On the list of my favourite things in this world is an (imaginary) box of hand-written letters. I was born at a juncture when the world was gradually transforming from a languid, old-fashioned, artistic scene into a fast-paced, hurried, commercial painting. I was born when technology was taking over the world. Majority of the tech-savvy people were elated. But a section of people was not. They were used to the written form of communication. I grew up listening to stories of my relatives sending each other telegrams, and my parents sending each other letters soon after they got married. They were not the cliched love letters, but they were letters that minimized the geographical distance; they were letters that made hearts grow fonder; and they were letters that remain etched in the senders’ and the receivers’ memories. When that was a medium of communication, even the most poker-faced person attempted to express in his or her own handwriting, the array of thoughts and feelings that passed through his or her mind and heart. Life was less spontaneous, more deliberate. People were more sensitive, less inconsiderate. They were more thoughtful, more affectionate. There were less ‘breakups’ (the word was quite a novelty then), more love, more marriages. Their was a meaning to words such as ‘longing’, ‘yearning’, ‘pining’, ‘hurting’. There were songs written on the ecstasy caused by written words. In short, life was meaningful. Relationships, friendships, and even acquaintances were meaningful.
There is a certain happiness that we attach to our ability to recognise someone’s handwriting. That is what letters are about. From the colour of the pen to the curve of an alphabet, a letter comprises of all that is mute and yet rings in our head, laced with the voice of the person writing it. We instinctively figure out when that pen paused to take a break, even if the comma is missing. Who knows, maybe they wrote that one letter just to show you how much they admire the pen you gifted to them. Letter-writing is ALL about expressing. These days, handwritten letters carry an almost a ‘vintage’ feel to them, because they are so uncommon. I grew up watching my mother write frequent letters to her friends. Of course, with the course of time and the advent of technology, she also switched to the faster modes of communication. But when I told her that I would love to receive a simple letter or a card on my 20th birthday, ’cause I was disappointed that people had stopped doing that, she sent me a letter full of unconditional love and affection. It’s a different thing that it made me extremely emotional, contrary to my expectation, but moments like those always make me realise the significance of the love and attention our parents shower on us. My mother has inculcated in me the habit of sending letters to all my brothers, real and cousin, on the festival of Rakhi. The festival seems incomplete if I do not follow that basic etiquette. It seems rather impersonal if I find myself feeling lazy about doing it. Once, she even scolded me when I did not do it right. I often end up arguing with her, but at the end of the day, I realise that it makes me a better person. Better than before. I owe my understanding of relationships to my mother, and I owe to my father my apparent non-reluctance towards writing formal letters. I am not saying I am great at it, but it’s something I saw in my growing years, and it has not left me. My brother has a superb taste when it comes to gifts, but I know that if my brother wrote the most sentimental letter to me in his so-called illegible handwriting, I would carry it to my grave. I cannot guarantee the same for something else that his money would buy.
One of my closest friends was discussing with me the vanishing importance of letters nowadays. She’s soon going to leave the country, and we have both promised to write to each other as much as possible. I know that in our desperation to keep in touch with each other, we will definitely be connecting through media other than that of post, but we both agree that there is nothing like receiving a letter from someone special. We agree that distance makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes, it indeed takes a lot of distance, emotional and physical, to realise how indispensable someone can be to someone. There are not many people who are willing to make the reciprocal effort, but some of those rare folks do exist. It’s sad that they do not initiate such letters. 😛 A letter in the 21st century is a heavy investment. On all levels. It’s simple, and it belongs to both the sender and the receiver. Technology with its innumerable ’emoticons’ can never replace the value of the flow of a pen on paper, or of the x-ray scanning in a face-to-face conversation, or of the eye’shadows’ visible only to a select few. Saving letters in a small, secret box has to be a lot more fun than saving transient chat histories or text messages. Every letter in the 21st century carries a subtle message: you think about that person enough to sweat it out on paper, and then sweat in the sun to go post it. Even a blank page sent through ‘snail’ mail says enough.