Just yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a postcard from a dear friend wishing me Happy Birthday. The smell of the ink was still fresh, beautiful words written and he had posted it from the highest post-office of the world (Hikkim, Himachal Pradesh). Even though it came much after he came back from his vacation, it was overwhelming. It was a beautiful gesture and so special that it also brought back those memories of my childhood; the time I used to write letters. The smell of the ink, the feeling of holding a paper and penning down whatever there was within at that point of time. It’s just amazing to have received letters. It means someone has missed you just too much.
I remember I had started writing letters first (even before we were programmed to write those boring letters in school, which officially went on till college) when my beloved cousin sister and her family had shifted to Dubai. It is difficult to imagine what was my exact topic of elaboration would be at that point, considering there was nothing concrete happening in my life. I was just 12, I guess. (Don’t trust my memory when it’s about numbers). But I am told that those were never less than 3 pages. I used to pen down a separate letter for Didi each time, one that was forbidden for anyone else to read. I kind of believed that one shouldn’t have any cancellations in the letter. Although, like everything else I do, this too wouldn’t be flawless. So there was a rule. Up to 3 cancellations was fair enough. I would waste at least 4-5 papers before I actually finish writing the final letter. Mom would take me to the post office and I would say, ‘Give me one Gandhiji, please?’ They’d smile and give me a stamp.
They would always write back to me. Then I would fiercely protect the responses of my letter and would consider as an utterly prohibited to even peep into my letters, and everyone at home was intrigued. But when they saw my obsession of keeping it private, they eventually stopped intervening. Next recipient of my memoirs was Bade Dadu, my grand father’s elder brother, whom I had started writing to, after meeting him once on my first ‘grownup trip’ to Kerala. He used to write back regularly and I remember feeling a sense of warmth from what he used to write, in his not so legible hand writing. He’d write about his old sailing days, of how life was all about doing what you love and how much he loved me for connecting with him during his old age.
Bade Dadu died a bachelor. He did not have a family of his own. He lived with his sister’s family and although I was too young, but it didn’t seem like they were one happy family. I hoped my letters gave him peace. I was too young when he passed away, too far to even bid the last adieu. But his writings to me will stay forever.
From 8th to 10th grade, I wrote mostly to friends. It will be important to note that these weren’t people far away from me, but friends I met everyday. So I never really had to post them. I would just simply hand it over to them and take a promise that they’d not read it in my presence and we never ‘talk’ about it again. They could only write back. I have gotten almost all of my closest people to write, even the ones who could not write for their life! If I were to count, I think I’d have written the most letters to Pooja (my best-friend). We’d write about life, careers, love, people and how no one understood us. Those were things that happen with all teenagers but I now see how we were making it sacred by documenting them by sharing it with each other. Those are some of few cherished possessions in terms of memories that I have with her. She died of blood cancer 2 years back. Don’t be sorry. During her last days, we got all our letters together, read them aloud to each other and laughed our hearts out. Because in spite of spending most of our childhoods together, we don’t even have 5 pictures together while everyone else has just too many. But I have her letters; her papers-handwriting-ink, the smell of her palm, stains of her tears, and words of excitement stored carefully in those letters. I am rich.
Even apart from these, writing letters would not require occasions. Only to mention, I was always the official writer of my group; starting from writing (From Sana, Honey Rahul, Kautal, Manthan, Pooja,…, Aarti) on gifts, to penning down a poem for my friend’s new crush, or saying Happy Birthday differently; everything that was to be written, would inevitably come to me. I would generally write letters when I would be full of emotions. Perhaps also when I wanted to clarify what I could not do in person or something that was too emotional to be expressed face to face. Most effective letters and the best kind of gifts are Birthday Letters. I have always been overwhelmed at the responses to those. It can truly make a person feel special.
With the advent and excessive use of emails/facebook/text messages, college time saw a downfall in the number of letters. I can count on my fingers. But I won’t. I wrote a few to the guys I had a crush on but mostly to Papa. Papa and I have always been a team but I think somewhere while growing up, because of my complexes as a growing female and a teenager, we screwed up a little. I used to write him long letters about how I wanted more freedom and space from them and about small incidents at home and how strongly they affected me. Tragically stupid, most of them. But purest of the emotions. I clearly remember the last letter I wrote to him. It was when I was approaching the end of college. He had started asking me constantly about my planning and preparations about IAS, once a common dream. He even got me to meet a retired IAS officer. The man was good and his words were comforting. But nothing at all helped. I had distanced myself from the dream somewhere. One night after we had a little spat over my inactions towards the goal, I cried my heart out later at night while writing a long letter to him. As usual, he did not write back but never did he bring it up again either. And since then, somehow, he has always trusted whatever I wanted to do. “She’s just 21. Let her be.” He’s been saying ever since. “What? She’s 24 now!!!” Latest count.
College times also saw conversion of letters to emails. Apart from a few romantic words from mostly unwanted people, I have received a hell lot of hate-mails. Won’t let out the count but let’s say they were too many for a 20 year old. I believe it was because I was fiercely outspoken about my opinions and would end up hurting others at times and ‘hurting’ ‘others’ at times. These mails were just too convenient for me to take them seriously. I’d be like: “What? So you want to take all your shit out on me, vent out everything with the most painfully selected words (not to mention grammattical errors that you didn’t bother to correct) in the most convenient form of communication -email and you say I should change and that you want to help me? Bloody say it on my face.”
I can’t deny that a few of those hate mails I chose not to respond to at all and those were the ones that hurt the most. But I knew these people were over-judging and if I was that bad, they would have picked up a pen and paper, and poured down their agony and ink their concern for me; and if they had guts, they’d hand it over to me in my hands, facing me eye to eye. You’d say it’s just too much to expect all this. But then, I had my standards set. I still don’t consider emails as letters.
Letters have played a huge part in helping me learn how to put words on the paper; especially helping me to write anything as if it were the final draft. I have written letters (at least once) to every single person that has been the closest to me (at a particular period of time) and make a beautiful part of my cherish memories with me. (You must know that if you have received a letter from me, I have truly loved you. Not to say otherwise, if you haven’t of course.) It has given me the most unregretting experiences of my life and I intend to keep writing those. Wouldn’t it be good to have an app where a person collects it from our home/office and posts it for us? (facepalm)