Life lessons from 'The Aunts'

Updated: Nov 29, 2019, 07:35 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

My time in Tramin has been an immense journey of discovery of both the self as well as the incredible family I am married into

The lovingly prepared Stollen all ready to go into the oven; (inset) the risen flour for the festive bread
The lovingly prepared Stollen all ready to go into the oven; (inset) the risen flour for the festive bread

Rosalyn D'melloI first encountered 'The Aunts' through word of mouth. It must have been around the first week of October 2018, when I'd returned to Südtirol to spend time with the person I had then been 'seeing' long-distance. We had decided it was in our best interest to practise our togetherness on neutral territory. The residency in Eppan was therefore more perfectly suited than his home in Tramin. Our relationship was too nascent to factor in what his parents or extended family might make of us. We didn't want to expose ourselves to any external pressures. We wanted to indulge our intimacy, live in the bubble we had preciously built across months through video calls, intense email exchanges and text messages. He had shopped for basic supplies the day before I was to arrive via Flixbus from Vienna. He stocked the kitchen with other treats too, like excellent wine from the J. Hofstätter winery in which he lives, honey, and jam, made by 'The Aunts'. He mentioned that they, his father's two unmarried sisters, lived in the same house in which their two unmarried aunts once lived. The evening he took me to Tramin for dinner, on his birthday, he even roughly pointed out that house.

When I came to Tramin in April-May this year, I had the pleasure of finally meeting them. By then, they had assumed mythic dimensions in my imagination. Monika and Maridl, I observed, possessed an age-defying stamina. What was most alluring to me, what most aroused my envy, however, was that they were the kind of professional housewives and caretakers I have always aspired to be. I suspect that encountering them made me realise what I want most in life—a kitchen that I can call my own, and a garden, where, like them, I could grow at least 30 to 40 per cent of the ingredients I needed to run my household. I wanted to be a housewife-writer. I envied them even more because they chose not to be someone's wife. They therefore had a chance to truly occupy the conceptual territory of the housewife as women who were wedded to the places they inhabited.

When I returned to Delhi and visited my therapist, I told her about this epiphany, and I even read out an eight-line poem I had recorded in one of my diaries and happened to stumble upon a day or two before my session. It was by Anne Sexton, titled "Housewife". "Some women marry houses," it begins, ending with these two deliciously cryptic lines:

A woman is her mother.

That's the main thing.

The last two months I have spent here in Tramin have been the happiest days of my life. I've truly enjoyed getting to know my parents-in-law as people, not just as my husband's father and mother. I have come to know more of the town's history and inhabitants. I have had the luxury of having a whole room to myself to perform my writerly duties. I have been fed, kept warm, loved and indulged as if I were a daughter.

Each day I learn a little more about the person I married and subsequently, fall more headily in love with him. Through his sighting of me, I discover aspects of myself I hadn't previously considered. I delighted in harvesting and in learning, from my apple-farmer-linguist partner, the intricacies of the Pink Lady genre, and in being compensated, financially, for my labour.

I had many moments when I either almost or did, in fact, weep, because I was so humbled by all the generosities I received, all the kindness I hadn't anticipated. But the two occasions on which I most profoundly felt an effusiveness, a spilling over of mirth and love in my soul tissue, was when I was allowed to witness The Aunts at work in their kitchen.

I'm withholding. Even though it may seem like I'm gushing. I'm restraining myself, because there's so much about the experience I'm saving for my second book. I'll tell you this, though—if someone, like my therapist, were to ask me to describe the pinnacle of this year's cup of joy, I wouldn't lie. It was not when I signed the marriage solemnisation register in Delhi. It was not when I was recently informed that I am the recipient of a highly prestigious research grant. It was this Monday, November 25, around 10.30am, when I entered a state of grace. I had seen Maridl combine shards of yeast with lukewarm milk in the well surrounded by flour, all nestled in a large bowl. She didn't knead it in to make a dough, just yet, instead, she lightly stirred the mixture with a wooden spoon, then covered the bowl with the stainless-steel lid she had heated over a flame.

That morning, the sun had come out for the first time in days, and its rays burst through the kitchen window evangelically. Maybe 40 minutes later, she took the lid off, and I witnessed how the to-be Stollen had risen, swelling in size, metamorphosing into a living being. It was, for The Aunts, a minor, everyday miracle.

For me, it served as a metaphor for the selfhood of their kitchen; how it breathes daily potentiality, how it is bathed in heavenly light, its grace funnelling through their numerous acts of generosity manifested in their engagement with community-building. I learned that morning that it doesn't take very much skill to cook. Watch some YouTube videos, follow a recipe and you'll be sufficiently sorted. But to truly feed in a near selfless manner, the self has to be shrouded in love and grace. Cooking can alleviate hunger, but feeding is a self-generative task with mystical soul-nourishing powers.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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