- About the Author
Dhumaketu (1892 – 1965) was the pen name of Gowrishankar Govardhandas Josh, a prolific writer, who is considered one of the pioneers of the Gujarati short story. He published twenty-four collections of such stories, as well as thirty two novels on historical and social subjects, and plays and travelogues. His writing is characterized by a poetic style, romanticism and powerful depiction of human emotions.
“The Letter” is a touching story of an old man who is all alone and waits for his only daughter’s letter for five long years. He receives that letter only at his grave but for that he pays a price. While living a lonely, morbid life, he undergoes some strange experiences of life in his interaction with unsympathetic, callous and inhuman human species. The old man’s controlled demeanour and silent sufferings are a bitter commentary on human existence.
Coachman Ali used to go every single day to the post-office, early morning, even in the bitter cold, plodding on, pulling his tattered clothes tighter to shield his body from the cold. The rest of the world would be fast asleep except the twittering of birds or barking of dogs, there would be a cold silence all along the way to the post-office.
Ali would sit on the wooden bench in the verandah of the post-office, his usual place, watching the post office officials and clerks going about their normal work. While sorting out letters a voice would suddenly call out his name “Coachman Ali”, but it was only in jest, since they all knew that he was waiting for the past five years for one single letter from his only daughter Miriam. His only child Miriam had married and left him with her soldier husband to his regiment in the Punjab. Since she left five years ago, there was no news from or of her. He lived a lonely cheerless existence. Ali now understood the true meaning of love and separation.
In his youth, Ali had been a clever Shikari. He loved hunting and was a very skilful one. He could catch the earth-brown partridge from the bushes, which even the dogs failed to see. His sharp eyes could see the hare crouching. He was also an adept fisherman. But now as he was growing in age and also loneliness was eating into him, he could no longer enjoy the earlier pleasures and he understood the pain of the animals and birds he hunted as they were separated from their parents or loved ones. He gave up his old ways and instead made daily trips to the post-office, waiting eagerly for a letter from Miriam.
He would be lost in the admiration of the green fields and would reflect deeply about life. He then came to the conclusion that the whole universe is built up through love and that grief and separation are inescapable. Thinking thus about life, he would weep bitterly, missing his daughter deeply.
The post office therefore became a place of pilgrimage for Ali. He would come promptly at 5 am every moving. While Ali waited, he would overhear the conversation and scandals. He would also see the wooden face of the postmaster who had no “glimmer of animation in his features”.
One day after the peons had all gone away with their mail, Ali also rose to go, saluting the post-office as though it held some previous relic in it. Seeing him, the postmaster asked the clerk if he was a madman. They all sat around and ridiculed Ali, saying that he had probably committed many sins and was paying for them by coming over there everyday. They all sat and related incidents of other mad men who had stranger habits and laughed at their own experiences with mad men.
For several days after that, Ali did not go to the post-office. No one had sympathy or understanding to guess what the reason could be, but they were all curious to know what could have stopped him from coming.At last, one day he came again and he had to struggle to breathe, and it was clear that his end was fast approaching. He was also rather impatient and begged the post master if a letter had been received from his daughter Miriam. The postmaster was in a hurry and losing his temper at Ali, remarked that Ali was a pest and asked him to go away; saying that no one was going to eat his letter if it did come, and walked away in a huff.At that, Ali came away slowly and helplessly with tears in his eyes; for his patience was now exhausted, even though he still had faith and knew that Miriam would one day write to him.Ali went to a clerk and offered him five gold guineas for doing him a favour. In Allah’s name, he told him to deliver Miriam’s letter when and if he received it. When the clerk asked him where he had to deliver it, Ali told him that it should be delivered to his grave. So saying, he told the clerk tearfully that it was his last day and was sad not to have heard from Miriam.
Ali was never seen again and no one troubled to inquire after him.
One day, the post-master had a problem. His own daughter lay ill in another town and he was anxiously awaiting news of her. Seeing an envelope of the shape and colour, he was expecting, the postmaster snatched it; but dropped it as though it had given him an electric shock because it was addressed to Ali. The haughty temper of the postmaster had left him in his sorrow and anxiety and had laid bare his human heart. He asked Lakshmi Das the clerk to give the letter to Ali.The Postmaster did not receive his own letter all day. He worried all night and getting up at 3 am went to the post office in anxiety. Now the Postmaster was brimming with sympathy for the old man who had spent nights in the same suspense for the last five years. At the stroke of five in the morning, he heard a soft knock on the door and saw Ali, leaning on a stick, the tears wet on his face. He had an unearthly look in his eyes and the postmaster shrank back in fear and astonishment.
Lakshmi Das, on hearing the Post master’s voice/words came towards his office, enquiring whom he was talking to. The postmaster was still staring at the doorway through which Ali had come in and disappeared. When he finally admitted to Lakshmi Das that he had been speaking to Ali, Lakshmi Das informed him that old Ali had died three months ago. The postmaster was perplexed and wondered if he had really seen Ali or if his imagination had deceived him. That evening he and Lakshmi Das went to Ali’s grave and laid the letter on it.
The postmaster was still in a state of daze and confusion. He had, however, undergone a change of heart. The newly awakened father in him was reproaching him for not understanding Ali’s anxiety. He sat down, introspecting, in the glow of the charcoal sigri, tortured by both doubt and remorse.
- Text book solutions
- Complete the following table by explaining the following phrases/sentences in your own words :
(a) happy memories light up a life that is nearing its close.
Meaning : Happy memories of one’s past life come up when one is dying.
(b) the sounds helped him along his lonely way.
Meaning : The people had woken up at that time in the morning. They were busy with their daily routine. These helped him to walk his lonely way to the post-office.
(c) the cold used to sleep to extend its sway over all things even as a false friend lulls his chosen victim with caressing smiles.
