Coachman Ali is the central character of the story, The Letter. He is unable to bear the pain of separation when his daughter Miriam leaves him after her marriage. He feels lonely. He desperately waits for her letter, but in vain.
The story shows the need for love, sympathy, and fellow-feeling for those who are in pain. The grief and the long waiting lead to Ali’s death in the end.
Dhumaketu has portrayed the reality of life by his lively imagination, invested it with emotion, and touched it with a romantic idealism. His story casts an irresistible spell by the freshness of its theme, style and technique, a rich variety of incident, plot and situation, and its diverse world of distinctly individual characters, brilliant and idealistic.
Gist of the lesson
(Para 1-12) – Ali’s never ending wait for news from Miriam
The story begins with a description of the long and arduous journey that Ali makes every day to the post office in the hope of receiving a letter from his daughter Miriam who has not been in touch with him since her marriage 5 years ago. He starts early when the whole town is asleep. Though he is poor and old, his faith and love for his daughter makes him bear the bitter cold as he plods supporting himself on a staff.
The post office becomes his place of pilgrimage .He dedicatedly goes there for five long years, sits there through the day ,is mocked and jeered at by the post office employees as he sits at a specific place each day.
He is treated like a mad man by everyone and is the object of ridicule for one and all. They think that he comes in vain to receive a letter that would never come. They would call out his name falsely to indicate that he has received a letter and enjoy the disappointment on his face.
(Para 13-15)– Ali –a changed man
Ali was a skilled and clever hunter once .He was so addicted to hunting that he couldn’t spend a single day without hunting. –something he was very good at. As he grew older he began to change .His only daughter Miriam married and left him to stay with
her soldier husband from a regiment in Punjab .He transforms completely and feels lonely in her absence. Hunting no longer interests him. He understands the meaning
of love and separation when he misses his daughter and in the simple hope of receiving a letter from her someday he goes to the post office religiously.
Although he has never received a letter, he keeps at it.
(Para 16-30) –Misery at the post office
The post office becomes a place of pilgrimage for him because of the devotion and regularity with which he comes to visit it. Receiving a letter from his daughter becomes the sanctimonious purpose of his life.Nobody at the post office seems to understand Coachman Ali. They are indifferent and use him only as a subject of their ridicule and derision. They just want to enjoy the sight of him jumping to the sound of his name. They just have fun and laughter at his expense, never for once trying to understand his pain.But Ali, does not pay heed to the cruel treatment that he receives and with ceaseless faith and endurance he comes daily to the post office even if to go empty handed.The post office employees simply write him off as a mad man before the post master.
(Para 31-51) – Ali embraces death –remains hopeful.Towards the end of his life Ali suffers from ill health and stops coming for a while. People at the post office—have no sympathy, understanding or concern to try and guess the reason but are curious to know why he hasn’t come. At last he returns on recovering a little but signs of ill health, old age and approaching end can be seen on his face. He can no longer remain patient and pleads with the ill-tempered postmaster asking him if there was a letter for him The postmaster who is in a hurry gets irritated and calls him a pest. He is very rude to Ali and thoughtlessly and angrily scolds him. Ali is sad and helpless. His patience is exhausted but his faith remains intact. Before departing that day, Ali gives five gold guineas to Lakshmi Das –the office clerk and extracts a promise from him to deliver his daughter’s letter at his grave. Ali is never seen again as he dies before receiving any letter
(Para 52-72)—Poetic Justice (a literary device that shows an ironic twist of fate intimately related to a character’s own conduct. The postmaster who was rude to Ali suffers just like Ali did)Time takes a turn. The postmaster is restless and anxious because he has not received any news from his daughter who is in another town and is unwell. He anxiously looks through the mail only to find Miriam’s letter addressed to Ali. He immediately recalls the past and realizes the pain and anguish Ali must have gone through. A single night spent in anxiety makes him understand Ali’s heart and soul.He is filled with a deep sense of remorse and repentance for having been rude to Ali. He decides to hand over the letter himself to Ali. He hears a soft knock on the door at 5—thinks it is Ali who has come to receive the letter. He opens the door immediately and sees old Ali bent with age standing outside.
