Stories that inspire

The Good Old Post Box

Gone are the days when people write letters to their dear ones. The idea of using a post box for personal communication has become obsolete. Letter writing, though still taught in school, has already made students wonder about its need. Of course, it helps in official emails, but personal ones? The art of writing our heart out to our loved ones, friends, or relatives, describing a place or the adventures of a vacation we had enjoyed, and the joy of waiting for a reply has long been forgotten.

Books with letters as themes

There are numerous books with a compilation of letters from famous personalities, which are still bestsellers. Sometimes, while reading books like “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff or “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Marie Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, made me yearn to write and communicate with people through letters. Both books were entirely a compilation of correspondence through letters which formed a beautiful story in itself. The idea behind the books conveyed sheer happiness that one can experience through letters. I was thoroughly in bliss while reading those books.

Postal History

General Posr Office, Kolkata
General Post Office, Kolkata / Wiki Commons

The postal history of India dates back to the eighteenth century when the East India Company began establishing post offices in all the important cities, the first being in Kolkata in 1774. However, it was only in 1854 its services were made open to all and it marks the beginning of the official postal era in India. With the advent of the telephones, internet, emails, and smartphones, communication has gone to a level that is beyond imagination.

General Post Office in Chennai
GPO Chennai, 1884

It is disheartening to accept the fact that telegrams are no longer required. They used to be the fastest mode of communication of both good and bad news. Many families have preserved the telegrams conveying good news such as the birth of their new born child or the arrival of their loved ones even today. It is funny to think that the Morse Code, considered one of the greatest inventions less than a century ago, has become archaic now.

Magical letters

A fountain pen on a letter

More than the telegrams, the pleasure given by a simple handwritten letter is simply magical. Less than a few decades before, we used to communicate only through letters. There were postcards and inland letters for brief conversations and envelopes for people like me, who love to write paragraph after paragraph. The humble walk to the post box near my house to post a letter made me happy. The nervous anticipation for the arrival of the postman or woman to see the word ‘promoted’ printed on a piece of paper is a profound memory.

The cylindrical crimson post box with a black cap on lamp posts or electricity poles was ubiquitous then. Everyone knew about its location in their area. Now they hang silently, in their exact location, often unnoticed by the people around them, reminiscing their glorious past.

 I experienced the joy of writing letters once again when I penned down my thoughts to my grandfather recently. He is in his eighties with his hearing-impaired and is too old to understand technology. Although I used to talk to him over the phone, his inability to converse has rendered the attempt futile. He is an avid reader who loves the idea of letters. So it began, I wrote to him about books, some interesting characters in them and about sports, just the interests we had in common.

The result was unbelievable. My grandma called me and asked “what have you written in that letter? Your grandpa is weeping like a child.” It was no extraordinary letter; in fact, it did not make much sense to anyone else other than my grandpa. It got me thinking… More than the content of the letter, it is my intent to communicate with him that had that effect on him. The idea of writing love letters and birthday cards now makes sense to me.

I realized that more than any expensive trinkets, it is the handwritten cards and the crayon drawings of my kids for my birthday that make me happy. While looking at the prices of some antique letters at the Sotheby’s available for auction, it makes me hopeful that the art of writing and posting letters will come full circle and be in vogue again.   

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