In the bygone days, the tradition of writing letters by hand was a common practice. Many old-timers possessed impeccable handwriting and a zest for writing. One would eagerly await the arrival of the ubiquitous postman who would trudge from door to door to deliver the precious mail. He would also double up as a reader and help in unravelling the contents of the mail in case the family members were unlettered. The postcard came for a song (10 paise) and the inland letters meant for longer narratives cost a few paise more (25 paise). The letters would take their own sweet time to arrive, but in an internet-free era, people waited patiently for the snail mail.
The male members in the family had a craving for writing letters when away from home. My younger sibling N J Presanna Kumar was indeed a craftsman and his handwriting resembled a work of art. Since many of my kith and kin dabbled in the game of hockey which entailed frequent travelling, we were introduced to penmanship quite early in life. The convent schools of yore also tutored pupils to become able writers with elegant handwriting. Wren and Martin was our grammar Bible. Many of the epistles written by the elders decades ago have become valuable family keepsakes.
When I got into college, I graduated to shooting off “letters to the editor”. After a few ‘rejects’ my first letter to The Indian Express saw the light of day on May 15, 1980. My joy knew no bounds on seeing my name in print. My late father, M N Jayaraman, was my ardent fan and critic and would go to town proclaiming my feat every time a letter was published. Unlike in the old days, when a letter took three or four days to get published, one can today see their work in the pages of the daily the very next day in the event of the newspaper accepting it.
Letter writing can be fun, besides providing handwriting practice and improving communication skills. For those who tire of reading lengthy newspaper articles, the small letter comes as a boon. Letters to the editor must relate to the day’s news and reach the newspaper office before a specific deadline. Writing constitutes good mental gymnastics, busts stress, and may even prevent the onset of a disease such as Alzheimer’s. One feels elated when a letter gets published in a reputed newspaper. It is like passing the joint entrance examination to an IIT.