Monday Memories 6 – Remembering A Pen Pal


I am sure many of you must have had pen pals sometime in your life. Now with technology powering the relationships / friendships, the art of letter writing is gone and so has the joy of having pen pals. There is a certain kind of joy in writing letters. The assortment of inks, crayons and colored pencils, papers of different colors and designs, the envelopes, the postage stamps and the run to the post box to drop off a letter sealed with love to a friend one has never met in flesh but who still is a precious part of one’s life. Then the exciting anxious wait for the postman. The heartbreak of his cycling past the house and the joy of holding an envelope, an inland letter or an aerogram, sometimes a parcel or a picture postcard too from a distant place.  I miss all of it terribly. These days no one has time and patience to sit down and write a “real letter” with a pen or pencil and send it through the postal service or “snail mail” as it referred to these days. But this post isn’t about lost art of letter writing, it is about a very special pen pal I had as a teenager. I was in first year of college and used to visit the SFI office at Rafi Marg, Delhi. One day flipping through the pages of a magazine I saw a list for pen pals on the last page. I randomly selected four people by countries I wished to know about. Two girls and two boys. I carefully jotted down their address and mailed them a letter with a simple ” I would be delighted to be your pen pal” message. Three did not reply and I had almost given up on the fourth one when one day I saw a blue envelope peeping out of the letter box. A closer look revealed the foreign postage and I rushed down the stairs  with a thumping heart totally delirious with joy to finally get a reply from my Algerian friend. The first thing I noticed were the beautiful postage and a die for handwriting. With trembling fingers I slit opened the letter and found the sweetest ever letter written in broken English. It fascinated him to friend an Indian girl. I was seventeen at that time 🙂 . The letter had a brief introduction about him and all that he linked. He was two or three years elder to me. Thrilled by the new-found friendship I took out the various letter pads , unable to decide which one to use and after discarding a range of  letter pads, pens and aerograms I settled for a handmade paper with a pressed flower in the top right corner  and wrote him a letter with a pencil. What followed was series of long letters and cards, mostly handmade or picture postcards which told some story of the city we lived in. We exchanged photographs and I guess fell in love too. :p He was one hell of a good-looking guy and I pinned each photograph that arrived on the board in my room at an angle where I could see them all the time.  He wasn’t my first crush but maybe first love.. or rather distant love. 😉 He wrote to me about him family , his sisters and sent family pictures and revealed shyly that he kept my photographs with him all the time and found me very attractive.  Because of his lack of  knowledge of written English he mixed French and Arabic sometimes and it made reading the letters even more beautiful. We began to teach each other the “language of  love” as he referred to it. I taught him English and a few phrases of Hindi and he in return taught me to write in Arabic. Just the basics that were needed between two friends. It is strange how hearts connect over large distances. We grew closer by the day and one day I received a parcel with a handmade flowerpot hanger made of white rope in intricate knot design, a box of Almond Halwa whose oil had seeped out of the box and gathered in the plastic bag that carefully wrapped it (Not a thing got stained) , a gorgeous scarf and a small rug with a scene from One Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights depicted on it and a note that said, ” from the price to his princess. One day I will take you away on the horse like him.” I don’t remember but am sure I must have blushed beetroot. I don’t really remember the story now but he wrote it to me in the most beautiful way a story-teller can. He asked me about the Chikankari work from Lucknow and asked for some  taqiyah (prayer caps) and I searched for the ones with most intricate work and sent them along with a white kurta payjama in traditional Lucknowi chikan work plus some other things I made especially for him. With  a few days of sending the parcel I got another letter full of love and pictures of him in the “Indian” attire. It fitted him perfectly and the absolute joy could be seen from the letter which drifted from French to Arabic to Hindi to English all at the same time. For more than two years we exchanged gifts, cards, letters, pressed flowers, fragrances and sounds .. yes, we exchanged cassettes of  music, little bottles of itr and some other handicrafts  from our country. I sent silver filigree jewelry for his sister and he in return sent some gorgeous things from Algiers and Morocco where his beautiful sister lived.  We traveled through the lanes and by-lanes of his country and mine, became aware of customs and rituals, music and traditions, history and people, cuisine and literature and all things possible by writing to each other. He even sent me ‘First Day Covers’ of postage stamps and te story behind them. He wanted to marry me and the only issue was religion. If only I could convert  and become either a Jewish or a Muslim  we could marry. It was something I wasn’t ready for. I have been an atheist all my life and never truly believed in “following” any sect or religion so the time had come to say the toughest thing in the world ” Sorry, I can’t .” It broke his heart and mine too. I never met him but the energy that flowed through all his letters made him very special. He seemed the kindest and most loving person I had ever known. The thing I loved about him was the respect he had towards women. It was clearly evident in the way he wrote about them. Women of his house and of his country. We lost touch slowly and all that remained were memories. I got married and the letter, pictures and everything else all tied in neat bundle were left behind at my parental home only to be lost in numerous house shifting. I still have the rug  and will post a picture  the moment kids click and send it to me. I have been desperately trying to find him through internet but have not been able to find him yet. I have not mentioned his name to protect his identity ( some things are private to certain people) but I hope this post will somehow get us connected again. I would love to know where he is and if he still remembers is Indian “princess” 🙂 Some bonds are precious and unforgettable. Some friendships have no name. This one was and will remain the most cherished one. Though I outgrew the feeling of “love” but I still carry in my heart a special kind of warmth for him. I never made pen friends again.