Monday, December 10, 2012

a gift exchange

When I last wrote about T.H. Lewin, it was by way of his copy of Alexander Mackenzie’s History of the Relations… . Epigraphs and highlights etched on the book's crumbling pages revealed a more than perfunctory acquaintance between the two. But there had to be more to their rapport. And then it made more sense.

Mackenzie’s second wife was Mabel Elliot. Mabel was the daughter of Margaret Elliot who, after being widowed, married Lewin. In other words, Lewin was Mackenzie’s step father-in-law. However, Mackenzie and Mabel married only in 1893, much after the publication of History of the Relations, a copy of which he gave to his future step father-in-law. So was presenting the book a strategic foothold for courtship or was it Lewin’s raw swag that inured an aspiring bureaucrat to a possible step-father-in-law?

Back to my Christmas theme! It was Christmas in 1915. Lewin was in a somber and reflective mood quite common for those in the twilight of their lives. The days of adventure and risk taking that had defined his illustrious career were now long gone. Slowed down by age and illness, Lewin labored to get to his desk. Given the rush of memories, he thought a photograph of himself would be appropriate enough. He even slipped in some money to go along with the photograph. Sealing the envelope, he turned it over to scribble the recipient’s address, “Herbert Lorrain, Lungleh, Lushai Hills, India.”

Lorrain had written to Lewin about Dari, the woman who had, according to hearsay, taken Lewin the furthest he could to go native. Dari had fallen on hard times. Abandoned, aged, and now widowed, she had tried, without expecting too much, to reach out to her one-time confidante. Lewin’s special gift that Christmas in 1915 was for Dari.

Back in the Lushai Hills Dari came to Lorrain with a special gift of her own for Lorrain to send to Lewin. It was a carefully woven cloth that would have made up for by significance what it lacked in finesse. From this side of the past, we could read her gift as a zawlpuan or pawndum with all its ominous significance. Whatever Dari’s intent, one can intuit the longing affection woven into each warp and weft of that simple cloth.

Away from Parkhurst, their family home, Lewin passed away two months later while being treated in London. He never got to see that packet that had arrived, meanwhile, in the Parkhurst mailbox. Dari, like most Other-s, might have received a photograph poignant enough to evoke a rush of memories. But like most Other-s, her end of the story is missing and we might never know. 

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