The magic of being Miss Margaret

Radha Nair has sent in another piece telling about her tuition teacher, Miss Margaret. The writing has a fairy-like quality to it, and will make you want to dip into it again and again . . . Many, many thanks Radha for this delightful masterpiece !!
SCHOOL WAS NO WHERE in my horizon at age six. Instead I sat for two hours with Miss Margaret, my tuition teacher, in a room in No. 1 “Rail View”. That was the only time my mind did not chug – chug off, to the sounds of the trains passing through Dadar station just outside my window.

I was more fascinated by the lovely dresses she wore, beautifully flared out from the tiniest of waists, which she swung daintily from side to side as she clicked her way, into our house on her very high patent leather heels. I was so spell bound that after she left I practiced her walk, only to fall flat on my face with each dismal attempt.

Each day she wore a new dress with exquisite lace collars and boat necks, silver brooches on broad lapels, blouses made of the most delicate Broderie Anglais, and three-tiered polka dotted skirts from which sometimes peeped, lace-edged satin slips, the likes of which I had never seen before.

There was always a single strand of pearls at her throat. And when she settled down, I was drowned in the most wonderful perfume you could imagine. I don’t remember a thing of what she taught me from the text books. For, to a girl of six, there were other things of lasting appeal.

But I do remember the way she sat, always upright. I watched the way she dabbed delicately at the light film of sweat on her upper lip with a silk hand kerchief; or the way she turned the pages of the book, leaving behind the memory of her perfumed touch. I loved to hear the rustle of her skirts as she moved slightly forward in her chair. Her hair was always brushed to perfection, cut in wavy layers and therefore having an exquisite bounce.

But what riveted me was her excellent pronunciation, and the way her Revlon lip-sticked mouth formed perfect O’s, or the way she bit her lower lip ever so slightly for the V’s.

When she was served tea, politely, she nibbled delicately at the biscuits, and sipped her tea without a sound. When she left, there was the imprint of her lipstick on the rim of the cup. One day I promised myself, “Thou shalt have all the sailor collars in the world, pick and choose this perfume and that, and yes, thou shalt paint thy lips a ravishing pink”. I think she found me alright, for never once did she chide me, or pull my ear, or have a word with my mother. And therefore I loved her all the more.

Instead, for Christmas, she called me over to her house. I just don’t remember where it was, but I think we took a tram. When she opened the double doors, into which had been set panes of colored glass, they lent that much more magic to the sunlight which fell through it.

It was a home so very cozy that she let us into, with soft drapes letting in gauzy light, plump cushions that made you want to sit a little longer, chiming clocks, and carved furniture, Bing Crosby’s Xmas carols from the radio-gram, and heavenly smells of Anglo Indian food cooking drifting from the kitchen.

There was a tall Christmas tree all done up in tinsel, and shiny baubles. Tea was served in the finest china. I was so awe struck, comparing my staid , in-between-naval transfers/transit -home at Rail View, to this beautiful place, that she helpfully, came round as I raised my cup, to put 2 sugar cubes... (SUGAR CUBES?????. . . I had never seen them before), and then tinkled a silver spoon in my cup of hot chocolate with a swirl of cream.

From that moment onwards I decided, I would stop drinking ‘Ovaltine’ and insist on hot chocolate with cream, with 2 sugar cubes each time! Shamelessly, I drained the cup to the last delicious drop, forgetting how her good manners always reminded her to leave a little tea in her cup, every time she had tea at my house.

Miss Margaret, insisted that I have patties and ham sandwiches, along with pastries topped with chocolate icing, tiny silver balls and roses.

The first bite drove off all my shyness, and soon I was tucking in with the gusto, which only a 6 year old is capable of. Finally she offered me some home-made Marzipans. The taste was so divine, that all the way back home I repeated Marzipan, Marzipan, so I would not forget and tell my mother about its wonders.

Needless to say, on my return home, suddenly the trains which otherwise enchanted me, looked singularly dull in comparison to the elegant clink of cups, a house rich with warm oven smells, lace covered tables, and the gentle boom of ancient clocks.
Radha Nair