The Lost Joy of Letter Writing #MondayMusings

I loved old-fashioned letters written with a pen on paper, I loved the texture of the paper, the postage stamp, the envelope with the address of a street or lane from an unknown city, the handwriting of the sender, the fragrance, the stamps of post offices, everything. But, Alas!! Nobody writes such a letter these days. We no longer wait for the postman to deliver us a letter from a cousin living in a distant land or a friend from the same city. We have multiple Apps to message, chat, call, video call and collectively they have taken away the charm of letters.

In kindergarten, when I started learning to write, my mother insisted that I should start writing to my grandparents, uncles, and aunts who lived in Kolkata.  In those days my mom used to send inland letters to her family, and the last page used to be reserved for me, where I used to write something in an unskilled manner. The content used to be generally restricted to “how are you?”, “I am good”, “take my regards”, and “I miss you”. In June, when I was visiting my Kakima in Kolkata, I heard her narrating to my son, how I used to send her letters when I could even barely write. I noticed pride and nostalgia in her voice mixed with a tinge of sadness. I am sure she was also missing those days.

During my early childhood, most of the letters that I used to receive were usually written in Bengali, however, Lily Masi used to send me letters in English from London. I always found those letters to be exotic. The par avion airmail, the postage stamp with Queen Elizabeth, and impeccable English written in calligraphic handwriting always left me in awe. Every time the postman delivered a letter from her, it used to brighten up my day. Now, she doesn’t write me letter anymore, we speak over WhatsApp but honestly, there is no charm in WhatsApp.

I started independently (without any prompt or dictation from my parents) writing letters in class seven when our language teacher gave us holiday homework to write letters to our friends during summer vacation. I started writing letters to my best friend in school and made my father post them. My father had a tendency to forget posting letters, so I had to constantly keep reminding him.

I also made a few “pen-friends”. Millennials are not aware of this term. Pen-friends are friends with whom you connect only through letters. I had four such friends, I met them through the ‘pen friend’ section of a children’s magazine. One was Olga from Russia, the other was a girl(forgot her name) from Jamaica, the other two were Indians. With Olga, I exchanged letters for almost 4 years and then I lost touch after I shifted home.

After our class 12th, my friend Tanushree took up a job and moved to Goa. Letters became the only medium to stay in touch. Initially, the letters used to be short and crisp but gradually they turned into small booklets. Pages and pages of youthful exuberance started traveling from one part of India to the other.

Unlike emails, letter writing involved a tedious process. I used to go to Archies store or other good stationery shops to buy letter writing pads. For special occasions like Christmas, Diwali or birthdays I used to buy customized pads along with matching envelopes. In a few occasions, I even bought perfumed pads. Special pens were kept aside for letters. I used to write a rough draft in a normal paper and then after editing it used to copy it on the main paper. Choosing postal stamps were also important. I preferred to choose unique stamps to stick on overseas letters. Writing the address on top of the letter also required skill, and I often wrote them with the utmost care, one alphabet at a time, leaving the exact space and no overwriting. The final stage was walking to the red Post box and dropping it.

There were many more letters. How could one forget the “love letters” sent by adolescent boys? Let me confess, I never received any but always desired one. My classmates used to bring to school letters from their suitors and I never had anything to show them. The closest thing I had to a “love letter” was a math sum that a boy had once dropped on my verandah. He had solved it on my behalf and dropped it on my balcony.

Emails in a way killed the fun of handwritten letters. Who wants to wait for letters when you can receive an email in a second. Gradually, letters stopped coming. The postman knocked on our door infrequently only when he had to deliver some official letter or parcel. Email and SMS took over our lives. Gradually, Gtalk, Orkut, Facebook, Skype, and Whatsapp flooded our lives and we forgot the art and joy of letter writing.

There was a time when we saw the crucial role played by letters in literature, films, and theatres. There were so many books written in the epistolary format using letters. Can you recollect a few such novels? There were movies that used this format and of course plays. One play that I absolutely loved in this format was “Tumhari Amrita“.

I still love to write letters however these days nobody shares their postal address but only share their email address. Even today whenever I go through any emotional turmoil, I end up writing letters (emails). Writing a lengthy email often proves cathartic and I end up feeling good. Now, tell me how do you feel about writing letters. Do you love it or loathe it? Drop a comment.







