This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
I received your lovely letter more than a month ago. I was not well for a few weeks suffering from severe cold. As per my doctor’s advice I had to take plenty of rest. You know how Niha is taking care of me! I feel very lucky having her in my life. Now I am doing much better and hope that you are well. I know that from time to time life can and often gets hectic.
I know you remember that last weekend was the anniversary of Mr. Gupta’s death. How many years is it now since he died? 35? Feeling much better after Niha’s care of me, in fact feeling more like your good old “Tigerlily” as you like to call me and knowing how much he used to enjoy Pani Puri, and since we have been talking about him, I decided to have a party in his memory. I invited my family members and the few people still living and not to far away, who knew Mr. Gupta well. Having a Pani Puri party without you was unimaginable to me, but I wanted to see who would come and if I would hear anything about his death that you and I hadn’t heard before. I wish you were here in Cal with me for the party. Do you remember once Mr. Gupta told us “It is always advisable to indulge in the snacking of “Pani Puri!” As he would toss his head from side to side as we Indians do, in our way. He used to love to join with us whenever we decided to bring our favorite “Panipuriwallah” to serve at our house. The wallah would start serving us one after another of those delightful little puris filled up with spicy potatoes and mint flavored water until we couldn’t eat any longer. But there is a bit of a dark side to this little story.
Something that you will not believe. A bit of news that I was told at the party. As it turned out, there were many people who attended, except two families, who were very close to Gupta’s wife. While everyone was having fun eating and listening to Indian music and dancing, I overheard one of Mr. Gupta’s best friends, Dr. Barendras. I’m not sure if you ever met him, Nur, because he was from one of the old hill stations and maybe before you and I had ever met. I did not expect to hear him talking about Mrs. Gupta, because he was always a very quiet type. To me it was just coincidental openness for me to be near enough to hear him speak to the Paniwallah. I guess he felt overwhelmed by the Pani Puri party, which secretly, you know my dear, I hosted just for this reason. From the few words he spoke I learned how much he hated Mrs. Gupta all these years. He referred to her and her family as Thugees! Can you imagine? Then he coughed and apologized to the Wallah realizing that he had been overheard. He then apologized to me and excused himself from the party, openly emotional. It was good that he left, because one of Mr. Gupta’s grandchildren arrived just in time to hear what was said, so for a moment we all stood frozen in time. Or maybe he knew too much but was not able to share it with anyone.
I would like to write more but I’m still a little weak. Take care of yourself my dear. Write to me soon.
Your forever friend Lily
What a story. What a tamasha you had. I, too, wish I could have been there. I’m sorry that you have been under the weather and glad you’re on the mend and ready to get back into harness! Is Niha polishing up your old Pith Helmet? Goodness! Remember those days, putting on our white Pith Helmets and ‘jodhpurs’ and riding out onto the maidan, while Sunny and Jack laughed so hard at us trying to ride those horses? After all we were first learning to ride! Then off for cool nimbupaani on the veranda and at least one of our husbands re-enacting a story from that week’s events. How they laughed at themselves taking off all the crotchety old men that drove them to distraction. I’d give every Rupee I have to go back to those times again.
Now, about Mr. Gupta. I do remember meeting Dr. Barendras a long time ago at a function when he had to come down for a ribbon cutting or something for a new medical building. He seemed a very shy man and I’m afraid I never really interacted with him. I don’t think he was married at the time so there was no reason for me to meet or speak with a wife. For a man of his quiet demeanor to verbally attack Mrs Gupta to a complete stranger in such a ferocious manner is truly remarkable. And I believe it speaks more than anyone else there at your party may be willing to admit. Thugees? I can’t believe that he called Mrs. Gupta and her family, thugees. It would mean that he, too, believes that she had him murdered and that other family members were in on it.
Lily darling, once and for all, just as soon as you feel up to it, you must invite Dr. Barendras to tea and you much confide in him your fear about the truth of Mr. Gupta’s death. I feel now, after all these years, that we will be able to get to the bottom of this sad mystery.
Sending much love and not to worry about me. I am fine, just been so busy sorting through old things. The other day I found my old tennis racquet. Now THAT should make you think!
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.