Prelude: Set in the pre-independent era, two men, one a feisty Bengali and the other a rebellious Tamizh, share the moments from their life and times, through words, hued with utmost respect, patriotic vigour and a tinge of poetry. Presenting a series of moving handwritten letters, as seen from the vantage point of one of the pen pals.
Respected Sir Kuppuswamy Pillai,
My greetings to you and your family. As I pen this letter, I am reminded of our long walk at the Marina beach in Madras last week. INC meeting, Madras, a piping hot cup of coffee, the famous Margazhi season, Marina and the endearing you – what more can an Indian ask for in these difficult days? I was expressing my hope for an expeditious remedy to the menace of foreign rule and you sang this delectable song in Thamizh by Kavi Sri Subrahmanya Bharathi, which I don’t have the good fortune of reproducing in your wonderful language, but I certainly remember that in essence it meant something like “the happy freedom has come, let’s celebrate!” I was stumped. He is no ordinary poet, I tell you, he is a visionary with a poet’s tongue. “Anand Sbatanter” wasn’t it? If I may ask a great favour of you, please send the entire song in Debnagri/English script with its meaning so that I can train my men to sing in our local INC meetings. Bande Mataram!
With deep regards and affection,Sarbopunyan Mukhopadyay
10-09-1937Respected Sri Kuppuswamy,
My greetings to Madam Kalpagam Kuppuswamy and your two lovely daughters.
I am unsure if I should thank you or apologize first. Nevertheless, my heart says I should apologize for the two grave errors from my side. I have no shame in apologizing to a patriotic soul like you, in fact I’m doubly proud that you had renounced your knighthood days after it was conferred on you. One can only laugh at the crookedness of the British in luring you with a title, they really don’t know us even after spending centuries with us, do they? Sadly, that has been the bitter difference between them and the majestic Mughals, these whites are here just to plunder us. Every innovative step they take here is for their own benefit. Must I add that I am pleased that the peasants of India have finally risen up to the occasion and are marking their struggle through organized protests?
Also, accept my deepest apologies for imprudently referring to your caste name in the salutations. No wonder you cringed uncontrollably as Sri. Das referred to you as “Mr. Pillai” in the meeting, all along! If the Mahakavi says there are no jaathi in this country, so be it! Every child in this country must be proud of the gems of Bharath Mata. I can only regret that I did not get the darshan of this great man when he was in blood and flesh. But I know that you are his true sishya.
Kindly accept the collection of poems by Rabindranath Tagore which I am sending along through our fellow INC member and my jail mate at Hijli, the very enterprising young man, Sri. Rambondhu. He should also be able to tell you the auspicious events behind my prolonged absence. But for Bharathi and Bharat Mata, I would not be still alive. One of these days, just like Rabindra Sangeet, I wish to sow the seeds for widespread singing of Bharathi Sangeet. May the legendary patriots of the country bless us through our every step!
With deep regards and affection,
Dear Sri Kuppuswamy,
Greetings to the family. I apologize in advance if my letter should find any aspect of a decent letter wanting, coming from a person who claims to come from a civilized society. I, however, do not apologize to the Gods, if they even exist, for the abuses I am about hurl at them, in this very letter. Lord Inder, they say, Lord Baruna, they say. It’s a lie, I tell you, it’s a veritable lie.
My heart aches in agony as I write this to you, but my eyes do not secrete tears. Just no rains, anywhere around, my friend.
There is no food for us, my dear friend.
The heartless British are scavenging through the small sacks of grains the poor peasants had saved for the dozens of their little children and exporting it to their country, to their soldiers. Our men are dying of hunger as their men are feeding themselves to kill more in turn. Drought of emotions and humanity is the end of life itself.
What can I say of the cursed sight I catch every morning as I pass through Howrah? Anorexic men and women, baring their ribs for the world to see lie on top of each other, unmindful of the public eye. I saw a teenager, someone very much resembling our K.Meenakshi – her eyes were sunken, her mouth all parched, she wore a single piece of cloth across her shoulder – her collar bones were sneering at me, her fragile shoulder blades were not able to bear the weight of the tattered cotton cloth. I gave her the food packet in my hand, without meeting her eyes. I did not want to think of Ma or Ba at that moment, who were waiting in hunger at my home. She, the replica of K.Meenakshi, spread the packet open and dunked her face into the food. Should I still live in this world, my friend? This is holocaust. The Judgement day. Doom and gloom are written over every single visage I chance upon. I can hear the distant thunder of an all destroying meteor approaching us.
Is there an end to it at all? Didn’t our man say, “If even a single human in this world goes without food, let us destroy this world?” Isn’t a poet, in reality, a saint in disguise? Why are his words not coming true?
I send this letter through my Ma and Ba. I have sold all that is left of my property. I cannot watch them fight for rations every day, nor can I let them die. Would you please put them at the Nandanam shelter for urban homeless? I heard from Bapu that they feed the hungry twice a day. I am ashamed, but this is all I can do. I beg you to fulfil this one request of mine.
As for me, I am staying in Bengal, come what may.
With gratitude and kindest regards,
I received your letter from Ba, who was in tears as he spoke about you and your family. You keep making me apologize and thank you every single time I write to you. If you were a day younger to me, I would have done a sashtanga namoskar over your feet. I cannot thank you in words for taking care of my parents. I am sorry, it is not as if I didn’t take you in trust, I simply didn’t want to overburden you or distract you from your national services by adding people from my side. Yes, you are my brother, I certainly deserve the choicest of punishments in narak for doubting you for whatever reasons.
Life is returning to normalcy. I thank the Lord Almighty, the gorgeous Bharath Mata, rice harvest has improved in the last few months. I can smell “Anandha sudhanthiram” in the air. It is for real, trust me.
Please accept Rs.1500 as a donation for your K.Meenakshi Educational Trust and Roshgullas prepared by Ma, especially for Madam Kalpagam Kuppuswamy and the kids.
Many thanks, again, from the bottom of my heart.
With deepest regards and affection,Sarbon