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The dying art of letter writing

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With a Mughal magazine situated in close proximity, the tumbling remnants of Kashmere Gate built by Emperor Shah Jahan, have seen many periods of turmoil – from the revolt of 1857 to the various planned and unplanned developments that have helped shape and reshape the making of Delhi, the city as we know today. A bustling junction then, a transport hub today, the gateway has served as a mute witness to the hordes of people and movements that inhibited Delhi over the course of time.

As the road descends from the chaotic auto motor repair market, the sprawling complex of the GPO with semi-circular arched doorways is impossible to miss. Painted in striking white, built by the British East India Company in 1885, forming one of the oldest post offices in the country, the GPO at Kashmere Gate subtly speaks of its inherent colonial legacy. Walking alongside the pavement of the post office, the shade of a banyan tree accommodates J C Sharma who reaches the post office every day by ten in the morning to earn a living, once accomplished by inking letters. Describing the three decades that he spent writing telegrams, faxes, money orders and letters as his ‘golden period’, the vagaries of digital age have barely left Mr Sharma with any savings. At the age of 71, spending over three hours in commute, he finds himself some space on the concrete outside the post office, trying to make ends meet by stitching cloth on parcels for a handful of customers.

‘‘Yeh letter sab purani baatein hai…abh sab khatam”

(The days of letter writing are long gone.)

These words as he narrates the hardships of his life story speak volumes on the waning art of hand written letters.

The bunch of pens and black markers are now used sparingly, to write the details of contact addresses on parcels.

Surviving amongst the extinct tribe of professional letter writers in India, the last letter Mr Sharma himself wrote for a customer was over ten years ago. In lieu of the unauthorised nature of his work and the subsequent shutting down of the telegram services, there have been times when he even has to search for a place to sit.

A means of livelihood for some and piece of heart for most others, there is no doubt that letter writing, in every way forms an important art. It not only speaks of creativity or visual delight but rather opens one’s self in an inexplicable manner. It is important to acknowledge that handwriting is one of the most sublime ways of seeing through one’s soul. Emotions when crafted by hand, well thought and compiled become a deliberate act showcasing vulnerability, in a manner that can rarely be captured by other modes of cyber communication.

To think of the age of letters brings back the aroma of romance that surrounds a handwritten letter, the anticipation of its arrival along with many moments of intimacy. It also brings back memories of the times when we held the roads leading to our post offices, dearer to our hearts. In these constantly evolving times, it is the unassuming yet instantly recognisable institution of post offices that have come a long way in traversing the winds of change that continue to shape our lives.

Intimately bound with human relations more than any other government office, post offices proudly boast of a long standing history of forming a rather crucial part of our everyday lives. Once a major hub of conversation and exchange, their charm has gently succumbed to the varying vintages of our country’s distant past.

Living in the age of digital payment gateways, post offices still continue to retain the sense of trust and familiarity. It is interesting to observe that while the art of writing letters is rapidly evaporating, the comforting sight of our neighbourhood post offices is getting revamped in a refreshing avatar. The signboard on the building of Dak Bhawan, Headquarter for Department of Posts which reads ‘This is a core banking post office’, legitimises this effortless transformation. The advent of India Post Payments Bank, a game changer in India’s quest for financial inclusion is playing a vital role in the smooth transitioning – from postmen who dealt with the delivery of letters to agents of doorstep banking.

In this excessively documented age, where every moment can be made tangible with a small click of our smartphones, it is imperative to ponder upon the kind of legacy that our generations and so forth shall leave behind. The magic of words with no allowance of hitting the backspace of our keyboards, carefully ceiled in an envelope, carried by postmen whose arrival brought parcels of love and warmth from far flung places, have so nonchalantly become a thing of the past. From the times when we had an affectionate relationship with our neighbourhood post offices, to contemplating whether our generation might be the last to exchange letters, if at all. Perhaps, savouring the imminent arrival of letters was a luxury, one that shall probably remain alive only in the memories of the generations passed by.

(The writer is born in a big city, but finds her heart in small towns. A free spirit, who loves to wander places in search of stories, within stories. At the end of a long day, she finds her therapy in long aimless walks and conversations, with the Moon. She can be reached at: [email protected])

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