Meaning : Sleep is the last refuge for men or women to soothe one during cold which makes them its prey.
(d) when the evening of his life was drawing in, he left his old ways and suddenly took a new turn.
Meaning : When he was going to die soon, he let go his old memories (of the past) and took a new turn.
(e) that the whole universe is built up through love and that grief of separation is inescapable.
Meaning : The whole of the world has love and grief like the two sides of the same coin. Both love and separation are inescapable.
(f) the postmaster, a man with a face as sad and as inexpressive as a pumpkin, would be seen sitting on his chair inside.
Meaning : The postmaster was an unfeeling man. He had a wooden face, and sad and round one. He would keep sitting on his chair.
(g) The haughty temper of the official had quite left him in his sorrow and anxiety, and had laid bare his human heart.
Meaning : The postmaster shed his sorrow and anxiety. In that moment he saw the real human heart (when he put himself in Ali’s place, through for a moment).
- Answer the following questions briefly :
(1) Who was Ali ? Where did he go daily ?
Ans. Ali was an old coachman. He went to the post office daily.
(2) “Ali displays qualities of love and patience. ” Give evidence from the story to support the statement. (V. Imp.)
Ans- His love for his only daughter Miriam in his loneliness is clear when he hopes for a touch of love through it.
His going regularly to the post office for over five years to get a letter and waiting patiently for it shows his infinite patience.
(3) How do you know Ali was a familiar figure at the post office?
Ans. Ali was now a familiar figure at the post office since every one there knew him well. He had been coming to it regularly for over five years.
(4) Why did Ali give up hunting ?
Ans. Ali gave up hunting because now he was getting old and inching towards death.
(5) What impression do you form of the postmaster after reading the story, “The Letter’ ?
Ans. The postmaster in the beginning is ill-tempered, selfish and impatient. He is casual, indifferent, unfeeling and un-understanding also. But when he faces a situation similar to that of Ali, he changes. He becomes caring, worrying concerned, patient, helpful, sympathetic and selfless. He also develops the virtue of understanding.
(6) The postmaster says to Ali, “What a pest you are, brother!” Do you agree with the statement? Give reasons for your answer.
Ans. I do not agree with it. But given the temperament of the postmaster at this point of the story, he behaves as he should. This speaks of the irresponsible and indifferent attitude of those in power towards the common people. In fact, the postmaster must have shown sympathy to Coachman Ali. Ali had been coming steadily to the post office for some solace from his own daughter Miriam.
(7) Ali came out very slowly, turning after every few steps to gaze at the post office. His eyes were filed with tears of helplessness, for his patience was exhausted’ even though he still had faith. Why were Ali’s eyes filled with tears of helplessness ? What had exhausted his patience ? How I why was his faith still intact ?
Ans. Ali’s eyes were filled with tears of helplessness. It Was because he could do nothing to leave the postmaster in his rough and uncivilized behaviour. His not receiving any letter from Miriam for over a period of five years and the old age had exhausted his patience. But he had still faith that he would receive a letter from Miriam. And he did receive that, though even after his death.
(8) Tortured by doubt and remorse he sat down in the glow of the charcoal sigri to wait. Who is tortured by doubt and remorse? Why? What is he waiting for? (V. Imp.)
Ans- The postmaster is now tortured by doubt. It is due to what he had seen in Ali’s coming to the post-office. Ali had been dead for over three months. But the postmaster had seen him (in the form of a ghost) that early morning.
The postmaster is bitten by remorse also. It is because of his rash and casual attitude towards Ali. He now realises the real and genuine love which Ali had earlier for his daughter. The postmaster now is, obviously, waiting for news from his daughter.
6- The written carefully up an atmosphere of loneliness and fgrief in the story. Working in groups, pink up words/phrases from the story that build up the atmosphere -copy the following table notebook and complete it.
1-……..for whose sake alone he dragged along a cheerless existence.
2-But loneliness had come into his life since the day Miriam had gone away……..
3-There was no one with enough sympathy or understand to guess the reason ………
4-Ali was never seen again ……….
5-But when the evening of his life was drawing in ……….
6-……. the young partridges bereft of their parents
7-……..grief of separation is inescapable
9-……..went away empty-handed
10-But he doesn’t get many letters
11-when I am here
12-His eyes were filled with tears of helplessness
13-To the grave
14-Today is my las day ;my very last, alas !
15-There were tears in Ali’s eyes
7- Tortured by dought and remorse. the postmaster sits in the glow of a charcoal sigri that night, waiting for news of his daughter. As he sits, he writes his diary. As the postmaster, write a diary in about 150 words outling your feeling about the day’s events.
10 January, 2010
I am overburdened with the feeling of dought and remorse at what happened today. I saw Ali coming and knowing at the door in his same dress. I duly asked him to come in. He was leaning on his stick and had tears on his face. However, his features were unearthly. I tried to guess what that could be. But I could not. This made me shrink in fear. I talked about it with lakshmi Das, and asked more about more about him. He told that Ali had died three months ago. This left me in a trouble atate of mind. I searched my mind to knowwho was that who had come to me in the early morning. Then I understood everything. It was Ali’s ghost. I had insulted him while he was alive. I now started feeling guilty. I do not know how I can be free from the guikt abuot Ali. I went Ali. I went to his grave and offered this letter from Miriam. This was my repentance.
I an feeling a sence of remorse. In the begining, I insulted Ali. I laughed at his genune felling of love Miriam when he used to wait for a letter from her. I overlooked the human side of his emotions them. But very soon I found myself in the same predicament. I realised my foolishness towards Ali. This has cut me to piecess. How can I recompensate for my rough and dry behaviour towards Ali when he was alive ! I really regret that I should not have been harsh to Ali.