This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Episode – 4
My Dear Nur,
Yesterday I seemed lost for many hours. From the moment Niha ran to me to show me an old picture, until the sleeping pill she gave me took effect. It was a picture of you and Jack, Sunny and me and M. Gupta with his wife, Sonali. Some other couples were in the background of the photo, which was taken in Gupta’s house for a special Christmas party. Niha, it seemed, was cleaning out my old trunk and found the picture. I don’t remember which year this picture was taken but way before partition as so many of those in it were gone afterwards. You might remember when you see the picture, as you have better memory than mine. I was so emotional, like you, lots of memories came back to me and it was impossible to stop my tears flowing. Niha, always the perfectly devoted Ayah, calmed me down. She selected an old Indian movie with Shashi Kapoor and made me take a sleeping pill. She had no idea that seeing that old photo would affect me so deeply. Anyway, the movie made us laugh until our stomachs started to hurt, like they did the time we had all that Masala Dosa!
Today I feel better but can’t stop thinking about you and Jack and what happened that night. I recalled more about the event that night after the Christmas gathering. It was the most memorable Christmas party in our life because it was so lovely and, naturally, you and I fell in love with Sonali‘s always perfect dinner menu. The Sandesh and Coconut Sweets melted in our mouths like clouds drifting over the Maidan, but I have to tell you something that happened after you and Jack left the party. I think Sunny and I were the last guests to leave. Our driver had pulled up with our car and Sunny and I started to walk down to it but suddenly Gupta stopped in his tracks and whispered to us. I will never forget what he told us that night. His wife was still a small distance behind us and out of ear shot. He whispered, “Lily, never stop dreaming big. Sunny, have courage for the times ahead. You will need them. There is a change in the air that, I fear, bodes unwell my dear friends. Thank you for coming. I hope that we will see each other soon.” I noticed Sonali’s face at that moment. It was not a happy face at all. I felt a chill come over me that night, and saw a kind of sadness in Gupta’s eyes. I tried to express this to Sunny. But, you know Nur darling, Sunny’s name always reflected his mood and he was always looking on the bright side of everything, so he just took it that Gupta was being poignant not ominous. Who could predict that M. Gupta would be dead in only a matter of weeks, dying while Sonali was still en route to South Africa. Anyway Nur, how are you doing? I wish you lived next door to me so we can visit each other more often.
You take care of yourself. Love from my heart.
Your letter arrived today and I’m so happy to receive it. The gardens are looking heavenly and so Maali has set me up in the old garden swing with lots of pillows and a tray of tea and cookies that Ayah brought out for me. I hope the two of us aren’t going to allow ourselves to become maudlin. At this age, we need to have a continuous flow of wonderful things on which to look forward. But, I believe in my own heart like I said in my last letter, that there are things that are surfacing that we need to address and then leave to rest one last time. All these years, we have never spoken of the incident about Gupta. After his death, we had our suspicions but could not voice them. The country was starting to experience so much unrest with Gandhi and the Congress Party; the push for a partitioned India, the rumors of war. Although you and I were very astute and had our hands in some aspects of current events back then, there was no way we could come forward, causing a scandal with what we believed to be the truth about Gupta’s death. The country was in an impending uproar and the slightest hint that Gupta was assassinated would have just added one more spark to the heat already growing. All was such a tamasha!
I’m so sorry that finding that photo caused you such distress, but I do feel that just by writing about it here, privately, where it can do no one any harm since all of the people involved died so many years ago, is a good thing. What I never told you, because Jack-having worked in the intelligence service and always so cautious, promised me to secrecy- was that on that very same night, Gupta had pressed a note in my hand. A tiny piece of scrap paper torn from the label off of one of the champagne bottles. Scribbled on it in tiny writing it said “She is trying to kill me”. When I showed it to Jack, he told me that he would try to look into matters, but that I was not to say anything to anyone, not even you. He took the note and burned it in the ashtray until only ash remained. Like you, I, too, was forced to hold back. Like you, I felt helpless, unable to do anything. Unable to talk with you, my best and closest friend and sister, about it. Then we got the news that he committed suicide and I knew in my heart it was a lie. We must, now, talk this out and straighten it out in our minds so we can let these ghosts of the past rest in peace. You know, I’ve never been able to enjoy Sandesh or Coconut Sweets since that fateful night.
Write soon, your ever friend,
Click HERE to read previous episode of Over Cups of Tea.
Authors Khadi Madama and Bela Banerjee introduce you to two octogenarians who remember their lives in India from the days of the Raj until their gleaming golden ages in this light hearted and sometimes bittersweet letter exchange.