Over Cups of Tea: Marigolds and Memories of India

Acharya Sri Khadi Madama

Acharya Sri Khadi Madama


Dearest Nur,

I’m feeling so much better now that you’ve inspired me to do a bit of a turn out of old drawers and closets. It will be interesting to see what turns up when Niha starts bringing out some of the old chests and boxes and I start to sort through. I think that you and I will have a lot to share in our letters as we sift through decades of clothes, old letters, photos, mementos. Let’s promise right here and now not to let either of us fall into a mood.

I took you up on your suggestion and last Saturday I invited Dr. Barendras to dinner. I must be getting a bit sly in my old age because I decided to have a photo of M.G. out in a frame with a few marigolds in a tiny glass vase in plain view from where he would be sitting at the dinner table. I wanted to insure that a discussion of M.G.’s death would come up without me having to ask any questions. As usual he was shy and quiet but enjoyed dinner with me and then slowly he came out from his typically quiet shell. After some small talk, he looked at M.G.’s photo and then, quite unexpectedly, blurted out that he never knew that anyone else suspected that M.G. was murdered by his own family! I hope you don’t mind that I told him that you believe as I do and that you and I had talked about it right after he died and then never brought it up again because we could do nothing about it, what with the storms of war raging in the distance and our beloved India in threat of being cut to pieces by separatists.

Dr. Barendras emotionally broke down and admitted to me in a very quiet voice, that he was asked to sign off on M.G.’s death certificate as a favor to M. G.‘s family, as M.G.‘s wife was already away in South Africa. He was not M.G.’s doctor but a friend of the family. Believing that there was something suspicious, he refused to sign and another doctor was called in. A Dr. Ratan Pal, someone you know very well from Jack‘s mother, who signed off on the death certificate. I know you never liked him either. I was shocked when Dr. Barendras continued talking to share his guilty feelings from all those years ago about not reporting this matter to the authorities. He faced so many challenges at the time because of politics and of the Hindu-Muslim rioting in pre-partition time. Simply stated it could have caused a complete crash down on Government were an investigation started. This is why Sunny and Jack felt that their own hands were tied. M.G.’s wife opposed the congress party, which is not why I suspect she was involved with his death. It was simply a case of greed and the massive fortune from his death, which she is still enjoying today.

Our suspicions have been correct all these years about our long ago friend. I did what I could to alleviate Dr. Barendras’ feelings of guilt. He ultimately did the right thing and the karma really is on the head Dr. Ratan Pal and M.G.’s wife. At least we know the truth.

On a happier note my dear, my old pith Helmet certainly does bring back many old memories of our times, good, bad, and fun!. Riding horses, as you mentioned in your letter made me think how innocent we were! Do you remember one time after finishing our rides, Sunny told me that I needed a lot more training before I could ride on my own again. And I started to cry feeling so frustrated. But you and I were always into things together and you consoled me saying that we are riding just to have a good time, not to win a race. I will never forget that day. You held my hand and said, “Don’t worry, Lily, we must go through the storms to appreciate the golden sunshine”, and that is what I am telling you right now as I close this letter. We can finally put M.G’s memory to rest.

You take care. Write back soon.

With lots of love,

Your friend Lily

Dearest Lily,

What an ordeal you have been through listening to Dr. Barendras and yet what a relief it is to now finally be able to not only speak of this event that has haunted us, but to be able to put it to rest. The images I have in my mind of our dear long lost friend’s fearful confiding in us that his life was in danger, and our not being able to do anything about it-being told that they were merely the rants of a man who was mentally affected by his illness can now, perhaps, be softened with more time. You are right, of course. The name of Dr. Ratan Pal is one I will never forget. Back before I came out to India in the late 30’s, Jack’s mother was very involved in starting the first clinic for orphans up in Cal. It seems that Dr. Ratan Pal wanted to make a name for himself in those early days, which is why he probably volunteered his services. Mataji, as Jack’s mother was called by all of the native nurses, had to dismiss him because he didn’t conduct himself as a gentleman around the nurses. And, he was found to be stealing some of the drugs and supplies for his own practice. You know, Mataji would not have cared were he stealing them to help other poor people in the villages, but that is not what he was doing. He was selling them to the black market. She was not able to prosecute him, once again, because she didn’t want to involve the wives of officials that she knew were also getting their drugs from him. One of which was M.G.’s wife. Now, it all fits. M. G.’s wife had it over him that she would turn him in if he didn’t sign M.G.’s death certificate and subsequently, she would be safely away in South Africa. What a tangled web was woven around an innocent man’s death. Now, Lily, brace yourself for news that may not have reached you, but that came to me through another former acquaintance, whom I have not heard from for all these years, Vinod Shastra of the Kolkata Times Gazette. Within days of your house party, Dr. Ratan Pal was found dead by way of being strangled. The paper said that it was the same style of murder that was committed by the Thugees 200 years ago. And it is still puzzling the police. He was found in his club in the hill station near Darjeeling. I tried to telephone you, but even though we are in the 1980’s, phone lines between the southern tip of India and the outskirts of Cal are still unreliable. I know you try to never read the news these days so I knew you wouldn’t know.

Now to cheer you up a bit. I remember a story from our horse riding days after you and I both mastered the art of horsewoman-ship. You, Sunny, Jack and I went for a ride out into the wilds when we had come across a small concession of the Bartney’s Bank. Jack slapped his thigh and let out an enormous laugh calling out to the rest of us, who were behind him, “You can always rely on and find a Bartney’s Bank, even in the middle of the jungle!” Of course, Jack and I always had a Bartney’s Bank account and to this day, so do I. In fact, one of the things Dassi turned out of a drawer was the first passbook from Bartney’s that we opened as a married couple. I won’t even start to divulge the date on it, but there’s a picture of King George on the cover if that gives you any idea!

Fondly Dear,


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. 



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