as Selma teased her about them being very expensive. Then, Ann brought out a dress and told her that she should wear this today, on her birthday. Celia had sent it from the US. Elvira was delighted, seeing the dress and her daughter smiled saying, “see how excited she is?” Selma added, “she was always the most elegantly dressed old lady in the area and she has no plans of losing that label as she turns 100. I think her spirit and zest are an inspiration. When we were younger, we used to play card games with her and she was always competitive she wanted to win.”
Ann said that one lesson one could learn from her mother was, “do not keep a grudge in your heart. She did not harbour anger. She would go and talk to that person who had made her angry, she did not keep it within her.”
As Elvira smiled her goodbye to this reporter and photographer, one could feel a frisson of excitement amongst people in the area because of the event. In a city where people do not know the names of those who live next door, the camaraderie left one with that hard to explain, warm ‘n’ fuzzy feeling.
Blow out those candles, Elvira. May you have many more.