By Rashmi Oberoi
The hi-tech world we live in today is surrounded by iPads, mobiles, telephones, faxes and emails…where does that leave letter-writing? It definitely is so much easier to send an e-mail across continents and oceans and communicate without much effort, pick up your cell phone and call anywhere within a few seconds or WhatsApp/text/viber a message. But I still feel the same can be done more eloquently with the written word.
And more so these days when everyone resorts to using slang and abbreviations. I have seen people struggling to form complete sentences when they have to actually put pen to paper. Vocabulary, spelling and grammar were of great importance during our school years and somehow I feel they have lost their value and shine in the new age technology that lets you off lightly with short forms or autocorrects everything for you.
Letter writing is indeed an art, the need is to convey your feelings, for which the choice of words is most important. The joy your letter will give will linger long after the contents have been read and the sheets folded and put away. Receiving a letter transcends all emotions. There is also the ritual of receiving and savouring the joys of letters. It begins with the inspection of the envelope (my daughter decorates it with all kinds of colourful stickers and messages), scrutinising the handwriting, investigating the stamp and postmark to find clues as to who has sent the missive. Of course, the envelope is then eagerly torn open and the letter extracted. It is quite usual to scan the letter hurriedly at first and then savour the contents in peace and quiet later.
A letter can be read and re-read many times each piece of news conveying news of happy events or sad occasions. The written word conveys either the joy or the pathos the writer is experiencing, and your first reaction invariably is to pen a reply immediately, sharing the news. I doubt such emotion can be conveyed over the phone or via email. My mother says, “I treasure a letter from a Dutch friend who has been to us a couple of times. Once at the time of departure from the Delhi airport, she was so overwhelmed with emotion she dashed off a farewell letter on a brown paper bag as that was all she could find. I have preserved it carefully. Our bond of friendship has strengthened over the years only because we both write regularly and keep in touch, sharing our innermost thoughts with the most mundane happenings of daily life.”
Over the years I treasured many letters: the last letter written to me by my grandmother in 1978 before she passed away; postcards from all over the world from my dear friend Kelly Rao who tragically died in an accident; my mother’s letters to me during my college years and a handful from my father who almost never writes. I had letters written to me by my grandfather who despite being paralytic, made an effort to scrawl his feelings to me while I was recovering in hospital after an accident. I used to pull out my ‘goody bag’ and savour all the letters…till one day I lost my most treasured possessions in unfortunate circumstances…but that’s another story and that will be narrated on another day.
My friends tease me because I am the only one who still corresponds with them by ‘snail mail’ but they love it. Even though I’ve converted to the ‘e-mail’, I still enjoy writing letters. It gives me a lot of happiness to pen down my thoughts. The ‘gift’ of letter writing that passed on from my grandmother to my mother and then to me…now passes on to my daughter! I cannot explain the feeling of pure joy we feel when we receive her letters from the hostel. My son’s letters are few and far between…typical of a boy but when he writes…the letters are simply beautiful! And my parents and I love writing our long weekly letters to them in turn!!
The written word still contains character and strength. Who knows, this art may go full circle and be in vogue again! So remember, the next time you pick up the mobile or sit in front of your laptop, pull out a writing pad instead and put pen to paper… it might even turn out to be an exhilarating experience.