I shall always wonder what became of Sister Ancilla (pronounced Anchilla in the Italian way). She was the first person of influence in my life and I met her when I was sixteen. It was my first day in junior college and she was my English lecturer. She asked us all to write an essay in class and the next day while discussing our essays she was very critical. She had left my essay till the last. But to my astonishment, she seemed to be very impressed with my writing and was all praise for it and wanted to know who G. was. It was all I could do not to stammer and blush. Though I had always performed well in class I had never received so much praise and was too embarrassed to be noticed.
After that she discovered I could draw and even play the harmonica. She even commissioned me to make greeting cards for her and once a drawing of a bishop that she knew to whom she presented my drawing and introduced me. I did not like the bishop.
I was a gauche and awkward teenager who had never known any praise at home and all this admiration and affection from a nun who who was herself the object of much adulation and curiosity somehow did not go to my head but did create a sense of identity in me. For the first time in my life I was receiving love and respect as an individual and from someone who seemed very sophisticated to all our childish admiring eyes.
Sister was an Anglo-Indian who had an English father and a Bengali background through her mother. We learnt from the few things she said in unguarded moments that she had lived in England and she seemed to be well-travelled in Europe. We saw from a few family photos that she came from an affluent Western life. There was one picture of hers in a stylish swimsuit on the deck of a yacht. She quickly turned it over but we were all wide-eyed having caught a glimpse of what we had only seen in English movies. She could sing and dance and once brought an accordion to a class excursion and played for us. We tried asking her a lot of questions about her personal life unashamedly – a class of sixteen-year olds who were dying of curiosity to know how she became a nun after having led such an exciting life. She would not get angry with us but neither would she tell us what we wanted so desperately to know. We came to the conclusion that she must have been betrayed in love and must have turned her back on the world. We had some vague thoughts that she might have been married and then been betrayed. How romantic and how we hated that man we had conjured up but Sister was the most cheerful person we knew who had been betrayed in love.
But the next year there were rumors that Sister would be leaving the convent soon and that she was only waiting for permission from Rome. She would just laugh at all our probing questions but when we returned after the summer vacation, she had already gone, leaving us bereft, with a sense of loss.
A few months later my class went on an excursion to Delhi and were greeted at their hotel by Sister, who had arranged to meet them, much to everyone’s surprise. She was not in the white habit she used to wear. I had not been allowed to go by my parents. I was told by my classmates that Sister’s first question to them had been “Where is my G.?”
I still wish my parents had let me go on that excursion.