To mourn the unbearable loss of her only daughter, Indu Mallah creates a “monument of words”—to keep alive her memories, and the spirit of her brilliant young daughter, Roshi, a superb linguist who had mastered French and Italian, and got herself a coveted job in Perugia, Italy.
Joan Didion, The New York Times journalist and novelist who lost her beloved husband, and her only daughter, one after another, wrote a legendary memoir which has moved and brought solace to many. The Year of Magical Thinking, "a classic of mourning", sought to purge grief and brought solace to the many who mourn unbearable losses in their lives.
Indu Mallah weaves a lovely picture of a happy, beautiful family, blessed with all that the heart could desire. With her husband taking on the responsibilities of coffee and tea plantations he inherited, they live in Ootacamund, in a large house, surrounded by gardens and the beauty of mountains. The children seem to have a perfect life—good schools, wonderful food, happy, good-looking parents who live for them. Descriptions of their classic ‘high teas’, their cook’s culinary triumphs, the picnics, outings, birthday celebrations make one realise how blessed this family is. Is there always something that blights
Robert Frost once wrote:
“There’s something cruel in Nature/ that hates our fair beginnings.”
Using letters as a way of telling what must have been a difficult memory for her to live through again, Indu Mallah chooses the epistolary form. In a way, it avoids direct confrontations, or reliving of most painful situations. Letters, especially imagined ones, are usually “emotions recollected in tranquillity”. I don’t think these were actual letters shot off in the heat or sorrow of the moment.
Turning to poetry, and many of the wise and beautiful sayings and writings by which human beings have sought to understand and accept the enigma of life and death, Indu Mallah has made this reliving of a tragic story more bearable. She turns not only to poetry, but also to the Bhagawad Gita, the Saraswathi Sthothram; the Taittiriya Aranyaka; to Teilhard de Chardin; to the Tao te Ching; Isaac of Syria, the Desert Fathers, to Tagore and others. Roshi has a job in Italy, and the mother goes and spends one memorable holiday with her, after the news of her illness has already reached the family. The next time she goes, it is too late. Her young daughter has passed away. In her younger days, she had lost her husband, now her daughter. Fate has burdened her, as it burdened Joan Didion, with huge affliction. She quotes from J.M.Coetzee’s The Age of Iron: “Life is dust between the toes. Life is dust between the teeth. Life is biting the dust.”
Symbolically, the kurinji blossoms again in the garden, and Indu turns, not only to the consolations of nature, but also the voices that speak to us, over the years, in poetry, and in all literature, art and religion, comforting and helping us to endure the eternal mystery of death.