I was walking to and fro in the hall, waiting for the heavy lunch to digest. It was a great lunch with family and friends when suddenly the gate rattled, ’saw a postman putting something in the letterbox and go. Ah, another bill to pay I thought and went to fetch it. To my surprise, it was a letter addressed to me. Really? I got a letter? That was strange, I didn’t have many friends and the ones I know are all in Hyderabad with cellphones, who would’ve posted a letter then? I opened it hastily to see it was sent by my friend who was giggling right beside me. That was a surprise. It was only a week earlier, when I shared my love for letters with them. Why did I like hand written letters so much? What was so romantic about them anyway? Is it the clichéd idea of a lone person sitting on a desk, writing on a parchment with a quill, sometimes smiling to himself, sometimes in deep thought, that never failed to raise goosebumps? Could be (yea, I know I belong to a different era). Last week, I walked into a local bookstore and stopped by the stationery aisle to check for letter-pads (out of curiosity), and found a few handmade paper letter-pads & envelopes which looked too sterile and sanitised to use. None had the charm, warmth, playfulness of the papers I once knew. These, simply didn’t invite a person to write
My first recollection of letters were those sent to my grandmother by my uncles and aunts settled in the states. Back then we didn’t have a telephone and getting these letters once in 3 months meant good tidings and hope of a money order. I remember hovering around the letterbox at one in the afternoon waiting for the postman, not because we expected a letter everyday, but to see where he stopped-by in the lane. What was he handing out? Letters? Post cards? Books? Money orders? Was I nosy? No, I wasn’t. I just like imagining the person writing the letter with their own hand, which was the only part these folks could touch of them, reading, feeling through (the ebb and flow of the letters) what happened in their loved ones’ lives. The only bond that connected people then.
Other than frequenting the local post office for my grandfather, I remember lingering on the roads of Dilsukhnagar, at every yearend, lined with merchants selling Christmas & New Year greeting cards in temporary tents laid out for ten days, moving from one tent to the another stretching for more than a kilometre with only two rupees in hand and a determination to see all before making a purchase. Cash & Carry and Archie’s Gallery, two shops near my school, sold wonderful greeting cards for all occasions and all relations one can muster. Walking into those stores, air full of fragrance and centralised AC, browsing through cards, letter pads, slam books, music, gifts, bookmarks, posters, was nothing short of magical. These were young boys & girls hangouts then. I don’t remember giving these cards to anyone, I think they languished with me till I lost them. But, what I cannot forget is looking at my letter-pad longingly hoping to write a letter to someone soon. My earliest memory of writing a letter, was to my best friend after we passed out of school, with no other means to be in touch. I wrote a letter telling him about my life, new college, how much I hated it, how much I missed school, asking if we could meet soon and gave it to a junior who went to the same school as my friends’ brother to hand him the letter. A few days later my friend sent me a reply through the same channel. Strange what all we used to do to be in touch with friends. Later when I reached graduation, even when phones were more common, I elected to write a letter to my then girl friend, than simply phone her, why on earth would I pass on a chance to finally use my letter-pad? I wrote, rolled the paper, tied with a red ribbon and gave it to her proudly (so cliché ridden isn’t it?). I never got a reply though. Later, friends in different stages of life, gave me cards, sent me notes, and letters, which I cherish even now. But, changing times, changing outlook, culture have definitely killed letter writing, if not completely.
Is it just plain old nostalgia, a desire to find everything past as romantic that I miss letters or is there any particular reason? Beauty of a letter, I think, lied in the anticipation of it, in the time it provided for the communication, which technology successfully killed. If I sent a letter, it likely take a week or so to reach its destination, another week for the recipient to read, assimilate, think, write and post it back to me. There was sometimes a longing, anxiety & aching pain in this waiting for the receiver and time to think and write for the sender. But, today, ‘waiting’ sounds alien to us. We now belong to the ‘instant generation’. We want everything ‘now’. Businesses thrive in anticipating our needs even before us. So, now once I send a SMS and see the read receipt, my waiting starts – Why didn’t he respond? What’s he thinking about? What is there to think about? If he is thinking, does it mean he is cooking stuff up? Is he not bother about replying? Doesn’t he care about my feelings? Am I not a priority to him, that he didn’t respond? All these questions in the span of a minute. Where did the anticipation go? Why are we in a hurry? Why can’t we take in a small delay? Why cant we give the other person some space, time to think and respond? Technology definitely improved my life, and I rely on it a lot, but I can’t help but feel sad that consideration, patience & thoughtful communication died with the letter.
Tell me dear reader, do you have any pleasant memories associated with letter writing? Please share in the comments.