I always had this hazy vision of letters being the final solution to the most complicated of situations. Like they could run through a dirty double helix as detergent granules and emerge making it sparkling clean. A roll of old parchment with curling y’s and swishing s’s. A tremulous hand dipping the quill in the deepest bottles of tenderness and trying to pack all of it in slender letters of the alphabet. Ugly, staccato verbal fights silenced into awe in the paper’s dignified presence and turning into patient entreaties, “journeying into the heart of language,” as Arundhati Roy says.
One’s whole life lain naked asking to be understood, forgiven, loved, being given a chance. Begging that its vulnerability be remembered long enough to understand the writer’s inconsistencies and then forgotten, before it becomes a source of embarrassment. The time, the effort, the struggle to understand the seemingly unfathomable in one’s own self and the guts to push it down someone else’s throat, all combined to make the writer hopeful of redemption.
As a child, the idea of pen friendships had fascinated me, along with the vested interest that the postage from foreign shores would add richly to my stamp collection. But I had no source that would help connect me to these faraway friends. When I travelled abroad as a schoolgirl for the first time to visit my father, I made sure to write to my grandfather documenting everything about my surroundings, starting from the radio installed in the bed to the kind of chocolates I and my sister were having. I tried to include all the details that would help people back home visualise the parallel reality I would have loved them to share with me.
For years, I wrote to my best friend from primary school after I had moved to another town and a bigger institution. It miffed the friends at my new school to see that I was still holding on to her as if the newer folks were not cool enough. But I was also hanging on to the tradition of letter writing. I waited to receive the folded pages with her familiar handwriting so I could be reassured that someone was regularly backing up my past for me to visit whenever I floundered in an uncertain future.
With my reticence in speaking, I resorted to letters whenever I had to sort out any misunderstanding with a friend. I made myself believe that my love interests would be flattered if, through the letters I sent, they could hold on to a physical manifestation of my affection. When I decided to be a writer, the occupation of letter writing took on a more serious and official avatar. A4 sheets with ample margin on the left addressing the editors of local newspapers would regularly go out. I might have been sending my works to the “teens and kids” section, but I wasn’t ready to be dismissed for the lack of gravitas or “professionalism”.
But, after all these years, in the present age, writing letters makes me nervous. I fear that it could make the other person believe you have all the time in the world to twirl on your heels over and over and then complain your head is spinning. That you take double helixes to be things that are worn around your body and then squeal for help. That you should be doled out the sympathy each “freak” deserves but no more. That you are a threat to the environment (and they won’t be wrong) because you choose paper over phones and the Internet. That you are a relic from the bygone era creating something archaic that cannot be safeguarded in a password-protected folder online. So I have decided to hold my breath till a tree plonks itself down and impedes my way until I promise to use it for writing that letter. Till then, I’ll roll up and wait.