23 November 2005

Return To Sender

Whatever happened to the post office?

This is the theme of my new post. I shall cover letter writing and stationary extensively. If that's not something you're interested in, well, check back in a couple of days, I may have something you like then.

Right, so my one reader who is interested in stationary, (or is it stationery?) hello. And I ask you again, whatever happened to the post office?


I rediscovered letter writing in boarding school. Before that, my letters were limited to my Filipino pen pal. She was my mom's colleague's daughter, and we had never met, but we knew a lot about each other's lives. I remember the first letter she sent me was about, among other things, puff paint, which sticks out of the page when you write with it. Now, of course, you can buy puff paint, but then she had sent me a recipe for making it, which, alas, I have forgotten.We used to have great fun with our letters to each other. I'm afraid I was a little less creative than she was and I didn't have the exciting stationary or the cool stickers she used to enclose with her letters. Still, I was a prolific letter writer and writing "Metro Manila" on the envelope always made me feel most important.

We lived then, in a house with a green letter box on the door and I'd check it every day when I returned from school. Not that there was ever anything for me, but still it was fun looking. Our house number was 69, which made people snigger when they dropped me off, especially when I was older, but I was a young and innocent age and I never really got it.


For boarding school, I went prepared with pretty stationary, a girl staring off into the distance, Pumba and Timon on bright yellow paper, hugging teddy bears and bright orange and hot pink envelopes. I bought stickers even, choosing them very carefully, sparkly ones, where the glitter came off on my fingers and embossed ones that you could stroke. Sunday was letter writing day and everyone had to write home then. Someone would go around collecting all your letters and it was one of your Sunday chores, like finishing off whatever prep you had, and for some, going to church. I usually wrote my letters in bed--Sunday was the only day we were allowed music and all the dorms blasted whatever was fashionable then. So we had weeks of Macarena and My Heart Will Go On and the Backstreet Boys. Sometimes, I took my letters out to the lawn outside our hostel, sitting against a pine tree or on a bench, poetically and wrote brief letters home. "I'm okay, the food's okay, I'm taking my iron tablets, house play rehearsals start soon" and so on.


I had left a life behind me in Delhi, a thriving ecosystem that accepted my going without much of a ripple. Occasionally, my old school friends would write me, gossip about school, asking me how I liked boarding school, but that was pretty much how they ended. My `colony friends'--a concept unique to India, or perhaps Delhi, I think--would write me longer letters, about the Channel V Music Awards and the new gym that had opened, about parties with boys and stuffy parents. My own parents thrived on the communication and I'd get about three or four letters from them each week-- my father's typed out in some fancy font from the new computer, my mother's on inland letters in their blue wrapping. Leela wrote sporadically, like she does now from London, but her letters were long and juicy and made me more homesick than any of the other communication I recieved. I had this one friend in Doon School, who wrote long and often, and pretty soon, I was show-offing about him to my friends who had me add little post scripts to my letters. And then he was writing them, who thought he was cute, much to my amazement, because I had never thought he was cute myself. He had terrible handwriting, I remember, and he wrote to me on onion paper, which is all crinkly, so usually, it took me a while to figure out what he was actually saying.


Letters were given to our house mistress at the beginning of tea, or lunch, and we'd see the stack my her plate and die inwardly with excitement. Sometimes, some lucky person would get a parcel and they'd have to go to the housemistresses room, to make sure they weren't being sent food. My own housemistress collected stamps, and I'd often find letters from my father, who was travelling in Europe at the time, mutilated, because she took off the stamp before she gave it to me.


I always knew who a letter was from by the address written on it. Handwriting is such a torch into someone's personality and state of mind at the time. Mine is all scrawly, neat in patches, i's high-dotted, s's stylishly curved. But the wierd thing is, when my handwriting was being formed, way back, I hung out with this group of girls and even now, our handwriting is practically indistinguishable. My m's however, are my own. Masterpieces in their own right, the Walt Disney style m, with the loop and the long tail.


Would you know me, you who know me best, if you saw my handwriting? Would you be able to pick me out of a crowd? I didn't think so, and it makes me sad. Not knowing my handwriting is not knowing the way my fingers move across a page, not knowing where I began, not knowing the way I see letters in my head. Not knowing my handwriting, in some small way, means not really knowing me.


psst: midweek link slug: just discovered this blog and i LOVE it. Go read.

