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VOL. XXII NO. 2, MAY 1-15, 2012
An exchange of letters
Excerpted from Gopal Krishna Gandhi's address after releasing Lettered Dialogue, compiled by K.R.A. Narasiah and published by Palaniappa Brothers.



Without Mathuram Bhoothalingam and P.G. Sundararajan having known one another, there would have been no letters between them. Without those letters, there would have been no relationship between them. Without a relationship between them, their knowing one another and writing to each other could have been a thing of no importance or interest.

But that conjunction did occur. Mathuram Bhoothalingam as Krithika and P.G. Sundararajan as Chitti did meet and get to write the letters which K.R.A. Narasiah has with sensitivity double-distilled into a slim book, the size of which belies its strength.

* * *

S. Bhoothalingam was not interested in diminishing or abridging Mathuram Bhoothalingam's sensibility. On the contrary, he was a truly modern and emancipated man in frank admiration, even awe, of his gifted wife. But a flask, even when transparently self-abnegating as the protector and preserver of the temperature of its content, is a flask. It contains, it holds, it secures. But it does not, indeed it cannot, permit the substance within to take a shape other than its own. Whence arises the need for a pseudonym. When women use them, they gain the joy of an independent identity.

Krithika is, if anything, independent. Independent in what she chooses to think of and independent in what and how she chooses to write upon.

But hers is not the independence of vagrancy. It is the independence of one who has a ticket in her hand, an open ticket, with destinations unmarked. She travels, she does not lurch. And in her letters to Chitti, she journeys with a companion with an identical travel document. How delicious, how altogether delectable, to travel with someone who becomes a friend on the journey, with no worries of excess baggage on one's hand or left-luggage to be collected on return, only conversation, recollection, and banter!

And yet the letters between Krithika and Chitti are not light. They are not chat. They are not 'side-stuff'. They are about the times, about people, about what is being written, thought, said. They do not seek the other's corroboration, though they sometimes seem to revel in approval. They do not seek to impress, though they sometimes seem to like having that effect. They also are not meant for posterity though I suspect they are being written in the knowledge that they are going into some little box or cabinet, some table-drawer or old trunk where they will be excavated from in a lonely hour, by a lonely lamp, for a lonely read when no one else is looking.

* * *

The first question that came to me was: Were Krithika and Chitti in love?

But no, no such luck.

Then, the next question that came to me was: Were Krithika and Chitti into some joint confessional?

Again, no luck.

Were they seeking shoulders to lean on, perhaps even to cry on?

No. They were utterly self-possessed.

Are they the Karuthamma and Pareekutti of Thakazhi's Chemmeen?


And then I realised I was missing the whole point of the letters. I was trying to find the predictable and the trite in what was altogether different, fresh and autonomous. I was trying to find the stereotypical in what was original.

Unless Narasiah has edited out things which belonged to the world of privileged communciation, there is no indication that Eros hides somewhere between the lines of these letters. If Eros does, that would be good for Eros. If Eros does not, it matters not.

Letters from a man to another man, from a woman to another woman would raise no eyebrows. But letters, a whole series of them, stretching over more than four decades from – and let me speak as if I am seated in a temple's courtyard in Chennai – letters from a married lady to a married gentleman... sollunga saar, adhu sariyaa? They have to raise not just eyebrows but hackles. This is a reflection on us, our limitations. Two individuals are, above all, individuals. Whether they are man and woman, married or otherwise, has to be beside the point, especially when what are being written are letters that contain reflections, observations.

Why one wants to say something to one particular person, and not to another, why some jokes are best shared with one and nor another, why one would wish to exclude someone, even very close, while talking to someone else, all these questions are impossible to answer. That is how it is. Human relationships are not to be dissected. They are to be observed.

These are letters because they happen to be written. They could well have been conversations. They could well have been thoughts unexpressed, but conveyed. Krithika's and Chitti's letters do not lead up to or culminate in anything. But they do aggregate into something. They aggregate into an understanding, a kind of compact, which says 'We agree not to seek agreement or concordance, only communication'. We need to express ourselves on things we do not have the chance to in the ordinary transactions of life.

Krithika wrote voluminously, as did Chitti. She wrote as she thought, without translating her words for official acceptance. Krithika and Chitti need to be read not because they were literary geniuses or they were social philosophers, but they were two individuals in a relationship of trust, intellectual, cultural and emotional trust. And that relationship of trust is at a discount today.

* * *

There is another reason why this volume is so precious. Letters are becoming an endangered species of writing. With the emergence of the e-mail and the SMS, letters, hand-written and 'proper' letters, are a rarity.

Imagine today's young generation producing a Krithika and Chitti fifty years from now. They will have acute observations to make, no doubt. They will have points of view that are both interesting and valuable. But will they have the language, the expression? Will they have the feel for communication?

Krithika says in one letter to Chitti: "My four days in Madras seem a dream now. Not so our long morning drives; I still feel the sands of Mahabalipuram beating against my cheeks....." That would perhaps be rendered on SMS like this: "Hey Chits... 4 dez Mds total dream, yar. But thoz morn drives! Awsum... M'pur sands biting me mug... wow".

But believe me, if the Krithika and Chitti of 2052 are true descendants in spirit of our Krithika and Chitti, I would say their SMS correspondence would be a good read. Let us not be prudes.

Letters written in a relationship of trust are, therefore, a precious transaction which, when one is given the chance to read with legitimacy, is a privileged experience.

* * *

Chitti comes through the pages of this volume as a man of firm views, assessments and even predispositions. In other words, as a man who would have been a delight to know and a trouble to disagree with. In his letters to Krithika he is obviously seeking and discovering one he can exchange his thoughts with, almost as if in an exercise of self-nourishment.

Every serious relationship compensates for a lack in other relationships. Oravu enradu saadarana vishayam illai. Puhaiyil than uruvaugal vasikkum.

The more undefined relationship, the more it is likely to be secure, provided others do not interfere with it. Defined relationships can also be secure, but rather like contracts entered into in faith and sustained in perseverance.

Chitti and Krithika reposed trust in one another's sensibility, discretion and restraint in a relationship that did not suffer owing to lack of conventional typifications.

Their correspondence is, therefore, not just about their times, but about all that which is refined, restrained and redemptive about human relationships.

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In this issue

Government offers hope again for Heritage Act
The least pedestrian-friendly Indian city: Chennai
When will we get all this power?
An exchange of letters
Perambur Railway Hospital - A remarkable journey to excellence
An Old Boy's advice
METERPODU – A work in progress
The economist as a Shakespearean scholar
A Chola temple near Tambaram

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


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