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  • Sulogna Mehta

The Letter Has Come

Ahmed Ali worked at a post-office in a small town, earning a meagre monthly salary. His family consisted of his seven-year-old daughter Ruksana and his mother - Ruksana’s dadijaan. Still Ali had a tough time to make both ends meet.

Ruksana was a sick child from birth and mostly stayed at home. Of late, she started going to the primary school in the locality. She was basically quiet and often her gaze wandered far off aimlessly. She hardly spoke but was a keen observer.

Sometimes, she accompanied Ali to the post office and watched his father sorting out the letters. The colourful envelopes, the different stamps, the handwritin in shining black and blue on the envelopes drew her attention. It was the decade prior to the new millennium, before cell phones made inroads in lives, when handwritten letters meant a lot to people.

She could hardly take her eyes off those letters. She asked Ali, “Abbajaan, who sends these letters and to whom?” Ali answered smiling, “Well people send these letters to their loved ones - parents, friends, spouses, siblings, relatives and some of the letters are official too.”

“But Abbajaan, why don’t we receive any letters?” Ali kept quiet. He knew that they had no relatives or friends who would write to them. He only had his mother and little daughter. But Ruksana was insistent. Ali did not want to disappoint his daughter, who was the only bright star in his life after his wife’s demise. He said, “Have patience, beti. Someday a letter will come.”

Whenever Ruksana enquired about her mother, Ali used to console her saying that her mother lived very far away but when Ruksana would grow up, she would surely come to bless her.

Ruksana awaited her ammijaan’s arrival. She hoped that until her mother comes, she would at least send Ruksana a letter. She expected to be greeted by her grandma with a letter from her mother on her return from school.

Days passed and Ruksana’s illness relapsed. Ali took her to Dr Sethi who was a reputed doctor in the town. He examined the child and his expression made Ali nervous. “Dr, will she get well soon?” The doctor reassured Ali but advised him to take Ruksana to the main hospital in the capital city. The doctor knew that she was suffering from a critical blood disorder and chances of survival were slim. In the coming days, Ruksana’s condition worsened.

One evening, Ali found his daughter weeping. He asked her what the matter was but received no response. On further enquiry, his mother told him that Ruksana’s friend had visited her and told her in the course of conversation that her mother was dead and would never come back to her. She had been crying since then. Ali consoled his daughter and told her that her mother was alive but lived very far away.

Ruksana continued crying and complained that her mother could at least send her a letter inquiring about her health. “I am dying and my mother is not bothered,” she cried.

Her daadi sobbed. Ali tried to console her daughter but tears welled up in his eyes. He looked away and stared at the damp ceiling.

Ruksana’s condition further deteriorated. The doctors in the main city hospital shook their heads. She was in the terminal stage and there was nothing much they could do to save her. They asked Ali to take her home and try to keep her happy in her last days.

Ruksana cried, “Take me home soon abbajaan.” Ali took her home. On her return, she asked her daadijaan whether any letter had come for her but she was disappointed again.

Ali glanced at his daughter’s face and went out, deep in thought. That evening, amid a power-cut, he rushed home in a state of excitement. In his hand, he held a pretty green envelope. He cried, “Beti, your mother has at last sent you a letter.”

But it was too late. Ruksana pointed to the trees outside the window and whispered, “Abbajaan, don’t you hear ammijaan? She is calling me. I don’t have to wait for her letter anymore. Ammijaan, I am coming.” She tried to rise but fell back on her bed. The lamp flickered. Everything turned dark.

The silver light of the moon flooded the room, fell on the envelope still clutched in Ali’s hands. Ruksana left with a smile on her face brighter than the moonbeam, extinguishing the light in Ali’s life forever.

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