|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: അ, ആ, ഇ, ഉ, എ] 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...!
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 322: When was the last time you wrote someone a handwritten letter, using pen and paper, or got one from someone? Do you miss writing/receiving letters in this digital age of communication? Or have you switched completely from writing to typing? #PenALetterInDigitalAge