04 May, 2008

Visiting Spaniards

I was privileged to stay with The Duke and Duchess of Santa Elena, their graces Alberto and Eugenia de Bourbon for couple of days in Madrid, during my trip to Europe in 1984. Closely related to the Spanish royal family; Their Majesties King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia were godparents to their only son Alfonso.
The duchess’s aunt was part of a group of nuns who came to India in the late forties to establish the order of the discalced Carmelite of St. Teresa in Kerala. It’s a peculiar order, that once cloistered they are forever confined to the convent and not allowed to go out under any circumstances except medical, nor anyone outside the order allowed in. The stringent conditions have been relaxed only recently. My grand aunt too had joined the order. When the Spanish sister came to know from my aunt that I was travelling to Spain she asked me to visit her niece whom she had left almost half a century ago.
The Basque separatist movement was at its height during that period. After the strict checking at the San Sebastian border station which was teeming with armed guards I entered Spain from France. News about my impending visit had already reached the Duchess from the convent. Warmly greeted in the customary style with kisses on either cheek, they were eager to know all about their aunt way back in India.
After seeing the various tourist attractions in and around Madrid like the Royal Palace, the Prado museum and deliberately avoiding the gory bull fight; I took leave after two days stay. Four years passed quickly. I invited the Duke and Duchess to the baptism of my son and my brother-in law’s wedding that were taking place the same day. They graciously accepted the invitation.
A group of nine which included the Duchess’s daughter, sister and her husband who was the Spanish consul general in Istanbul, their two children, The Duchess’s younger sister and her three teenage daughters, the elder, already the Duchess of Montemar, landed at Cochin airport in the last week of December1988. They were taken straight from the airport to St. Joseph’s convent Thiruvalla to meet their aunt.
I took them sightseeing to Thekkady, Kanyakumari, Kovalam and other tourist destinations. The wedding and baptism was on New Year’s Day of 1989. The Spanish guests brought with them a baptism dress as gift. It was a family heirloom, the same dress in which the Duchess’s son was baptised with the King and queen of Spain as Godparents. George was christened in that dress.
In the evening there was much merry making with music and dance. The Spaniards entertained with their famous flamingo dance. Two days after the function they flew back home. A week later I asked a local visitor how the function went and whether everyone enjoyed. His reply left me astounded, “It was a grand function, there were cabaret artistes from Bombay to entertain the guests.” I thanked my stars that the Spaniards were out of earshot and safely home.