Everything passes. It has to. That's the beauty and tragedy of it.
The other day I received mail from my father. By mail I do not mean email, which is the common assumption these days thanks to emails having more or less overtaken the snail mail system in this age.
I received mail in an envelope. A real paper envelope which had my address written in my father’s unmistakable, neat, print-like handwriting. It wasn’t a letter per se, just a cash card for my brother who is staying with me for some time. But seeing my address in my father’s handwriting, I was ecstatic and nostalgic and kinda sad at the same time.
For one moment, I was transported back to my childhood spent in boarding school. As a kid, I had spent six years away from home – from age six to twelve. It was one of the reputed schools which claimed to make geniuses out of six year olds and my parents were convinced I was meant to be a child prodigy or something. I don’t blame them really; they had the best of intentions and envisioned a bright shiny future for me – their eldest. But at that time I couldn’t help feeling lonely and a tad bit unloved. I missed my family – we had a big joint family back then – and envied my siblings for getting to come home after school while I was left among a bunch of kids my age who were equally pining for home.
I would crave for communication from back home, any letter, may be a greeting card on occasions such as birthdays or new years’, even a postcard perhaps. Even on Christmas, I would be expecting some kind of correspondence – a greeting card or something, even though I am a Hindu by faith. I would gaze outside while class was in session, hoping to catch sight of the mailman in his faded khaki uniform and bulging bag full of letters, making his way into the school lobby.
Saturdays were my favourite. Our class teacher would have a bunch of letters and cards stacked on her desk, to be given away at the end of the class. Needless to say, my attention would waver, half taking in the lessons while my eyes would invariably be fixed on that pile of letters – nothing short of Christmas gifts for a homesick child like me. We would also get to write to our folk back home on Saturdays and I would settle down to fill in all that had happened through the week, in my loopy, most flowery handwriting, pouring all my heart into the task.
My father’s letters held a special meaning for me. They were never flamboyant or excessive. The neat little letters would be like a caress to be cherished until the next letter arrived. He would tell me about what was happening back home and never failed to put in a bit of serious advice for me – to be well-behaved and hard-working, questioning me if I had anything short of cent percent marks. Strictness was his code but his love and tenderness somehow always managed to seep in through his formal words. He would talk about when he and my mom would come visit me next. August was always my favourite month when I was in school – that’s when my family would come visit me three Sundays of the month during the Parents Meeting hours in the evening. To me his letters signified hope.
Remember the thrill of writing on a pristine sheet of paper on a much loved letter pad? The word “Dear…” actually welled with love. Making pen friends, writing to family – letters held a world of wonder. It was like opening a gift, imagining the voice of the person as your eyes cruised along the string of words. I have always found letter writing the purest form of communication. It helps me untangle the knots in my mind as I pour my heart out. It is a simple yet complex emotion.
These days we hardly write letters at all, not because we don’t want to or don’t care enough, but because technology has gob-smacked us all, with so many modes of communication but so little time for each other. We talk over the phone briefly or text each other, try to tuck in a few moments of concern and care while going to work or heading home after a long tiring day. Letter writing has become obsolete. Gone out of style without so much as a farewell – ousted unceremoniously by emails and now by online media. It seems alien to see my handwriting on paper in the age of computers and hand-held mobile devices. Too much technology, too little (of substance) to say – that is the problem of our generation.
We run about like headless chicken, scurrying along to cram more into our already clogged days. We follow each other online but have no time for real relationships. A like or a comment is all that we are ready to spare for their online posts. We are part of groups – not so much in real, but on WhatsApp – send pictures and bite sized mass-produced and regurgitated so-called ‘funny’ messages that impersonal. Meaningless. It is becoming a hollow world – hollow smiles, hollow dreams, hollow relationships, hollow lives. Is that what the world has been reduced to? I hope not. I hope there is still some hope for us.
I think I will make time to write letters – all kinds of letters to all the people I care about. I don’t know if they will feel the same way as I do about a dying tradition, but it will be like leaving a piece of my heart, my time with them to revel upon in leisure.