There was a time long, long ago, almost as if in a galaxy far, far away, when there was no email, no text messages and no WhatsApp and their ilk. All there was, was pen and paper, a stamp and an envelope and all the thoughts in one’s mind. The postman, these days, does not bring anything more interesting than bills. That too may only be because one hasn’t opted for e bills yet. Parcels are brought by the Amazon man and his ilk. So, where are those envelopes with interesting stamps, perhaps from different corners of the world with date stamps in different languages? Those handwritten sheets from friends and family, sometimes written over a period of days, giving us a glimpse into their lives or holidays? An auto corrected and spell checked two line mail or message can never be the same as a sheet with words scratched out, spelling mistakes and insertions which made one feel like the person was just there even though one knew that the letter had been written a few days, perhaps weeks, back.
One of us receiving a letter, possibly the first in the longest time (when the last one came would be any body’s guess) reminded us of the time when there used to be such things and the books that we have read which were about letters. Books like 84 Charring Cross Road which is a collection of letters exchanged between Helene Hanff, a writer in New York and Frank Doel, chief buyer of Marks&Co, antiquarian book sellers in London. Over a period of time, Helene Hanff through the letters ordering books became friends with everyone in the bookshop across the ocean. The letters themselves are funny, affectionate and filled with little snippets of information on life after the Second World War. Helene Hanff became so close to the people in Marks&Co that they started exchanging gifts after some time. Mainly food which was rationed in post war Britain.
The second book that came to mind was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. The book is set in the same period but is fiction. The main character, Juliet Ashton, is a writer who enters into correspondence with the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society after receiving a letter from one of its members who had bought a second hand book originally owned by her. Interspersed are letters with Juliet’s publisher. The book, through the letters the story of German occupation of Guernsey during the war and how books helped to bring assorted people together and deal with the horrors of that occupation.
The third book that we remembered was one which we had read a long time ago, Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Definitely a dated book (written in 1912, it was dated even when we read it) but enjoyable nonetheless. The illustrations, also by the author, added to the charm of the book. But in hindsight, maybe the charm came from the letters written by Judy to her benefactor who she has never seen and only once catches sight of his shadow on the wall of the orphanage in which she lives. Not knowing his name and the lengthened shadow with long legs prompts her to address the letters to him as Daddy Long Legs.
None of the above books would have worked as well or explained as much in the form of emails. Each one with its flavour of times gone by remind us of what we have lost through modernisation and the age of technology. Not to sound like Luddites, we like being able to put up our blog posts and read those of others on various devices, anywhere and without bad handwriting holding one back. However one cannot discount the appeal of paper which has physically traversed distances, imbued with the feel of places unseen before reaching our hands. But only the nuts do such things now.