The Letter Summary
"The Letter" is a touching story of an old man who is all alone and waits for his only daughter's letter for five long years. He receives that letter only at his grave but for that he pays a price. While living a lonely, morbid life, he undergoes some strange experiences of life in his interaction with unsympathetic, callous and inhuman human species. The old man's controlled demeanour and silent sufferings are a bitter commentary on human existence.
Coachman Ali used to go every single day to the post-office, early morning, even in the bitter cold, plodding on, pulling his tattered clothes tighter to shield his body from the cold. The rest of the world would be fast asleep except the twittering of birds or barking of dogs, there would be a cold silence all along the way to the post-office.
Ali would sit on the wooden bench in the verandah of the post-office, his usual place, watching the post office officials and clerks going about their normal work. While sorting out letters a voice would suddenly call out his name "Coachman Ali", but it was only in jest, since they all knew that he was waiting for the past five years for one single letter from his only daughter Miriam. His only child Miriam had married and left him with her soldier husband to his regiment in the Punjab. Since she left five years ago, there was no news from or of her. He lived a lonely cheerless existence.
Ali now understood the true meaning of love and separation.
In his youth, Ali had been a clever Shikari. He loved hunting and was a very skilful one. He could catch the earth-brown partridge from the bushes, which even the dogs failed to see. His sharp eyes could see the hare crouching. He was also an adept fisherman.
But now as he was growing in age and also loneliness was eating into him, he could no longer enjoy the earlier pleasures and he understood the pain of the animals and birds he hunted as they were separated from their parents or loved ones. He gave up his old ways and instead made daily trips to the post-office, waiting eagerly for a letter from Miriam.
He would be lost in the admiration of the green fields and would reflect deeply about life. He then came to the conclusion that the whole universe is built up through love and that grief and separation are inescapable. Thinking thus about life, he would weep bitterly, missing his daughter deeply.
The post office therefore became a place of pilgrimage for Ali. He would come promptly at 5 am every moving. While Ali waited, he would overhear the conversation and scandals. He would also see the wooden face of the postmaster who had no "glimmer of animation in his features".
One day after the peons had all gone away with their mail, Ali also rose to go, saluting the post-office as though it held some previous relic in it. Seeing him, the postmaster asked the clerk if he was a madman. They all sat around and ridiculed Ali, saying that he had probably committed many sins and was paying for them by coming over there everyday. They all sat and related incidents of other mad men who had stranger habits and laughed at their own experiences with mad men.
For several days after that, Ali did not go to the post-office. No one had sympathy or understanding to guess what the reason could be, but they were all curious to know what could have stopped him from coming.At last, one day he came again and he had to struggle to breathe, and it was clear that his end was fast approaching. He was also rather impatient and begged the post master if a letter had been received from his daughter Miriam. The postmaster was in a hurry and losing his temper at Ali, remarked that Ali was a pest and asked him to go away; saying that no one was going to eat his letter if it did come, and walked away in a huff.At that, Ali came away slowly and helplessly with tears in his eyes; for his patience was now exhausted, even though he still had faith and knew that Miriam would one day write to him.Ali went to a clerk and offered him five gold guineas for doing him a favour. In Allah's name, he told him to deliver Miriam's letter when and if he received it. When the clerk asked him where he had to deliver it, Ali told him that it should be delivered to his grave. So saying, he told the clerk tearfully that it was his last day and was sad not to have heard from Miriam.
Ali was never seen again and no one troubled to inquire after him.
One day, the post-master had a problem. His own daughter lay ill in another town and he was anxiously awaiting news of her. Seeing an envelope of the shape and colour, he was expecting, the postmaster snatched it; but dropped it as though it had given him an electric shock because it was addressed to Ali. The haughty temper of the postmaster had left him in his sorrow and anxiety and had laid bare his human heart. He asked Lakshmi Das the clerk to give the letter to Ali.The Postmaster did not receive his own letter all day. He worried all night and getting up at 3 am went to the post office in anxiety. Now the Postmaster was brimming with sympathy for the old man who had spent nights in the same suspense for the last five years. At the stroke of five in the morning, he heard a soft knock on the door and saw Ali, leaning on a stick, the tears wet on his face. He had an unearthly look in his eyes and the postmaster shrank back in fear and astonishment.
Lakshmi Das, on hearing the Post master's voice/words came towards his office, enquiring whom he was talking to. The postmaster was still staring at the doorway through which Ali had come in and disappeared. When he finally admitted to Lakshmi Das that he had been speaking to Ali, Lakshmi Das informed him that old Ali had died three months ago. The postmaster was perplexed and wondered if he had really seen Ali or if his imagination had deceived him. That evening he and Lakshmi Das went to Ali's grave and laid the letter on it.
The postmaster was still in a state of daze and confusion. He had, however, undergone a change of heart. The newly awakened father in him was reproaching him for not understanding Ali's anxiety. He sat down, introspecting, in the glow of the charcoal sigri, tortured by both doubt and remorse.