26 comments:

  1. hi, i read your blog occasionally and i had this mental picture of you, where you were one of those extroverts, practically insensitive to those joys of life which donot involve physical intimacy. this post, however, shatters the image. i was one of the only ones who received letters from my friends when i was in college. This, in the age where e-mail is considered a "more formal" channel of communication and messaging is the only real way people communicate casually.

    BTW , it is "stationery" and "receiving" :-)

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  2. There is nothing like getting a letter. Emails are nice and all, but letters signify so much more of an effort. I kept all the letters I ever received and will re-read them sporadically. Good times.

    Anybody have special letter writing pens, or is that my particular brand of OCD? I am picky about pens and corresponding papers.

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  3. what u said abt the handwriting, is sad, cz i dont think i have ever had one thats stuck :(

    it changes whenever it feels like

    the other thing, abt checking the letter box after school, i used to do that too. not only that, i never had the keys - they were with mom - i just had one big key for the house - so i used to spend fifteen mins or more trying to poke out any letter, with the big key / pens / wires / combs ... something new everyday. though i knew somewhere that it will only a stupid bill! ritual.

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  4. I got forty two letters from various people in my first month in college away from home. I got about fifteen more in the next seven years. Go figure! I think it's really sad that no one writes letters anymore. And when I do write to people, they e-mail me replies! Or worse, sms me replies! Blech! And um..er...it's stationEery, by the way. Nice post, I must say! :)

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  5. Well said….the days where any communication sent would conjure up an image of calligraphic letters with all those additional lil' hand-drawn pictures which added to the immensity of what the sender had to say or “convey”...aha where are those days...!!!

    In this age, most of us have forgotten what our handwriting looks like even….all that matters now is how fast can one jive their fingers on the inert keyboard…..the days when the very “first” thoughts were pen down …no backspaces…no deletes...lost are ‘those’ days…!!

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  6. Very nice! :)

    Post offices were good, letters could get lost that way, very useful sort of thing... you said what you wanted to, but the other person doesn't know - a bit like Blogging anonymously! :)

    And of course, post scripts were the most useful thing. Say what you actually want to, make it seem like an after-thought, but very clearly the focus of attention to the one sent to.

    handwriting analyis can be much insightful. And may be that is the key, one must evaluate handwriting of men before contemplating what to name the babies you might produce...

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  7. there's really nothing like old fashioned snail mail. i used to write to my best friend in the UK - and then we both kind of stopped somewhere along the way cos we've gotten *so busy*.

    but since coming to aust, i've been getting snail mail and cards, and each time i get one, i just feel so damn happy the rest of the day.

    nothing like someone bothering to write their thoughts down in their own writing. emails just don't have that special something.

    i still think the best love letters (not just romeo-juliet love, all the other kinds too) are those that are hand-written.

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  8. I can't remember the last time I got a proper, handwritten-on-paper letter. These days the only things I get in the mail are bank statements and phone bills.

    BTW - it's stationery.

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  9. Yes, yes, stationery. :)

    mugger_much: I find that more and more these days, my paradigms about people are shifting and changing. It could be anything, a chance conversation, seeing them with their dog, a gesture--and I suddenly know I see them differently.


    brown magic: I have all my letters too. And my mom saved all mine to her, so if I'm ever terrifically famous, my biographers will have all the information right there. :)

    prerona: No? My handwriting varies depending how tired I am and how many interviews I have done already, but essentially it's the same.

    wishful thinker: Luckily, I have friends who now send letter type emails with plenty of flourishes :)

    docs dope: Pictures I never got. Calligraphy, yes. QMS and SWAK on the envelope, yes. Smiley faces, occassionally.

    primal soup: Postscripts are still my favourite form of communication. I'm tempted to do an entire blog post just in ps form :)

    anantya: I remember when a boy I liked sent me a New Years card. It said "dearest" and "love" and I swooned with happiness :)

    dosco: Oh no :) You're waaaaaay off the mark!

    jay: I know, me too! And press releases. Grah.

