Evelyn Pereira (nee Cordeiro)
Born 19th April 1908; Died 22nd December 2000
Nana Evelyn would have been 103 tomorrow. She was the matriarch of the Pereira Clan; the glue that held us together. She was also the most influential person in my life when I was a child.
Nana was born in Igatpuri (or “Egg-it-puri” as she anglicised it) in 1908 to John and Lucy Cordeiro, the youngest of five children – Angela, Jessie, Irene, Albert and Evelyn. She met Papa Wenzil through her brother Bertie as both men worked in the Telegraphs. Papa Wenzil and Nana Evelyn married on 9th February 1930 (see photo) and together, they had nine children. Papa died on 5th September 1971, but Nana lived on till she was 92 – a steadfast, loving presence in our lives. She would have seen wars, India’s independence and even the new millennium unfolding before her eyes, but her greatest treasure was her family. While her second child Anthony died just seven months after he was born, the remaining eight children all married and had 20 grand-children between them. Us grand-kids have gone on to have 29 great-grandchildren – and still counting!
Nana loved it best when her family got together. So every Sunday evening, come hell, high water, or Hill Road traffic jams, the Pereira Clan would meet in Nana’s house. Uncle Merwyn and Uncle Trevor R. in their company cars with families in tow, and the rest all congregating at Anthony’s Cottage, 8 D’Monte Street, Bandra, Bombay. The ‘big cousins’ would heave the wooden bench from the back and the chairs from the hall to form a circle in the sitting room, with Nana in her usual spot in the middle. One by one we would go to Nana to have a chinwag; holding her hands and sharing our delights and disappointments with her, while all around the room exploded in peals of laughter as one anecdote after another was related. By 8.30pm, after eight dozen or so sev puris were polished off, it was time to wrap things up. But not before Aunty Marie tried to swap one more recipe at the doorstep and Uncle Chris L. threatened to go home – with or without her!
Nana’s eyes were riddled with glaucoma and cataract problems when she was in her late ’70s, but she was still sharp as a tack. When Uncle Chris P. would return home from work with The Afternoon tabloid, Nana would be itching to do the 9-letter word puzzle – all in her mind’s eye. We would call out the letters: P, N, E, H, S, A, P, I, S; with ‘S’ as the must-use letter. “Happens, shapes, hessian, ashen... Was there one ‘S’ or two ‘Ss’?” she would query. Two. “I’ve got it: Happiness.” Ditto for solving the crossword puzzle. Ditto for doing mathematical calculations. How did she do it? The mind boggles.
If Nana was full, she would say, “I’ve done well.” Translation: I’ve eaten enough. And in the same breath she would ask, “What’s for dessert?” But you just said you were full... “I’ve got a separate pouch for ice-cream,” Nana would claim. Butterscotch (with the praline bits) was her favourite. So is mine.
Everyone who knew her called her “Nana” – not just the family, but even the Hindu and Muslim neighbours living in chawls on either side of Nana’s house; even ex-boy/girlfriends of the big cousins; even the maids... But the next generation i.e. the great-grandkids coined another name for her: “GiGi” – “Great Grandma”.
Her sense of propriety was apparent in how she always wore a full petticoat even under her house-dresses. A special occasion like the Bandra Feast or a family wedding meant that Nana would wear a new dress stitched by my aunt Cassandra – not without a spritz of Charlie perfume.
Nana was a devout Catholic whose faith was a part and parcel of her life. So if it was 8.30pm, we were all on our knees in front of the altar, saying the rosary. Nana always blessed our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross and made sure we kissed the crucifix before we said goodbye. Till today, we all do likewise.
Nana Evelyn passed away on 22nd December 2000. I still miss her.
* Pic 1: A collage of Nana and Papa on their wedding day; the two of them, with their children.
* Pic 2: Nana Evelyn with her youngest two grand-children, Jason (L) and Neil (R).