I loved old-fashioned letters written with a pen on paper, I loved the texture of the paper, the postage stamp, the envelope with the address of a street or lane from an unknown city, the handwriting of the sender, the fragrance, the stamps of post offices, everything. But, Alas!! Nobody writes such a letter these days. We no longer wait for the postman to deliver us a letter from a cousin living in a distant land or a friend from the same city. We have multiple Apps to message, chat, call, video call and collectively they have taken away the charm of letters.
In kindergarten, when I started learning to write, my mother insisted that I should start writing to my grandparents, uncles, and aunts who lived in Kolkata. In those days my mom used to send inland letters to her family, and the last page used to be reserved for me, where I used to write something in an unskilled manner. The content used to be generally restricted to “how are you?”, “I am good”, “take my regards”, and “I miss you”. In June, when I was visiting my Kakima in Kolkata, I heard her narrating to my son, how I used to send her letters when I could even barely write. I noticed pride and nostalgia in her voice mixed with a tinge of sadness. I am sure she was also missing those days.
During my early childhood, most of the letters that I used to receive were usually written in Bengali, however, Lily Masi used to send me letters in English from London. I always found those letters to be exotic. The par avion airmail, the postage stamp with Queen Elizabeth, and impeccable English written in calligraphic handwriting always left me in awe. Every time the postman delivered a letter from her, it used to brighten up my day. Now, she doesn’t write me letter anymore, we speak over WhatsApp but honestly, there is no charm in WhatsApp.
I started independently (without any prompt or dictation from my parents) writing letters in class seven when our language teacher gave us holiday homework to write letters to our friends during summer vacation. I started writing letters to my best friend in school and made my father post them. My father had a tendency to forget posting letters, so I had to constantly keep reminding him.
I also made a few “pen-friends”. Millennials are not aware of this term. Pen-friends are friends with whom you connect only through letters. I had four such friends, I met them through the ‘pen friend’ section of a children’s magazine. One was Olga from Russia, the other was a girl(forgot her name) from Jamaica, the other two were Indians. With Olga, I exchanged letters for almost 4 years and then I lost touch after I shifted home.
After our class 12th, my friend Tanushree took up a job and moved to Goa. Letters became the only medium to stay in touch. Initially, the letters used to be short and crisp but gradually they turned into small booklets. Pages and pages of youthful exuberance started traveling from one part of India to the other.
Unlike emails, letter writing involved a tedious process. I used to go to Archies store or other good stationery shops to buy letter writing pads. For special occasions like Christmas, Diwali or birthdays I used to buy customized pads along with matching envelopes. In a few occasions, I even bought perfumed pads. Special pens were kept aside for letters. I used to write a rough draft in a normal paper and then after editing it used to copy it on the main paper. Choosing postal stamps were also important. I preferred to choose unique stamps to stick on overseas letters. Writing the address on top of the letter also required skill, and I often wrote them with the utmost care, one alphabet at a time, leaving the exact space and no overwriting. The final stage was walking to the red Post box and dropping it.
There were many more letters. How could one forget the “love letters” sent by adolescent boys? Let me confess, I never received any but always desired one. My classmates used to bring to school letters from their suitors and I never had anything to show them. The closest thing I had to a “love letter” was a math sum that a boy had once dropped on my verandah. He had solved it on my behalf and dropped it on my balcony.
Emails in a way killed the fun of handwritten letters. Who wants to wait for letters when you can receive an email in a second. Gradually, letters stopped coming. The postman knocked on our door infrequently only when he had to deliver some official letter or parcel. Email and SMS took over our lives. Gradually, Gtalk, Orkut, Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp flooded our lives and we forgot the art and joy of letter writing.
There was a time when we saw the crucial role played by letters in literature, films, and theatres. There were so many books written in the epistolary format using letters. Can you recollect a few such novels? There were movies that used this format and of course plays. One play that I absolutely loved in this format was “Tumhari Amrita“.
I still love to write letters however these days nobody shares their postal address but only share their email address. Even today whenever I go through any emotional turmoil, I end up writing letters (emails). Writing a lengthy email often proves cathartic and I end up feeling good. Now, tell me how do you feel about writing letters. Do you love it or loathe it? Drop a comment.