The day dawned bright and clear holding no trace of what lay ahead. It was a lazy morning and I had returned home after a long weekend. My mother had been nagging me for the last few days to empty out the old store room which was filled with old books and magazines but which to me meant trunks and boxes of memories. That small room used to be my heaven. It was my sacred space all through my growing up years. A testimony to all the important phases of my life. Be it good or bad, I always returned to this room for support. For neatly placed in a small corner stood my desk. I guess this is where the seeds of writing were sown in me and before I knew my pen and my diary became my best friends and still remain so. I would sit on that desk for hours daydreaming and spent my nights with between thick textbooks. I would often fall asleep studying and be woken up with the loud chirping of birds the next morning. it was my ‘den’. After I married and moved out, it gradually converted to a store or junk room. Things grew larger and spaces smaller. The important stuff found prominence elsewhere and what was left behind all got heaped into this new ‘storeroom’. However, today I was entrusted with the daunting task of cleaning the mess..’my mess’ as my mother would have rather said.
As I stepped in I was greeted with a flood of emotions wrapped in a cloud of dust. I didn’t know where to begin. All of a sudden I was transformed into this little girl who was left on a treasure hunt, excited clueless and alone. Little did I know then what invaluable treasure I was to find ahead. I began with an old tattered brown carton. It was heavier than I had imagined and the contents of which immediately scattered at my feet. It was my collection of Reader’s Digest and Archie Comics. I at once was taken back to my younger carefree self and was tempted to start reading one just then. As I bent down to stack them up something caught my eye.
It was an old thick brown leather-bound diary with dog-eared edges. No, it wasn’t mine but I recognized it at once. I read the year embossed in golden alphabets on the top left corner. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to touch leave alone open or read it. But, today was different. I was older and wiser and yes I was on a treasure hunt!
I tentatively flipped the pages. Every page was dated and numbered. An old habit I would never forget. I was still debating whether to read its contents or not when a sheet of paper fell at my feet. Neatly tucked away for all these years. It was lost. I didn’t go looking and it wasn’t meant to be found, least of all by me. But I think it was destined.
Date: 5th December 2009.
The once white paper had turned muddy and brown. The crisp folds creaked as I unfolded the letter gingerly, almost breaking under my touch. The calligraphic penmanship though faded, stood lucid and sharp. As I brought it closer, it smelled fresh of a bygone romance. Pickled with love, promise, and hope and seasoned with passion and longing.
I sat where I stood and began reading. Guilty at first of invading the privacy of not one but two. Apparently, both the writer and the intended recipient were today oblivious of its existence. My curiosity got the better of me and I continued. Something about it made me feel I was a part of it and that there was a reason I found the letter. As if it wanted to lead me somewhere. I read along and I picked on few phrases and catches that sounded familiar, as if trying to speak to me, reaching out. But what and by whom? It was a long paragraph of 6-7 lines. Impeccably written. Grammatically correct. It sounded like an ode between two young hearts that couldn’t meet. Though it was short it spoke volumes. It reeked of an unkempt promise and heartbreak. As I read along with a picture formed in my mind. Linking the past to the present and now to the future. When I finished reading and was folding the letter back to its crease something caught my eye…O MY GOD! I almost cried out!
How did I miss this..this was a sure giveaway. Hidden neatly at the rear corner of the page were the initials I knew by heart. The jigsaw pieces began to fit together. The blurry picture was now complete. My speculations confirmed. By the end of it, I think I knew what I was going to do. I gathered the letter and my courage and climbed down the store-room stairs.
I couldn’t sleep a wink and kept tossing and turning all night long. I had read and re-read the letter a hundred times already. Next morning, at the crack of dawn I slipped outside. My aunt lived a few blocks from our house. She had always been around when I was growing up and played the role of a confident and an elder sister. We were very close and shared all our secrets. We also shred the storeroom desk! A few years ago, it was she who stood up for me and fought everybody when I wanted to go out for a journalism course and then again when I chose to marry with my choice. While all time she was my savior I never fathomed she one day would need me to fight for her. It was payback time and I was determined for the battle that was soon to begin. My aunt never married. Each time the elders spoke of her marriage, she strongly refused. Nothing or nobody could convince her. On being probed and pushed, she just kept silent. The chirpy and bubbly girl would immediately shrink into a cocoon and all her light and warmth would wither out. She took up a school job and shifted to a small house next to ours. She had always been proud and wanted to be self-reliant and independent. I was too young to understand back then, but I knew better now. I clutched the letter in my hand and looked for her.
It was my birthday today and I knew she would refuse me nothing. I was lucky to have found the letter; ’her letter’ at the right time. She greeted me with open arms but felt something amiss when her warmth didn’t meet mine. I said nothing and placed the letter in her hand. She didn’t need to open it, her face turned red then white. She sat down with tears trickling. She was clearly pained and embarrassed with my sudden and silent confrontation. I hugged her tight and let cry out the huge burden she had been carrying all these years.
The letter I found was written ten years ago, by her to her girlfriend. The innocent friendship had blossomed into something ‘different’ and special their relationship was not only of love and care but something beyond. Something the only those two could understand and cherish. Coming ‘out of the closet’ back then was not an option, leave alone a choice and hence she was forced to kill her feelings and bury her love. Ten years later it was not only possible but also legal to acknowledge what they felt. Today Section 377 offers dignity to a large community which we know as LGBT. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince my elders but first, my aunt had to agree. My support gave her hope and courage and after great persuasion, she finally gave in. Once she told me her partner’s name ..I chuckled! She used to be my aunt’s only friend. Her best friend. However, there were stories of her suddenly running away from home. Back then people had different versions of her sudden disappearance but now I knew the true reason. She had worked hard and today was a famous celebrity who had recently come out in the open regarding her sexual preferences. I playfully nudged my aunt about her choice and she shyly smiled. It was the first smile on that day. The initials at the end of the letter now made sense. Though my aunt’s initials were SM I had often seen the initials ST (the first letters of her and her partner’s name) scribbled randomly inside her cupboard and in the writing pad she kept on her table…this was the giveaway!
I felt a lump in my throat thinking of many such love stories that die a silent death for mere social and cultural pressures and hindrances we ourselves have created. They are the intangible, subtle yet undiminished lines we have created, which cannot be seen, but neither can be crossed. It saddens me how subconsciously a few dictators or so-called powerful men get the right to control the lives of others and above that why do we let them? These are just a few of the many questions that will always remain unanswered. And I as journalist often try in my own small way to find those answers. The letter I found became my theme for my next story. It gave me immense pride and joy in being instrumental in saving two lives and rekindling their faith and I hoped many more would find their strength.
My aunt Sudha and her partner Mitali now have a common address. They left their respective jobs and today run an NGO which works for the safety and enlistment of the LGBT community. They also hold various workshops which help in making the members emotionally and financially stable.
I recently won an award for the research I published in a leading newspaper based on the story I wrote… which was tentatively titled….’My Treasure Hunt’.
I called both the sources of my story on stage when I was given the award. They hugged me warmly and my aunt whispered in my ear..’am so glad it was you who found my lost love letter’.