Pammi aunty lives on the floor below us. She is a 55 year old women who lives all by herself after her husbands death. Both her sons are in the US and she is constantly trying to upgrade herself so that they don’t see her as outdated. She has graduated proudly from stitched kurtas to readymade branded kurtas. Of course they belong to W or Melange because Fab India is too expensive and without bling. ‘Agar 3k ka kurta pehno toh laga chahiye na’, she exclaimed much to my embarrassment in a Fab India shop. She has also embraced technology, has a Facebook account and whatsapp’s. Everyday I get ‘love your mother’ messages to approve before she sends it to her sons;just so that they don’t get offended. She is a unique mix of the old and new. I love spending time with her, for she has been my insight bank.
However, when I entered her house last evening there was gloom. Her usually neat and clean house looked like a mess. Papers, big, small, yellow and white covered her floor and she sat surrounded by them. Her spectacles hanging down her neck, hair bundled up in a bun and her phone lying by her side. I went up to her and asked her what had happened and she picked up a parch of paper and handed it to me.
‘Tawdi generation ae sab kya samjhege’ (Your generation wouldn’t understand this now), she said and took it back. She then handed me her mobile and said, ‘Bhar de is mail (which she probounces as mall) nal emotions’. The mobile had her mail open and contained a cut and dry mail from her son. Mails which by its very definition mean brevity stood true to its meaning. Amd there she was comparing it to a hand written Letter her sons had written to her when they were young.
Continuing over 2 pages in bad handwriting and equally bad English, emotions dripped from each word. Nearby were hand made cards juxtaposed to ready made emotions served via Archies. And she stood admit all this trying to relive her memories through the old.
What was it in the letters that the mail couldn’t get right. Letters which perhaps kids of today just write for board exams in a format they have to remember. I remember being young and writing long letters, emptying my heart to friends and family. Letters were not just words for me. The letter paper had to be chosen- a crisp white sheet when writing to my strict grandfather, flowered letter pad when writing to cool aunties and coloured paper when writing to cousins and friends. And then there was the content. No letter said excuse for brevity and spelling mistakes.. Letters were free flowing emotions which didn’t have to be pithy or perfect. They conveyed so much more than just emotions. Letters also meant anticipation. You would send a letter and chalk a reply in your head. And then began the process of waiting. Waiting for what the other person wrote back. Would they draw for you or tell you how it is going. And then there was joy, the sheer bliss of tearing the envelope and reading and re reading the letter and the immediate need to write back. Emails today while serving the same purpose are the corollary of letters. While letters had the capability to tell a story, emails tell summaries often cutting the best parts out. I don’t know if a mail sitting in your inbox would ever be better than a letter resting in your letterbox.
As I looked at Pammi aunty, I did understand her anger. Here she was emotion hungry being fed by a mail which was devoid of emotion. A short and sweet instant note written while one was travelling perhaps , with all the mandates of how are you and I am fine. The final sign off of love seemed like a signature one would change for various parties. And the reply button asked her for an instant reply, else she would be thought of as technologically distant .’ Hor ki’, she said’ likh de I am fine’ (What else, write I am fine); God bless’. ‘Aur Haa neeche likh daye your mom; yeh aaj kal ka trend hai na’ (& write your mom at the end, since this is the trend). As I was drafting the reply, her inbox pinged again, this time with an e card. I was almost tempted to delete it for it would evoke a new debate in my head and hers but then I let it be. She needed to know that the age of the letters was over. That we now conveyed emotions as lol and lmao rather than long sentences. That pieces of paper were now used not for sending heartfelt messages but for taking notes and that letters would soon find their place in historical museums, for future generations to marvel on!