An age of letters

The other day, while cleaning my bookshelf, I stumbled upon a few old letters received decades ago tucked inside the books. There were the inland letters (which had to be folded the right way to allow enough space for the sender’s and receiver’s addresses), the so-called postal covers that enclosed letters and humble postcards which were generally used to convey short messages. They were all musty-smelling and yellowed but the writings on them were clear, thanks to the quality of paper and ink used!

Most of them were from my paternal and maternal uncles, cousins, friends and brothers-in-law. There was one from an uncle known for his bad handwriting which only we, with sheer practice, could decipher, there was a card full of abbreviations, jokes and icons that a cousin had written taking care to not waste any space, another one thanking us for the pleasurable stay they had at our place and expressing eagerness to receive us at their end — all these pointed to the age when courtesies, pleasantries and matters of the heart counted!

As I unfolded the letters to reread them, a lump rose in my throat not only because most of the writers had gone forever, but also because their contents exuded genuine feelings that took me back to the leisurely times when letter-writers had the patience to think of and pen a few lines for their dear ones who were physically not so near!

Recently, when I experienced some problem receiving an important registered letter, my friends advised me to “butter-up your post-man and request him to deliver it on time.” But our postman was a rarity who slipped the occasional invitations and prasadam-enclosed letters from temples into the mail box or tossed them over the gate!

The postman, an important service-provider of yesteryear, was an invitee to most functions as he invariably landed at the venues with the delivery. He was a guide and philosopher to the mostly illiterate rural folk whose letters he read for them.

There are many old songs devoted to letters because it was the chief mode of communication. Termed ‘snail mail’ for its slow pace of delivery, the postal service is still going strong in countries like the UK where the ‘Royal Mail’ makes its presence felt everywhere.

A custom followed by married women of the Gowd Saraswat Brahmin community in the month of Shravana (July-August) of worshipping Tulsi and exchanging tiny flower-posies and vermillion packets gets the postal service all agog with work annually! The bold “prasadam enclosed” marking on the envelopes spares them the postal weighing scales.

In these times, when information is conveyed with just a click of a button, putting pen to paper is an exercise that not only improves handwriting skills, but also teaches us the beauty of the written word!

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An age of letters

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