Naresh Fernandes in Mint-Lounge:
I always knew that when I made my long-planned trip to Pakistan, one man would be able to fill in the details. Father Anthony Cordeiro, my grandmother’s cousin, was the keeper of family lore. His head held the names of hundreds of Karachi Goans spread across as many continents. For just over 60 years, ever since the family had moved to Mumbai, he’d conducted our baptisms, weddings and funerals. Anthony was still a child in Karachi when his attractive cousins were being courted by men from across the subcontinent. Decades after they’d married the objects of their affections, Father Anthony could be counted on to enliven family gatherings with his stories about the torments the suitors were put through. Then, as the laughter died down, everyone would huddle around the piano to sing the melodies they’d loved from the Karachi days. An essential part of the ritual involved Father Anthony singing his favourite tune, the Neapolitan standard, Santa Lucia.
Shortly before my visa for Pakistan came through, Father Anthony had to be admitted to hospital. It wasn’t clear what exactly was wrong with him, but over the course of just a week, a large portion of his memory seemed to seep away. The doctors explained it as a function of depleted sodium levels. He was moved to a home for retired Catholic priests. Days before my departure for the city of his youth, Father Anthony celebrated his 91st birthday. Relatives travelled from across Mumbai to be with him but Father Anthony didn’t have the energy to respond to their greetings. His voice was just a whisper. After an hour or so of strained jollity, his guests started to bid their farewells. Amid the bustle, Father Anthony abruptly raised his hand to indicate that he wanted our attention. His lips began to move but we could barely hear what he was saying. As we inched closer, it became apparent. He was singing Santa Lucia. More: