HER LIFE IN LETTERS
May 2, 2013
The message came in early morning. Written in bold were the harsh words – ‘Her fight is over.’
May 14, 2013
The Shradh ceremonies began.
All through the Shradh, I kept thinking, ‘How could she go without saying a proper goodbye to me? Will I ever hear her again, calling out to me?
I sat there tears streaming down my face. I had just lost the woman I loved the most. Dadima – my maternal grandmother, the matriarch of our family.
Someone ruffled my hair. I looked up to see my aunt standing there with a package. Handing it over, she whispered to me, ‘open it when you are alone. She told me to keep them safe and hand it over when we meet.’
I hugged it tight and broke down.
May 28, 2013
An extremely hot and sultry afternoon! My little boy lay fast asleep beside me. I stroked his hair gently, tracing patterns on the little forehead. My thoughts went back to those days when I would snuggle beside Dadima and drift away to sleep, while she caressed my hair.
I was suddenly reminded of the box… the one she left for me!
I rushed to get it from the other room. Opening it carefully, the contents in it filled me with wonder! Inside the box, were the diaries neatly packed and labelled – the ones I had given her.
A few years ago, during a trip back home, I had remarked,
“Dadima, you have narrated me so many beautiful stories to me. Why don’t you write them down? Here, I have got these diaries for you. You have to fill them in.”
“And what will you do with them?” She had looked back at me, her lips curling into a faint smile.
“Oh, I will get them printed someday and make you famous!”
She had laughed. That deep throaty laughter of hers and had hugged me tight, muttering, “My Munu Rani.”
I opened the diary with care. An envelope fell out. Neatly written on it was, “For my dear Munan.”
That is me! Nobody else called me ‘Munan’. Inside the envelope was a letter.
The familiar handwriting greeted me.
“Now that you are reading this, I know you have opened the box. Have you opened the smaller box that’s there in this parcel? If not, open it now.”
I found a polished, wooden box. Opening it, I noticed a purple satin cloth. I unwrapped it gingerly and found a ring in it! The same ring that she wore on her ring finger.
I continued reading the letter.
“Do you remember this? The ring I have always worn. I removed it today. Something tells me that my time is nearing and I wish to leave this ring for you. Had your Dadu been alive, he would have also agreed with my decision too. Now put it on… I am sure it’s going to sit snug on your beautiful, thin fingers. You know you have fingers that suit an artist!”
I smiled and thought to myself. “No Dadima. Mine are nowhere near yours.”
As if reading my mind, she had written, “Stop complaining. Put it on!”
Now that was an order! I slid on the ring and looked at its grandeur. It’s magnificent. The brilliant flash of the golden band and nestled in its arms lay a sparkling stone.
“You are right. It does fit me.” I murmured.
I go back to the diary. She had written. “I can see those fingers filling pages after pages… telling us a story.”
I smiled ruefully telling her. “You are the only one who has faith in me.”
“My dear, now feel the stone…it’s a Pokhraj or the ‘white sapphire’ in English.”
“Oh, I thought it’s a diamond, Dadima.” I inspect it again.
“I knew you would think so. Not a diamond. Quite a challenge to differentiate them.” Dadima had written back.
I lifted my hand and moved my fingers in a rhythm. Every time the stone caught the light, it dazzled me with its brilliance. An oval-cut white sapphire held by a halo setting, it had the white glow of colour and the fireworks of diamond.
Pressing the letter against my bosom, I thought about the gift she had left me. No, not the ring, but the diaries which were invaluable. Even though she was gone from the physical realm, she was there, communicating with me through her diaries.
“Munan, I belonged to the family of Raibahadur, the family of the aristocrats. The youngest of the four brothers and three sisters, I was a pampered child. A tomboy in fact! I spent the day running around, plucking mangoes and flowers, climbing trees or diving into the huge pond behind our house. When my sisters passed away, I was entrusted the responsibility of my little nephew. People called me ‘Kumari ma’ – the unwed mother. The transformation in me was sudden. That’s how grief is. My father decided to marry me off.
The parents on either side fixed the alliance. It was between the RaiBahadur of Dumka and the Public Prosecutor of Asansol. In those days grooms were chosen on the basis of family background and it depended largely on the success of their fathers. Your Dadu (grandfather) was still studying Labour Law and yet to make a mark.”
“Did you meet Dadu before marriage?” The question played in my mind.
“Aha! I know what’s eating into your mind. I have always evaded this question of yours. But I think I have to answer it this time. Well it doesn’t qualify as a meeting. We barely caught a glimpse of each other. He had come to Dumka and our paths crossed near the pond. I knew how my future husband looked like. None of us knew then, that we would get married someday and spend almost sixty years together.
