Yamini Girey
24 Nov 2019

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'तुमच्या मुलीने मला आज रागावल' Your daughter scolded me today. A 6-year-old me scribbled this on a piece of paper in a feat of drama. I folded the paper and gave the note to my uncle who was to carry it to my grandparents. They lived across town and the note was supposed to expose them to the various cruelties their daughter, my Aai, was inflicting upon me. I did not get a response from anyone. I am sure they had better things to do in life than deal with a 6-year-old's drama.

But did that deter me? No! I sent another note to them about my brother who was away from home. This time Aajoba took note. Matters escalated. I got a reply from him.

This was the beginning of one of the most meaningful connections of my life. Through letters.

To be honest I didn't even know then that I was writing letters. This exchange had no letter writing paraphernalia involved which schools taught me in later years. It was simple and to the point. I would usually write on pieces of paper and give him random updates about my life.

आज आम्ही आंबे आणले. We got mangoes today.
आज घरी पाहुणे आले त्यामुळे टीवी बघता आला नाही. We had guests over today so I couldn't watch any television.

I wrote about the new stuff I was learning in school. I wrote after the exam results. I wrote with Diwali greetings and rakhi envelopes. I wrote when I could. I wrote because I could. I wrote because the kindness my grandfather had shown to a 6-year-old me by responding to my scribbles and notes gave me the courage to write more.

As I was writing these notes, I would also eagerly await his responses. They were a delight to read. He would write in the neatest handwriting and the most fluent Marathi. Something like:

"आपली साहित्य सम्पदा लेखणीतील होळी आहे. माझ्या बौद्धिक स्थिरतेला तूच लिखाणाच वेड लावलस" (He was telling me that I was making him write more)

I would, of course, need Aai's help to understand this. It was an unusual connection. And in a big family of uncles, aunts, and cousins we were the only ones sharing it. As I grew older, one thing that remained constant was the letters.

I moved away from my parents' home to study in a different city when I was 17. I remember writing Aajoba a 7-page long essay chronicling the new situation I was in. I wrote about how my first night in the hostel was spent without electricity. I wrote about how I had met a childhood friend, on the steps of the hostel, unaware of the knowledge then, that we would remain friends and learn to evolve together. I wrote about my class schedule. I wrote about how boring the food in the hostel was. I wrote about how I found the city and college different from the ideas in my head.

I poured my heart out in that letter. In a couple of months, I received a 4-page letter from Aajoba. It was the longest letter he had written to me. Of course, I did not understand much of it then, but here's the bit I remember the most.

"माझ्यातला मी जागा नसतो. मनास येईल असे तुझ्यासाठी लिहितोय. मनाला धास्तीत ठेवू नकोस. तुला महत्वाच्या वाटतात त्या गोष्टींकडे लक्ष दे. आजूबाजूच्या निसर्गाचा विसर पडू देऊ नकोस." (He was telling me that he was growing old. That I needed to be fearless and focus on things that mattered to me. Also while doing so I should get out once in a while.)

I became known as the girl whose Aajoba wrote letters to her. Girls would stop by my room and ask if they could read them. I would happily oblige and make new friends over shared letters.

I moved to the US for a brief stint and the frequency of the letters reduced. Somewhere I was missing the connection, so I started a blog. I would write there every day and hope that one-day Aajoba would get to read about my experiences.

Hannah Gadsby says, "Hindsight is a gift". It is only today that I know and understand how lucky I got. I find written communication intimate. Recently I have grown into writing picture postcards whenever I am traveling. Maybe it ties back to the love my Aajoba shared with me over written words and how he was the first one who encouraged me to write more. Through his beautiful and elaborate replies. Maybe it's me trying to connect the dots and find meaning in not having him around anymore.

Today my parents are grandparents. My 2-year-old niece runs around the house begging me, rather us, to read to her. Sometimes annoyingly. But we oblige. Maybe it's life coming full circle.

Us honoring Aajoba's memory. Keeping those roots safe.
Remembering the kindness a 70+-year-old man showed to a 6-year-old child.

Yamini Girey

I am a textbook introvert and day dream about living on a farm, growing my own food, grazing wild sheep and running a library. In the regular life, I am involved in the exciting and consuming job of building software products. I also cook, read and run to keep it together.

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