Postcard Nostalgia—My Affectionate Aunts
Having fallen in this nostalgia crevice I cannot but think of the humble postcard that arrived at our home in Chandigarh once in every fortnight. It was usually addressed to my grandmother from one of her daughters—my affectionate aunts.
Today when I have daughters of my own I can understand the value of a message from your child living in a distant city. Then I used to watch my grandma’s glowing face as she held the postcard. It was pure love that I saw in her eyes. She could not read. She would ask my mother to read the scrawled Hindi lines. The message had a standard format. ‘I hope this letter finds you in the best of health as I am here. Please write back as quickly as you can. With respectful prayers and well wishes, your daughter.’
Those postcards were like messages from Mars confirming that life still existed. These distant aunts would appear for a few days after a couple of years and then disappear again for the next seven hundred days. Meanwhile they sent their smoke signal postcards reminding my grandmother of their existence in some lonely marriage at the frontiers of a rigid society.
My grandmother also had two brothers. The senior brother sent such a post card every six months. This meant he was coming for a day or two. Grandmom would go crazy preparing things in the kitchen for her brother. It was a great time for the kids because this Mamaan made us laugh with his practical jokes on his sister. The other Mamaan also came but he never stayed overnight. He was the father-in-law of a famous bureaucrat and later Union Minister. The senior Mamoon scared us at night with his stories especially the one in which he made his dentures eject and dance between his lips when he played the role of a monster. That really sent us to sleep.
Later my wife began to get postcards from her saintly uncle (mother’s brother.) These came in duos. Two postcards like Siamese twins still joined in the middle. In one there would be the usual scribble in Punjabi, ‘How are you my daughter? I hope this finds you well as it does me. Please consider this postcard a telegram and reply by return post. I have sent an addressed envelope for your convenience. Write a few lines or just send the blank card back. I will know then that you are fine and doing well. Your mamaan (maternal uncle)—-‘
It is a curious fact that all the women received these strange Siamese twins. These cards assumed that the receiver did not live near a post office and would have a difficult time replying back. Thus even a blank card posted back was an indication of ‘all is well in my domestic married life.’ The major reason for this being that most women were still uneducated and would not or could not find someone to write a sympathetic note back home. It was and still is a man’s world.
The men did send and receive postcards but the writing was cleverly camouflaged in Urdu which all the males had learned in school at Lahore before partition. Now I remember that my dad even got a Sunday edition of a famous Urdu daily from Jullundur or was it Ludhiana? I envied there ability to read this strange language. I have many such postcards as heirlooms. They rest somewhere still undeciphered. Someday I will learn Urdu and read them.
Today my daughters have fancy smart phones but still they do not send a simple message confirming their well being. Perhaps I too should start sending them those conjoined twins in postcards.