Your last letter did not reach me. I am afraid letters are lost due to postmen’s negligence. I am going to write seven copies of this letter because the message in this one is important.
Your uncles refuse to believe any negligence on part of Indian Postal Services. For your uncles have never lost letters at this rate. I do not believe them. There is nothing not subject to loss. You would have written back to me had you received my earlier two letters unless the letters you wrote back succumbed to postmen’s negligence. I have worked with the government and witnessed much negligence at work.
These letters, sent by speed-post, in the best case, shall reach you tomorrow.
This time your Amma cannot look after Tannu when you’re off to vacation. I miss Tannu and delight in his four-toothed smile. As you’ll see his teeth forming one by one, I will have lost all of mine. How I wish to witness his growing days. On the other hand, my great desire to commit to his care is discouraged by my inability to speak after my facial paralysis.
Your Amma wanted Tannu’s birthday celebrated here. She wanted a new saree. Green. I bought her one from Param Sarees. It is one of the two clothing stores in the market on the outskirts of the village. Upon receiving the saree, she bickered with me for a darker green because she is fair still. Washing pots by the well on sunny afternoons has caused no harm to her complexion.
There are greens, she said. Light green. Dark green. Parrot green. When she darted accusations on my ancestors, I lied to her that there was only one green in the store. And this I lied to her in writing on a paper. Her retort was: It is unacceptable for a store not to have at least three shades of any color.
I have learnt to write in most circumstances. Although I am not mute, it’s easier written than said. It is also my latest repertoire. To the salesman at the saree store, I handed a slip with ‘green saree for an old wife’ written on it. With their attention dedicated to the radio, there was nothing left for a negotiation. They were listening to Kapil Dev’s match. Although I was interested in knowing the score, I was afraid they were uninterested in reading another slip. I crumpled up the slip on which I had written ‘Are we winning the match?’ I stayed there to listen to the radio. Perhaps, we were losing. It didn’t matter, anyway.
I become aware of my inability when I meet people who can’t read. I have written to the milkman, a man who came to buy wheat and the truck loader who offered to buy our hens. None of them could read.
As if she was a young woman, your Amma cooked dinner for four families, filling the house with the smoke from the burning dalda. When it was time to dress up, she walked from one end of the house to another on her arthritic legs, whining that she wanted to get rid of her moustache. Since my cataract is rich now, I could not see the tidbits. Did a moustache reduce the dating chances of a wrinkled old woman? Even if there was more greenery on her philtrum than on mine, who would check her out at 60? Do women never accept the decline of their youth? Men in the neighborhood, though she refuses to believe, quit noticing her 20 years ago (a little after I did).
She mentioned she was afraid of scraping herself by running a blade on her wrinkled skin. I would have done anything to help her, but she came up with a scatterbrain idea of burning the hairs in hot ash. I’d never heard of it. The antics of her and her ancestors have gnawed at my sanity for a long time. I protested, fearing it would scald her green philtrum red.
It is only natural for me to be envious of the victory of her imbecile idea later.
The presence of two of the twelve guests shook my earth. Your mother, after her regular tiff with the Bengali’s wife, warned me against speaking to them. I have spoken little to anyone’s woman, since I started seeing my wizened jowls in the mirror. But to avoid the man, I had to use my case of cataract.
That couple’s presence in our house could have meant a week’s cold-war between your parents. So, I at once presented my case to your Amma, and told her with pride and earnestness that I had not invited them, not even in my dreams.
She confessed to inviting them. Women turn us into a social pariah and then join the nice people’s community. The Bengalis, seemingly gratified, brought with them a menorah. We have two candle-stands in the house and light only one candle at a time. Next year, we may not need even that. The government has promised consistent electricity in the night.
Your Chacha had gone to the phone booth outside the village and tried to reach out to you on your boss’s number but the call was unanswered. And this is how I write.
After the party, the house was full of soiled dishes, sticky stamps of gravies on the floor and the ladies’ gray hair strands. Your Amma and I scrubbed the dishes with clay till late night so she found it hard to wake up to the cuckoo of the hens in the morning. I milked the cow and saw a gunny bag full of hay spilled over by stray dogs. Farida was asleep and tied to the pole in the cowshed. I nudged the poor goat, and she showed no signs of guilt.
Your Amma came out telling me that she needed more rest. I was slightly angry thinking she was making an excuse after seeing the amount of work we had for the day.
She left us, and right then, Farida started wailing. I swept the floors and annoyed with the wailing of Farida, threatened her with a smack once. She kept wailing, and I understood that it was she who had spilled the hay. What do I do with these girls? I asked your Amma whether she was in a mood to return to work. As I look back, I wanted her company more than her work. Farida’s wail continued to hit my ears. And I could not even shout. I can’t write a slip to an illiterate goat.
To whom do I tell all this? Your Amma, I feel my gut being stabbed, was not breathing at all. I ran to the neighbors. They said your Amma had left. I did not trust them. With my fist, I hit your Chacha in his chest and asked him to call a doctor. The doctor confirmed that your Amma had left. Without telling me she had left. I wish I was a goat, for Farida is still wailing. On the other hand, I am not entitled to it.
Do not waste time upon reading this letter. It’s summer, and we can’t keep her long. I am not saying I will surely need cash, but I may.
A bitter air bores in my chest when I faced the regret of ignoring her wish to wear a different green. There were, however, several other wishes of hers that I had chosen to not fulfill.
The menorah will be of use on her thirteenth.