The letter inside a time-worn book

The best thing I have read this week wasn’t a book, article or the weekly op-ed.

It was an old tattered letter; dated 1986, handwritten in an inland letter card, and tucked into the pages of my grandfather’s time-worn copy of the ‘Glimpses of World History’.

I stumbled upon it while indulging in the cathartic process of rearranging the bookshelf at home. Alphabetically, generically or geographically?-  what should my bookshelf etiquette be, I pondered. As I scanned the books for inspiration, my eyes fell on few books wrapped in faded brown paper. The corners of the books adorned unique numbers written in black ink. ‘No. 7’, ‘No. 31’, and so they went. I recognised the unmistakable style of his writing.


After my grandfather’s demise, the books from his home library were distributed among the many children and grandchildren. Some of it found their way to our bookshelf. Vintage classics with dented edges, tanned pages soft from wear, and the distinct musty scent that arose from it is what is left of my grandfather today.

I picked the thickest book of them all; nine hundred and ninety-three pages of the ‘Glimpses of World History’ written by Jawaharlal Nehru. As I flipped through the book, a frayed piece of blue paper wedged in between the pages caught my eye. It was a letter addressed to my father.

The sender’s name struck a chord. A name that has featured in many of my father’s stories from his university days. I opened the carefully folded letter. 16th October 1986 – were the words that headlined the letter. My father and his mate must have been in their early 20’s. Certainly shouldn’t read an exchange between two friends, I told myself.

But in an act of absolute invasion of privacy, and in the pretext of curiosity, I read it.

Finding the words of that 22-year-old was like a stroke of serendipity for me. Ironically blanketed by a chapter in which Nehru elaborated on Mussolini and Fascism, was a letter that brought me warmth and comfort.

His struggle in a new city, the disappointment at the realities of his job, the yearning to return home and the scepticism of what future might hold for him, were the expressions embedded in the words to his best friend. As a 24-year-old graduate lost in a new city, his words resonated with me. In spite of being three decades apart, life threw us similar challenges.

My father and his friend have come a long way in life since that correspondence. The worries of their youth are now amusing tales at parties.

Dipped in nostalgia and love, the letter inside grandfather’s book felt like a treasure to be discovered at the right time. A treasure in the manner of an advice he would have probably given me, had he been alive.

“Stay strong, love. There is so much more to life!”  

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