It was circa 1995.
I was a happy 10 year old girl in grade 5. But it was not one of the happiest years of my academic life as my favorite teacher Miss.Teena was the class teacher of 5b where as my all time nightmare maths teacher Miss.Liji was the class teacher of my 5a division!
I was an usual show off kid of an extravagant NRI parent. My father was in merchant navy and he was traveling around the globe. And every few months we got parcels of souvenirs and gifts that smelled of foreign lands. I remember even my house smelled a pleasant foreign smell those days.
One day when I got back home from school hungry for my tea and snacks, there was a letter on my table in a different hand. I had a few friends writing me letters even then – some who had moved away from island, classmates who had shifted schools and my father who wrote long boring letters in a handwriting which I couldn’t even read!But this was a foreign cover but not in his handwriting.
The postage stamp showed 500 rls and it was from the Islamic republic of Iran. I tore opened the cover and there was a card in thick orange colored paper which had the hand painted picture of a girl holding a cup in one hand and an open jar in another and there was an open book lying by her feet.
Inside was a letter from a Mahvash-Kamo dated 30th Oct 1995. It said
Dear Jaya Surya,
We (me and my husband) met your father in front of our workshop, residence place 3 days ago and found him a very interesting person. After that we had more visits from him now and again.
He doesn’t have a visa to go to the city. Actually the only thing he wanted were buying “souvenirs” for you and wedding day card for your mother. So he seems to be very much thinking about you two.
I love your country, though I only know it through some books, movies and shows.
The picture in this card is some popular traditional style painting in Iran which I think has origins from China. It is called miniature painting. Almost all of the old Iranian poetry books you find this type of drawing around of between the writings in nice colors.
I finish this long letter now. I wish you success and happiness. Give my regards to your mother.
Your Iranian friend,
Mahvash – Kamounch
30th oct 1995
No.17, lida alley, appt.45, vali-agre ave, 19697, Tehran- Iran
I was amused and excited to have an Iranian lady writing me a letter and showed it off to my mother and my friends near my house and even took it to school the next day. It smelled of faint sandalwood and we were all sniffing the first fragrant paper we saw in our lives. Soon it was viral in school that I got a foreign letter. I felt rather important when other children from B division came to see my card!
That evening, I sat down to write a reply to her. I tried to imagine how she would look like, and wrote her a rather long letter about myself, my school. The patriot in me even got a few local post cards of kadhakali and mohiniyattam and the fort kochi Chinese fishing nets and send it to her address. I deliberately sprayed some of my mothers yardley lilly of the valley perfume in the letter so that it smelled nice when she opened it and successfully managed to smudge the ink in the area.;)
A few days later I got a parcel from her. It contained a few kitkat chocolates, some golden and silver foiled toffees, a princess barbie doll and a thicker letter. The letter had more inputs about her. About her life and her husband and their workshop in Tehran. They had no children so she was pleased to add me as her pen friend. I was in 7th heaven on delight and pleased as punch. I immediately got down to writing her a letter thanking her for her gifts.
We had a few correspondences after that. 4 more letters to be precise. But slowly there was nothing more to write for me. I dint reply to her last letter and there the friendship ended. Life went on and I completely forgot about it.
Today while cleaning an old bookshelf, I came across the first letter with the inked picture of the girl she had sent me. Almost 20 years have passed since the date on the letter. I wondered what would happened to the Iranian pen friend of mine. Was she somewhere happy with her husband or was she an old lady sitting alone in a wheel chair in a far away land with golden memories!
I closed the card and returned it into the box where all the old letters and cards rested. I knew in my memory she would be the only foreign pen friend who send me letters from a far away mystical land, introducing me to the world of poetry, fascinating my imagination about a far away land called Iran through her words. She was still a faceless figure to me as my father also dint have any pictures of her. I know I will never get to know her more or how she even looked like and I may never visit Iran in my life but I have a small connection from Iran. For once, I had a pen friend there!
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