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Elizabeth Brunner







Fairy Tales around

8th July 1996

Elizabeth and the story about her mother's death



Monday, the 8th July 1996  

            The early monsoon this year with its intense humidity together with physical strain had hit me once again with severe lumbago. A yearly, two-yearly occurence if I did not take care, and this year once again, I had not. I went to meet my lovely friend after a rather long interval, always having in the back of my mind  that Elizabeth was in a much worse condition.

            Even Elizabeth birthday on the first of July I did not attend, but the Hungarian Embassy, the Cultural Centre and many friends of Elizabeths' had made a memorable event out of this special day for her.

...'Mr Lutoria was sitting behind his newspaper smiling beningly'...

            Mr. Lutoria was sitting behind his newspaper smiling benignly. My lovely Elizabeth was busy and looked fine. Bahadur had found inside a tipped-over 'morha' (an Indian bast [raffia] stool) old shoulder-bags and plastic-bags full of letters, greeting and other cards, envelops with photos dating back to the 1950s. All this stuck in a big trunk. It was never opened ever since Elizabeth had moved to Rabindra Nagar. So now she was busy looking through and trying to sort out these things.

            As I could not sit for long, my recorder was not on. So this will be my own account of what Elizabeth talked about that afternoon.

...'My lovely Elizabeth was busy and looked fine'...

            During the winter 1949/50 Elizabeth and her mother were still staying in Nainital. It was a very cold winter, with snow piling up everywhere. It occured during these days that in one room in their house, where the open-fire-place was not used, a big fat rat shot down the chimney. Her mother, being present in that room, was stunned and even frightened. She said to Elizabeth 'a bad spirit' had come down.

            Later that same day, it so happened that a small baby rat was caught in their mouse-trap. Her mother insisted that the rat had to be freed outside at once. Elizabeth was warming her feet and getting ready for bed so she requested her mother to wait until the morning. But her mother was determined, she went out, without a coat, alone. The rat had to be freed quite a distance away from the house, as otherwise it would be back in the warm surrounding within a jiffy. So her mother must have stayed out for more than half an hour. Of course, she came back shivering. She refused Elizabeth's offer for a hot cup of tea with rum or a hot chocolate. Only later on that night she requested Elizabeth for another blanket as she could not get warm under her cover.  

            The result of this unhappy outing developed into pleurisy. But Elizabeth's mother would not accept that she was in a serious condition, instead she went on with her usual routine. Until she collapsed and was brought down to the hospital in Bareilly. There she stabilized a little.

            Once the doctor was telling Elizabeth to give her an 'egg-flip'. Elizabeth, being herself in a rather shaky state, requested the nurse to administer the 'egg-flip' to her mother. Unfortunately, the liquid egg somehow got into her mother's windpipe. And Elizabeth watched in horror when her mother uttered her last two words ... "O no!" ... This is how the great painter Elizabeth Sass Brunner, mother of Elizabeth Brunner, passed away. It was about four/five days after she had gone out into that cold night.

The grave of Elizabeth's mother at Nainital

                It was in 1950 that Elizabeth Sass Brunner died in Bareilliy.  She was only 60 years old. Her grave can still be visited in the old English cemetery on the hillside in Nainital.

            I believe Elizabeth never really got over the death of mother.

            Elizabeth stayed on in Nainital for about another month. Then she came down to Delhi. In Delhi all Elizabeth could think of was to contact the Nehru family as they had always been very friendly and generous to her. She was advised to take up a room in the government guest-house called 'Western Court' on Janpath.  

Satyajit Ray

Holyman resting with cow


            Elizabeth's wish to hold a memorial exhibition for her mother was also very much supported and Indira helped her personally a great deal in arranging everything, she even wrote invitation cards. There was no proper exhibition hall in Delhi at that time, so the exhibition was held in the 'Imperial Hotel' on Janpath (a lovely old British style hotel which is still there today). Lady Mountbatten was supposed to inaugurate the exhibition but was, unfortunately, called away. Before leaving though, she bought quite a few paintings of Elizabeth Sass Brunner and Elizabeth Brunner.

            The Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (from the ruling family of Kapoorthala, and the then Minister of Health) was gracious enough to inaugurate the exhibition. The exhibition became, of course, an immense success.


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Copyright Dagmar Barua 1997 Sass Brunner East West Trust, 75, Rabindra Nagar, New Delhi - 110 003