the good book corner

Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews

Grandfather’s Letters by C. Anjalendran

grandfather's--letters

Since the past few months, I have been yearning for the lost art of letter writing. There is a bunch of beautiful postcards in my drawer and I am saving them for when my older son leaves for college next year. Gone are the days when we wrote letters and waited eagerly for the replies. And this makes me nostalgic for the good old times, when letters spoke volumes.

The habit of letter writing was instilled in me by the nuns in Dalhousie. In those letters from boarding school, I poured my heart out to my parents, shared my joys and achievements ,and most importantly, listed my tuck demands for their visits. My mother’s replies, full of advice and assurances of love, made me feel connected.

One of my favourite books growing up, has been Jawaharlal Nehru’s, Letters from a Father to his Daughter. The letters written contained a plethora of information, yet managed to showcase a father’s affection for his daughter.

The Good Book Corner has also reviewed Shail Mataram’s, Israel as a Gift of the Arabs, a beautiful book, containing letters that documented her experiences and reflections, while she was in Israel and Palestine. These letters were written to her friends and family. (https://thegoodbookcorner.com/2015/06/07/israel-as-a-gift-of-the-arabs-by-shail-mayaram/)

So when I received the invitation to the book launch of Grandfather’s Letters by C. Anjalendran, there was no way I was going to miss it. I have always felt that with a letter, the writer sends a piece of their heart. I was intrigued by what these letters narrated. Hints of them being politically inclined, piqued my interest further.

The event was supposed to start at 7:00pm, but I reached Barefoot an hour earlier, hoping to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, and continue reading the review copy that had been giving me sleepless nights the past week.

My exalted plans however, went down the drain as the cafe was being prepared for the Prime Minister’s arrival. When I finally made it in after the delayed security checks, I got the opportunity to sit with Mr. Sunitharalingam’s family. Cricket, marriage and politics dominated the conversation. How lovely it was to realise, that even though an ocean separates India and Sri Lanka, the culture is quite similar.

While waiting for the event to start, I picked up a copy of Grandfather’s Letters and in the light of my cellphone, started reading. The book starts with a translation of a poem from the Natarajapathu, by Chirumanavoor Muniswamy Mudaliar.

The event started and though I was a bit irritated at having to stop reading, the two absolutely brilliant keynote addresses by Radhika Coomaraswamy and Jayadeva Uyangoda, more than made up for it.  While Radhika’s address gave an insight into what Suntharalingam was as an individual, Jayadeva went on to described the political scenario and the circumstances, which lead to Sunitharalingam turning maverick. The commonality between both the addresses was the high regard C. Sunitharalingam had for principles, morals and culture. The event was a straight and simple celebration of the book.

Getting back to the book, it is a series of thoughtfully written letters by C. Suntharalingam to some of his grandchildren. In every letter, he wrote about his childhood and how his determination and steadfastness helped him achieve the highest accolades and recognition. He also described the hardship he had faced and emphasised on the importance of family values, religion and education. With the passage of time and as the grandchildren became old enough to understand the political scenario of their country, he shared his disappointments about the system, policies and political choices made by the ruling elite, most of them his childhood friends. His letters paint a vivid picture of the trials and tribulations of the newly formed Ceylon and how decisions taken in the 1940s and 1950s marred the future of Sri Lanka. His advice holds true even today. Well evaluated choices, made individually and collectively, can steer a person, family, community and nation in the right direction.

Certain quotes stand out:

“If you in your day remain true to the Thamil traditions, the Thamil culture, the Thamil civilisation and the religions of the Thamils, you will, I trust, be as great a mother as was your Appah’s Mother.”

“But I trust you will learn to value men more by their intrinsic worth rather than by their parentage or birth.”

“…cracking of heads to assert to retain rights….”

A family tree would have helped, as I did keep going back and forth with who the letters were addressed to, in order to understand the dynamics better. Nonetheless, a very interesting and introspective book. Not only does it give a peek into the political history of Colonial and Post-Independence Ceylon, it also enunciates the importance of family history and family values; how it’s not just the men who uphold heredity, but also how important the women are, in raising the next generation.

 

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