Actually it is a hallucination that the postmaster gets. He is fearful and astonished to see the unearthly look on Ali’s face. Ali disappears as he came leaving the postmaster in a state of utter shock.
Lakshmi Das, the clerk is shocked to hear the postmaster call out the name of Coachman Ali who has now been dead for three months. The letter is found near the door. Lakshmi Das tells him about his last meeting with Ali to convince him. That evening both of them go to place the letter on Ali’s grave. The postmaster understands the essential human worth of letters and doesn’t just treat them as envelopes and postcards anymore. Part of his penance is to keep waiting for the letter from his daughter.
II) Answer in 30-40 words:
a)What kind of life did Ali lead as a young man?
As a young man, Ali had been a clever and skilled hunter. He was always successful in finding a partridge where others had failed. His sharp sight could spot a hare crouching low in a bush, when even dogs failed to see it. He hunted animals mercilessly.
b) When and why did he change his attitude?
His attitude changed when his daughter Miriam got married and shifted to another place. Then, he realized the pangs of separation and concluded that the world was made of love and sorrow. He left his old ways of hunting and now kept waiting for his daughter’s letter.
c) How was the postmaster a changed person in the end?
The post master now saw through Ali’s heart. He also realized Ali’s feelings, while waiting for his own daughter’s news, who was ill in another town. He now understood Ali’s pain and agony that he experienced, while waiting for the letter.
He was no longer ill-tempered as he was in the beginning.
II. Short Answer questions in about 30-40 words:
1. Highlight Ali’s character traits as a Shikari.
2. What was the reason behind Ali’s transformation?
3. Why was Ali considered to be a madman by the post office officials?
4. What was the attitude of the postmaster towards Ali?
5. Ali had ‘exhausted his patience but not his faith’. Explain.
6. What do we understand about Ali’s character from his regular visits to the post office in spite of all the humiliation that he faced?
7. How Ali’s faith is finally vindicated?
8. ‘The haughty temper of the official had quite left him’. What change came about in the official and how?
9. ‘He dropped it as though it had given him an electric shock’. What is being referred to? Why was it such a shock?
10. What promise did Ali extract from the clerk and how did he ensure that the promise is fulfilled?
11. What significant lesson did the postmaster’s experience teach him?
12. How did doubt and remorse trouble the otherwise cold and merciless postmaster?
13. The officials at the post office had much fun at the expense of Ali. Cite two examples to prove this.
14. What was the postmaster’s state of mind after he had given Ali’s letter to Lakshmi Das for delivering it to him
III) LONG ANSWER QUESTIONS:
1.Elucidate on the happiness Ali would’ve felt had the letter come before his death
2.Comment on the vivid phases of Ali’s transition
3.Do you think Miriam had deliberately left her father? Why? Why not?
4.Do you think Ali had a peaceful death? Why? Why not?
5.Make a character analysis of the Post Master.
6.Ali is a true representative of modern parents who are abandoned by their children. Explain.
7. ‘The newly awakened father’s heart in him was reproaching him for having failedto understand Ali’s anxiety’. As the postmaster write a diary entry outlining your feelings about your former behaviour with Ali.
8. Imagine you are Ali .You are completely exhausted by your futile visits to the Post Office. Write a letter to your friend Ashraf telling him about the disappointment and humiliation that you undergo every day at the Post Office and your decision to not go there anymore.
9. Justify the title- The Letter
10. Imagine that Ali writes a letter to his daughter Miriam after he hands over the five guineas to the clerk at the post office. Write his letter.
11. Imagine you are Laksmi Das. You have finally fulfilled the promise that you made to Ali. Write a letter to your friend expressing how satisfied and relieved you are
12. Imagine Ali writes his diary daily. He feels disgusted with life in going to the post office and waiting daily for Miriam’s letter which never comes. This feeling of utter despair has been triggered by the Postmaster’s insult. Ali writes his diary page that evening. Write that page.
13. After 5 years, Miriam writes a letter to her father, expressing her personal problems for which she could not write. Write the letter on behalf of Miriam.
14. Lakshmi Das writes a letter to Miriam, mentioning the sudden death of her father Ali. Write the letter, giving details of Ali’s sufferings and hardships.