Your Dadu had set a condition. He would marry after getting a job. His parents refused to listen to him. My parents-in-law had lost their only daughter at a very tender age, leaving them heartbroken. Sending off their son to Calcutta had made them apprehensive. What if the son decided to marry on his own? They created immense pressure on him and finally he relented.
Now, it’s customary to gift the bride on the night of the reception. Your Dadu had chosen a ring for his new bride. It cost quite a lot of money. He would never allow his parents to pay for it. In the end he used the money saved from the tuitions and loaned in some from his mother. It was a well-guarded secret. I came to know of it much later.
And then on our wedding night, he put this ring on me. It has been my companion since then. It’s time to part with it… and you are the rightful heir. Pokhraj as a stone is auspicious. It symbolises power and maturity and suits the temperament of a Capricorn. Also you are my most romantic granddaughter.”
I eyed the ring again, turning it around. It was really precious.
“There is something I want to divulge. I am bringing it up again. To apologise. To cover up the dent.”
I knew what Dadima wanted to tell me.
“I need to tell you all today. We might never meet. And these words will die with me. I remember how you would come to me and confide each and every secret of yours. It was always a secret between us. But that boy….the one you grew serious about… Well, it’s true I let it out to your mother. All hell broke loose after that. You never said a word. But your eyes….accusation was clearly written on them… I… I am sorry. I breached your trust. But then that boy was unsuitable for you. You were too naïve then.”
I notice the smudged writing. She had been crying while penning down the letter to me. I wiped away mine
I wanted to tell her that she had been right. I no longer blamed her and that I knew why she did that.
“There is a secret of mine which you deserve to know. Do you remember the story of my Borda’s (elder brother) friend who would visit us regularly? The one who hailed from Delhi and was posted in our town? Well, there is more to it.”
I was taken aback. A secret! Dadima was sharing a secret with me?
“Unfair, Dadima… very unfair. When I can no longer tease you anymore, you decide to share a secret!” I cried out loud.
“Munan, every time he came home, he would request for a cup of tea. And with tea there would be requests for a song. I was then transitioning from a tomboy into a lady.”
I remembered that Dadima had a mellifluous voice. She had participated at the district level competition and won many medals and trophies which adorned my living room.
“Someday it would be a classical. At times he would request for a Tagore song. Or a Bhajan. While I sang, I was aware of his eyes resting on me. There was admiration written on them.”
Ooh Ma! How could Dadima hide this from me? I wished I could ask her how he looked. And when I look back at the letter, the answer is there.
“He was a very good-looking man.”
But was he better than Dadu?
As if anticipating my question, she had added a line. “Your Dadu remains the most handsome man.”
I was curious to know whether she reciprocated the man’s admiration.
She knew I would have this question in my mind. “Those days it was different. I had no inclination towards anything. You see I had lost my sisters in close succession. Another brother as well. I was busy with my little nephew. All my attention was on him.
He was a regular at our place. And our family was very liberal. We were allowed to step out to attend parties and entertain guests at our place. Due to my father’s social standing, we would have important people dropping in. One day he came in the afternoon when Borda was away. He mentioned that he had come to meet the Rai Bahadur. There was something important he wanted to talk about. I had just stepped in to serve tea. He looked at me, smiled and told me to sit down.
I knew he was about to say something that concerned me. But Baba interrupted him. He took my hand in his and told the gentleman that he had good news to share with him. My marriage had been fixed with a boy from Asansol. I saw how his face fell. How he struggled with his composure. He chose to concentrate on the tea and congratulate me. He informed us that he had got a transfer back to his state. It was his last day in our town – a farewell visit to us.
That was all he said. But I knew there was more. Leaving Baba and him, I went back to my room where my child was sleeping. From the window which overlooked the gate. I saw his figure recede into the sunset. At the gate he looked up at me, dipped his hat and smiled.”
I sighed. Dadima, I wish he had been given the opportunity to declare his feelings.
“Do you know why I am writing this to you? I am happy that the gentleman did not get a chance to express his feelings. Else knowing my father, he would have never objected to it. But look what your Dadu has given me. What I have achieved! I am happy…I have always been happy with him. My dear girl, always remember whatever happens, happens for your good. “
I wanted to hug Dadima and apologise.
She knew that I would feel terrible at the end of her letter. The last few words were a balm for my troubled soul. “My dear child, we all make mistakes when we are young. That’s where the elders step in. Now go…finish your chores. You have spent a lot of time reading my diary. Remember, I am here… with you… always! Open a page and you will find me. We will pick up from where we left.”
My maternal grandmother, Dadima, passed away on May 2, 2013. She left me all her diaries and then carefully tucked away little notes for me.
The diaries trace her journey from the lavish lifestyle as the daughter of the RaiBahadur of Dumka, Jharkhand to the daughter-in-law of a renowned public prosecutor in Asansol, West Bengal. The story is an excerpt from one of the many letters she has left me.