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  10. Hi eM, Long time and all that. For us shippies, letter writing was a way of life in the days of yore. We would post our letters to our loved ones from various parts of the world. (I particularly remember a letter which I dropped at the highest post office in the world - Spitsbergen, Norway to my girlfriend. She actually framed the envelope and put it up in her room !!) But more than posting letters, the thrill was to receive them. The only way which we could receive letters on board was via someone who joined the ship in a particular port. Family members back home would rush their letters to this chap and he would carry the bundle of letters for distribution back on board, sort of like a de facto postman. When the odd phone call were made to our families, we would exhort our family members to write and rush the letters to this chap giving them details of flights et al. Once I was joining a particular ship, I waited outside the airport for a newly wedded wife to give me a letter to be delivered to her husband on board. Poor thing, she did not have my description, nor did I know her. (No mobiles )Finally at the nth hour, we managed to locate each other. Letters hurriedly changed hands and I took the flight with minutes to spare. Once on board, there would be an elaborate ceremony complete with a microphone and tasseled tables where our postman would announce the name of the crew member on the mic and he would come to the dais and collect his letter, elation flowing thru him, as if he had been granted a honorary US citizenship. Sometimes it was heartwrenching to see expressions of crew who would not receive any letters. Disappointment writ large on their faces, they would trudge to the crew bar to down a few and eagerly await the arrival of the next chap at the next port. Life went on.

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  11. So do I, eM- read your blog occasionally that is/ and i suppose itd be really really presumptuous of me to say that this was a very atypical post so... i'll just say i loved it and leave it at that. the housemistress who flicked stamps reminded me of this story i read as a kid/ about a treasure in an ancient house which everyone is looking for (they know its priceless but they dont know what it is) and it turns out that, the dead great grandfather's letters to the great grandmother are locked in a safe, still in their envelopes. And the envelopes (20-30) of them, have stamps which have grown to be extremely precious. But stamp mania aside, i sometimes wish i could go collect all those letters i wrote once. if they still exist, somewhere :P To think that there are parts of your past scattered///

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  12. Yes yes those long long letters that you would get from friends and read them from time to time. A letter does bring the essence of the person in paper doesn't it? I still have a file back home containing all those old letters. Sigh. I suddenly feel like going through them.

    And I do love the idea of writing letters. In fact I have always been in love with the idea of writing. Why don't you show us a sample of your M?

    And how did you go about this moderation thing?

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  13. I have a bag with all the letters, cards and notes I have ever received. In the last few years the only new additions are birthday and anniversary cards. But I miss that thrill of carefully opening an envelope and the smell of the paper and the sight of familiar handwriting. Lovely post

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  14. You know what I miss most about letters, especially from significant members of the opposite sex? The signing off bit. Love? Best? Cheers? Regards?
    It's the best way to know where you stand with the person in question.
    But then again, I sign off any letter or email with a 'be good'. And I'm not really thinking of anything in particular.

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  15. Me knowest not what thy talkest about. I am the laziest person on this planet, and while i'm pretty proud of my handwriting(really neat and fairly fancy stuff) being a lefty and my style of writing upside down is really messy when it comes to putting pen to paper as virtually everything tends to get smudged.that is why i say," All hail the PC!"

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  16. if i had a bag of all the letters.. it'd be as big as my room!

    but then, yeah, being a boarding-hostel type does make you a huge letter writer. and i wrote to almost EVERYONE! and the best part was that everyone replied! :D

    and yeah where has it gone now.. *sighs, in tune with everyone else*

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  17. eM
    i agree that letter writing is a long lost art but some people still do practice it, including me ...and when i go back home n see all my letters stacked preciously by my Mom , it makes the whole effort worthwhile

    However there is no bigger single contributor to illegible handwriting than the keyboard.... it's in weeks that u actually ahve to 'write' something

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  18. Aren't we all your pen-pals now? Well not me, because I'm family, but these other heathens surely.

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  19. Ah letters. Used to write them when us classmates moved to different schools. And then colleges.

    Now I get e-mails, and very infrequent ones at that.

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  20. I was thinking of letters after reading you,

    And hoping that reality wasn't so harsh and true...

    Would somebody really know me just by reading me?

    And that is a miracle I am waiting to see...

    Never wrote letters nor did I receive,

    Deprived, I am, from the joys you percieve...

    These dumb poems may seem just a waste of time,

    But, for me they hold a meaning infinitely divine.

    (Hope you forgive me - I didn't ask you before linking to your blog)

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  21. a friend and i used to write to each other quite frequently - and after filling about eighteen to twenty four sides, we would realise that we had forgotten to say something... i think she once wrote me a letter with twelve postscripts. i replied with eighteen :)

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