My best friend and I write letters to each other.
We met for the first time close to 8 years ago via a mutual pal and our friendship ran an interesting course alongside the rapidly changing social media trends of the twenty first century, with Gmail as our starting point, evolving through text messages on our emoji-free Nokia phones, Orkut, Facebook, Hangouts and finally Whatsapp. It was some months ago that I received his letter for the first time. It was a nice surprise, to say the least. He suggested that we ought to “use technology to share lives, but letters to share thoughts”. I agreed.
It has been the most wonderful experience. Technology keeps teaching us to make things simpler, easier, aiding us to the point where we cease to be self sufficient, till we become utterly helpless without our little gadgets. Phone numbers and birthdays are no longer remembered, and addresses never jotted down in memory. The success of enterprises like Twitter and Inshorts is evidence of our rapidly shrinking attention span. Emoticons replace words and make conversations all the more easier to the point where we forget how to converse in real life. Emails and texts are constantly checked and responded to; any delay in delivery makes us tense, anxious. There is always the need for instant gratification.
Introduce into such an existence the endangered, if not extinct, art of letter writing and you’re blown away by what it entitles. A letter I post typically takes four days to reach him, and there are the four days till his reply gets to me, bringing my wait up to a little more than a week. A side effect is that we tend to forget the original content of our respective letters and once in a while an envelope gets lost in the mail, but other than that we enjoy being in a time lapse, as he puts it. There is something fascinating about pouring your heart out onto a piece of paper and letting it fly away unguarded into the world. In an era based on passwords and end to end encryption, I am sending him my thoughts unrestricted, with the possibility of them being intercepted or destroyed at any point, but also with the possibility that they will reach him unharmed.
I cannot help wondering about the times when this was indeed a necessity. Wives awaiting word from their husbands at war or at work in distant lands, children writing to their parents from boarding schools, intimate letters passed covertly between lovers.. How exciting and frightening at the same time! The wait was not only agony, but also hope; the prospect of having some more days to live in the happy notion that the ones you care about are safe. Harsh realities took their time to rock your world. I am reminded of what Celine tells Jesse at the cemetery in Before Sunrise about how, if your loved ones do not know you’re dead, it is like you are still alive in a way.
Writing to someone is very different from having a conversation with them. In his words, you are entirely on your own, unaided by cues or interrupted by opinions from their part, free to put your point across with much greater clarity. In every day conversations, we often wait for our turn to speak/type rather than listening to the other; writing gives you a means to effectively do both. And when the writing involves letters and not electronic mail, it becomes extremely personal.
Pale blue sentences in ink written in a running hand gives me a mental picture of him sitting on his bed or at his table, and his hand moving over the page, punctuated by thought. I sense his mood from the curve of his signature. I know the words he struck out, the mistakes he made in spelling and grammar and the places where he rambled, for they are not erasable or auto corrected. They help me understand the real him a little better.
Letter writing is a lost art that needs to be revived at an age where communication is so easy and the world brought so close together by technology that we are beginning to lose all perspective.