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The Departed Wishes— Chandra Kishore Jayaswal

Sep 30, 2023 | Fiction | 0 comments

TRANSLATED FROM THE HINDI BY AYUSHEE ARORA

 

The son was leaving the house to go to work, when the aged father called out to him, and stopped him in his tracks. Calling his son to his room, he handed a letter over to him, and said, “Please mail this letter.”

The son took the proffered letter, and looked at it closely. When his gaze fell on the address and recipient mentioned on the letter, he stiffened in surprise. He asked his father, “Who are you sending this letter with best wishes to?”

“I’m sending it to Avinash.”, the father Rajeev told his son. “Why are you so surprised? I always send him New Year wishes. Have been doing so for the last fifty years. He’s the only one I send these wishes to.”

“Yes, I know, but he passed away a while ago.”, replied the son. “It’s been about six months or so now, in fact, since his demise.”

“Avinash is no more?”

“Yes, I had told you before.”

“You’d told me?”

“Yes, he had.”, said Vijay’s mother Sunanda, while entering the room. “He’d told you in my presence. You don’t remember anything. You couldn’t eat for days, when you first heard the news.”

“He’s dead?!” With his gaze fixated on his wife’s face, the old man blubbered querulously, “But he wasn’t supposed to die right now.”

“You’d said this that day as well.”, said his wife. “Nobody comes to this world with the gift of immortality. One day or another, everyone has to go.”

“Yes, everyone has to go one day or another, but he wasn’t supposed to die before I did”, the old man replied, slowly removing his gaze from his wife’s face. “That is what is troubling me.”

“Living and dying are in the hands of the Almighty.” replied the wife. However, after saying this, she did not move away, instead continued to stand there.

The father looked towards his son. “Who told you?”

“Shalini, his daughter, had sent a letter.”

“The letter arrived six months ago?!”, the old man asked, stuttering. He then turned to his son and asked him, “Have you shown me the letter?”

“No.”

“Where is the letter?”

“Should I have kept that letter with the rest of Avinash’s letters?”, asked Sunanda snappily. “It was a letter speaking of death. I had it torn almost immediately. The bad news was given to you after three days, and that too after much deliberation and discussion amongst us.”

“When he’s dead anyway, what difference does it make if the news was conveyed to me instantly, or three days later?”, the old man said, before lapsing into silence. Seeing his silence, the wife and son felt that it would be a long silence.

“What should I do with this letter?”, asked the son, indicating the letter containing the wishes. “Should I tear it?”

“No.”, said the father. His gaze was stern and unmoving. “Why on earth will you tear it?”

“Then let me keep it there, on your table.”

“No, do not keep it on the table”, said the old man. “Take it along and post it.”

The son looked towards his mother. 

“Do as I tell you.”, commanded the old man. “I want a response to this letter. Let me hear and see, again, with my own ears and eyes, that Avinash has passed away.”

Before lapsing into another long silence, the old man said angrily, again, “If I do not get a response to this letter, I will send a second letter. Maybe even a third!”

Once the letter containing “Best Wishes” had been deposited in the post-box of the biggest Post office in town, only then did the old man relax.

Fifteen days after the letter had been sent, the postman delivered a letter to Sunanda. Taking the letter, Sunanda came over to her husband and asked him, “What sort of a letter is this?”

“We are finally free!”, proclaimed the letter in big, bold words.

Tearing apart the envelope, the husband examined the contents of the letter and then turning triumphantly to his wife, he said, “It is a letter conveying best wishes!”

“Who is it from?”

“Avinash.”

“Who is it from?”, the wife asked again.

“Avinash Nayak.”, the husband responded, without looking away from the letter. 

Riddled with apprehensions, the wife stood there. When her husband had read and re-read the letter twice or thrice, she asked him, “What does the letter say?”

“Here, I’ll read it out to you.” The husband started to read aloud. “Dear Rajeev, this time, my letter with best wishes has not reached on the same day, or a day or two after receiving your letter. This time, my letter has been delayed. Now, all the things I do, are delayed.

