Sixty years back all matters related to life were through post cards or through an inland letter. Arrival of a new born, announcement of a marriage, an intended programme, visits, routine exchange of information and so on. Telegrams were mostly reserved to announce the passing away of an aged relative or friend. Very few owned telephones and its use was very restricted.
In those days, letter writing was an art. I still remember a distant relative – Mr Nagaraj who was famous for writing all his love letters on a scented paper with a quill. I am told he had a way with words and his handwriting conquered many hearts. For some unknown reason he remained a bachelor all his life. If he had got married, his letter writing would probably have come to a complete stop.
My MIL used to receive long letters running into several pages from her sister– How are you? We are all doing well here. How is the weather in Mumbai? It’s raining in Bangalore. We went and saw Mughal e Azam. Have you seen it? All the children are studying well; I hope it’s the same with you and would continue using the same format of Q & A for several more pages. I am told she never wasted a single bit of paper- she would write all over it – horizontally, vertically and diagonally. On the other hand my MIL wrote the cutest and shortest letters. One such letter to my son said it all “study hard or else – lots of love – yours aggi”.
People had all the time and patience in the world to sit and write long letters to their near and dear ones.
In the early sixties, having a girl friend in South Bangalore was very rare. I had made friends with a girl who wrote a very short and sweet letter to me, whilst I was attending a NCC camp in Mangalore. I was the happiest boy on earth and carried a permanent smile on my face. When I returned, I went and promptly thanked her for writing. She shook the very ground under my feet violently when she said “What letter?” and quickly walked away. Disappointed and grim faced, I returned to my gang to narrate the sad story. They were in splits as GR Mallesh, my neighbour (who went on to become an ace pilot in the IAF) owned up to the gag.
I went to the Services Selection Board (SSB) in Meerut in 1966 and got selected for the navy. I came back home and waited for my letter to join the NDA. Days passed into weeks and there was no news of the joining instructions. Every morning at 10 a.m., I used to stand near the gate and eagerly wait for Mr Narayana Swamy the post man. Our conversation was short and simple – ‘Any letters?’ I would ask and he would just shake his head sideways, indicating a big ‘NO’. Then one day, to my utter delight, he nodded his head up and down, with as great an excitement as mine.
During my courting days, I once wrote a letter to Jai which had only three immortal words – (Hic, Hic, Hic? – thank the Lord not) “I love you – I love you” written several times all over the inland letter. It was accidently opened by her mother and to make things more complicated, her strict father wanted to know what I had written. Poor MIL had to make up the contents of the letter on the spot (with her famous letter writing prowess, it was not easy) - which went as follows –“I am fine – how are you, it’s raining here – what about there? I saw a movie – Have you seen any? and on and on she went, till interrupted by FIL who is supposed to have said ‘How dreadfully boring – what is wrong with this young boy?’.
Within months of marriage I went off to the USSR leaving behind my LOH who was by then 5 months pregnant. The only way we could keep in touch with each other was through letters. The ‘monkey mail’ in Phantom comics, probably took less time to reach its destination than our mail. Jai addressed her letters to ‘Naval Headquarters, New Delhi’. The letters would then be put in a diplomatic bag and handed over to the Ministry of External Affairs. They would send it by air to the Indian Embassy in Moscow. After sorting out the mail meant for the Riga detachment, it would reach us almost a month later. A ship mate of mine Sashi Khera who was also newly married, used to receive an extraordinarily large number of letters – much to the dismay of others like me. Prem Suthan, a bachelor, was at the other end of the spectrum and received no letters at all.
When I was posted in Port Harcourt, Nigeria in early Dec 1986,I received a letter from my father, which was written almost a month earlier in November. The letter was very unusual – it advised me on how to maintain a good relationship with my only sibling, how the property was to be shared, deepest regards to my wife and the grand children – it had certain finality about it. As I sat reading the letter and wondering what prompted him to write in such a tone and tenor – I received a telephone call informing me that my father was extremely serious. The next morning, he passed away. Premonition, I guess.
