My interest to get into the world of pen friends started when I was a 12-year-old student at St. Joseph’s High School, Manapad, my native village. Raphael Vaiz, a great scholar and a strict disciplinarian endowed with great values and varied interests was our Head Master (HM). He was also a great motivator and used to identify talents in students and nurture them. For example, knowing that I was interested in reading and writing, he used to give me some nice story books and always used to encourage me to develop the two good habits.
The real spark that I should also get new friends from all over the world flickered in my mind when one day, I saw a long cover with a red and blue border with a set of beautiful stamps affixed to it lying on the table of our HM. When I was gazing at the cover awe struck,Vaz handed over the cover to me to have a close look at the same. He informed that it was a letter he had received from one of his pen friends from America, a far off country. He then took time to explain what was pen friendship, and how we can become friends with people from all over the world and exchange our views and thoughts on various subjects with them. This is the best route to learn of the culture, religion and family lives of different nationalities. Looking at the interest I had shown, he assured to get me a pen friend through his American friend and wanted me to write out a letter addressed to an unknown pal and give it to him. I also took pains to write a nice letter in the manner I was guided by my HM, in the best of my hand and left it with him.
Almost after a month, when I returned from school one day, my mother gave me a long and bulky envelope addressed to me with very beautiful stamps adorning the cover. Instantly, I was reminded of my letter to an unknown friend and got very much excited. I opened the cover very carefully and found a nice letter from one Leonard Wilfert, an American student of Grade nine along with photos of him, his nice house, his pet cat and a cover full of used beautiful stamps. I was jumping with joy and ran to meet my head master with the cover. Learning from him how I should reply to the letter, our correspondence commenced and I entered into the fantastic world of Pen friends.
Having come to know that many magazines and even newspapers overseas had a column to place our requests for new friends free of charge, I started writing to them, as a result of which letters started pouring from different parts of the world. I started to receive letters from friends from countries like Japan, Spain, UK, USA, Canada, Germany and Sri Lanka and replying to all became a real challenge.
The hobby had enthused me so much that at one point of time, I had about 56 pen friends from different parts of the world, a number even my HM had never reached for corresponding with. Fortunately, I had a very understanding parents who never expressed concern over the heavy expense to send replies to all my friends. It rather became an obsession with me to rush to the post office often. Unfortunately, I don’t have even one as my pen friend now when I am 68.