As soon as the bus stopped near the village, the postman, Shivshankar, requested the conductor: “Brother, please halt here for a few more minutes, I will just deliver this letter and return quickly.”
“But you normally give all the post meant for this village to the tea vendor across the road, don’t you?”
“Yes, that is the arrangement, but in this case the Postmaster has asked me not only to deliver the letter personally but also take an acknowledgement by way of a signature…..
I will return in no time….. meanwhile, please order a cup of tea for me too, along with your’s.”
Thus saying, Shivshankar proceeded in the direction of the village. This village, Devli, hardly had about a hundred odd huts and the postal department had made this rather unusual arrangement with a tea vendor that the postman would give all the mail meant for this village to him for distribution! Devli had no school and only one bus plied daily, stopping for a couple of minutes. It was for this reason that such an arrangement had been made. And pray, what was the frequency of the mail? The village hardly received two or three postcards in a week and very seldom, an envelope!
Postman Shivshankar had hardly studied up to fourth standard in a vernacular school, so in order to be able to deliver this fancy blue colored envelope, carrying foreign stamps, with the address neatly typed in English, he had to have the address translated first at a nearby town:
Mrs. Paniben Ladhabhai Patel
“Shivshankar, how come you are here personally today?” asked the villager whom Shivshankar had asked for directions to to the house.
“I have to deliver this letter personally to Mrs Paniben…..”
“Oh, that old woman?”
“Whoever she may be,” thus saying, Shivshankar started off, worried that the bus might leave without him if he were delayed.
Soon, there were some seven or eight curious villagers walking behind Shivshankar, the number increasing as they neared Kanbi Pada; something unusual for this godforsaken village! The reason? Who would possibly write a letter to this old ailing woman whose days looked numbered! After she was widowed, her drunkard and debauched son had left the village, carrying with him all that he could, never to return. That was some twenty years ago. The old woman was all alone, there being no relatives. Now only she and her old hut lived on… both hardly likely to survive for more than a year or two. And until now, no one had ever written her a letter, and suddenly there was one in a beautiful envelope bearing foreign stamps?!
Within no time, this small village was abuzz with the news: “Old Pani Maa has received an envelope from overseas! The postman came personally to deliver it!”
While the ailing old woman cursed aloud: “Which heartless moneylender would send me a notice on my deathbed?”
A strange situation arose – who would open the envelope and read the letter, the villagers being illiterate? Then, someone thought of Jaman Jadavji, a small time trader, not well educated either, but capable of reading a letter or two, albeit with some difficulty!
Well, Jaman arrived, opened the envelope to find a longish letter with something attached to it. He fiddled with the letter, going over it a few times and trying to figure out its contents.
The crowd was getting restless, in the meanwhile.
“Come on, quickly tell us what is written in the letter?”
“I am reading, have some patience… Let me understand it first”
“Is it in English?”
“Someone by the name of Rambhai has written this letter from America. He has also sent some Rupees…”
“We don’t see any Rupees?”
“A draft is enclosed”
“What is the amount?”
“Five hundred dollars”
“And how many rupees is that?”
“How am I to know?” an irritated Jaman retorted. “I am not a banker! Someone will have to go to the nearby town to find that out.”
To pacify him, someone from the crowd asked: “But who is this Rambhai?”
Suddenly, everyone started to trace Rambhai. Whose son could he possibly be? How was he related to this old woman? When they could not find an answer, it was decided that Jaman should go to the nearby town, accompanied by two elders, to get the draft encashed. Since Rambhai had sent the money, perhaps for the old woman’s treatment, it was necessary to find his whereabouts. After a few visits to the nearby town, the draft was encashed and the woman received a handsome amount. There being no Bank in this village, Jaman acted as the Trustee, and the old woman’s treatment started.
A month later, when the same postman came again to personally deliver another letter and a draft of 250 dollars, people remembered that by now almost forgotten Rambhai! For five successive months, the letters and the drafts kept coming. By this time, old Pani Maa had recovered fully from her illness and had treated all the kids in the village by feasting them.
When the sixth draft came, she decided to accompany Jaman to town and requested the Manager to write a letter to Rambhai, asking him to reveal his identity, and then she posted the letter herself.
It read: “You have justified your name Ram. For me, you have been Lord Ram, bringing me back from the dead. And thanks to you, I could also get my hut repaired. But tell me, did you not find any other worthy soul that you should help this old woman from an obscure Indian village that goes by the name Devli? Just who are you? Who are your parents? Please tell me this and I will be at peace…”
In due course, another envelope arrived, a real fat one, accompanied by another draft. This time, the Manager sat the old woman down in his cabin and while he went about encashing her draft, and then as he started reading the letter to Pani Maa, tears flowed from her eyes.
Years ago, one Kanji Luvana had come to Devli to trade in cotton. He would visit nearby villages and towns on horseback and return late at night. He had separated from his father because of differences with him and chosen to settle down in Devli with his young wife and a suckling son. When the boy was about four years old, his wife had a miscarriage and died, and Kanji got remarried… to an extremely beautiful woman whom he was totally besotted by. But this new wife gave step motherly treatment to the little child, keeping him hungry, making him sleep outside on the veranda on winter nights without any blankets. Despite all this, a henpecked Kanji did not utter a word.
At that time, Paniben would take pity on the little boy, secretly feed him; tend to him during any illness and even give some money whenever there was a village fair. When the harassment became too much to bear, the boy thought of leaving the village. One day, before leaving the village, he went to his Pani Aunty to seek her blessings.
“Aunty, the tea vendor in the nearby town is willing to employ me. Should I go?”
“Yes, do go. I cannot see you suffer like this. Whenever I try to help you, your quarrelsome mother picks up a fight with me and your gutless father is unable to restrain her. Now, come here…” Saying that, Pani aunty gave the boy 25 Rupees to buy a a pair of shirt and shorts and kissed him good bye.
Soon thereafter, Kanji’s pretty wife eloped with someone and he committed suicide…
How long ago was that?
“…People here know me as Ram Tucker, not able to pronounce my original name Ramanand Thakker! When a boy from Greater Devli came here for studies I enquired about you and have since kept myself informed about you. Now, if you are fully recovered, why don’t you come over here and spend the evening of your life with us…”
By the time the Manager finished reading the letter, the pallu of Pani Maa’s sari was drenched!
A story by GIRISH GANATRA
(1) To have patience with family…is LOVE.
To be patient with others…is RESPECT.
To have patience with ones own self…is SELF CONFIDENCE.
To be patient with God…….is FAITH
(2) What I said, were words.
What I left unsaid, were my sentiments.
And what I want to say, but am unable to, is…..my MODESTY.
Do not cast afloat Radha’s name,
in the tunes of your flute, O Shyam,
Teasing me constantly,
my craving knows no bound
as I go all about this Gokul town.
My hair dishevelled and eyes streaky kohl,
carrying an empty pot,
even the lanes of Vrindavan seem to track me,
asking: where have you been, thus?
Why should matters of me and my Mohan
be of concern to anybody else?
Who embellished with a flower your hair bun?
Inhaling its fragrance, but poking jealous fun!
My eyes held closed, the petals of my lips sealed shut,
And yet from my mouth,
do they want to hear,
the sweet name of Shyam,
these maidens of Vrindavan.
Conceived from an original poetry by SURESH DALAL.
Poetic liberties taken.