Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A letter of ninety four years

The fresh aromas of filter coffees in steel tumblers was wonderful to my nostrils. It was coffee time at the bunglow.  Mr. Dinaker , so very humble since I have known him, will ask why I flatter his place so, but I would not hesitate to call it a living museum, a bungalow is a only a modest appraisal. His very talented daughters were in conversation with me. I stared at the very tall ceilings and the ancient grandfather clock ticked omniously, calmly shoving the heavy wheels of time onwards.

I had always been in love with this place, and kept coming back to discover where my friend Disha stored our favorite comic books, or to look at pictures of the species that frequented their birdbath or maybe share a cup of filter coffee on their terrace, reminiscing on the Mysore that was. The fact was, there was always something.  Always something to discover, to learn, to delight in. There was beauty to this place. The lovely pictures of the purple lilies in their little pond by my friend Aditi  will vouch for that much.

That day, I was callous on their wooden swing. I drank my coffee deep and made mention of the fact that I loved looking at old letters. I wistfully talked of their charm, and not surprisingly, I was rewarded with a small tin box full of various letters, most of them of fairly antique worth: they were easily more than a hundred years old. I held each letter delicately.

I then read of world of times past. I read life, a hundred years ago. I read of plague, and I read of history. I read of love, and I read of strife. I read of utter grief, disparities and commerce. I read of economy, machines and horse races. I read counsel, decision, fear and fact. The letters were legacy, and I held each word with tenderness, with caress of a lover. Writers are a dangerous group of people, we configure emotion to paper, texture and slant of hand.

I found many a yellowing paper addressed to the great grandfather of Mr. Dinakar, then the commissioner for the princely state of Mysore, serving under the king of the time. Letters had visited the commissioner from  Cambridge, London, Switzerland, Chitradoorg, Karwar and Bangalore. There were numerous hands that scribbled life stories to him, and they opened the veil to the life of a hundred years ago, voiced in first person. I lived the lives of the many, and I heard their stories and trifles, their hopes, achievements and star-struck rambles. Some wrenched my soul, some ignited my imagination and some made me muse.

The time ticked on to the pleasant ambiance of a Mysore evening.

I sifted through the papers. One letter caught my eye. Written in 1918 by one mister C Srikantaiah. It was an interesting letter. The hand was elegant, but resounded with such utter grief that I couldn’t tear my eyes off it. Each paragraph was riveting. 

“I could never imagine one so noble, contented, loving, dutiful, accomplished and enthusiastic….Everything in me and around me reminds me of her every moment. Older people ask me to take courage and seek refuge in philosophy. Well, the one thing that I hate is philosophy and my education never trained me to be philosophical. I had an even career of life so far but now my mind is ruffled. Calamities—they are around us, calamities are all around the world, but such as mine, it is impossible to bear.”

In fine ink on paper, haunting even ninety-four years after it was penned; it bought tears to my eyes. It was a touching letter, and a page was missing, but one didn’t need to scavenge for the forgotten alphabets to be able to feel the uncompromising sincerity in the emotion. The emotion had spelled itself in the personal letter and spilled itself free in every anguished paragraph.

“But false death has left its havoc incomplete, leaving me here and slaying the more sweet.”
There was poetry in his grief: a grief so intimate that it collided with me. I held the letter against the last of the light and questioned it.

This man, C Srikantiah was addressing his father-in-law upon the death of his dear wife. The letter had remained incomplete with the missing page, but I could fill in the blanks. The wife whom he loved dearly, named Thungamma had been close to everything to him. She defined his existence that much was clear. In the letter, he mourns her and emulates her, respects her and considers her forever.

His love was evident even in devastating grief. In the closing paragraphs of his crushing letter, he comes to a conclusion: to donate in the name of his beloved, his life and his purpose.

‘During her stay with me for the last four months, I had given her 300/-, I would like the above amount to be added onto yours, and the amount endowed to the Mysore University for funding a scholarship in her name.’

In Mr. Dinaker’s words,

CS later thought of a benevolent fund in Thungamma's name in Mysore University that had started in 1916. No idea if it was materialized. CS later went to Zurich for studies and was great friends with my grandfather. I remember seeing his body when he died in around 1965 or so. I was 7. The house was in Yadavgiri. He went to Japan also in the 1930s. There are so many items in our showcase that his daughter later gave me when I was very young. I cherish a car in particular.

A bit of history from Mr. Dinakar helped me see with insight.

I had to stare at Mr. Srikantiah's letter. I could only imagine him, his voice-- a faint echo of a past dissolving.

His words struggled, questioned, re-questioned and asked me again:

‘How can I forget her?’

Unanswered from 9th December, 1918.

It still remains to be found what happened to Thugamma's fund for Mysore University.