Cleaning my cupboard last Sunday, I found myself removing not only the real cobwebs but also the cobwebs spun by time. In the last shelf, behind dust-coated magazines and a bunch of old papers, I found the red bag.
The bag had been my companion for 11 years, but presently it lay there, hidden and forgotten for God knows how long. It contained something very precious — the documented evidence of my romantic youth. Even I had forgotten how I was then — or who I was then — but the yellowing love letters brought the memories back.
It was 1994 and I had just migrated from Kanpur to Delhi. I had no friends in the big city and survived on letters written to and received from people (girls, that is) living elsewhere. In due course, I made more friends, including those who lived in Delhi. To them also I wrote long letters, because I didn’t have a phone then and their phones were monitored by their dads and to meet me they had to cook up excuses, which wasn’t easy all the time. So the easiest way was to jot down matters of the heart, fold the piece of paper and hand it over to them at the next meeting.
So every evening after I got home from work, I would light up the red Chinese lamp by my bed, fill ink in my fountain pen and start writing, imagining the face of the proposed recipient. It’s a different thing altogether that after four paragraphs it didn’t matter who I was writing to, because by then I was writing to myself.
But the most exciting part was the reply. You could, obviously, tell the identity of the sender from the handwriting on the envelope; and your eagerness to tear it open was inversely proportional to the number of days/months/years you’d known the girl. For example, if it was from someone you’d got to know only last month, you’d not only read and re-read the lines but also try and read between the lines. You could see her face on the piece of paper and the ink smelt of her. And that made you yearn for silly things: watching a movie with her while holding her hand. And the impossibility of that happening — for whatever reason — made you yearn even more, making you go through the letter again and again.
Today I have quite an impressive collection of fountain pens but I no longer write. I e-mail my love letters. In fact I don’t even e-mail — since it can be done at the click of the mouse, I procrastinate. And why e-mail, when I can SMS her?
That reminds me, the other day I got a message on my cellphone. It was from a girl who had been ditched by her boyfriend. She was pouring her heart out to another friend but the message reached me — a misfire, as they say. Anyway, I sought to comfort her and we got talking. The conversation stretched to four hours at the end of which she said: ‘‘Will you give me a hug? That’s what I need now.’’
Suddenly, it was all so simple. Well, technology might have shown me the short cut, but somewhere along the path, I’ve lost myself — the person who came out of hiding every time he sat with a pen and paper and began with the words, ‘‘My dear...’’
First published on his blog On The Ganga Mail on Wednesday, November 23, 2005, under the title Mourning the Love Letter. Reprinted here with his permission.