I Got Mail – Jacqueline Kennedy Replies

During my big moves from one country to another, thrice, I gave away, sold quite a lot of my personal belongings, and also lost quite a bit. No, not because of lost baggage, that’s not happened yet, thankfully. It was through leaving behind, in safekeeping, some of the stuff that I cherished and valued. All that just disappeared. When I asked for it, they said they didn’t know where it was! Without going into too many details, let’s just say I resigned myself to the loss, and after a few more queries off and on, I accepted the fact that I had lost my precious things. The most precious among those were all my photographs! Heaps of loose ones and many in the albums. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not a pity party, I just wanted to show how thrilled I was to discover two very old envelops among some of my original documents. They happened to be two replies from Jacqueline Kennedy (on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy!) to two of my letters sent to her. Why did I write to her?

Honestly, it was only because I was moved by the assassination of JFK and the pictures I saw of a bereaved Jackie and the two little children. I couldn’t care less that he was the President or what the implication and situation of this unforeseen incident would be. I was just 8 years old when I wrote that first letter of condolence!

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This was the first reply that arrived almost 4 months later. 

The memory of that morning, when the news flashed across the world, is tinged with humor because of my reaction. I can clearly recall how Daddy read the headlines and exclaimed, “Oh no! They shot him!”

I dashed to the room in consternation and dread not knowing who had been shot. The memory of my uncle getting shot in a hunting accident popped into my mind.

“Who? Who Daddy? Who got shot?” 

“Kennedy. John Kennedy. They assassinated him,” he said crestfallen and obviously emotional. That was something we never saw. He wasn’t a man who showed his softer emotions. 

I thought John Kennedy was a fellow officer in the Navy, or then one of our neighbors in the Defence Officers residences.

“How do you know? Did you see it?”

“Everyone’s shocked,” said Mummy, “you can see people outside talking about it.”

“Did you see him, Mummy?”

“Yes,” she said and went off to see to whatever it was she was doing. 

I dashed to the balcony behind and leaned over to see… but I saw nothing that I thought I would see. I had expected to see a body and… well, you see, I was an over-imaginative little girl, all excited about a shooting, and I had these pictures in my mind of one of those cowboy movie scenes. I guess I expected to see Kennedy sprawled on the street with a bullet hole in his head, dead center!

“Where’s Kennedy? There’s no one outside except Major K and Squadron Leader G and some others I don’t know,” I was disappointed. “You said you saw Kennedy, Mummy, you said you did.”

She burst out laughing. “I was talking about the pictures in the newspaper. Kennedy is the president of America.”

“I want to see them too.”

I walked away and saw the newspaper photos. I was disappointed! Nothing as dramatic to see as I had imagined.

Later, Daddy called me and sat me down. I heard how he was shot and that his wife was sitting beside him when it happened. He explained who a President of a country is; and how important the President of America is, and he showed me the pics of the children and spoke about how small they were and how sad it was that they should lose their Daddy so early. Then he showed me Jacqueline’s photograph. JFK’s pics. I fell in love with both of them.

“She’s so pretty. And he’s so handsome.”

And automatically, the drama was created. From cowboys to fairy tales my mind conjured up a tragedy… I felt really sad. I was heartbroken for her and her lovely kids.

I opened my heart and spoke about my feelings and Daddy listened quietly. I have no recollection of what my 8-year-old mind was thinking and expressing, but I do still recall how my heart was aching for them.

Finally, when I was spent, it took a day or two, Daddy asked me if I would like to write Mrs. Kennedy a letter, “Let her know how sorry you are for her and her children’s loss,” he said.

And that’s how I wrote a two-page (notebook pages) letter to her. I introduced myself first and then went on to say how sorry I was to hear about her loss. I showed it to my father, who read it, said it was very nicely written and then, without any editing or corrections, he sent it off. The letter had a long way to travel and in those days, it took anything between 3-4 months to reach an overseas destination.

Expressing my grief in writing was cathartic. I guess that is why my father had suggested I do it. I soon forgot about the letter until one day, they handed me an envelope with Mrs. Kennedy’s name on it. I was ecstatic. Not even in my wildest dreams did I expect anyone from there to respond to an 8-year-old’s scribbled condolences. But, they did. I held the black-rimmed card in my hand unbelieving that it was actually a letter addressed to me on her behalf.

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It didn’t matter to me that it was one of the hundreds that must have been sent out all over the world. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t written it or that she wouldn’t have even read my letter. Yes, Daddy explained that to me. I understood that she couldn’t have done it herself. Besides, “she must be so sad,” I thought.

That letter addressed to ME was satisfying. And that it came in response to mine, was even more gratifying. After all, I was just a little girl who didn’t even know what the president of a country meant. It was just the horror of the assassination and the genuine sadness that I felt and in some way understood. I felt a deep sympathy for them.

The incident was soon forgotten as many other things occupied and hogged the attention of this 8-year-old. We changed residence and I had to make new friends, get used to using the school bus, and also the new class in the new session. Time went by and soon it was nearing Christmas. As I made a list for Santa Claus, I thought about the Kennedy kids. Would they be making lists for Santa? Would they be celebrating Christmas?

In our society, usually, festivals aren’t celebrated if a death occurs in the family during that year. I was sad once again for the Kennedy family! So, I wrote another letter and handed it to Daddy. He read it and nodded his head in approval. “Is it ok to write a letter now? Will they read it?” I wasn’t sure if it was the thing to do. I just wanted to share their sorrow. Anyway, my father thought it was the right thing to do and sent this one too on its way.

I forgot about it. The months passed. And once again, I was surprised by a familiar envelope. This time around, I didn’t even harbor a sliver of hope for a response. My letter had been just a letter of love, hope, and caring. Something one would write to a friend or family. Who was I? Just a 9-yr-old girl from faraway India. But, they did reply on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy.

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This time receiving a reply taught me something. Courtesy, formal etiquette, and consideration. My letter could have been ignored or worse not considered worthy of a reply. Another thing I noticed was that each envelope was addressed by hand and the thought of the sheer numbers of envelopes that had to have addresses written on them zapped me. Some effort! This time around, it wasn’t a black-rimmed (mourning) letter paper.  

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I’ve carried these around with me for 55+ years! Every time I look at them, I wonder at the little girl who felt so deeply for the tragic loss of this family and expressed it of her own accord. It surprises me more because I was a shy girl. I wasn’t outgoing nor so open with my emotions with strangers or extended family. I could be open and free only with my immediate family. So, yes, it was a hidden part of me that released itself much, much later in life… some decades later! #oldletters #memorabilia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you For The Toilets, Mr. Sen

As a girl, I loved traveling in trains. Train journeys were very different those days. The trains ran at a slower speed than they do these days. So when we traveled from the southern tip of India to Punjab in the north, we spent two nights and three days traveling.

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Image by: Alistair on Unsplash

My mother made it feel more like home by hanging up our nightsuits in the bathroom. Oh, yes, we had our own ensuite bathroom with our 1st Class compartment coach. There would be a bucket and mug in the bathroom so one could bathe. The compartment would be entirely ours.

There were no passages running through (as they have these days) so there was no movement between compartments. Each coach was a separate one and so it was spacious accommodation and very comfortable for a long journey. Besides, we had all the privacy we needed as if we were at home. Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of food being served to us in our compartment en route nor tea/coffee for that matter! So apart from the packed eats mummy would carry, we’d buy things from vendors at stations we stopped at.

Tea and coffee vendors and some savory snack vendors would come right up to our door. Tea/coffee would be filled in our thermos flasks so they stayed hot and mum and dad could have their cuppas as we chugged along. Mum would make sure she bought boiling hot milk for us which would also go into a flask. You won’t believe this, but she would carry Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate or Ovaltine so we kids could have our hot drink!

However, not all train journeys were as comfortable as the ones we knew. There was a time when trains in India didn’t have toilets. The toilet facilities were available only at railway stations. I can only imagine how difficult it could be in a situation where someone needed to use one en route!

Here’s an account of how big a problem it was. It’s a letter complaining about the lack of facilities on the train and a detailed account of the embarrassment the gentleman endured because of it. It is an article that was published in the newspaper. I posted in my journal blog about eight years ago and was delighted to find it as I went through old entries.

 

A Traveller’s travails

Okhil Babu’s letter to the Railway Department (in the early 1900s)

Following is an actual complaint made by Okhil Chandra Sen in, shall we say, ‘Hinglish’. It is hilarious in expression and language employed, but that was no impediment to the consequent, productive result.

 

“I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘dhoti’ in the next when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station. This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report to papers.”

 

Okhil Chandra Sen wrote this letter to the Sahibganj Divisional Railway Office in 1909. It is on display at the Railway Museum in New Delhi. It was reproduced under the caption, Travellers’ Tales in the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Any guesses why this letter is of historic value?

It led to the introduction of toilets in Indian trains!!

Three cheers for Okhil Babu… hip…hip…hurray!

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Glossary:

Lota………. is a small (usually spherical) water vessel of brass, copper or plastic used in parts of South Asia for personal hygiene (Wikipedia)

Dhoti……… it is a traditional garment worn by men in certain regions in India. It is a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth wrapped around the waist and knotted. It covers the lower part of the body including the legs.

 

 

 

 

Dear Father Christmas

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A heartwarming letter to Santa written by Benedict Cumberbatch. I came across this on the internet. I hope I’m not infringing on any copy write. Here are excerpts from the letter that touched a chord in my heart.
(Benedict Cumberbatch, is a British actor best known for his role in the BBC television show Sherlock Holmes. He has also appeared in Hollywood films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, Star Trek: Into the darkness, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and The Imitation Game.) 
Dear Father Christmas,
So my friend has asked me to write to you…I must confess it’s been hard to know what to say. Mainly because like most adults I feel preposterous asking anything of you because our time with you is done.
 
Now, we get our presents, control our own fates, take responsibilities for our own actions, and live in the world we have created….so it’s not for us to turn around and plead for your help with the environment, the migrant crisis, the NHS, education food banks, human rights, fundamentalism and wars. Though God knows we need all the help we can get with all these man-made problems and more.
 
And it’s not that you aren’t compassionate and full of joy. You’re great. Inspite of you being changed into different colours for corporations and being bastardised to represent materialism gone mad – despite probably originating in some season based pagan druid ritual a million thought miles from requests for spontaneously combusting hoverboards…kidadults cynically pointing this out after having their moment of belief in you are wasting everyone’s precious time. Because you are not for them. You are for the children. Children who need some magic in a world where the borders between innocence and responsibility, playful imagination and cold adult obstacles are continually shrinking.
 
This is what I’d like to ask you to help with. A little more time for children to be children. Stretch the moment of magic and playfulness. Distract them from the realities of a world gone mad so that they can laugh with their breath rather than sob with their tears. Especially those caring for family members, or suffering illness, hunger or poverty. Especially those hiding in buildings as bombs rain down or be handed shaking with fear or cold into a boat to escape environmental disaster or war. Please help to light up their worlds with a moment of joy and hope
 
Spare a thought too for those millions who want to write to you but for illiteracy can’t. Hear their words and help to give them the time and chance to learn to read and write so they can better their lives and escape their impoverished beginnings…..
 
I feel a little sorry for you. And I guess I’ve done exactly what I said I wouldn’t….asked you to help with adult problems and solve some of the greatest worries we have for our children. I promise to leave some extra Port and mince pies for you.
 
Lots of love,
 
Benedict x

 

I think it’s a beautiful ‘prayer’ and one I would say to God. I feel this request for our children is so urgent and more than toys and eats if one were to ask for anything, it must be for a safer and better world for them. Compared to when we were kids, and then when my kids were young, it’s scarier, more unsafe, and an unhealthy place for our present generation – in terms of the environment, safety & security, and war.

 Wishing all of you Happy Holidays! To those who celebrate Christmas – have a Merry and Blessed Christmas.
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A Letter

My Dear Beta,

How are you? Thought I’d do the old fashioned thing and write a letter….oh! we call it mail these days…:) I think this quote says it better….“What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can’t reread a phone call.” But then I am a sentimental fool and being from a past generation only compounds it…LOL

I’ve had quite a restless night and am feeling a bit drowsy this morning. Even my cup of nice, strong ginger tea couldn’t raise me up. Guess a cold shower will fare better! I suppose too much of time on one’s hands is not good for the mind…….I thought about that too, about the connection, and figured it out…..the hands dig up old memories and skeletons long buried…idle hands..:) Whacky eh..??

Hopefully, things will settle down and I will finally be on even keel. Too much has transpired too soon…back-to-back, and it is telling on me…age, I suppose is finally overtaking my mental capacity and strength….the fight seems to be dying down. Still the morning brings hope, it’s the evenings and night that dash all hopes while I battle loneliness. It’s a sunny day today, clear sky so I guess we get some respite from the rain.

I enjoyed a rickshaw ride in a drizzle the other day. It was early morning and I had to withdraw cash for the maid’s pay. Threatened by heavier showers, I scurried to the ATM….but remembered too late that muddy puddles and speeding cars were also on the way !!!!!!! Pachaaak…pachaaak………:(

Oh that’s a rhyme….unintended poetry LOL

That’s it for now. I’ve had my tea and shall read the paper.

Love…Mama

Glossary

Beta……..son

rickshaw……..a three-wheeled cycle carrier. It has a cushioned seat behind the rickshaw driver which can comfortably seat two people. It is canopied and offers some protection from light showers.

pachaak…….a Hindi word to convey the sound of splashing water.