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.
So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us.
As a kid I never understood why my mother had a bagful of old letters, cards and another of little mementos, clothes from our childhood. It seemed like an extra baggage though once in a while I did do through them and listened to the stories attached. When I grew up, got married and had children mom gave my little clothes to me and said ,” theses are for your sons”. I smiled. Suddenly there was a gush of emotions .. you know I think I got it from mom, this sentimental gush for people and things 😀
I carefully wrapped them and gave to the boys. Even made my younger one wear my parkar polka ( lehnga and choli) I am sure he hates me for this but he looked super cute 😛 . Maybe I wanted to fulfill my desire to have a daughter by dressing him like one .. Ya ya I know that’s kind of not good but then every boy is dressed in those pretty frocks as babies , aren’t they? 🙂 I will share the pic if he allows . This particular lenga I had word on my first birthday and is very precious to me.
The other thing that mom gave was a small coat and cap which I wore as 3-4 month old baby . It is still is perfect condition with no dry cleaning and all. Preserved just with love and care.
There is some special fragrance and softness in these clothes. I had seen myself wearing this in photographs but to hold it in my hand and run the fingers on its fabric gave me a feeling which is beyond explanation. I realized there were so many things which were part of my memory of memories. Things straight out of magical days of childhood, connecting me to those wonderful days. A little box that held my first curl of hair, my umbilical cord wrapped in cotton wool. little anklets, small silverware ( a glass, bowl and spoon). It brought back memories of many things that were so precious to me but aren’t there now. A doll I always tagged along everywhere, picture books, scrap books, box of crayons and much more. Those were days when we had imagination and crayons instead of mobiles and play stations. I now knew what ma must have felt to so carefully treasure them. There are letter written in colorful scribble from me to ma, picture with alien like characters and scenery with exceptionally imaginative colors. 😀 .
Many times ma would take the bundle out and we would read and go through all of it and laugh and cry at the same time. She also managed to make the grandchildren gather around her and narrated stories about our childhood much to the amusement of the lot.
Letter writing is a lost art. I feel that nothing can replace the warmth and intimacy of a handwritten note or a hand-made card. Just as I was encouraged to write letters and draw , I encouraged my boys to scribble a few lines or draw something and send to grandparents. It always went with my letters and kids felt so proud of their feat every time , waited eagerly for mom or dad to reply. They were never directed what to write, just given a paper, pencil and colors and what emerged was a kaleidoscope of their imagination . I believed that this kind of interaction helps to develop a bond and creates a comfort zone. It sometimes even bridges the generation gap, at least it did in our family.
As they grew older and learned to write , these letters became one amazing peek into their inner world. Mom carefully kept each one in labelled envelopes with dates and time written in neat bold letters. From the time they began to hold the pencil/ color to when they could write properly. My elder one sent a lot of handmade cards and letters from hostle to both mom and me and each of us kept each one.
There is a bundle of my letters to mom and Adi’s letters to me. Pix will be added soon. 🙂
I have preserved some of the things from the childhood of my boys. Some of Adi’s stuff was buried in a transparent plastic bag as part of Dorling Kinsley Publications millennium year project.
I am a sucker for such stuff. 😀
Like mom I too kept the little clothes, letters, pictures, cards, toys, whatever I could squirrel away.
Here is my elder one’s first birthday dress. (he is twenty year old handsome adult now) 🙂
There are a treasure trove when it comes to these beautiful memories. I am sharing just a few. I may add a few more pictures in coming days.
I always loved book and the family encouraged reading from a very early age. Most of the books I gave to a library of a village school. The picture dictionaries, children’s literature by Tolstoy and other books from PPH( People’s publishing house), CBT, etc. Some books were handed over from my brother to me and some others are part of my maternal grandfather’s collection. Collectors issues, first prints and some now out of print editions. Here are three of my favorites from my childhood.
These books are priceless treasures. Fruit Gathering ( Indian edition 1927), a gift from my grandfather’s collection. In Poem town is published by Blackie and Son Limited (London) somewhere between 1939=45). It says ‘Book production war economy standard’ and here we are talking of WW2. Now we are six doesn’t have the first page so the year is not confirmed but its yellow crumbling pages show it is as old as the other books. I am searching for someone who can preserve these books. If someone can help , please leave a comment.
I will do yet another post as I get hold of some other precious things which are tucked away somewhere.
Do you have such precious objects? Things from childhood – yours or your children’s? Do share links if you write about them.
Here is one more post I did long ago https://tikulicious.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/heirlooms-treasures-from-the-yesteryears/
Hand written letters have become almost a thing of the past now a day. The charm of receiving a special token of remembrance has become limited to email. Is it not time to revive this beautiful art of hand written letters?
I remember her as a soft spoken charming lady whose very presence made me feel warm n loved .I treasure the childhood days spent at her home in Pune .the fresh dollop of butter ,laying in her cozy lap ,her chubby soft little hands caressing my head ,..Her sweet honey filled voice still fills me with nostalgia .I loved her so much that I called her Aai(mother).I still do .
Fondly I looked at the yellow piece of paper in my hand..Broken handwriting..Illegible words..This was her last letter to me .Her body was wasting away due to osteoarthritis and she was going through a lot of agony .I remember the time when my aunt had to cut her long silvery hair to a short bob cut as it was becoming difficult to manage them as she lay on her bed unable to move. .the letter was written in 1979 just two years before she passed away.
Tender words of love and care, so painstakingly written to her favorite grand daughter .
I don’t remember how many times I must have read it folded and unfolded it during all these years..Even now, when I am low or troubled I see her round soft wrinkle free face and that priceless smile..It ceases all my pain.
This letter made me wonder how in the world of emails and sms, we have forgotten this wonderful art of hand written letters..The lovely stationary we kept..The personnel touch that each letter carried with it .the anticipatory wait for the postman to bring some news from a loved one..It was a wonderful feeling which was very private between the sender and the receiver. Sometimes the fragrance which brought back happy times spent together, all this is missing in today’s electronic world of communication.
Looking back I fondly recall writing and receiving hundreds of letters to and from my family, relatives and friends. But now my snail mailbox is wrought with bills, credit card inquiries and TONS of junk mail! I personally think it’s exciting to find a handwritten letter or card waiting for me at the end of the day.
Letter-writing is sadly a dying art form but it needs reviving. If not long winded letters, one should at least consider writing notes. I encourage my children to make cards ,write notes ,letters as we did .I myself make it a point to send hand written letters and cards as much as I can .It brings a person closer to you .