When children grew up and reached adolescence, communication did pose a problem. Children were young and at an impressionable age. In the early nineties, I used to travel a lot on work and at times it was very difficult to sit and talk with the children. Timings used to clash and it became increasingly difficult to find a common time patch. The art of letter writing was fading out fast. I then devised a method wherein I used to post messages on the fridge for the children to read and hopefully follow. I have preserved these posts all these years. The children themselves have now become responsible parents and I thought it was time to make the posts public. The stickers reflect the anxieties of parents at that time. Television seems to have been ‘Enemy Number ONE’. 20 years later when I hear my children telling their children that their quota of TV for the day is over, I feel relieved. Some examples of the notes I used to stick on the fridge are given below:-
IN 12TH YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER
CAUSE IT’S YOUR BREAD AND BUTTER
TV, TELEPHONE BUND KARDE
NAHI TO DANDA
FOR MY MUNDA
I HOPE THE MESSAGE IS LOUD AND CLEAR
DOES NOT LIKE
(MV meaning me)
WHEN ASKED WHAT DO YOU THINK OF
CUT THE CABLE
HOW DID JC ENSURE ALL HIS DISCIPLES ATE
ON THE DINING TABLE FOR THE LAST SUPPER ?
THERE WAS NO
I HAVE A BIWI
WHO SAYS NO TV
HOW ABOUT METRO
SHE SNAPS BUS KARO
WHY NOT BBC
SHE BARKS YOU GO AND SEE
WHY NOT STAR
SHE YELLS I WILL GO BAHAR
WHAT ABOUT ZEE
SHE SAYS HANJEE
IT’S CHEE CHEE
WHAT ABOUT DOOR DARSHAN
NAHI APKA DARSHAN
FAMOUS SAYINGS OF THE 20TH CENTURY
CHANGE THE CHANNEL
PUT IT ON
DON’T SWITCH OFF
“GIVE TV A BREAK THEY ALSO HAVE A LIFE”
I .M. ELEC – TRONIX
There were other concerns too
PRESERVING THE ONLY CHOCOLATE
YOUR KID SISTER
PROMISING NOT TO EAT
WHEN YOUR BROTHER HAS
NEXT BEST TO MODELLING CLOTHES
FINISHED HOME WORK?
START WITH HOUSE WORK
MY DEAR YOUR FEET
SHOULD BE NEAT
CHAPPAL SHOULD BE WORN
SOLE NOT TO BE TORN
THIS GENERATION, GIRLS SAY IT’S INFRA DIG
WEARING IT, THEY DO NOT CARE A FIG
IF YOU SAY NOT
YOUR FEET WILL ROT
I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU ALONE
CAUSE YOU WILL CRY WITH PAIN IN YOUR BONE
PLEASE WEAR FOOT REST
OR I WILL PROTEST
FEVER APPROVED BY ALL PARENTS, ADULTS AND DOCS ----
IS THERE ANY LIFE AFTER SCHOOL?
I enjoyed this sticker war - a totally different way of letter writing and communication. After my retirement, I did a short stint in the merchant navy, which kept me away from the family for long durations. Letter writing once again came to my rescue. I used to write long and detailed letters from sea. Jai has preserved all the letters which I wrote from sea – they make extremely interesting reading – reflecting the thoughts and concerns of the moment.
With the arrival of E mails and SMS – the art of writing letters has taken a back seat. Letters of yesteryears represented a way of life – full of leisure, details, desire to share information, concern and expression of emotions. Whereas E mails and SMS convey sense of urgency, brevity, curtness and a sharp under tone of ‘that much and no more’. A pity, as they are deleted after reading and hence will never be looked at ten, fifteen years down the line with a nostalgic sigh, taking you back to the moments in time that you had practically forgotten.
GM, how r u imbc TC LOL CU (: