Over Cups of Tea: Marigolds and Memories of India

Episode 9

Darling Sister Nur,

I am reading your letter over and over. Your letters always create a happy vibration in my heart. Glad you got out to the museum for a little celebration.  I understand your desire to decorate by painting elephants around  the dining room, especially after feeling a bit down.  We Indians appreciate any decorations with elephants, even  in every room, because we believe  they bring good luck! 
I share your thoughts regarding our unfinished business about the partitioning of India. The whole subject deserves so much more than just our memories.  We know very well that partition was not a good idea. Many issues were left unsolved at the time of India's partition in 1947 following a struggle that lasted nearly three decades and is still ongoing for generations to come and will continue after we have gone. I still shudder and my eyes tear up  remembering the mass violence, which is difficult to forget and even more difficult to explain to those who simply don't know.

At the time that the agreement to divide India into two separate states occurred  we, you, me, Jack and Sunny wondered why the British and Indian leaders agreed so fast on the India-Pakistan partition, which we think the biggest blunder in  history.  Can you imagine how many hidden stories of partition and its legacies are lost to time because they will never be told to the public? I feel crazy just to think  how Lord Mountbatten and Nehru maneuvered things to process "independence" so speedily.

I tear up, too, reading now about your mother-in-law's frightful time during the riots when she and Sister Theresa flew into Cal. Their desire to  bring medicine for the children's orphanage over-rode their sense of danger. What courage and faith they had, what bravery to accomplish the mission.  This is one of those stories that only we know, the stories that never made the news headlines. Finding the elevator walla slain within only a few minutes of their leaving the carriage must have been a terrible shock at that unthinkable moment.  What courage she and Jack's mother had to continue their mission under such danger in the months to come. And just look at what she has accomplished all these years even now into advanced age. She deserves our prayers. I wonder if she would remember us after all this time?

Looking back on our days I feel we had so many good times together, in spite of living through the evil of Partition. I am glad we have each other to always count on.  You must take care of yourself. 

Write me soon.

With love and best wishes always,
Tiger Lily


Dearest Lily,

You really ARE the tiger aren't you! Did I tell you that I'm reading a captivating book on colonial India entitled Zemindar? I found something among its paragraphs that made me think of our recent letters to each other about the partitioning of India. Here is a quote: "We are imposing on the kingdom a most unwelcome and unwise fragmentation". The time frame of this book is in the late 1700's and yet it seems that the same problem has plagued India and plagued it until the constant struggles at its core made it easy prey for political predators who wanted to destroy it for their own gain which finally and devastatingly happened with the beginning of sedition in those early days of the nineteen twenties. You and I were just young girls then, but just the memories of the Salt March and all those lives lost, and the massacre in the Jallianwallah Bagh under the command of Gen. Dwyer. We were both in school then and so much was repressed from the news. I'm sure that the news that the Indian population was exposed to was very different from the news that the British were privy to.

You and I, Lily, are now living in an India that no longer exists and one that Sunny and Jack could have never lived in. We have the privilege of age on our side that provides a safe haven from having to be involved actively in politics or even much with the world around us. Safely still tucked in at night by our loyal and everlasting ayah's and khitmatghars who would fight with tigers and snakes to protect us-we live as if we are encased in those tiny globes that have a scene inside of them that children shake up to let the glitter fall. We have become like princesses, but you are right, these atrocities deserve more than our memories or a few jottings in our private letters. And so, once again darling Lily, we must ask ourselves from our tiny protected worlds, what we can do about something that happened so long ago but yet still feels so much a part of life because as some experts suggest, time isn't just about now-today. Our "now" can stretch back in time to anywhere that is still connected to our current lives. Back then, you and I consoled ourselves a little with the idea of SAARC, but I fear that in times to come after we are gone, even that will come into danger from those who would continue to break up any cohesion in the subcontinent.

The only good thing I can say that came out of partition is two great cricket teams! It's difficult not to be in love (even at this advanced age) with both Cricket captains. If only those two Oxford lawyers would have satisfied their need for winning and power over a chess match, instead of playing with the lives of millions of people, things would be far better today as even now we hear rumblings happening in Kashmir, the home state of the first prime minister. Who in their right mind could have ever promised it to another country? You and I may be past politics, but perhaps we should give some thought to expanding the children's orphanage to other areas of help beyond that, to feel that we've accomplished something – a promise still unfulfilled. Perhaps when I get up to Cal, we can talk about that. You always wanted to start a girls school and I always wanted to start a cantonment for homeless women and their children, the women whom I see when driving through the city. The women who now are the latest in generations of women before them, displaced due to economical conditions imposed on them from an unrelentingly cruel environment, so painfully and eloquently described in the book City of Joy. Perhaps this is what has been stirring in our hearts. I'm going off to have a cup of tea in the dining room midst the elephants to ponder these things. I will think of you….

Yours Ever,


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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