25 thoughts on “The Lost Joy of Letter Writing #MondayMusings

  1. Antoinette Truglio Martin says:

    I use to love stationary sets with matching envelopes. I’d write letters and thanks yous and loved to receive them.But, emailing is so much quicker and easier-instant gratification.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Arpita says:

    I have written a bunch of letters too in my childhood. Some in English to my uncle and aunt staying in then Bombay. In fact for that matter, when our email addresses were not filled with junk emails and promotional emails, long emails from friends used to mean a lot too. WhatsApp kinda killed the joy yes. But writing long stuff is cathartic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. neelstoria says:

    Can relate to everything you write here. I’ve done all of these, starting from sending Inland letters to relatives to getting customised writing pads from Archies. All of this is so nostalgic. Electronic medium can provide some instant gratification but not the long-lasting joy of receiving and writing letters. And, pen-friend used to be such an interesting concept. Sometimes I feel connecting with strangers through social media serves a similar purpose but it’s nowhere near to the excitement of having a pen-friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Balaka says:

      Pen friends were different than connecting with people through social media. When you connect through social media you get an idea about the person, you go through his profile and get a basic idea of how he looks, what he does, what he likes. Whereas in the case of pen friends you absolutely had no idea about the other person and only through letters you got to know him/her. In those days photos were rare and I never shared any pics with them and till date, I do not know how they looked like. It was a different world. Today, even if I meet them I wouldn’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. the bespectacled mother says:

    Aah those letter pads! I used to love them. I am exactly your type – fond of handwritten letters and somehow I guess most people from the era we grew up in must be similar to us. I began writing letters to 2 friends, who were based in Guwahati, in 4 Std. after my father got transferred from there and we moved to the North Indian plains. This letter exchange carried on for 2 years and then it stopped. I used to see the pen friends column in children magazine but never had the inkling to try writing letters to stranger children in other countries.
    I too didn’t ever get a love letter in school or college but I am grateful it didn’t happen because in those days it would have been blasphemy. I think emails are the best for love letters in terms of the privacy criteria. This post has made me terribly nostalgic of those times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Balaka says:

      I miss not receiving an anonymous love letter. It would have been fun to keep guessing who it was. Emails take away anonymity. Pen friends were cool and I learned so much about their countries and culture through their letters. Especially Olga was so good that I was almost planning to visit Russia to meet her once I grew up. I still exchange long emails with a few friends but miss handwritten letters. Well, we at times also write letters with pen and paper and then take a picture and whatsapp it 🙂


  5. arv! says:

    Probably, the physical letters will be exclusive to the people who grew up in the pre-2000 era. Rest all grew up with emails, which itself went out after instant messengers became popular.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rajlakshmi says:

    You took me back to my childhood. I used to write so many letters to my friends and even had penpals. The letterpad meant for only certain occasions. I even had those perfume gel pens . It was a fun and simple world connected by words.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Esha says:

    Oh yes, the lost joys of letter-writing and receiving! Nothing compares to that thrill of receiving a letter. I was always a sucker for handwritten letters since childhood and carried it up to adulthood! It was our ‘thing’ before times changed and emails arrived and wiped out all the fun of the inland letters and the Par Avion envelopes stopped coming from abroad. We HAD to write to every relative during Noboborsho and Bijoya. That’s why I learnt Bangla. Letters to Dadu, Dida and Thamma were a must those days! With times, it all dwindled away. I used to have an entire trunk filled with letters when I got married and left Kolkata. I often think of the time and energy that I used to spend writing letters to friends and then, the excitement on seeing the postman cycling up to deliver them to our postboxes. Even in KBKC days, I used to get loads of letters,…I really miss those days, Tina. This post brought back so many memories for me, Tina. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Shilpa Garg says:

    This post made me do time travel. I got into writing letters to family members and friends pretty early. While letters to family were written on Inland letters, to friends it was always on beautiful stationary. I had 2 pen pals and we were in touch through big fat letters for over 5-6 years. A cousin and I used to write at least 8-10 pages of long notebooks (we used to call them registers). Then it all got lost amidst emails, SMS etc. Letters came back in our life when our son was in a Boarding School. We had to exchange letters every week and I still have his letters which I love re-reading every now and then. There’s something so beautiful about writing and receiving letters. SIGH… I miss those days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Balaka says:

      I like how you called them registers. They indeed registered the time and memories. I also love re-reading letters and I even go back and read old emails, chats and messages. I just love visiting the past now and then that remain captured in letters/emails/chats. Thanks for this beautiful comment.


  9. Damyanti Biswas says:

    What a beautiful post, alaka. I still exchange hand-written letters with blog friends. If you’d like to start up a correspondence, send me your address :). I try to recapture the nostalgia of writing to friends and family–it was a time when our mental place was less cluttered, and we could slow down and write.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. ivanonthekeys says:

    Yes, I remember the old par avion letters form relatives from Hungary. Now I see when they email online and all the recipients for it, like spam. Rarely does anything sent to me feels personal to myself. Letters were gifts in themselves. One puts thought into them, making them personal to the one intended for. Even the paper is often an individual thing. Then, it is “wrapped” by is envelope, and sent away, to the specific person, to be received and opened. I enjoy typing letters to friends. I have been told that they like to feel the print punched through so that they feel each word, and sometimes see the light through the holes. Letters are organic. Letters are kept in boxes drawers, or framed. Emails are deleted. Thank you for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

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