This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
My Dearest Friend Nur,
Your Tiger Lily is back after struggling through some unexpected challenges with a very demanding nephew who had been spoiled by my brother and his wife since childhood. I, too, am guilty of spoiling him a bit because Sunny and I had no children. But, who can imagine that now into his 60's he still thinks everything is owed to him. It very much depressed me. I tried to phone you a few times but it appears that the monsoon downed some of the telephone wires between Cal and K.K. causing the lines to be so crackly. The torrents have kept me house-bound and feeling down, craving typical monsoon food of my childhood like Kitchurie. So Niha indulged me and made sure that we had it for dinner a few times. I am feeling better now. I have to live up to the Tiger nickname you gave me so many years ago, as you know me so well. You know that I will not give up anything important in order to live my life and that I always come back stronger than before.
I have also had some nightmares with all of our talk about partition and the dissection of our beloved India. The Jillian-wallah Bagh Massacre came to life once again in my sleep. You and I were singlehandedly trying to stop the military from opening fire on the peasants. I woke up screaming "mut" at the top of my lungs with Niha rushing to my bedside. Living a privileged life, as I was, in a high regimental military family-my father having won the DSO and a knighthood from the Crown, I was removed directly from the horrors, although my father was brought in regarding the matter. He never agreed with what happened and neither did most of the British officers at the time, but like so much else in those days, no one wanted to go against the system and being Indian, my father couldn't. We both know how the Jallianwallah Bagh provoked strong public reaction in India and England. After all was said and done, Gen. Dyer argued that his action was necessary. I am also positive that news that the Indian population received was much different from the privileged news for the British. And so, my dear Nur, I just have not slept well. One thought leading to another, especially that life for the lower classes and particularly for women, have not changed much. I kept having nightmares about women living on the streets with their babies, no hope of a better future. It hurts me to know that the homeless women and children are often victims of trafficking and unfortunately neither have any voice. Since my childhood I have always wanted to do something to improve their quality of life and you, being a school teacher, have always expressed your desire for the same, but perhaps these nightmares are good. They are bringing to life the Tiger in me that wants to fight back against an oppression, and together perhaps, we can find a way when we are at last together. I believe Sunny and Jack would want that too.
Zemindar was such a popular novel. I think there is a copy of it somewhere in the library. It was a huge volume as I recall and Sunny reading it just because he wanted to see if the author, a non-Indian writer, got all of the old Hindustani flavor right! You must share more of it with me, as I don't know if I'm up to the task of reading anything that demanding, but I shall enjoy your reports. Now don't worry about me. Niha and Rohit are my lucky charms, always with me. Niha is always asking about you as she knows you always brighten my day and sends her love. I miss Sunny and Jack, our golden days, and you, of course. I can't wait for you to get here. Jaldi kegeeyay!
Tossed about upon all these challenges, no wonder you are feeling a bit down, but I didn't give you the nickname "Tiger" for nothing. Last week, I was invited to attend a Vedic ceremony at our local Hindu Academy. Because I was professor there on Vedic Philosophy, they felt that I should cut the ribbon. I know just telling you about this should perk you up. I've included a snapshot from the event. There was a huge shamiana, very beautifully decorated and a traditional Vedic costume show. Lily, the fashion brigade of Rajput clothing, South Indian traditional clothing, Bharat Natyam and Kuchpudi costumes and those of every culture from far and wide from the India of days past. It was a banquet for the eyes. You would have loved it from your days when you sponsored all of those fashion shows years ago for the hospital. I hope you approve-I wore a white pure silk sari with real gold thread elephants, and a choli the color of ripe Jum-Lums. All of the elephants on the sari were connected with the same plum colored rhinestones as the choli. I shall have to bring it to Cal so that I can wear it at the Grande. It felt very special, like when I received my first sari and the first time I wore it out to a special occasion. As you know, Brits didn't typically wear saris, but fortunately for me, Jack's family was very relaxed and because we kept company with so many different people, I was able to wear a sari any time I liked. Anyway, I've gotten off track. Naturally, they began the ceremony with a puja to Lord Ganesha. I heard something that I have never heard of before. That is, to put all of our unhappiness into his big fat belly. I know you typically pray to Kali Ma, but I think if you feed Lord Ganesha a huge serving of all that has had you upset of late, perhaps you will feel better. They even had a magician who performed my all time favorite entertainment, The Indian Rope Trick. Lily, you just can't imagine how much I enjoyed that! Even at my age, I wanted to run up that rope and into the clouds!
It's no wonder you have been having bura sapana or I think in Bengali you say duhsbopno . We have dredged up an awful lot of emotionally charges memories that are not necessarily happy. Just remember to not let the moonlight fall onto your bed at night so the Rakshasas don't get you! Until his last days, Jack would never let the moonlight come into the room. It was kind of funny really, because Jack was not only British but not Hindu, yet this old folktale that his Ayah told him stayed with him all his life. Ayah was Hindu and the old story about Ravana and his demons who would steal children in their sleep impressed him deeply. At certain times of the year, he would insist on having the bed moved and the window covered in black paper just to keep the moonbeams out. That old story from the Mahabharata still had, even an aging, Jack still spellbound. So you just make sure that you keep yourself out of the moonbeams and throw all of your unhappy thoughts into the belly of Lord Ganesha, sis, and you'll be just fine.
Reading Zemindar has made me even more painfully aware that the crisis of the poor is a very long standing shadow enemy, of India. The writer has the "flavor" as Sunny would have put it, perfectly. Poverty has existed ever since the villages we not able to sustain themselves, which we both painfully, read about in the book, City of Joy. Forced to leave drought inflicted villages, losing their land to Zemindar who were bloodthirsty the cities became over populated as they remain today. The simplicity of being able to sip pure clean water from the village "nal" is long gone as pure water becomes an increasing problem. Now, women with no hope of a better life are lucky if they can get water from a city "nal" where they may find enough to barely cook and clean themselves and their babies. Never mind privacy. So, yes, Lily darling, we must talk when, after we finish our memorial visit to the cemetery, and cheer ourselves up, we can take on the task of leaving a living legacy. Write soon, or try to telephone if the wires are clear.
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.