Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Death of Letter-writing


I am currently reading Letters by Kurt Vonnegut. It is an amazing collection of letters, loaded splendid wit and amazingly disarming honesty. I have been off and on worrying about the dying art of letter writing, in spurts. Last I went into bout of sadness about the fact that no one writes letter anymore was when I had heard the rendition of the letters of Ghalib, the great Urdu poet, in the magnetic and soulful voice of an equally great Urdu writer, poet of the day, Gulzaar.
What imagery, what honesty, wrapped in such shiny, twinkling couplets like

" Jamaa karate ho kyun, raqeebon ko/
yeh tamaasha hua, gilaa Naa hua"
(Translation- The way you gather those
who strive and compete with me for your love
to listen to the woes of our love/
Turns what would be
Otherwise a plateful banter
Between two lovers
Into a vulgar spectacle)

The visual description and verbal imagery transports you into a different world, when you read and imagine Ghalib writing about the rains in Delhi, stating,
"Abr ek din Barse, to chhat chaar Roj barasati hai"( when the cloud rains for a day, the roof rains for four days).
One can actually visualise an ageing poets, with dense, white beard, sitting alone in one, rare dry corner of a damp, dark room, writing the letter, enveloped in a feeble light. One can not escape the charm of the florid writing and the mesmerising imagery contained therein.

When a letter is written to a friend, or family or beloved, it transcends the limitations of written words. Through letters two souls embrace and connect from a distance. When I write a letter, having immediately seen something or experienced something, it is an immediate declaration of a sense of longing that I impart to the targeted recipient of the letter. A letter says, at this moment this is what I see, or explicitly feel ( former can be done through a picture and latter surely though a well conceived FB status or tweet), but where the latter stretches beyond other tools of communications is when it explains and shares the implied thoughts and implicit feelings.

With the all-pervasiveness of digital technology, in terms of cameras, and smartphones, always connected over the mesh which holds our generation in its tentacles, we can share the picture of what is in front of us with those who might not be there with us at the moment. But, a picture, though is said to be worth a thousand words, is handicapped to be able to explain the feelings that your mind has experienced at the time when I saw a sunset, a lonely tree on a hillock, a couple having coffee together. A picture may be able to show what lies in front of you at the moment, a letter tells the recipient that I so longingly wish you were here with me when I saw that. That is what sharing life is about.

Those who access the picture you share get to see what you saw, but are left to themselves to interpret what you felt at that moment. Many times I do feel, that my inability to write to my spouse, to my parents have got a great deal to do with the stress which at time creeps into the relations owing to my ever frequent travels. Which picture can equal the endearing honesty of Kurt Vonnegut's letter in terms of so many things these lines convey about his state when he writes,"Jane (his wife) is at loose-ends these days- but sweet and cheerful as always. Our neighbours are awfully dumb and nights are awfully still." You can not event speak on phone like this, and methinks, not even in person.

By refusing to write, and trying to do with 140 character tweets, easy share of pictures on the Facebook, we not only deprive the current but also the future generation from any possibility of understanding us. What we share, the pictures, is nothing but what is. When we write about it, interpret it, we share with the reader of the letter, the human eye and the human heart which watched what is contained in the pictures.

I had a nine year long courtship and when I look back, I think we survived those days of love and longing, and are still going strong, on account of insights we gained into each others minds and hearts through letters we wrote to one another. It has been long since I wrote to my wife, may be a decade or so of our marriage. I still remember, we used to write to each other, even after we had met for an hour or so over a cup of coffee. The magic of those letters easily surpassed the time physically spent together. Those letters went beyond the limited times we were spend together, in those days of strictly rationed togetherness.

As we move forward, we share so little. Without letters, my wife can not know how annoying it was to find in the morning that my socks were so discomforting due to sweaty feet, and nor could my four year know how overwhelmed I was when I saw a cute monkey toy at the airport and in my heart thought about her. How do you describe the salubrious air of Bangalore or feisty feast of Kolkata over a tweet? With letters only we can continue to share our lives and thoughts. It was still manageable till the time email wasn't yet dead. Still, we would write long mails, describing our agonies, annoyances and ecstatic moments. But with Facebook and twitter, even that is gone and we are sharing less and less of our own selves with those we love. The ease of expression has killed the expression.

I pledge to write letters, and I muse fondly about my daughter's career ambition of becoming a postman when she grows up. I know, once she grows up, she might not want to become a postman once she outgrows her Nursery Rhyme about The Postman, and I will run a serious risk of being considered insane and/ or anachronous old fool, by friends and family for writing letters, once again. But I am of the belief that this venture of mine will help nourish some fledgling relations, currently living on the strength of nostalgia. I will write letters, and send them to friends and I will wait for letters from friends, will they also write? Will you write a letter after reading this, do let me know?

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