The red post-box is empty. So is the green one. No one’s writing letters any more. Ample other quicker ways to keep in touch – emoticons and clipart included. You go to a stationery shop and ask for a fancy letter-writing pad and the man will instantly start looking for the dinosaur scales on your back. You ask a passer-by in your new neighbourhood for the post-box location and she will mistake you for the post-man’s long-lost daughter. And the only pen at home that works is probably the one hanging on the fridge magnet diary to make to-dos and write memos to spouses – ‘Will be late. Heat pasta in oven 30 seconds. See ya!’ – that, only in case ‘WhatsApp’ has crashed, internet servers are down and cell-phone bill rests unpaid. No surprise then, that inks in pens have gone dry and colourfully lined letter paper is nowhere to be found.
Once upon a time communication meant writing a letter. Even after telephones in your own house (or the neighbor’s, God bless his charitable soul!) started tring-tringing for you from far and sunder, intimate communication was still carried out through pieces of heart-poured-out-on-paper, signed and stamped and duly dropped into the post-box (hope it reaches you soon dear brother and may the post-man come a little late to pick up the deliveries today). When return gifts for children’s birthdays were a letter-pad and Reynold’s pen and every school-going child had his own mini-collection of letters received and stored (and maybe those written on pink paper but never delivered to the girl next door!) in the Hello Kitty plastic bag, we knew we were all putting pen to paper to talk, to speak out, to show we feel and how much and how. Today, we have technology to the rescue, and wow, it’s wonderful, for the Earth is much smaller and rotating faster and I met my husband online and today we attended my nephew’s wedding on video conferencing and my daughter and I chat everyday at 2 pm, her college lunch hour and mine too and soon I will be teaching my Class 3 students communication by sitting at home. Where is the need to pore over and pour out on paper when clicking buttons keeps it hassle-free, tax-free and effort-free? Where is the need to wait for the signed and stamped word to carry, when 5 seconds is all we need?
I was that species which continued to write letters to friends and family way after Archies stopped making fancy letter-pads (Rs. 14 – Rs. 50 please), with Shah Rukh Khan, flower bunches, pink-and-red hearts, Mickey Mouse and music notes in the margins of each page, forever lost now. I walked to the university student centre where a bored-but-interested old man handed out stamps to me, and never without the question – “Sending applications for work? For course prospectus? For reevaluation of university marks?” as I shuffled away mumbling something about Rakhi, or Birthdays or uncle’s retirement or something inconsequential enough to not require this representative-of-letter-writing-era to even think of it as a reason. While greeting cards with printed poetry and sparkly stars still left scope for some kind of personalized communication, their sky-rocketing prices meant no one was buying even those anymore. Why should we? The Pooh in the e-card will sing 3 songs, dance a loony dance and blow-up into confetti before the birthday song begins even. And all this for the price of free.
As I sift through my collection of letters received, wondering how to keep them from weathering, I realize there is something that may not be free, but will forever continue to be priceless.
That curly-swirly ‘D’ of Dear which began your letter (with the ‘-est’ reserved for a select few). The hand-writing which slants this-way, sometimes that, but is yours and only yours. The different ways of writing ‘p, f, a’, curling-not curling the ‘l’, changing paragraphs at meaty points, highlighting some words skipping others, and selecting carefully the word after ‘yours’ to end the letter but perhaps begin a new relationship. Even the P.S. – an after-thought that couldn’t have been omitted so had to be fitted in the bottom most line, somehow, even if a tad tiny in font but not so in importance. An ink-smudge there, a tiny lipstick mark here. A happy family sketched in the margin and some tear drops dropped, but strategically away from the written word. Most importantly, there’s your signature in your hand, with hearts for ‘o’s, maybe, and with a smile under the underline – no, not how you sign your cheques and credit card slips. No.
That letter that once was every bit a piece of you, your thoughts your moods your opinions your relationship your love your time your energy your 5 rupees, died a quiet death – and no flourish of any pen signed it a fitting good bye.
The red post-box is empty. And so is the green one.