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Letters lost

Published Apr 19, 2011 06:33am


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Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons

There was a time, not too long ago, when you and I used to write letters. I remember a sweet childhood poem and it went something like:

‘I sent a letter to my father

On the way I dropped it,

Somebody came and picked it up

And put it in his pocket.’

I honestly don’t think I can blame ‘somebody’ for stealing my letter for I haven’t written a traditional one in at least a decade, and there are so many acceptable reasons for it.

I recently found an old letter I had written to my father some 13 years ago; it was thoughtful, original and personal, so diametrically different from an email. Let me insist that the implication is certainly not that email is not an extraordinarily fantastic method of communication but simply, it can never be a cherished letter.

Old letters, old cards, little old notes are charming, and when you stumble upon one unexpectedly it brings memories of lost times and sentimental moments in an almost tangible way. I can most certainly admit to sitting with an old shoebox reading old letters and cards and rediscovering delight in much the same way as I did upon receiving them initially.

On my previous visit to Pakistan, I was gifted a box full of letters that belonged to my father. It was precious to say the least. I read a few letters instantly and learnt a few valuable family history lessons that afternoon which would otherwise have been eclipsed by time.

I discovered that at the time of Partition, my six-year-old father was accidentally left behind while the family began their march for migration. His nana discovered that the head count was less one and walked back several miles to pick up the little lad who was fearfully hiding under a bed. The ink on the letter smudged as my heart became heavy with the thought of a lost little boy and his bahadur nana, my great grandfather. Until that day nanajee was just a name on the Shijra but now, he is the reason I exist.

Remember a time when our ancestors, and we, were writing letters to stay in touch – there was pen and paper and some meaningful thought, unlike the direct method of Q and A and information passing we engage in today. There is cc, bcc, text messages, Twitter, and Facebook and thus the art of letter writing has gradually worn away. The truth is that even with all this technology and the message being delivered instantly, we do not have an extra moment to indulge in niceties.  We may have the courtesy to ask, ‘how are you?’ but do not have the patience to wait for a reply. I reckon we could easily blame the dying art on a cultural shift, but remember instant messaging is here today gone tomorrow.  I somehow cannot picture our children sitting with our old computers and cell phones and getting sentimental over nanajee’s valour.

There is a sea of information out there – how do you sift through it and find and believe what you are looking for? If looking for a penpal, one just goes onto a search engine looking for a chat, unlike the yesteryears when we actually had pals who were our friends because of the pen.

I cherished sharing letters with Amy from Alabama. I was a ten-year-old in Pakistan and she in the US, and it was awesome! I used to wait for Latif, our postman, to bring me a letter from Amy at least once a month, and then there was Rimmy Apa who always indulged me and wrote beautiful long letters to me. I was inspired by her intelligence, impressed by her beauty and even developed a little bit of an attitude because an older cousin seemed to show an interest in me.

We miss composing and receiving letters maybe because they remind us of a time that was simple and pleasant, but I also believe that the fondness and joy comes from the imagery and emotion that letters carry – something akin to a time capsule.

Writing letters gives our emotions relevance; it makes us no intellectuals but certainly lends us the opportunity to put on paper our fundamental self, and certainly is a wonderful and ‘now’ unique style of showing appreciation and affection in a crazy world. And as for receiving a letter, well, it is almost like having a dear friend stop by for a cup of chai unexpectedly.

Bisma Tirmizi is a writer based in Las Vegas

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Bisma Tirmizi is a former Dawn staffer, currently a freelance journalist.

She loves food, music and simple pleasures. She can be reached at Follow her on Facebook here.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

