The old man sat at his desk. He sipped his ginger tea and stared out of the window. It was a bright and sunny afternoon but he seemed to be weighed down by an invisible burden. He put down his half drunk cup of tea and put on his old spectacles. He rubbed his palms together. He did not want to waste any more time.
The old man got down to business. He reached out to the far left corner of the table. There was a neatly stacked pile of newspapers. He had pending work since he fell ill last week, otherwise he was always prompt. He picked the first newspaper from the top of the stack and opened to the sixth page. ‘Four on Tuesday, the 16th of August’, he made a mental note. He pulled out the drawer from under the table, where he kept his only stationery he ever possessed in the last few years: an ink bottle, an ink pen, postcards and postal stamps.
He took out four postcards and the required stamps and put them on the table in front of him. He proceeded to write the first of the four letters. “Dear Mr. Susheel Gupta’s family, I know what you must be feeling now. I am very sorry for your loss. I will keep you in my prayers. Stay strong.” The next three letters bore the same content, except they were addressed to the families of one Mr. Hussain Jinan, one Mrs. Prakriti Sagar and one Mr. Gopal Iyengar. The old man signed them all, ‘From one grieving man to another’. He stuck the postal stamps on the cards and placed them in a neat stack on his side.
He remembered the time when his wife died many years ago and he had to perform her last rites alone, without a known face standing by him. No family or friends had turned up at the funeral. Later, they called him on the pretext of passing on their condolences and explained their inability to attend the funeral. Some said they were caught up with life, some others said his town was not ‘very conveniently accessible’ and yet others had previous commitments. When he chanced upon obituaries in the newspaper the next day, he just wanted to let the families know they were not alone. He was sorry too. That is how his journey began. Every grieving family he found in the papers received his postcard.
As he took another sip of his now cold ginger tea, he reached out for the newspaper on the top of the pile and opened it to read the sixth page. He muttered to himself, “Five on Wednesday, the 17th of August.”