A very random mid-afternoon conversation among cousins somehow reached the topic of letters. Until around 1997, I used to write letters, and postcards mostly. My first memories of letters were mainly from the time we shifted residence to Trivandrum when everyone in the family began writing to my parents and they would reply.
Letter writing was an almost daily task that my father spent a good half an hour to forty-five minutes on, early in the morning. All of us would read all the letters. They would be kept neatly near the radio till dad put them in the pocket before he left for the office. Mom wasn’t a daily letter writer. She would write once a week or so, but on inland or use sheets that would go in a cover.
Dad wrote in English and Mom wrote in Malayalam. She would diligently read out her letters to us. If we had anything to convey to the concerned person, we would tell her and she would add it up in the letter.
Once every month, usually over a weekend, we had the ritual of tearing away the letters. Every letter would be read again. Usually, the ones that were replied to were cancelled off with a date of reply mentioned on it. In case there were some letters that needed some follow up they would be kept aside. The rest were torn and then burnt in the backyard!
From 1991-95 when I was at the Regional college of education, I religiously followed my parents footsteps and used to write regularly to my parents, sister, cousins, school friends, uncles, aunts and so many other folks.
Awaiting a letter a day was a pleasant feeling. When we used to come to the hostel for lunch, the postman would have dropped all the letters in the lobby. I had a bagful of letters at the end of four years. I would sometimes read and reread them on certain evenings.
When I left the hostel, I religiously read every letter, noted that all had been replied for and decided that since now was the time to take the next step ahead in life, these needed to go. Just as my family used to do, I tore up each one and dumped them in the bonfire that was burning in the hostel compound.
Little did I know that in just two years or less I would stop writing letters and the world would shift to emails. Emails can be archived and deleted. There definitely is something magical about those handwritten letters which the email doesn’t have!
- Priya Gopal