Would you believe me if I told you that it took decades for us, my cousin and I, to compare notes and figure out the whole thing? She had passed away by then. Our aunt, I mean - Matulu we called her, all the siblings and cousins of our generation. I was well into my teenage when I saw her open a bottle of Coke and the penny dropped finally. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to wonder at Molina’s choice of the Keeper of the Key.
The key to Molina’s room was kept on top of Matulu's Allwyn refrigerator. It was huge, easily three times the size of the normal keys we saw tucked in at the waists, beyond the saree pleats of our mothers or tied into a knot at the anchal of our grandmother. Ornately fashioned from inlaid brass, with a vine and flower design climbing up the shaft, the key was impressive, and scary.
Matulu was an easygoing, affectionate maternal figure. Nearly a grandmotherly one in my case, as she was older than my own mother by almost twenty years. I spent a lot of time in her home. But I can’t remember her ever in any disciplining mode – she was always smiling. Always ready to make me my favourite dishes of Mohanbhog, Malpoa and fried potato matchsticks on demand. And she fed them to me personally with endless tales of Teacher Fox and his Students, the Crocodile Hatchlings. The disciplinarian was Molina. Quite the opposite of Matulu, in fact.
Molina lived within the precincts of the lake on the opposite side of the road from my aunt. None of us had ever actually seen Molina up close, but we knew her well enough. Not particularly endearing, she was old and walked with a limp, in the spotless white of a Bengali widow. She had bloodshot eyes from staying up nights. Molina knew every child in the neighbourhood, even the ones who were only visitors, their comings and goings, their intentions good and bad, their deepest, darkest secrets. She took the too boisterous, the disobedient, the misbehaved ones away to the small room atop the water tower that stood beside the lake, rising many stories above the surrounding low-rise homes.
“Into that room high up, up, up she takes them, locks the door with this key and teaches them a lesson,” Matulu said. She took the key from the top of the fridge and let me feel its weight in my small, four year old palm.
“Will she take me too, Matulu?” I asked, the key twinkling in my hand, heavy and ominous.
“Oh no, never,” came the instant reply. ”You’re a good girl, aren’t you? You’re my golden girl, you’re the best behaved. Molina only takes the naughty ones to that room.” Matulu took the key from my fingers and put it back on the fridge again. She bent down and hugged me close. “You’re ever so lokkhi. Molina would never even look at you.”
I immediately resolved to grit my teeth and be as well behaved, as lokkhi as was humanly possible. If the key to the room was this big and scary, what would the lessons conducted therein be like?
Sometime past sixteen, I saw Matulu open a Coke bottle with Molina’s key and realised that hallowed and feared object’s real purpose. The key, or the bottle-opener, still lived on the Allwyn fridge. Why Molina, even if she did exist, would choose to keep her key on Matulu's fridge never occurred to me once in all those years of childhood.
Just a few months ago, one of my cousins and I got reminiscing together and an avalanche of a-ha moments later, figured that Molina was a common motif Matulu used to keep all her nephews and nieces in line. An imaginary, invisible disciplinarian but so very effective. We laughed, and then fell silent. Matulu was not around to see our epiphany, she has been gone more than a decade now. But she would have enjoyed it, she always did like a good laugh.
Only carrots, very little stick. A neat trick, and gentle. Molina’s key. Kind of sums up the zeitgeist of our entire collective childhood.
So that's it folks, 2019 is done, the last post is written and here is a brand new decade waiting to start. Who knows what exciting things it will bring?! A happy year end to you and the very best of the New Year 2020 and the coming decade!