Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
This story has nothing to do with culture or art. Nor is it a pretty story.
But it has left a soul coin and enriched my life with empathy for another. A soul coin from a journey.
Today as I wrote about the Kutch trip, I was reminded of R.bhai whom I met on the flight to Bhuj in 2006. I was on the isle seat and he was on the middle seat next to mine, and as co-travellers often do in India, we got talking. I was not a seasoned traveller at that time, and had very little knowledge of the place I was going to. For years before that time, I had lived in other countries, so the news headlines in India in that period had not registered in my brain. So R.bhai was the first victim of my curious questioning about my destination.
He was a willing talker, and spoke in depth about his land and his city. But I was not at all prepared for the heartbreaking story he told me that was intricately connected to the place I was so curious about – the earthquake of 2001.
He lived in a multi storey bungalow in a joint family, with his brothers, their wives and their children, and his wife and children. On that morning his wife had woken up early as usual and gone downstairs to begin the household duties, while he was still in his room getting ready for the day, when the earthquake struck. In a few minutes the devastated mess had settled down enough to wake up from the stupor of survival and begin assimilating the event that had just occurred. He then went on to find the people that were alive and then together with them, to hunt for the missing, through the dust clouds of crumbled concrete and wailing voices.There was no time for emotion. The survivors got to work and began digging through the debris.
He found his wife. She had not survived.
Then R.bhai went on to tell me that he had since remarried. And that he had a wonderful wife who had integrated perfectly into his life. And all was well.
But before he re-married, for a long time he had grieved for his late wife. And one night, he sat and penned a letter to her and said to her all the things that made his heart heavy. A love letter. One that she would never read. This letter, written in Gujarati, he carried in his wallet always, but he had never shown it to anyone. On that flight, five years after he had written it, he took it out of his wallet, unfolded it and gave it to me to read.
Much before this point in our conversation, I had given up trying to hide my tears. As I read that love letter, I think I gave up controlling them and there was a free flow of salt water – a sight that the alarmed air hostess. R.bhai wept a little too, as he read his own letter.
He had borne several dramatic tragedies through that one episode. And I experienced a tiny fraction of that through that one hour long flight with him.
His life and the lives of the people in his life touched mine deeply that day. And though we will probably never see each other again, the empathy he evoked in me, will stay forever.