Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The mysterious box

I was a young boy then studying in school. I came home daily for my lunch as the school was very close by. One afternoon when I came home, I saw my mother in tears. She asked me to accompany her to my grandfather’s house a few miles away. When I asked her why she was crying, she said “Do you remember ammanji (cousin).He died last night and the cremation will take place in a few hours. You must accompany me” I said “Yes mom, I don’t know much of him except that he used snuff often. I shall come”

I have seen him many times whenever I visited my grandpa’s place. He was no real cousin of his and only a distant relative. He had lost his wife several years ago and had no children. He had none to look after him in his old days. My grandpa who was well off with a sprawling big house with many servants persuaded his relative to stay with him. He was treated like any other family member with dignity and lot of respect. None knew how he was related to grandpa and yet everyone called him ammanji.He had worked as a teacher and was very proficient in English language. A voracious reader of fiction usually taken from a local library, he was generally very reticent and yet when he spoke he made everyone laugh with his witticisms. An addict to snuff, he possibly had not much income, except for buying the snuff and a few daily needs of his.

I remembered very well that he had a small almirah on the wall for his use. He used to give me round mint peppermints in white colour that tasted sweeter if you drank water after you had consumed them. There was an old small wooden box in his almirah that he rarely took out in the presence of others. But we knew he opened it daily twice in the morning and evening peering inside it for a few minutes. Whenever I was in that house, it used to be a pastime for me along with a few cousins who were living there somehow to discover what he was shielding from the prying eyes of others. Try as we did, we never succeeded. It was always kept locked with the key tied to his sacred thread (poonal as it is called in Tamil.)We boys used to surmise that it must contain some valuable stuff like gold jewellery of his wife or currency. One roguish cousin in his adolescence felt it could contain love letters. I mentioned about this strange habit of this old man to my grandpa hoping that he would help us resolve the mystery. Instead he upbraided me for my inquisitiveness in other’s personal matters and sternly asked me to cultivate good behaviour.

Memories flashed through my mind of the snuff, the mint peppermints and the wooden box as I went along with my mother. Everyone at grandpa’s house was sad as if their next kith or kin had passed away. My grandpa, whom I have always seen as a strong personality, was in uncontrollable tears. Many elders who called themselves his students had assembled and were seen praising him for his various virtuous qualities.

It was after ten days when I had accompanied my mom for some concluding day function, the topic of his mysterious box came up for discussion. My grandpa had the box brought by one of my uncles and he opened it with the key he had retrieved from his relative’s body. Everyone including uncles, aunts, my mom, cousins rushed to grand pa’s side to have a look at the contents. To great disappointment, it was almost empty except for a few coins, a book of Bhagawad Gita and an old post card size black and white photo that had gone pale and brown by efflux of time. My grandpa rubbed his eyes that had gone misty when he saw it and uttered”Ammanji and his wife”


  1. Hi K.P,

    Lovely story I too was one of those peering to see what was in the box.


  2. Very touching story sir.
    Loved the mystery that unfolded with the box.

  3. Nice story sir. In the end it flattered to deceive. Too many's surprise it turn out to be a possession of his memories rather than valuables

  4. Nice write up ...Memories are invaluable gift of time..!

    Even i was curious to peep into the wooden box..was amazed to see his valuable memory ..!

  5. A box full of memories:) Nice idea, and the fact that he treasured them , made it even more special :)
    We all have a treasure box of memories, its our minds eye, we open it when we want to get a dip into the bygone days, only to be refreshed again and face the real word:) Certain tresures cannot be measures with a price tag, coz they are priceless :)

  6. was really inquisitive in looking into the mystery box...and thats so sweet, ammanji started his day with her fondest memories and ended it that way...lovely story partha.

  7. dear partha,
    the caption n the image caught my's natural
    to be inquisitive.i loved Ammanji.i know,in many ancestoral houses we have people like Ammanji.
    you know,partha,i had a small ornament box like this was a gift from my friends.
    by the last sentence my eyes were moist.many keep the memories to themselves!we gain energy n cheer from our precious memories..............
    lovely story..............
    keep writing.........

  8. Peering eyes in the story and peering heart with the readers.You held my attention through the narration. Poignant post :)

  9. the box :) it made me read :) good story sir :D

  10. Parthasarathi, this story is beautiful. The photo and the Bhagwad Geeta together speak of divine and human levels.

  11. A story(box) to treasure :-) Wonderful sir! The comments you received says them all.
    Too good one.

    Have a great day!