Love lives on silently
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....
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.