You’ve Got Mail | The Dying Art of Letter Writing

The Art of Diversity
September 10, 2017
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You’ve Got Mail | The Dying Art of Letter Writing

There was a time when writing letters was the norm.


An Indian Postman – it was an honorable profession

Back in India where I was born, there were these blue-colored Inland Letters which used to cost just 25 paisa — later escalating to 75 paisa — and sending and receiving those blue inland letters was almost a weekly activity.

My friends could understand how busy I was, just by the frequency with which I used to write to them. My mother could even gauge my mood, simply by looking at my handwriting.

During my teenage years, I lived in a hostel. There was one telephone for about 250 girls there and no cellphones were around. Standing in line to make a long distance call when there was so much work to do, was simply not possible.

The only person I used to look forward to meeting every day was the postman. He was the one who could light up my face by just saying “aap ke liye letter aaya hai “ (You’ve got mail).

I used to jump around the entire hostel when I would get that sacred sheet of paper in my hand. I would religiously read the letter at least 4 – 5 times before I was satisfied that I had not missed a single word. Then, maybe, read it one more time before going to bed.

It was a different sort of joy when I visited a friend and found a postcard that I had written to him/her and found it posted on their fridge. I could remember the exact moment that I had written it. I could go back in time and relive that time when I picked up the postcard and wrote those lines.

Thanks to the postal services, I could stay in touch with some of my best friends who were scattered to different parts of the country.

Sitting down and writing to a loved one was a very joyful exercise. I could let my heart out and sometimes the tears on the pages went along as well. I felt relieved and sometimes even re-energized after writing letters.

I remember the time when my father was posted in Kashmir and phone calls were hard to come by. It was only through letters that we could correspond and get to know of his well-being or that the snow was finally thawing and the gardens were turning green.

The Blue Inland Letter, India

The Blue Inland Letter, India

Those letters would be our support system and we eagerly looked forward to them — sometimes disappointed that the postman did not have one for us, but two for our neighbors.

Recently my mother-in-law showed me a letter that she had preserved for more than 35 years. It was a letter that her parents had written to her, congratulating her when my husband was born.

In this age of social media and emails, that art of letter writing is dying – perhaps already close to extinction. I have nothing against modernity, in fact I am writing this very piece using the new medium.

But the point is that somewhere down the line we have forgotten the personal connections that we make when we sit down and take the time out to write something with our own hands. We have forgotten that if we hand-write a few words, send a post card, a special photograph, a dried flower and maybe even a tear – it will have a different effect on the receiver as compared to something on the electronic media.

Somehow we have forgotten that we need to just get ourselves off these screens, pause, get our thoughts together and just take a pen — an old fountain pen, or any felt-tip or ball-point will do — and start to write our hearts out. I hope to carry on writing letters to my loved ones and one day receive a postcard or two from some old friend.

Lo and behold, I have only recently received a wonderful greeting card for my daughter’s first birthday – a real one made of paper with words scrawled across it with a fountain pen – just like it used to be.

Wonders never cease …


This post first appeared here.

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