Rabia Basri Apr 19, 2011 11:58am
Very Well Written....
Maaz Ahsan Apr 19, 2011 12:10pm
I acknowledge the theme and feels the same way as write does. I remember exchanging letters with my elder cousin who was like an elder sister to me and living abroad. I would so impatiently wait for her letter to come via some one travelling back to Pakistan. The feeling of writing with a pen on a piece of paper and then that paper becoming a piece of history cannot be explained in words while writing on this blog sitting on a computer. It was totally a different set of colorful canvas we mostly dont have now in our digital world. Each paper with memories and history becomes so important in one's life that we start preserving them for years to come. There is no replacement to letter writing even today. The feeling to wait for the letter to be delivered, read, replied and received spanned over a long period of time was as beautiful and bright as the writer personified with a dear friend stopping by for a cup of chai unexpectedly.
maha Apr 19, 2011 12:33pm
It was a good time period in which we use to exchange letters and write cards on Special occasions like Eid, Birthdays or on achieving good result …. But now Time is actually running, time doesn’t wait for anyone... and today world is so digital there is no such requirement of traditional letter …. Time is moving fast... And people need quick response from all sides
Iqra Apr 19, 2011 12:52pm
Agreed...But still one cant avoid technology as it is quick way of interaction, while in case of letters one has to wait a day or two for response and also some of them might get lost.
kehkashan Apr 19, 2011 12:55pm
i agree with the writer.that was the golden period when we used to write letters to our dear ones, and we, in our childhood, used to make them beatiful by coloring them, making sweet sketches on them,.an array of sweet memories come with the poem."i sent a letter to my friend!!!" nicely written
khalid Apr 19, 2011 01:31pm
I personally cherish my habit of writing letters and loved to read them but i hardly find any one carrying even a pen now a days. It is strange but true that today things are noted digitally or kept on PC's. Technology is good but we should not forget our past and keep it alive.
samrendra singh Apr 19, 2011 02:17pm
i still have lots of letter pad and greeting card left with no body cares to write a letter or send greeting card, a 25 p sms does it all. i still have all the letters i received from my friends, my parents, sister etc. when u read a old letter, lots of memories come knocking i the head.
Tariq Apr 19, 2011 02:42pm
How true. it is difficult for the new generation to even imagine a time when a letter was the only means of communication for a lot of people. I myself had a pen friend for 11 years with whom i exchanged letters. I can relate to the author's enthusiasm of receiving her mother's letter. I used to eagerly await my friends letter and used to spend hours in writing a perfect reply. I would also take care to not misspell any words or use incorrect grammar. Now with widespread use of sms correct spellings of words is no linger important and neither is grammar.
Hamid Apr 19, 2011 04:56pm
I think Bisma has very creatively explained one of our cultural values which have been lost due to the progress of technology. Myself residing out of Pakistan close to 30 years, remember that despite calling my mother over the phone (monocle in a month max.), how impatiently she used to wait for my letter, as I was instructed by her to write her 2 letter minimum in a month. And during my vacations, she used to show me that how many times she has had read my letter until I meet her in person.
Maryam Apr 19, 2011 06:21pm
i remember the times when i used to write letters to my cousions in lahore and bahrain and to my phupho....and i remember when the postman used to deliver a letter at our place i used to be sooo excited and would read that letter to everyone in the house starting from my dadi. and i used to actually wait for the postman. i remember asking the servant to bring envelopes for me and then would happily stick the stamps on it. wat amazing times. the happniess and smiles a letter brought can never be brought by an email.
Humera Apr 19, 2011 06:38pm
Great! I reminisce writing a letter to my uncle in India sending it via someone going there, prolly 6 to 7 years back when internet and computer in Pakistan was just a novelty and having an email address was considered awe inspiring for children like me!
Shakil Meenai Apr 19, 2011 07:24pm
I moved to Canada a few years ago. My mother is still in Pakistan. Although I frequently talk to her on the phone, but somehow she feels that phone conversations can never replace the pleasure of getting a letter from a loved one. I share her sentiment. Here in Canada when i open my mail box, all I see in the mail are bills and promotion flyers. The reason I can't exchange correspondence with my mom is the sorry state of Pakistan Post Office. The successful delivery rate of international mail is somewhere around 25% based on my experience. The only option available is to go through international couriers but then the cost is too high. Now we just wait for any aquaintence travelling between Pakistan and Canada and we hand them our letters, photographs/ greeting cards and other small gifts/ parcels. I hope that one day Pakistan Post Office will offer services at par with acceptable internationalm standards.
Rafiq Ebrahim Apr 19, 2011 07:53pm
A good piece - reminds one of the jolly old days when sheer progress in the technological field was not made, when mental peace was still an achievable thing. Alas, these days ninety per cent of the mail we receive is junk mail!
Mamoon Apr 19, 2011 08:52pm
amazing ..
mamoon Apr 19, 2011 08:52pm
Dr Abdul Shakoor Bha Apr 19, 2011 09:55pm
Technological advancement has totally transformed our ways of living. Honestly speaking, there is no comparison of hand written letters with sms. No doubt, we've got all kind of facilities nowadays as compare to the past but we still show love and affection to pen letters which refreshes our olden days memories. Many people still love to write letters instead of using mobiles or internet. When we read the letter written by a person who's no any more among us, it's really something very special which I couldn't explain in words. Heart-touching, appreciable and lovely article. Thanks a lot getting us back into the past after a long long time.
Suresh Mandan Apr 20, 2011 12:02am
A Nostalgia.Reminding of an art which is slowly going into oblivion.By the way Victor Hugo wrote the shortest letter.On completion of his novel Les Miserables(1862) he want to know the response to the novel.Since he was going out he wrote to his publisher in short "?". The publisher was equally short in reply "!" which made Hugo happy.I also read that Lord Dalhousie used to write very long letters to his wife.He had patience and time.
Shakeel.Quddus Apr 20, 2011 08:16am
"The World is hectic, dull and boring; reading and writing about the world is the best revenge." This is from an American columnist George.Will. The problem is that not everybody subscribes to it. Even my best friends who have hundreds of other obligations such as worries about their family welfare and work and so forth. I come across with articles and copy them and mail them with a note. It is fun. I read the article with an eye of a critic and then pick up a fountain pen and sit down with a clean sheet. The good news is that, with friends, there is no deadline and do not have to worry about political correctness. Yet, the writing has to be fair and with interesting observations. Alas, most of the times there are no responses. Wouldn't that be better to have responses? Wouldn't that be great if the response would be compelling enough to alter an already established point of view? Alas, the world is not a perfect place. Not everybody is blessed with the habits of reading and writing. Absence of responses could deter the writer but the compelling force of writing usually prevails. Which is good for my friends and certainly wonderful for me. I learn to compose English prose at the expense of my friends. The joy is mine.
JAVED A. KHAN Apr 20, 2011 10:50am
BELIEVE IT OR NOT! But, this is true. Many years ago when I was studying in a school in Karachi, (presently I am a Canadian) I saw a picture (in the leading Urdu newspaper from Karachi, Jung) of an envelop, at that time they had a local envelop for 15 paisas. Under the name of the addressee, the name of the City OKARA was written in capital letters. Okara is in Punjab, Pakistan, (the district where Moulana Shafi Okarvi hails from). The envelop had no additional postage stamps as I have said, it was an envelop meant for local mail in Pakistan only and it had stamps (seals) from the post offices of OTTAWA Canada and OSAKA, Japan and finally it was returned back to the sender after several months of journey across the Atlantic and Pacific. I would never forget this and if need be one can verify from the Urdu newspaper about the authenticity of this story.