The wide-scale prevalence of the digital communication notwithstanding, people can be located everywhere who will continue to miss the letters written in longhand. Many, however, call it a myth. Because despite the digital form of writing's inability to retain an individual's personal traits, the wizards of the virtual world have made stunning progresses. They can recreate the analogue world. But yawning gaps loom, writes Shihab Sarkar
In the days before telephonic or digital communication remained beyond the availability of the common people, romantic youths used to exchange hand-written letters through ingenious ways. Those included exchanging books by male and female youths in a casual manner. The letters would remain hidden in the folds of the pages of a book. Postal letters soon followed them, the job being fraught with risks posed by interventions coming from the parents. At residences, it was mandatory on the part of the postal peons to hand over the guardians all those newly arrived letters. This phase would witness the ritual scrutinising of the suspected letters. In the mid-21st century, the youths have before them only one option --- text messaging their emotion-soaked words. The exchange of deep feelings remains private and safe. Enriched with other features like voice mail and live videos, the smart-phones have made the exchange of all kinds of information and inner feelings attractive and lively.
The most widely-used pre-digital exercises in exchanging information mostly comprised sending and receiving postal letters. Those paper-based missives touched almost all segments of life. At stages in the 18th to early 20th centuries, life without letters would be considered unthinkable. Writing, mailing and receiving letters comprised a significant part of people's lives. As seen in every area of human activity, the height of certain customs and practices does not last forever. Their eventual decline is inevitable. Factors like powerful external influences force many an age-old system to fade out. As a universal rule, they have to make way for the new systems and trends. They bid adieu to many long-practised lifestyles and social features. In accordance with this rule, the seemingly undying bridge of communication i.e. hand-written letters has been made to go through a phase of disappearing.
Nobody communicates with others by writing conventional letters nowadays. Perhaps keeping in mind the necessity as well as the pain and pathos of the times without letters, Richard Simpkin, an Australian, introduced the World Letter Writing Day in 2014. Since then the day is being observed globally on every September 1. In order to highlight and revive the emotional attachment to the paper-and-ink letters, Simpkin had chosen school children. His mission was to encourage the adolescents to detect the lifelessness and impassivity of the digital texts. Experts have long observed that due to the overwhelming influence of digital communication on society, relations between man and man continue to become mechanised. Although isolated attempts are in place to restore the lost beauty of the written scripts, letters in their early days celebrated the magic of the alphabet. Parchments or paper had yet to be invented. Thus the first letter was written on a piece of rock in 500 BC. However, those were, in fact, written feudal or royal communication from one end to another. The exchange of different types of day-to-day or familial information through the ancient or medieval letters continued for several centuries.
Like in many other parts in the East and West, the Indian Sub-continent had made letters a part of life since the times of the great epics. On the other hand, letters remained outside the mundane confines of the common people. When the letter communication began between and among different social groups, the vestiges of monarchic rules had already been wiped out. The communicative written texts which we call letters today entered the social, political and cultural life in a big way in phases. Since the 19th-20th centuries, letters filled with humdrum subjects emerged as a prominent social feature in the greater India. Apart from familial nitty-gritty, both lighter and reflective sides of life began finding a prominent place in those letters. Besides, letters written by the noted personalities in Bengal in the period mentioned contained many aesthetically important and thoughtful subjects. In this context, one feels eager to include the letters written by Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah, Buddhadev Bose and many writers, poets and scholars --- as well as politicians. Of these letters, those written by a middle-aged Tagore to his teenage niece Indira from his rural 'zemindari' along the bank of the Padma have emerged as a great segment of Bangla literature. The lucid narration of the villages the poet visited and that of the mighty Padma makes the letters unique. A collection of these letters, titled 'Chhinnapotro', still enjoys great popularity among the Tagore readers and researchers.
Tagore had a passion for writing travelogues. His continuous global travels resulted in a number of books. Apart from Chhinnapotro, they include many popular others. The Bangla term 'potro' or 'chithi' stands for a letter. In some way, the poet has invited readers to go through his travel experiences. Most of these travel-related letter collections have been included in his 19-part letter compilations. Unlike many celebrated poets and writers, the poet didn't ignore letters written by his obscure admirers. One such fan was a teenage school girl from an East Bengal village. In reply to the village girl's short letter, the great poet quite lovingly showered on her his sincere complements and encouraged her to continue writing poetry.
The letters written by Buddhadev Bose to his daughter Meenaksi when he was doing his PhD in the USA in the 1950s deserve to be given a special place in Bangla literature. The handwritten letters are distinguished by the poet's inimitable prose, occasionally interspersed with references to the great American and other overseas writers, living and dead, and their remarkable works. In spite of his being a great linguist, Dr Muhammad Shahidullah couldn't approve of the painting career of his son Murtaja Baseer. It was because the father was also a devout Muslim. But over time, the scholarly man changed his views. While in Paris on a scholarship, Shahidullah wrote around two dozen short and long letters to his painter son. In those letters, the readers discover the slow change of his views on painting. More than that, Dr Shahidullah offered to buy paints, paint brushes, canvas etc for Murtaja Baseer --- a celebrated painter in the making. Many attribute this change of Dr Shahidullah's views on art to his visits to Louvre and other museums and galleries in Paris, and his ability to express his feelings in letters.
The wide-scale prevalence of the digital communication notwithstanding, people can be located everywhere who will continue to miss the letters written in longhand. Many, however, call it a myth. Because despite the digital form of writing's inability to retain an individual's personal traits, the wizards of the virtual world have made stunning progresses. They can recreate the analogue world. But yawning gaps loom.