The Letter
by Jamuna Devi Advani

Partridge Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-1-482-82230-4.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 11/04/2014

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

"I will be different," Jamuna Devi pledged—and when I finished her memoir, I understood why.

Jamuna Devi was born in March, 1935 in Manipur, India, her parents' first child. Her maternal grandmother, to whom she dedicated her memoir, also lived with the family and deeply nurtured her grandchild. Still an only child by the age of nine, Jamuna's father sought other women with whom to father the prize all Indian fathers desired: a son. He fell in love with the beautiful, Kunjo, eloped with her, and built a small home for her next to the family home. Jamuna's mother was sad, silent, yet resigned to the situation, accepting the necessity for a son.

Four months later Grandmother reported that Kunjo was very unhappy. Grandmother purchased a copy of an ancient ritual and engaged Jamuna to sneak into Kunjo's home when she was away, and perform the rituals. Following several days of ritual, the outcome arrived that Grandmother had hoped for. I'll leave the remaining details of this charming story for the reader to enjoy, hopefully as much as I did.

Years later, with yet another wife, Jamuna's father conceived his beloved son. Jamuna wondered why a girl child wasn't enough. Why did her father also need a son?

"I will be different," she silently pledged to herself. "Why can't a girl be an asset to the family?" Yet when her brother, Irbanta, was born she came to love him dearly. A few years later a second son was born and the family was complete.

Jamuna Advani grew to be a gracious, intelligent woman, open to growing and learning.This tender memoir, so rich in the Indian culture and traditions that embraced and shaped her life, was written in letter format to Jamuna's nephew, Gojen, who lives in India. Interspersed with the letters are journal notes of her recent life. The letter series describe the author's years of growing up , often swinging beneath the beloved grapefruit tree in her yar;, about her experiences in India: as a child during Hitler's war; her pursuit of higher education at a time when women were not encouraged to do so; her eventual marriage to Rup Advani; the births of their four children; and their eventual move to Canada, then the US.

Her memoir was to gift to her family, as she explains here:

Gojen, whatever I have written... is a record of our ancestors... customs and traditions prevalent during the days when I grew up. It is a record for future generations of our family so that they will have knowledge about their ancestors, and it is also a record of the times in our part of India during the 1940s and 50s. Though some of the customs in the rest of India may be similar, I refer only to those of our community... as I experienced them. I see the changes taking place in this part of India at such a profound speed now and want to be sure you know how things were before your generation...

I remind myself every day that when you grow old, it is not merely a loss of youth. Aging is a completion of life's journey... Writing to you, my dear nephew, is a big part of completing my journey. Yours lovingly, Ine.

When I'd concluded The Letter, I reflected about long ago, when the little girl, Jamuna Devi, wondered why a girl child wasn't enough, and smiled to know that she grew to became much more than enough. Her childhood pledge, "I will be different," is a clear, strong thread throughout this touching memoir.

Jamuna Devi Advani is a graduate of Rajkumari Amritkaur College of Nursing, University of Delhi, India. She is a voracious reader and is always ready to learn something new in life. She contributes her poems and short memoirs to the Story Circle Network Journal, California Writers Club Journal and Tri-Valley Writers Club anthologies. She is the author of the poetry books Land of the Dancing Deer and Symphony of Heart Songs. She is an active member of the Danville Poets' Society and the Creative Writers Group of the Alcosta Senior and Community Center, San Ramon CA. Visit her website.

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