frangipani: old map of Southeast Asia (Nusantara)
frangipani ([personal profile] frangipani) wrote in [community profile] steampunk_nusantara2010-07-16 06:51 am
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For the scanning and translation queue: Letters

Item consists of 7 sheets of good-quality woodpulp paper, folded in half and bound with a narrow strip of red silk. Each sheet of paper appears to be an individual letter, handwritten with black carbon-based ink, addressed to a “Varsha” (woman-identified, no surname or other names known) from a single unknown writer (see below). There is minor water damage to the outermost layers of paper, but the letters are in otherwise good condition.

The letters were written in the Marathi language, in a combination of Modi (primary) and Devanagari (secondary) scripts. A cursory analysis of their content by one of the linguists determined that the writer was proficient but not entirely fluent in the language, and that the writer and the recipient of the letters were engaged in a relationship that is romantic in nature. The content of the letters is composed of mainly personal news and descriptions of everyday life (extremely useful for the anthropologists).

It is speculated that the writer is restricted to a single sheet of paper for every letter, hence the crammed but painstakingly clear writing. Despite the writer’s less than perfect fluency in the language, none of the letters bear marks of corrections, perhaps indicating the writer drafted each letter elsewhere first before writing out a final version. What free spaces there are in the letters are filled with small sketches or doodles: anatomically-correct renditions of bird wings, dragonflies, various flora found in the Southeast Asian region, and what appears to be diagrams of a ship’s hull.

Unfortunately the letters are undated, though preliminary tests on the paper and ink indicate that they are approximately 70 years old (1940s). We have thus far been unable to identity the name of the writer -- four of the letters bear a word that is likely to be a name (or perhaps a salutation) at the bottom of the last page, but it is in a script unfamiliar to any of the linguists.

Below is a translated excerpt from one the letters. In the interest of clarity, I have simplified the translation and removed lengthy expressions of affection, though the curious are welcome to read the original translations of the letters after completing several hours’ work on my department’s backlog.
The weather continues to be hot and cloudless. We’ve talked repeatedly about what we’ll do when the rain comes. [Ku?] promises he’ll dance naked on the roof, but we say he’s an idiot who’ll be burned by lightning if the winds don’t take him first. Just because he was raised where snow storms down from the sky doesn’t mean he can survive a monsoon. This is all a joke, of course we don’t want to be still here when the monsoon arrives. We are all losing patience with waiting. Our [captain?] sends word from the capital every other day, but we don’t know when they will finally make a decision. I can’t wait to fly the [airship?] again.

I spent too much money sending a [voice letter?] to my parents, but they are worried about me. My cousin says it’s because I’m a woman. I don’t think this is true. Even if I was born a man with iron skin, my parents will still listen for news of my ship every day. The battle that killed my mother’s brothers and my father’s sister left scars on all of our hearts. When our lands are safe many of us will traverse the skies as we once did. Until that day comes, it’s my responsibility to ensure that we’re not forgotten.

I wish you’re here. [cut for length] The old-timers send you their well-wishes. They have instructed me to tell you that you are still needed here if you want to return, and I was inundated with gifts to send to you. I have also a bottle of the perfume you like. Can you smell it on this letter? I will reluctantly admit that this old-fashioned method you insist on has its merits. The [aether?] can’t [transmit?] a dab of perfume, or a kiss.
And so on. Thus far only three of the letters have been translated, one of them partially. I’m personally reading descriptions of marketplaces with great interest -- if only the writer was an economist.

ETA: Ah. This is interesting: D4 has discovered that the word that signs off a number of the letters matches that of the unidentified word written on the title page of our copy of Hikayat Laksamana Wan Zafirah.