I am feeling reasonably healthy and fit, and I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere for the next ten-fifteen years. However, my hands have started trembling now, and trembling in such a way, that I am unable to write my own name now. Thinking that you would be troubled by this news, I thought I’d keep it from you, but unfortunately, you are well versed with my handwriting. And I think that while a lot of other things are no longer familiar to you, I am sure that my handwriting will never cease to be familiar. I am glad of the fact that your hands don’t tremble like mine do.  In this respect, you can claim that you are healthier than me. 

Instead of my usual signature at the end of my letter, Shalini has written my name. Besides me and my handwriting, you must keep Shalini in mind too. My daughter, Shalini. She’s married into a household not too far from ours. She makes it a point to visit me once a week.

Yes, what I have done is put my thumb impression under my name. You have probably not seen my thumb impression before, so keep this letter safely.”

Sunanda felt like she was falling into a bottomless pit. Suddenly, she felt devoid of all energy. She just wanted to go to her room, lie down and rest. As she was leaving, her husband said, “Wait, Sunanda, stay here with me awhile.”

Her husband’s request felt like an order. Sunanda complied, and sat down next to him.

 With a wry smile, the husband began speaking. “The contents of this letter have not been written by Avinash. His daughter Shalini has written it all. She has been hearing tales of our legendary friendship since childhood, and probably decided to honour her father’s memory by writing back to me, as him.”

After saying this, the husband fixed his gaze on his wife, and let it stay for a few minutes. When he finally averted his gaze, he mumbled, “The letter is fake. Avinash is dead.”

Sunanda did not say anything in reply.

The husband continued speaking, “There is nobody who lives in that house anymore. Avinash’s wife died many years ago. Both his sons are settled abroad. Shalini must be coming once a week to air out and clean the house. The postman must have put my letter in the house, and when Shalini made her weekly visit, she must have seen it then.

Pausing for a minute, he then said, “So many times, you praised Avinash’s wife for being a wonderful woman. Now look, what a wonderful woman his daughter Shalini is too! She has rectified her mistake immediately, and has ensured that for me, my friend is still alive.”

Avinash has died, but I didn’t just say that he shouldn’t have died before me. Two years ago, he’d sent me a long letter. I still remember the contents of that letter. In that letter, he’d written, “I am in the last years of my life. My body has started withering, and I have started detaching myself from all illusions and bonds of this mortal life. But Rajeev, why is it that despite my best efforts, I am still unable to wean off and cut the bond I share with you? This is one bond I am unable to terminate. I don’t know what to do. He died, still entangled in this bond. Had he died after me, he could have been freed from the burden of this bond.”

After this spiel, the husband said to his wife, “You were going somewhere. Please, go ahead.”

The wife did not move or speak. The husband looked at her and said, “I don’t remember anything these days. My memory is failing me. But next year, will you please remind me to send a letter containing my best wishes to Avinash?”

The wife found herself unable to speak, but managed to nod her head in assent.

 


Also, read The Second Taj Mahal By Nasera Sharma, Translated From The Hindi By Ayushee Arora and published in The Antonym:

The Second Taj Mahal— Nasera Sharma


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Chandra Kishore Jayaswal

Chandra Kishore Jayaswal

Chandra Kishore Jayaswal is a celebrated novelist and short fiction writer in Hindi. Born in 1940, at Biharigunj, Bihar, he has a number of short stories, plays, monologies and play adaptations to his credit. He has been the recipient of many literary awards including those by Bihar Rajbhasha Parishad, Anand Sagar Kathakram Samman. His stories have been adapted and telecast as films and serials in national television and the international film festivals.

Ayushee Arora

Ayushee Arora

An Assistant Professor of English and an internationally awarded debater and writer, Ayushee Arora, finds her creative conduit in public speaking and writing. Her areas of interest include Cultural Studies, Greek Mythology, Eco-feminism, and Literature of the Subaltern. She rejuvenates by spending time in nature and reading.

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