When we, a bunch of 12-year-old boys, had left their homes in 1978 and went away to study in cadet colleges, we became parentless and found new parents in the teachers in our institutions. No matter how cordial and affectionate our teachers were, we still missed out parents in that far-away college.
Most of the cadets used to writes letters to their parents and they waited all week for letters from their parents. For me, however, it was a bit different. My parents lived inside Jhenaidah Cadet College campus, as my dad was a physics teacher there.
I used to meet my father every day but, although my mother was living about a mile away, I wasn’t allowed to see her. I used to have a glimpse of her during movie night on Saturdays. Despite the fact that they lived quite close, it seemed so far away.
I wished I could write letters to my mum and get some replies. Everyone around me was writing letters. For me, writing letters to an address a mile away wasn’t an option.
But I always wanted to write letters as letter-writing seemed like an extremely fascinating form of art. By then, I had already read a host of literary texts in the form of letters.
One day, I wrote a letter to one of my maternal cousins who lived in Kushtia. She was my only friend among my cousins and we were of the same age.
But, to my surprise, her parents along with all my maternal relatives mistook my letter to her as a love letter. There was a lot of fuss regarding this, but I was able to convince my parents that I wasn’t in love with her and all I wanted was to write a letter.
After a year in cadet college, when we used to go home after our term-end exams, we felt strangely uncomfortable. We weren’t missing our parents then; we started missing our friends. It was close to impossible to endure a month without our friends.
So, we started writing letters to each other during our seasonal vacations. In doing so, we used to find the finest of papers and wrote in our finest hand-writing, as if we were writing to our lovers.
Yes, we did write to our lovers, even at that time, inside the four walls of the cadet colleges. Many of us used to receive letters from our girlfriends back home. Since all our letters -- both outgoing and incoming -- were checked by our house masters and house tutors, the love letters used to go out and come in through different channels: Either through our house assistants or through a friend on campus. And when the love letter came for someone, all of us used to read it.
We started writing letters to each other during our seasonal vacations. In doing so, we used to find out the finest of papers and wrote the letters in our finest hand-writing, as if we were writing to our lovers
Many of us had pen pals in other cadet colleges and across the country. The reason I’m saying all this is because I miss the days when we used to write letters.
The advent of email has pushed the art of letter-writing into oblivion.
As far as I remember, emails came to Bangladesh in 1994 and I first had an email ID in 95. Since then, slowly but surely, the habit of writing letters with pen and paper has become history.
I’ve written perhaps a thousand emails since then, which were also letters (electronic ones) and not the letters that we had known for centuries.
Many great works of literature have been written in the form of letters. But would anyone ever write a novel these days in the form of an email?
Wouldn’t the litterateurs use the old letter-writing form to write a work of fiction, even now?
Then came the mobile phone with its texting service. Essential daily life communications are done through texting; people are now texting each other from one corner of the world to another; people are exchanging amorous emotions through texts.
We remember back in the 70s, 80s, and early-90s, the lovers living in the same neighbourhood used to communicate through letters; now all the lovers have switched to emails or texts.
The final blow to the hand-written letters came from social media. Everyone is now doing everything on social media.
The age-old art of writing letters has completely faded away from the face of the Earth. The post offices across the world have transformed into either courier services or agencies to send and receive money.
Everyone is communicating through the new mediums and they’re doing so in real time and faster than during the days of hand-written letters. But somehow, I feel, the passion transmitted through letter-writing isn’t there any more.
The practice of writing letters will never return and with it, neither will the aesthetic satisfaction there was while writing with pen and paper. λ
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer.