2 Dec 2011

Letters from Madras


“If Maniam sees us, how then?”

“We run,” Ramani answered nonchalantly.

I raised my head and looked towards Maniam’s house. It looked indistinct, surrounded by the dark night.

“I don’t dare.”

“Come on!”

Ramani grabbed my right hand and dragged me towards the house. I was not strong enough to stay behind the big barrels where we were hiding. Ramani pulled me towards the front door.

* * * * *

“Mister Postman, do you have a letter for me?”

Ramani lowered himself from the brick wall when Maniam turned in from the road junction. While riding a bicycle, Maniam raised his right hand and showed the ‘nothing’ signal.

“Why hadn’t Shahrul written a letter?” Ramani wondered. He was supposed to come on Tuesday evening. Back when Ramani met him in Kanchipuram, he promised to come. Syahrul had promised to write a letter before coming. Once Syahrul’s letter arrives, Ramani could ask Teacher Kalyani to read it for him.

“Is there a letter for me?” Teacher Kalyani asked when Maniam walked in front of her teaching space.

In the village, there were no classrooms. Classes were conducted in the open space. Students would sit under the tree shades to study.

“I think there is one for you, teacher.” Maniam looked inside his bag. “Now, if only I could find it …”

Ramani watched as Maniam took out all the letters and gave them to the teacher one after another. The young teacher read aload the names written on the envelopes.

“This one is for my landlord. I will give it to him. Is it allright if I take it?”

“Yes, teacher, sure. Thank you very much.” Maniam grinned.

“Useless fellow,” thought Ramani. “Just because Teacher Kalyani is still young and single, Maniam gives special attention to her!”

“And this … Hey! Ramani,” Teacher Kalyani called out. “This is a letter for your father.”

Ramani went and took the letter from Teacher Kalyani’s hand. But he still felt disappointed since there wasn’t a letter from Syahrul.

“Err, I think there is none for you, teacher,” Maniam said once all the letters had been checked. “Just now, I thought there was one addressed to you. Maybe there will be a letter for you tomorrow, teacher.”

Maniam left on his bicycle. Teacher Kalyani continued with her class.

(Translation © Emmy Hermina Nathasia 2011. The above extract is a translation of Uthaya Sankar SB’s “Surat Dari Madras” which first appeared in Tidak Selamanya Indah. The original story in Bahasa Malaysia was also published in Surat Dari Madras which won Hadiah Sastera Perdana Malaysia 1998/99. Please CLICK HERE for more articles in English.)