The Lost Art!!
Letter writing is an art that died a few decades ago!! A letter was not merely a medium of communication but was also a work of art, a written performance. Epistolary history is full of instances where the letters brought instant fame to the persons who penned them and such personalities are from diverse fields. The letters, in a way, have immortalized such beings. Haven’t we read the letter written by Abraham Lincoln to the teacher of his child that finds its relevance, for now and forever. Likewise, a letter by Napoleon to his Foreign Affairs minister, Garibaldi to Mazzini, Queen Victoria to miss Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi to Prof Shastri , Jawaharlal Nehru to his sister , just to name a few, have all been immortalized in fine print and will remain etched in memory for generations to come. The letters by George Washington , Napoleon Bonaparte, William Shakespeare, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru , Lord Chesterfield and many other such greats have left a lasting impact on the readers. Look at the predicament of Nehru, beautifully expressed, through a letter, to his sister, about inheriting his father’s wealth. He was so very involved in the national affairs that his own domestic dilemma remained unresolved. For that matter, the letter penned by Martin Luther King Jr, from Birmingham jail, to the clergymen, where he says, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, will refuse to fade away. Harry Browne’s letter to his beloved daughter, with a message, “no one owes you anything”, is a masterpiece. Siegfried Sassoon’s letter was re-printed several times. He was a poet-soldier in the British army who refused to return to the battlefield during world war-1. He wrote, ” I believe that [World War I] is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”. He wasn’t an ordinary soldier, he was a gallant soldier who was wounded twice in the earlier battles and was a recipient of the coveted “Military Cross”. The letter caused a great stir, including a public reading in the British House of Commons. Despite being charged as a deserter, in the face of the enemy, he was let off for he could wield his pen as efficiently as he wielded his weapon!
How can one forget the way Winston Churchill expressed his undying love to Clementine Churchill ! When it came to the way with the words, none could pip the two times Prime Minister of the Great Britain. He was ‘word-ly wise’ and his writing abilities were prodigious. Another word-wizard, Richard Burton, wrote to Elizabeth Taylor, “my blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you!!” Elizabeth Taylor, already into her fourth marriage, had no choice but to make room for one more choice!! They finally wed and went on to become one of the most famous and bankable couples in Hollywood history. Word Power had the ability to alter the world power. How can we overlook that ‘letter of appeal’ from Gandhi to Adolf Hitler when the world was on the brink of World War-II. As a wise man had once said, “ The power of letters is immense. A well written letter has often sufficed to stop a flying army, to change defeat into victory and to save an empire on the path of extinction”.
Texts and emails have replaced the conventional letters. They are definitely convenient, quicker and have the ability to reach every nook of every nation in a jiffy. In comparison, the old letters demanded application of mind, laborious effort and took days and weeks to reach the other side. For instance, in France, a letter took 220 years to be delivered all because there was a tiny error in the address. A letter that was dispatched in 1790 was delivered in 2010!!
Yet, no emails can ever replace the experience of writing and receiving a letter. The thoughts, sympathies, kindness, warmth, gratitude and love that an ordinary letter encompassed was extraordinary. Such letters were one-to-one, unlike the present day one-to-many formats. We, in the residential schools, profession of arms and academies, savored their arrivals and took care to preserve them for eternity. Many people still possess the old letters of their masters, parents and grandparents because it helps them re-trace their steps to another time and place.
I was again leafing through the encyclopedic volumes that I had purchased, while in school. Many of the letters that I have referred above are a valuable part of these books. In an era when letter writing is a diminished art, these books serve as a reminder of that bygone era of genuine communication.
What a beautiful legacy it was that we have so ruthlessly destroyed!!
What will we pass on to our next generations??
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