She pinched off a piece of the tiny banana between the tips of her fingers and thumb. Sun-ripened and sugary-sweet, it was harvested earlier that morning from one of the many banana plants in her sprawling, verdant, over-planted garden. She mashed it meticulously, breaking up large chunks so there would be no choking hazard. Then she grabbed the ‘baby’, pried open his mouth, and shoved banana inside, scraping her fingers along his teeth to get every last scrap. She tilted his chin up and massaged his throat–there would be no spitting out of pre-triturated banana, no rejection of her love.
The ‘baby’ was one in a succession of tiny Australian Silky Terriers named Sidney–Silky Sidney–and my grand-Aunt fed all the Sidneys banana in this way.
Each year, on our summer vacation to Kerala, my family–the Australian cousins–visited her and bore witness to this ritual. She was my grandmother’s cousin, a respected and much loved elder matriarch, a necessary stop on our rounds of visiting. Fine-boned, stately, and indulgent of a bored child, she was known within the family–and out of her hearing–as ‘Silky Sidney Valiyamma*’.
Each year we watched this banana-drama unfold. Rooted to the spot, we were torn between admiration, empathy, and the need to intervene–like when you watch your older cousin willingly eat raw chillies on a dare (but that’s a story for another time). Uncomfortable to watch, and no doubt uncomfortable to be the recipient of, the only one who seemed to enjoy this force-fed love was my grand-Aunt.
I can only conclude from the Sidneys’ willingness to return, to be subjected to my grand-Aunt’s particular brand of love, that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. The small dog–and its predecessors and successors–came willingly to her call (they’re really not as clever as people make out), realised too late what was about to happen, squirmed uselessly in her vice-like grip, and eventually acquiesced. When the mercifully brief torment was over (thank goodness for small bananas), Sidney–one of many–shook himself off, licked his chops, and trotted happily away. Only to repeat the tamasha the very next day (seriously, not bright dogs).
Not so many years after I last visited this aunt, she died. As far as I know, the penchant for feeding a succession of Sidneys mashed banana also died with her.
I’ve had several dogs I’ve had to shove medications down the throats of, and several who’ve enjoyed a banana (unmashed) . Silky Sidney Valiyamma provided lessons for both.
*Valiyamma (lit. ‘big mother’), honorific term for any woman in the mother’s family older than the mother/grandmother
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Feature image credit: Ofsilkysdream, CC BY-SA 3.0