Letters from the Past
Today I opened a very special bundle of letters, a bundle that took me back to my childhood and left me with a choked throat and moist eyes. They were in a little red cardboard box, spilling out almost as if they were keen to escape their confines and reach out to my heart.
How did they get to me, these little missives that I had written so long ago, little, forgotten scraps that had stayed on like indelible ink, smudged and precious?
My latest book ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ was launched in October this year and what made it extra special was my mother landing up without warning, to wrap her eldest offspring with her love and blessings. She spoke a few words about me, and then handed over the red box, which, she said, defined me as a person.
Life went by and today, as I was looking for something else, I came across this precious offering. Fortifying myself with a cup of green tea, I sat down and proceeded to take a trip into the past.
The first thing I laid eyes on was a letter that was written by my paternal grandparents to my mother when she was expecting me. My stern grandfather, who was the Headmaster of the boys’ school he had founded, was a man of few words. But his words sparkled on paper. “This is the time for you to cultivate the habit of entertaining such feelings and thoughts as you wish to see in the next generation.”
My grandmother had written down many apt slokas in Malayalam along with their English translations that, she suggested, would bring peace and serenity to my mother in the months to come.
Next came a letter written by a much younger me, with just a few words in a handwriting that still retained its baby curves. One line stood out in particular as I asked my father how long he would have to stay in Bangla Desh. Today I know that he was posted in Dhaka, the old Dacca, during the 1971 war, and I was blissfully unaware of the trauma my mother must have gone through in Bangalore with her three young children.
As I read on, memories assailed me as letters dropped into my lap, from my father, my mother and my grandparents. They spoke of many things, but centred around me, my health, my studies, my reading and my achievements. I recalled those days when I had been sent to my grandparents when I was in the 9th and the 10th because my Army father had been posted to a place which had no proper schools.
How my heart swelled when I read each wonderful missive and realized how much I was loved. There were letters from my grandmother to my parents, assuring them that I had settled down well, and that I was concentrating on my studies (something which I had never taken seriously before that!)
One letter that zapped me was one in which my grandmother had obviously shown my horoscope to an astrologer who had predicted certain things, back in 1975. “Deepti also has a bright future in studies, and definitely a happy married life also. She will complete her studies (even her Post Graduate course) by 21 or 22. She will or may have a chance to go to foreign countries in her married life.” Of course, it was after this that I shocked my grandparents and my teachers by refusing to take up Science, and opting for Humanities instead. The rest of the prophecies came true in due course of time. (I can see my better half heaving a sigh of relief!)
Words abounded, and I smiled when I read my own replies. “I am glad to see that N is now becoming a good girl!” (a reference to my little sister!) There was one particular tongue-in-cheek message that I had written to both my sisters. “I am very happy to hear that both of you are doing well at school. I am glad you have taken my advice (not to follow my example.)”
There were various references to friends, family members and our pet cocker spaniel, TANSI, the name we had got from the acronym for Tamil Nadu Small Industries. “Has TANSI come up with anything or was it a false alarm?” (A reference to a probable litter.)
I smiled when I read what I had written to my sister about a certain friend who had been quite a pest. “Yes, I did tell T that I would murder him. I only need an excuse! Haha!”
There were constant references to the brats. “Tell the brats to write. You know, N has developed a nice style of writing of her own. Her letters tend to get very amusing and I do enjoy skimming through them. I do laugh over B’s scrawls too, haha!”
And as I came to the end of my journey into the past, my eyes fell on one last letter which I had written to my father who was then posted in Bombay. “I am sad that we will not be able to come along with Amma to Bombay this time. But you can have a second honeymoon.” This was in December 1978, and my sisters and I were to go to Bombay and spend our summer vacations with our father in May and June.
Unfortunately, that never did happen, as, on the 29th of January, 1979, he suffered a massive cardiac arrest and succumbed to it.
As I closed the little red box that had captured so many memories so beautifully, and awakened my mind to a past that had been so precious, I knew that, yet again, here was a reason to thank my lovely mother, all over again. Not just for the red box and the bundle it carried, but for her thoughtfulness in compiling little pieces of my life together, and for handing my life back to me yet again.