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Letter Writing – A Lost Glory

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

I fondly recall my childhood days filled with the excitement of receiving and writing letters to and from kith and kin. I was a millennial and lived the period when post offices were greatly operational exchanging a lot of vital communication across the globe.

Not alone writing letters, we often commuted to the post office to transact some important things - from sending applications to competitive exams, entries to essay and story writing competitions, to collecting gifts, greeting cards, seasons cards, etc. Looking for the postman to deliver a much-awaited letter from a cousin or friend, he was an important part of daily routine in everyone’s life. And not to say the least, the joy of those receiving a money order after a month’s wait was indescribable as its value was so immeasurable to them.

Waiting was full of excitement and never a cause of concern for us. I can see kids, these days, not able to wait for even small things while increasingly frustrated with the time until they seek immediate fulfillment. They are ignoring to realize the sweetness in simple joys that had structured the formative years of our generation.

I feel so amazed at how the surprise-joy factor has changed over the years. I rarely get surprised now let alone being joyful. As a grownup, I went a full circle with a great ordeal to learn to live joyfully. I am not sure the present-day kids would experience as much as we did back in the day. Finding a colored pebble in the backyard, being able to climb the guava tree in the front porch of the house, buying a new dress, eating a popsicle from the street hawker - whatnot, every small thing brought in great excitement which was shared in letters.

A group of our close friends in school always used to write letters in that two-month separation during summer vacation we had every year. There were pranksters, who happened to be from the same town, that could easily figure out the girls’ addresses by the door numbers on the entrance gates and street names on signboards. They used to write anonymous letters to their favorite girls of the class making every one of us quiver with shock. Now looking back, I laugh at those pressure moments that agonized me by such letters, oscillating in a dilemma about who chose to annoy me. Then came the leave letters and letters to the school management. Every word, punctuation, and sentence was checked hundred times before handing them over to the school office.

Letters to friends contained greetings, followed by interesting things that were happening in our respective homes. We used to sweetly warn each other, at the end of final exams every year, that we should write letters only in envelopes and never on a postcard to avoid every tom, dick and harry in the post offices peek into our emotional privacy. Thereafter, we wrote about even small things that happened at home. We used to write about our fragile emotions and our silly fights, which were in most of the cases never posted but handed over personally after school reopened to laugh at each other’s experiences.

We always had a delusion that the postal staff would read every postcard until I visited the processing section of the local post office. I was shocked to see bundles of postcards lying everywhere and people working with lightning speed punching appropriate stamps and pushing them to the next section.

Telephones came into our lives, when I was in primary school, but with a price. It took a great deal to get a connection and we were proud to have one the moment they forayed into our town. Even with the landlines around, writing letters never stopped. One of my cousins always teased us by posting letters without proper postal stamps. He proved the fact that unstamped letters reached the destination faster. We used to call him over the phone (STD) to fight for the fines we paid to receive his letter (lollll).

Another feat in this journey was deciphering the family letters handwritten in a clumsy way like a doctor’s prescription. Whoever conveyed a better sense of what was written always won the hearts. My grandfather was a gentleman who greeted the postman promptly every afternoon with piping hot tea and biscuits with a warm conversation. I still remember how the postman was one among the wailing people when my grandfather passed away.

We often heard the tales of lovers secretly storing their letters in their trunks and almirahs to recall their sweet nothings once in a while. This became a reality when I stumbled upon a similar stash that was exchanged between my mom and dad before and after their marriage. I remember, as a child, hiding behind the bed and reading them with great fondness. My mother figured it out though and laughed at my curiosity. I was surprised at revelations of their love life. It is my earliest understanding of how beautiful a relationship could be that is entirely different from what we see portrayed in movies and books. Those were the gems I collected from my treasure hunts around the house.

Now, whenever I teach letter writing to my students, I keep reminiscing these memories and wonder if anyone is writing letters or at least emails as passionately as we did. In the world of emails and text messages, the lost glory of that handwritten letter is always a cherished one.