The dying art of writing letters

  • 19 Sep - 25 Sep, 2020
  • Ayesha Adil
  • Fiction

So, today since I am writing about letters let me address this blog to my readers in a letter!

Dear Bloggers,

I hope you all are doing well as I am the same!

Being the biggest fan of the classics; I was watching a period movie the other day and what I got stuck at besides the scenery and the descriptions and the beautiful Victorian accent of the narrator was the great care and love people put into writing their letters. To date I am fascinated by such scenes. And there are at least two to three in every period movie I’ve watched. You may recall them yourself. There are so many in the movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s work; like Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. Their entire storylines are based on writing letters. In fact all the confusion in the book was resolved by those exquisitely written letters! Our famously loved couple Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy would never have come together if it wasn’t the letters that explained the entire situation and cleared the air between them. So, I think I can safely say that letter writing was pretty huge back then.

So, what happened to us now? I mean we still get business letters but it is the personal letters that I am talking about here. This was a tradition that was revered and was so romantic. And the tradition just doesn’t stop with period movies. After all writers like Nicholas Sparks and Cecelia Ahern didn’t just happen to write entire books on the romanticism of letter writing on a fluke. This proves that even in the 21st century “Dear John” and “P.S. I Love You”, hold interest with all generations. Letter writing exists but maybe not in the real world.

Sometimes I like to go online and read letters of famous personalities. It almost feels like a guilty pleasure, secret thoughts and words that were meant to be read by a lover or a mistress and here they lie bare before all to read; it feels like an invasion but the literary content is too powerful to ignore.

Coming back to the classic movies, I just can’t get enough of those beautifully handcrafted wooden desks, with their ornate drawers and their handmade papers and quills and ink pots. Those crystal and glass containers of granite coloured liquid, oh so mysterious. I could spend hours and days watching them write in that beautiful, and slanting handwriting. The pain and the care that went into the exercise. And then the most romantic wait, the letter takes a while to reach its destination and when it finally does the suspense of being carried on a silver try onto the master or mistress of the house and into the hands of the recipient. The opening of that wax seal and the gliding out of the contents, lying on the table and being unfolded and read aloud. How wonderful. The entire experience itself is to die for.

Why did letter writing become redundant and why did it become undone? I know technology killed this time old tradition like so many but I now realise what a big mistake that was. An email, a text message or a whatsapp just doesn’t cut it. An odd ping on our cell phone and the immediate gratification of reading the text or message. Where’s the joy in that?

The last letter I wrote was probably when I was 12 or 13 years old, just a shade before the internet fever crept up on us insidiously taking over all our sensibilities, so-called making things easier for us and robbing us of all cultural and artistic abilities one by one; writing letters was just one of them.

Even in the 21st century writing a letter was something that we did with lots of care. Paper and pen in hand I think an actual letter that was sent was possibly finalised after three or four attempts. Lots of paper was definitely wasted and yes it was never a green move but it was cathartic and therapeutic. And if one was writing an angry letter then by the second or third attempt we would have cooled off enough and changed our words, made them softer and more acceptable and maybe threw away the letter all and all. Letter writing used to save lives and marriages and relationships. Now whenever one feels urge to say anything good or bad one goes straight to sending a text or a whatsapp message and bam there goes the marriage or the friendship and nothing can be refreshed ever again. All is lost forever.

Now sitting here at my desk I'm wondering who I could write to. Even if I do manage to find a friend who won't be too averse to receiving a letter the oddness of it would be too hard to explain. I'm thinking Saman might be a good candidate but then again I speak to Saman every day and if I tell her that I sent her a letter she'll want to know what I wrote in it and even before she would get it she'll know of its contents thus defeating the purpose completely. Hmmmm...

Here I was pondering away when an idea struck me. I called Ibrahim to come to me; he was busy doing his art work and finally came into the room sluggishly. Moving him away from what he was passionate about was not an easy task.

"Ibrahim how would you like Mama to write you a letter?" I wish you could see his incredulous face when he replied in a monotone, "No".

"Awww come on dear, it'll be fun. I'll write to you and I'll leave the letter by your bedside and you can read it the morning when you wake up and then you can write me a reply and then leave it on my bedside and I'll be happy and surprised to get it." I smiled brightly to encourage him to agree.

"But we're always together, what can we write about?" My son may be only 4 years old but he wasn't dumb.

"Oh you can write about anything. Your day, something that was special and you want to tell me about it or maybe about some plans that you have in mind and you want to share them with me." And again a bright smile to help move things along.

"Mama we talk all the time. I don't know why we need to put it in a letter."

I was stumped. I really wanted to do this and my son was of no help. He definitely got that gene from his dad. Fawad and Ibrahim forever practical!

I was about to give up when I saw his face light up.

"Can I share the things that I want? The toys that I want to buy and the outings that I want to do with you and dad? I mean I can tell you this too but I forget easily. This way I can put it down week after week and the planning."

"That sounds great Ibrahim! Let’s do it. I'll write to you first and you can reply and so on!"

I was super excited. I had exactly what I wanted. Ibrahim climbed off my lap and went off to finish his art. I called out to him that after lunch we would go out to buy stationary for our letters. He replied that he couldn't wait.

So with a little creativity I had stumbled upon a great idea to bring back the joy of letter writing and maybe this would become a lifelong habit for the both us. Not too bad Saima! Not too bad at all!

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!

Yours sincerely,

Saima Fawad