This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
My Dearest Nur,
First I am sending many hugs and love to you for your patience listening to my "kashta. I am thrilled as usual reading your beautiful letter and especially knowing that you were invited to attend a Vedic ceremony at your local Hindu Academy. I feel so proud of you that they choose you to cut the ribbon. Now I can't imagine how pretty you were looking wearing such a special sari. You are very lucky that Jack and your in-laws encouraged you to wear traditional Indian clothes, especially on special occasions way back when Brits normally didn't do such things.
Now,it is too hot here to do anything outside or taking a ride for shopping. I am waiting for monsoon season just to cool down. So I started to read again "City of Joy". Each time I started to read the book, I can't finish it. I feel angry when I think that the rural poverty remains extreme and reveals a history of exclusion and injustice, effecting more than half of our population. Isn't it a shame how Zemindars, taking back their land from the people and causing them to flood into the cities, cannot see that the people living in the slums have limited access to electricity, clean water, food, and educational opportunities? Instead of helping them they are the ones grabbing everything from them. We both know that education is the key to reducing these problems. If only we could get some help for all of the ideas we have always had. I, too, am still dreaming that we could change some of the problems before leaving this world.
Now to give you the good news. I am going to visit Varanasi with Niha and Bandana, the wife of one of my nephews. They are as thrilled as I am. I thought I do need a nice, long vacation and having Niha with me, you know how she babies me, I won't be allowed to get too tired. Bandana is another driving force for she too will watch me every step of the way. We are going for a month, but don't get jealous sis, or at least only a little bit. I wish you could be with us, but we had no immediate plan to go and so it was last minute.
If I can get through this vacation, I know I can manage our itinerary when you come up in January. I can't wait to once again visit Varanasi, the spiritual capital , the " Holy City of India". We plan to bathe in GanghaMa as many times as we can and have a boatride and I will bring some Gangha Jal for you when I see you. What an amazing mystery and miracle about the water. It never ever spoils or has bacteria. There will be thousands of pilgrims bathing along the river and I will be so happy to once again see the temples built up along it. And, although I know I must rest and it will not be possible for us to travel along all of the tiny winding roads where there are thousands of temples, I will still feel renewed, as the whole city is dedicated to Shiva.
Sorry, our telephone system is still not working. I will definitely call you as soon as wires are fixed. Some time I like to hear your voice, listening to your jokes and laughs.
Tonight I am in mood for writing but Niha is standing behind me holding my medication. And you know how she likes to maintain my schedule for everything. I feel lucky having her caring for me. You better take care of yourself and keep writing. Your letters always give me pleasure in any circumstances. I promise I will take care of myself and will call you when these antiquated telephone lines dry out.
With love my Dear,
Your best friend and sis Lily
I'm so relieved that my Tiger is feeling so well that you are bashing off to Varunasi. I do wish that I was going with you too, and if it will make you happy, I am at least a little bit jealous! The important thing is for us both to be 'top drawer' when January rolls around, the monsoon is over and we are in the cooler winter months, which are less taxing on us.
I have finished reading Zemindar, finally! And, I too, always had a difficult time reading through to the end of City of Joy. But I think that you and I have been wrestling with all of these old questions and unfinished business that causes us to remember events of long ago, still tied to devastating reality in current India. To that end, I picked up my copy of City of Joy and forced myself, sometimes through very teary eyes, to read it all the way through, so now you don't have to. My copy has an inscription that you wrote in it a few years back when we bought the copies together. Your inscription reads, "To Nur, my sister in all things beautiful and all things that must be done. To our future and the future of India. With love, Lily." After reading it, I am convinced that we must take some of our time and find at least something to do regardless of how small, to contribute to the India we want to see.
What I have just said to you sounds remarkably like the phrase that so many use, which were spoken by Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see". It gives me a cold death like shiver up my spine to even think of that quote. Is what Gandhi wanted to see, what we see now? An India that cannot sustain itself, where water is still a problem and women and children still living on the streets all because he wanted to keep India in the dark ages for his "experiment" as he called it? Do you remember visiting Birla House after his assassination? You and Sunny and Jack and I had to go as part of a political entourage. What I found so angering was the small ivory carving on his desk depicting the three monkeys "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil". When Gandhi was evil itself and without him, Jinnah would never have been stirred to create a country split by a corridor. Without Gandhi virtually crippling the British Indian Army so that no one was safe and the army could no longer defend the cities, beloved India was simply cut apart and the biggest bloodbath in history began with everyone throwing her to the Pye dogs. Few living today or in future generations will know the inner truths or remember them, as we see cotton saris exchanged for "Georgette" imitation silk. What has it all been for and still today the generations of women in a historical long and heavy chain still live on the streets. Pray for them darling Lily. Pray for them when you are at Varanasi and pray that you and I can finally leave a lasting legacy with what we have been gifted.
There was so much underhandedness going on. You know Jack's mother's car was often used by the last Vicereine of India to meet secretly with the first prime minister. You and I were privy to so much back then and just could not have our voice.
Just to cheer myself up, I've been reading Kipling. Gunga Din and all that. I'm about half way through "The Man Who Would Be King". Such a fun adventure. If only Gandhi had gone up to some distant corner of the Northwest Passage to be a king instead of preying on India in order to create his pakistan "the size of a handkerchief" he might have lost his head for a crown and India would have been safe. And what is now Pakistan would not be a land locked country where the ground is unable to grow vegetable crops sufficiently for export. I understand that there are rumblings in Kashmir. That there have been some bombings and subsequently curfews. Friends of Jacks who live in Kashmir during the summer months had to remain on their houseboats for extended periods with only the Shikarawalas to bring them what they need from the town. It was a crazy idea for the Brits to actually promise Kashmir to Pakistan when Kashmir is the first prime minister's home state. He, of course being a Kashmiri Brahman. I could just go on, but, here's ayah with my tea. Hope to hear your voice soon. It hasn't been too bad down here. Oh, one more thing before I forget. I'd like us to visit the museum in Cal. It isn't possible for us to visit the Jallianwalla Bagh Memorial in Amritsar, but I understand there is a display and perhaps we can leave a flower or say a prayer there for all of those lost during the massacre. We were only 19 at the time and not yet met each other, but it is one of those things that should never have happened and I'd like us to try to go.
NurClick 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.