Over Cups of Tea: Marigolds and Memories of India

Episode 8
Dearest Nur,

I really had to think about that chant you mentioned,  but finally a couple of nights ago, while watching the old movie, Awara, I actually heard it. It wasn't a chant, but a song from that movie which was made in 1951, just one year before the death of King George. The songs main line goes like this, "Naiya teri majhdhar hoshiyar, soojhe aar na paar". It warns those in the boat to be careful of storms that may lie ahead. I remember that you and I were wearing bright blue saris for good luck and that I sang that song as Jack and Sunny boarded the boat for the King George VI Royal Regatta, which was a real "pukkha" event. The weather was looking dark and ominous and a storm could have broken out at any time. Since we had all gone to the cinema to see the movie, the song was fresh in my mind. You and I, on that day, looked like two goddesses as our husbands boarded the boat with the marigold petals that I had thrown all over their jackets for good luck. I was laughing like a school girl, singing and tossing the marigolds and it did bring them good luck, and that storm never came. 

Being fair skinned Jack's face was burned a bright red by the end of the day, but I don't think he felt any pain at all, did he?  And, Sunny's face was one big smile as he and Jack won the trophy! It was a true moment of glory for both of them as you and I watched through our binoculars from the V.I.P. shamianas that were set up along the river for spectators and guests.  The picture of the two of them, later, with that Trophy standing near the King after the presentation, was quite a sight. But, I'm glad that we all decided to donate it for it's silver content to start the orphaned children's hospital. It was a lot of silver and it went a long way back then. Sister Teresa was so glad to have it and so was Jack's mother.

On that same night, we had such a beautiful floating dinner party, so serene; a beautiful sunset and with a breathtaking view of the Howrah at night after the event. There was music and moonlight with a magnificent band playing classic Ragas and some film songs popular at that time and of course, it's where Sunny first spotted the building that became the children's hospital.  My dear friend, we lived in wonderful times then and I think forward to the lives we are living now. At least the children's hospital has flourished to include it's own school and we receive news of it regularly, so our good lives with their good intentions continue.

Write soon



Lily My Darling Tiger Lily,

Your letter arrived in time for Chota Hazri and Mali has just brought in the prettiest vase of marigolds. Perfect for reading your letter. I told him that this year I want a lot more of the pink and green Coleus. You know I'm partial to pink and green colors. 

I have Ayah looking for that photo of the four of us at the regatta. I know I have it somewhere, although it will be black and white so the blue colored saris will have to live on vividly in our memories. And, of course I remember the movie Awara. They just don't make love stories like they did in those days. Too much "filmy music" and jumping around in today's movies and my British temperament just can't abide by it, not at this age, anyway. 

I'm enclosing a snap of my newly painted dining room. Everyone thinks I've gone and lost my mind, but as you can see by the picture, my idea of a chair border of elephants stenciled around the room has simply given it the perfect pick-me-up. I was feeling a bit sullen these last couple of weeks. Mrs. Chatterjee's daughter , you remember Mrs. Chatterjee-whom I have spoken to you about-from the art museum, came and picked me up to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new wing. They wanted someone with a title to sort of perk things up and I agreed and it was a lovely day with a formal tea. Surrounded by paintings reminiscent of the old days, I almost felt myself spinning back in time to those days that you and I speak of when our conversations become too quiet. To the subject that always comes up. The subject that no one ever wanted us to speak about. The subject that has always left us feeling like we have unfinished business but can't figure out what that is because we always felt helpless. The subject of a story that seems to have no end unless you and I can figure out or own puzzle.


Reading your letter about that huge, almost five foot trophy that we donated for the children's hospital brought back that frightful story that Jack's mother told during the riots about having to take the plane from the cantonment into Cal to get medicine for the children. She painfully recalled riding up in the elevator with Sister Teresa and the elevator walla and all seemed fine. Only to step back into the elevator with the medicine and finding that when the doors opened up, the elevator walla had been slain from throat to belly and was lying there in a horrible heap, and they, only just escaping danger themselves.

The story, even though it happened some 40 years ago, still has the power of recall to bring on a sullen mood. That is why, my darling Lily, I had one of the art students come here to paint elephants around the dining room. I had seen an elephant painting in the museum and felt so cheerful that I just thought that having a caravan of elephants surrounding me would do the trick. And it did.

And so, as I close out this letter, I cannot help but ponder if we do have unfinished business from long ago since neither you, nor I, nor Sunny, nor Jack ever thought partition was a good idea. Forty years later, I don't know because at our age, we live in a kind of protective bubble, no longer involved in the affairs of the outside world. Anyway my dear, don't let this letter have you in a fret. We had so many good times in our days and we still have plenty of life in us for a few more.



* Chota Hazri: Breakfast

* Shamiana: Tent

* Mali: a gardener

* Walla: the business person

* Pukkha: a first class event or person

* Ragas: classical Indian music

*Ayah: a caregiver; nanny


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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