Flipping through the newspaper recently, I came across this news of India’s biggest movie star writing ‘Open Letters’ to his two granddaughters talking about their family legacy and the path they need to choose for themselves despite an illustrious surname. Needless to say, the media reports are going agog with what a cute gesture it is.
The past one or more years has seen a surge in the concept of writing Open Letters. CEOs and celebrities writing to their children, politicians and journalists settling scores through them or activists writing to the Prime Minister, you name it and you have someone or the other penning these read-for-all letters almost with a monotonous regularity.
Growing up in a joint family, one of the first things taught to us was writing letters to our relatives on every occasion. Poila Boishakh (Bengali New Year), Vijaya Dashami, New Years, Birthdays saw us grabbing inland letters. A part of the blue inland letters and the small post cards were always left vacant for us to scribble the two lines which went like “How are you, I am doing fine, Do visit our place. Take Care. Regards, Your Name” and mostly in Bangla.
Times moved on and I restricted myself to writing in English. Letters to friends, cousins and at times, to someone special which ultimately never got sent and remained buried in pages of a diary were penned regularly. Almost each one of us must have had a pen-friend at some point in life.
The first handwritten letter from Maa when I moved to hostel or from a friend who moved to join college in another city to complain about everything from horrible hostel food to studies and the crushes we had – Every sorrow, every happiness was shared by writing on a piece of paper which was entirely mine, not to be shown, shared or read by anyone else. We didn’t know the concept of Open Letters then because it never existed.
This is the age of emails and that too only official ones. Personal communications are restricted to texts. Blame it on social media, we don’t even miss our loved ones much – let’s be honest. We know what they are eating, places they are visiting, jobs they are switching, marriage, kids’ birth or even death. Everything is posted today for all to see, like and comment upon.
Somewhere down the line, I feel we are missing out on something so beautiful and important – the sanctity and purity of our emotions. The joy of one-to-one communication without the world knowing about it is lost.
Just last night, I finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, a book which was with me for years but I could never complete it. Those who swear by this greatest-of-all love novels knows what role letters play in the book. The letters are the only channel of communication between Fermina and Florentino. For 50 years, Florentino’s obsession is expressed through the letters that he writes every night. For all through the book, letters remain the most honest form of expression of the characters. Through them, they declare love, say goodbye and even summon their personal demons. The letters are certainly the most cathartic way for the characters to deal with their own situations in life.
Yes, the word is catharsis. That is what few hand written words can do. That process cannot be substituted by writing Open Letters. Letters are not just words on a paper. They are a legacy, they are memories and moments, which will never come back. No exhibitionism can be permitted in a place that is entirely mine. I don’t know if and when I will write another letter to someone to pour out my heart. Hope the day comes soon.
– NILANJANA GHOSH CHOUDHURY