The dying art of letter writing

I love technology and what it has done for the human race. As clichéd as it sounds, technology has truly shrunk the world into global village. There are no borders and there are no distances. The power of technology is such that it has even redefined the concept of time.

Most of us live in far flung corners of the world. Cousins in America, friends in Australia, parents in Asia and I guess you get the drift. I have no doubt in my mind that each of us marvels at how easy it is to communicate with each other. Thoughts traverse distances in a matter of micro milli seconds, all thanks to email. It’s fast, efficient, instantaneous, convenient and inexpensive. Emails are all of this and more. But unfortunately, the rise of the email has led to the demise of an age-old art; the art of letter writing. So now you’re probably thinking what all the hoo haa is about. What I’ve said is after all a known fact and nothing to shout aloud from the rooftops. The email is a practical form of communication and that’s that. Agreed, there is no outweighing the advantages of sending and receiving mail electronically but having said that, I must admit that I miss writing and receiving hand-written letters.

The charm of finding a hand-written letter nestled inside an envelope in the post-box or at the doorstep is something else altogether. Born in the 70s, I fortunately escaped the assault of technology in my early years unlike present day kids. I consider myself lucky to have fond memories of letter-writing. Will my kids be as fortunate? I really don’t know.

There are so many aspects to writing a letter; from choosing letter paper, to thinking about what to write, to articulating those thoughts, to sealing the letter, to dropping it in the right red letter box, to waiting for a reply.

A trip down memory lane tells me that my affair with letter writing began when I was very young. It all began when my aunt who used to live another city dropped me a short letter one day. I was proud to receive an envelope addressed only to me and not as D/O so and so. Although I don’t remember the exact content of those letters, I do remember looking forward to receiving them. I sometimes used to find snippets that aunt used to cut out from the newspaper enclosed along with the letters; a cartoon strip, a puzzle, a word building game or a picture to color. Sometimes there were friendly pieces of advice as well. Of course, the moment I received the letter I was eager to reply. So out came the letter paper. I vividly remember choosing my letter paper and pads from Chennai’s most famous book and stationary store ‘Landmark’. I was particularly drawn to the Chimanlal designs as they were traditional, bright, and attractive. A motif of a mango on pristine white paper, a khadi print against a yellow background, a fiery red paper with golden colored Indian prints, and a spray of purple flowers along the length of the paper were some of the letter sets that I had collected.

Once I had selected the paper, I used to run up to mom and dad and ask them to help me draft the letter. I especially recall dad explaining to me that I should begin the letter with Dear so and so; that I should first enquire about their well-being. “I hope this letter finds you in the pink of health” is a phrase that I will never ever forget. That was my standard opening line for all letters that I wrote. And then of course the rest of the letter would follow. I used to end with conveying my regards to the other members of the recipient’s family and sign off with love.

Once the envelope was sealed, I used to wait until I could post the letter so that it could reach its final destination. Luckily, there was a red post letter box just down my street. An occasional trip to the dark and cool post-office meant I could read the names of the states on the differently colored boxes and drop my envelope into the ones marked Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and so on.

As I grew older, the desire to convey my thoughts on various subjects took precedence over the act of writing and posting a letter. When my grandpa was visiting my uncle in the United States I wrote him a letter expressing my thoughts on life, war, books that I had read and even everyday mundane activities. He remembered the letter for years to come. If I had sent him an email, would he have been as touched? I hardly think so.

That’s what’s special about hand-written letters. Letter writing offers pleasure not only to the sender but also to the recipient. In other words, the act of receiving a letter is as enjoyable as writing one. As I write this blog, a letter that was written to me by my parents five years back when I got married and moved out of country lies carefully folded in the  top draw of my writing desk. It is the only letter they have written to me so far and every time I read it, I find myself connected to them in an inexplicable sort of way. When I read the letter it feels like I can almost hear their voices. The cursive crawl of dad’s beautiful handwriting and mom’s miniscule writing brings a smile to my face. The letter is more precious than any material gift they have given me. The advice it carries is invaluable. The words are soothing and comforting. The letter is my panacea in those moments of darkness. An email or a phone call simply does not replicate the experience.

I have never seen my dad’s father but he has left his legacy behind in a letter written by him in 1959 to my father who was on a school trip when he was 15 years old.

Twenty years down the lane, will I ever pull out or even remember an email that I have archived? Will an email become a legacy? Will an old time email evoke the same emotions as a hand written letter would? Will we hang on to an email as a keepsake? I think we know the answers.

The advent of the communications revolution has sounded the death knell of the art of letter writing. – My dad.

 

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