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Thursday, April 22, 2010

An old fashioned romance

My grandmother never said very much about her life as a young woman -- only as a mother. A set of letters and the recounting of an incident by her daughter, my aunt, made me see her -- and my grandfather with new eyes. It's so relevant in these days of instant romance and attention deficit disorders....

Love lives on silently

BEING but a toddler when my grandfather passed away, my impressions were entirely based on the grim photograph of a middle-aged gentleman that reposed on my grandmother’s pooja mandap through the decades of her widowhood. Everyday she would anoint his sepia visage with a sandalwood paste tika, place fresh flowers at the base of the frame and include him in her invocations. But for me, he was about as abstract as the gods he shared counter space with.

Till a cache of letters emerged from a forgotten trunk. Neatly tied with string, the small envelopes bore postmarks from all over what was once united Bengal. On each of them, my grandmother’s name was written in a copperplate handwriting by a fountain pen, in violet or turquoise ink. Intrigued, I opened them. The short letters were all in English, positioned exactly in the middle of every page, and included many poetic quotations to convey a lover’s longing.

Amazingly, they were from my grandfather, dating back to the 1920s.

This year, my grandmother would have turned 100. It’s hard for me, therefore, to imagine her as a teenage wife, opening those letters amid the hustle-bustle of running a household. Perhaps she even smiled secretly at her absent husband’s ardent thoughts. Romance wasn’t something I associated with grandparents...till my aunt told me a story.

Once, when my grandfather was away on tour as usual, a package arrived at the town post office. As it was addressed to my grandmother, she was told to collect it in person. Outraged at the idea of their bahu going to a public place, family elders forbade it. So a neighbour persuaded the postmaster to send the packet home. It turned out to be rectangular and heavy, and it was decreed she would open it only in her husband’s presence.

Luckily he returned the next day and was told immediately about the packet. Half-amused, half-exasperated, he told his wife to open it. Inside was a cake with the inscription "Happy Birthday, Aruna".

It had travelled all the way from Calcutta’s best confectionery, and that was why he had returned a day early. No one else had remembered, but evidently he wanted to go to any lengths to make my grandmother smile secretly on that special day. Suddenly, the sandalwood tika, flowers and a silent devotion that even death could not part, made sense.


  1. Congratulations on your new blog Reshmi! A very finely written piece on a real life romance of those days. Literally 'shei shomoy'. You know, I really feel sad that letter writing has stopped nowadays. Letters always had a special place in our lives, in literature. Not just love letters, but letters from a father to daughter, between friends staying in different cities, countries. Today, with the advent of emails and cellphones, letters have lost that special place. Today, hardly anyone writes a love letter, I don't think anyone does.
    Well-known writer, poet & Tagore translator Ketaki Kushari Dyson once told me how she would eagerly await the love letters from her then boyfriend (currently husband) Robert Dyson at the Ballygunge Post Office. I don't think anyone waits for them any longer.

  2. The best return gift that I could give Sulabh this evening, as he returns from a longish trip to China, will be a reading out of your note. Thank you for sharing fond and touching memories of my namesake.

  3. Truly awe inspiring Romance Reshmi...and very well written..As a matter of fact ..once I had by chance read my Father's letters to my mum..He too was extremely poetic and romantic...I can very well imagine my mum's life without him..he died young..Your story has brought tears in my eyes and I feel helplesss that I can never fill in that empty space for my mum...but yes will do something special for her today bring in some happiness for her...Thanks Reshmi..once again...for sharing this touching memory with us..