The Tribune - Spectrum

, February 24, 2002

Looking back wistfully at art of letter writing
S.P. Dhawan

SOME great Romantics in the 19th century regretted that scientific discoveries, based upon analysis and dissection, had robbed the rainbow and the flowers of much of their mystery and beauty. One romantically inclined in the current millennium may also regret that the latest marvels of telecommunication — phones, mobiles, e-mail etc. — are playing havoc with the enchanting art of writing sweet letters full of warmth, intimacy, affection, endearments, ardour, passion, romance and charm. A day may come, and it will be a sad day for the aesthetes, when letter-writing becomes confined to the circles of business, offices and safarish makers.

Prior to the dominance of the machine over the man, people were keen on enquiring one another’s addresses so that letters could be exchanged between them. But now the nature of enquiry has radically changed, as in most of the cases, they want to know only your phone number and e-mail address. Gone are the days when you would easily sit in privacy, give a free rein to your dreams and fantasis and then commit them to a piece of paper, which would get the endearing name of a letter. It would be eagerly awaited by the intended receiver, who would also respond and reciprocate with a heart pulsating with overwhelming emotions. Star-spangled skies would turn magical as the lovers shared the ecstasy engendered by the promises of eternal love enshrined in their letters.


Tears would flow profusely and inconsolably if the letter for the loved one printed to the agonising possibility of prolonged separations. These letters were read and re-read any number of times to savour fully the anticipated joys of union and reunion, or to brood over the anguish and pangs of dreaded separation. In moments of indolence and solitude these letters could truly become our own flesh and blood. This is something which can never be matched by the messages exchanged through the cold machine in a tearing hurry. O, the bane of modernity the sickening hurry and worry, the stress and strain, the de-humanising machines and the destruction of the noble raptures.

Inevitably, the postman formed a vital link in the chain of correspondence, he was the most eagerly awaited figure in each home and establishment. Recognised by his uniform and voice, appreciated by his dedicated service during both sun and shower, he held an inexpressibly stronghold on our minds as the harbinger of glad tidings as well sad but necessary news regarding our near and dear ones. To a large extent, his role has now been usurped by the electronic machines.

When leisure was still cherished in a society not exposed to the all consuming cares letter-writing formed a sweet and integral part of our culture. Among the sculptural treasures and ancient India as e.g. in Khajurao we find a pretty damsel writing on a stone slab what is obviously a love letter. Fewer sights be more beautiful and touching than a pigeon being requested to carry a love letter.

Kabutar ja ja ja

"Vasta ee rab da tu jayeen ve kabutara."

Not even the most elegant telephone-set would hold comparison with such loving images or with those evoked in following songs:-

Yeh mera prem patar padh kar, ke tum naraz na hona.....

Likhey jo khat tujeh, who teri yaad mein......

Chithi aaeye hai, aaeye hai....

Nee chithiye sajna diye, tenu ghut ghut seene nal laavan...

Mirza Galib wrote that after his demise the following might be found in his house:

Chand haseenon ke khatoot....

Letters of various forms have deservedly found a prominent place in several literary works, e.g. in the novels of Jane Austen. In Hardy’s Tess, the heroine’s life is ruined by a letter being inadvertently pushed and hidden under a carpet. The timely or rather ill-time discovery of a love letter often proves a turning point in some of our bollywood pictures. Nehru’s letter to his daughter, Indira gave her knowledge and wisdom which no telephonic conversation could ever impart in the same affectionate manner. Letters written by many other famous persons have also been published and admired for various reasons.

If we wish to preserve the grace and dignity of their rich culture, we should not allow the art of writing intimate personal letters to be relegated to the oblivion.