Over Cups of Tea: Marigolds and Memories of India

Acharya Sri Khadi Madama

Acharya Sri Khadi Madama


Dearest Friend Nur,

What a shock we have both had. Dr. Ratan Pal, strangled to death in a mysterious “thugee” style murder, and after all these years. What can it mean? The news is still puzzling me. Thank you for letting me know. Tucked away out here in rural Cal, news from the south may never have gotten to me for months, especially as you say that it had been hushed up a bit. We Hindus really believe in karma and it looks like it has been served.

I laughed until I cried, with that old story about being way up country in the jungle and finding the Bartney’s Bank. Jack told that story from time to time and it was always funny no matter how old the story became. Finding your first bank book with an image of King George! Now that is something.

Are you ready to hear another circus story? Last Sunday afternoon while I was resting, I heard my front door bell ringing. My driver had gone into the city on errands and Niha was in a deep sleep, as usual. After all, we’re both up there in age. She won’t admit it, but I think she’s only about three years younger than you and I but pretends she doesn’t know when she was born and therefore she just keeps making up an age which is always much younger, and I of course, indulge her. I jumped out from my bed, tripping over my slippers and hitting my left leg on the corner of the bed. You know how easily I bruise, even when we were young. Thank God I was not hurt badly, just a black and blue on my left leg. As I opened the door my jaw dropped. Standing there in plain view was M.G.’s granddaughter Sunita. I asked her to come inside but she refused because she was in hurry! She looked like she was in shock and wanted to tell me something but couldn’t bring herself to do so, then saying that she had stopped by just to get your phone number. As soon as I handed your phone number to her, she left promising me that she would visit me soon. Her visit left me very curious, but I’m sure you’ll let me know what her secretiveness was all about. I suspect that for some reason she would feel more comfortable speaking with you just because you’re British. Sometimes these young Indian girls have a difficult time confiding in an elderly Indian aunty, or maybe I just looked tired having just come up from a nap.

Between Sunita’s mysterious visit and my ripening black and blue leg, I was suddenly in the mood, you know-bahar gia- to get out from the house and go to see a film. I knew that Niha would be up soon and it was only a short time before Rohit would return with the motor. Niha can never resist the cinema and certainly not a movie starring Ananda Bhattia. His new movie, Blind Love, is playing at our local cinema hall. It is a Hindi romantic drama, and I think it will become the top Bollywood romantic movie of all time. The main theme of the story is about lost and found love. It includes a love triangle, marriage, relationships and affairs, but it had a sad ending. Still, it distracted me from all of the drama in our lives right now concerning M. G.

I almost forgot that you found your old tennis racquet. Did it fall apart the minute you picked it up? You must remember the tamasha I had back in the 40’s with that playboy tennis pro Pondy Raj, which involved those two meddlers, Bandana, and M.G.’s wife, Sonali. On occasion, I remember how all of them caused me so much trouble with their lies and jealousies. And, how you had to put Sonali and Bandana in their places. I guess the film, with its love triangle and your old tennis racquet brought back that mess when Pondy wouldn’t leave me alone anytime I was alone and then when I refused him, he turned the whole story around by starting a gossip with those two gossip queens. Thank goodness, Sunny believed me and confronted Pondy Raj. After that, he just left town never making it into the movie seen and fading away when his tennis career went sour. It was our dear friend M. G. who always came to my rescue because I know that he used his influence in a way that both Sunny and Jack could not. Any way, you better take care of yourself. I do miss you so much and wish you lived next door. I love you from my heart.


Your’s Lily

Darling Lily,

I just never know what to expect in your letters. But when they arrive in time for my chota hazri, propped up on the same little vase that holds the single marigold flower on the thali, I’m always excited. Your news was amazing but now I’ve got something to tell you, so please find a comfortable place to recline because I now know what M. G.’s granddaughter came to tell you, but couldn’t. I don’t know it you just didn’t look like your usual “pukkha” self when you flashed open the door because you had banged your leg, or you looked tired, or it’s because Sunita didn’t feel comfortable speaking with an Indian Aunty as opposed to a British one, but she felt that it was best that I tell you the news that she became aware of, because of her connections in the embassy. The Gazette won’t be printing much about it. It seems that Sonali and her son-in-law and daughter were all killed in a small private plane crash in South Africa a few weeks ago. It was during the time when Sunita’s older sister was cleaning out Sonali’s personal effects after the accident that she found a note. A confession to plotting the cold-blooded murder of M. G. by herself, her eldest daughter and her son in law. It even implicates Dr. Ratan Pal who, as you already know, was murdered right around the same time. Now the truth is out. Vinod Shastra of the Gazette issued a very guarded statement that the Gazette would do its best to tone down the story. Sunita was able to discover that an unknown person tampered with the plane that was being flown by Sonali’s son-in-law, causing it to explode. He was, as you know, a seasoned pilot who always checked out his own plance. Sonali’s son in law was also in town during the time of Dr. Pal’s murder which took place only days before the South African plane crash. Therefore, we can surmise that he could have killed Dr. Pal, finally deciding that they should all die for what they did to the innocent and well-loved M. G. Perhaps seeing the likenesses of M. G. in the faces of their grandchildren and the guilt got to be too much and the money gleaned from the insurance policy not enough to keep them going in their over-luxurious life style. After all, anyone could make the murder look like a “thugee” committed it, just to throw the police off the scent. I doubt that we shall ever hear any more about it. Things are a bit unstable in congress again and this would just cause more election problems, but at least you and I have the final solution to a puzzle of so many years and Sunita can try to heal from the tragedy. All who caused so much pain are gone forever and now we can do what we can to celebrate M. G.’s life when we are finally together in Cal this coming spring. Perhaps it was a triple suicide after the murder of Dr. Pal or perhaps there is an unknown who finally took revenge. My long-time friend and sister, it doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that justice or karma as you put it, has been served.

As for that old tennis racquet, when Dassi took a good look at it, he found that it was autographed with the name Pondy Raj! It wasn’t my racquet after all, it is the one I took from your house so you wouldn’t have to be reminded of it. Isn’t it funny how it seems our lives are having so many questions answered and so many chapters closed. I wish I lived next door too, Lily dear. Sunita promises to come to Cal when you are here in the spring. I’m saving that old racquet for a bon fire when you get here.

Sending love,


PS. I also came across an old photo of Jack-must be a million years ago-when he participated in a regatta on the Hooghli River. You and I are standing next to the bow of the boat in Sari’s with nautical colors and you are holding a thali piled high with marigold blossoms to throw onto the boat as he and Sunny boarded. What a regal team they made. Jack always loved the Howrah Bridge and never failed to comment about it even decades later. What was that old chant you used sing for good luck? 

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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