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Writing without pen and paper

My little world

When I was a little kid, I saw my elder brother using palm leaves for learning the Malayalam alphabet. That’s how the preschools in Kerala worked in the early 1960s. Those preschools were a far cry from their counterparts of today; they were terror centres. The teacher, known as äsän (guru) in Malayalam, was Kerala’s version of Dickens’s Gradgrind. The äsän didn’t teach, he ground the alphabet and numbers into the tender skins of the little kids. He used a cane when he thought all those pinches on arms, earlobes and thighs were not enough incentives for the little ones to master the bizarrely twisted letters of Malayalam.

The äsän was such a terror that I refused to go to the preschool. I was fortunate to have a father who accepted my stubbornness. He, my father, decided to teach me. He was a good teacher. I learnt the outlandish twists of Malayalam alphabet [have a look at the first few letters to understand how tough it was for a kid to reproduce them; and they always began with these first letters: , , , , ] without my arms, ears and thighs being subjected to perverse pedagogical pleasures.

The palm leaves were replaced with books and slates by the time my little fingers began to associate themselves with the agonies and ecstasies of learning. My fingers grew used to letters and words. They must have written a few million pages before I acquired a portable typewriter in 1989.

The typewriter was for typing out articles which I wrote for some local newspapers in Shillong those days. Actual writing was continued for years. Letters to friends and relatives were always handwritten. When was the last time I wrote someone a handwritten letter?

I don’t remember. When the telephone became common enough, I stopped writing letters. That was some time in the early 1990s. Shillong was still a backward little town with hardly a phone in private homes. People made use of kiosks called PCOs [Public Call Office]. The rates were exorbitant. I remember paying Rs 80 per minute for making a call from Shillong to Kerala during daytime. At night the rates would be half. Shillong was not a town that had much night life in those days. So your conversations on the phone were measured and weighed. Just the right words. Maximum info in minimum words. Laughter was out of question. Sighs were suppressed. Letters were better: they could carry the sighs between the lines.

But letters died a natural death as the phone became common and the rates were made comparatively more affordable. The inland letters and stamped envelopes disappeared from my table. With the arrival of the computer at what was called rather ominously as the cybercafé, even the greeting cards disappeared. Greetings went digital.

Do I miss writing/receiving letters? I don’t think I do. I don’t even use my phone nowadays except to connect to the social media and the blog and the omniscient Google. Virtual relationships that remain somewhere in the miasma beyond the clouds of physical reach are good enough for me.

The smiley in that virtual world is as hollow as the gif. Words are hollower. Truth has been appropriated by the bigot. The sterile thunder in a bleak sky has arrogated love to itself. There are too many slogans that sound nice and burst like bombs somewhere in the netherworld of your longings.

I have withdrawn myself from the marketplace of love. Let patriots and nationalists trade in love. And truth. Social distancing has been a blessing for me for years. Words are virtual reality that doesn’t require pen and paper. What a journey has it been from the palm leaves of my kid-days  to the 4G phone on which I'm poking in this...!


  1. I came late to your blog this year but your posts brought back a rush of memories related to books. I'm still a pen and paper writer. Even today, the first outline of my stories are always on paper. Congratulations on the successful completion of yet another A2Z challenge.

    1. Congrats to you too, Sonia. It was nice being with you this month.

  2. Congratulations on completion of the challenge... I had been visiting your blog before the challenge and will continue to do so... To derive some inspiration to write... And to write better :)!

    Pen and paper... Well, has got replaced for me with the mobile now... Virtual world has taken over!! I don't think I miss pen and paper but yes virtual world and phone keypad may be convinient but pen and paper is and has always been that lost first love which I only reminisce now for nothing is as therapeutic!!

    1. Thanks and congrats to you too. Your poems engaged me in april.

      I use the laptop more than the phone. Pen and paper are out anyway.

  3. Congratulations :)
    Beautiful written.
    Stay well.

  4. I miss writing letters...not many I've written just handful of them. I was in the middle when internet came in and yes the telecommunication was a costly affair. I remember that as well.. Thanks for bringing the 90s. The much evident change was 20s, the drastic one as well...ahh nostalgic..

    1. We can expect more drastic changes in days to come.

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  5. I never got to write letters with pen and paper. The only letters I've written are to pen-pals through email. Now letters seem pointless with the ease of instant chatting. But I like hand-written letters. There being no backspace when writing with a pen, I find it raw and authentic. I have an occasional habit of writing letters to my future self. I find it fun to check how much I've changed when I read it much later.

    1. Handwritten things are personal, they exude that personal touch. Digital writings lack that touch. But the world has to go on ahead, not backward. Even I have given up writing by hand.

    2. So fluid in its flow...the narration turns poetic...nostalgia paints the past into present....leaving a suspense that it might soon paint the future....the change, whether physical, psychological, emotional, perceptional or philosophical or some or all, may happen in a life or in legacy it adapts itself to it or takes refuge to its fallen leaves...but, it leaves a path behind to trace remeber those pebbles on the way...and, they tell more tales long forgotten....of losing something, gaining something, ignoring something and loving sketches life upon life....for the future to roll into a large canvas of life
      My regards


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