Letters from India

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The following is a letter sent from India to England in 1963. It was written by Helen, a 14 year old niece of Leonard Havelock Hassett and Gemrose Hassett, to her Aunty Elaine Cynthia Wheeler. The letter also makes reference to ‘nana’, Edith Aileen Hassett and her second husband, Clifford Melville Carr Smith.

At its core, the letter is a reflection on the recent loss of Gemrose Hassett.

Some of the spelling and punctuation has been amended, but no content changed.

“My Dear Aunty Elaine,

Uncle Lennie received your letter of the 20th instant and told me that you wanted to get me a dress or send me some of Cynthia’s clothes that she had outgrown. Aunty Gem always cut and stitched my dresses for me. She always bought the cloth and did everything by herself. Since she died I have made only one new dress. The cloth was given to Aunty for her birthday on the 31st Dec 1962. She had not been keeping very well and so the cloth remained unstitched. Uncle gave me the cloth and I gave it to a friend to stitch – she charged for the stitching. If you are sending any clothes to me these are my measurements: waist 24, chest 28, length 32. My favourite colour is yellow. Uncle says that it is not worth sending clothes – especially old clothes as we will have to pay customs duty at 110% which is not worthwhile. If you do intend sending me anything, then please don’t send anything old as it won’t be worthwhile. In case you send anything new, Uncle says, please declare the value to the post office at the lowest cost.

I am 14 years old and I am in the VI Std [6th grade], at Mt. Mary’s Convent, where Aunty and Uncle were married. In my last exam I came out 8th – that was because I missed school for nearly one month, because Aunty was sick and Uncle made me stay at home to look after her. Otherwise I generally come out in the first three, and uncle is always happy to sign my report. My birthday is on the 30th of August “Sad but true” – your Daddys death anniversary and 420’s birthday as uncle calls him, that is Nana’s second husband Clifford Smith (shit as Uncle says).

Remembering about Aunty! – there’s too much to remember – the five pennies don’t apply. The pickles, chutney’s and cooking which we used to relish are all gone. The clothes she used to stitch for us will not be stitched again; the food she used to cook for us, will not be cooked again. The fun we used to have together will never be there again. Uncle tells me to tell you that he has very little time, and the little time that he has goes in drinking; so he finds it a little hard to reply to letters received from you and mother. Please don’t wait for replies as Uncle needs your letters to help him at this time – write as often as you can, as, letter’s from you and Nana are always welcomed by Uncle and they always cheer him up. How are you and Uncle Stanley keeping? and how are all the children?

I must close now as Uncle is drunk, and I must look after him. Till I get the chance to write to you again, this is Helen, once again wishing you and your family all good luck and God’s blessing’s.

Yours truly Helen.

P.S please write soon, as we love to get letters from you and Nana.

Love Helen.”

The letter refers to customs duty of 110% payable on imported goods to India. This is set out in the provisions of the Customs Act, 1962.

In addition, the letter refers to the term “420” in relation to Clifford Smith. This is used in India to refer to a confidence trickster. Set out in section 420 of the Indian Penal Code:

Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code covers offences relating to cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, and leads to punishments of fines and/or jail terms of up to 7 years.


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