Time: 1990s – a pre- social media era ‘The mailman just showed up at my doorstep, handing me an envelope. The corners are slightly bent but the surface is decorated with a red stamp, this time. My heart flutters. Carefully unsealing the top, I unfold the sheet and read the words scribbled on it. It makes me blush and yearn for the one I love.’ Shweta Bhatia explores the physical artifact that lives on
This was one of the many letters, the great Napoleon Bonaparte wrote to the love of his life, Josephine.
In the days of social media, emails and text messages, love letters seem to be hopelessly outdated. But it is an art form worth bringing back as the writing and receiving of those sweet words is an experience that technology cannot recreate.
There’s poetry in the process. The ink of your pen touches the paper, the lips seal the envelope, something tangible travels miles through machines and exchanges various hands and arrives in your loved one’s mailbox.
There is no richer and more satisfying way of getting to know a person. “Over time, those collection of letters become the most prized possession, something maybe your grandchildren will come across and re-read and will bring a smile to their faces,” Michael Arnette, 57, a retired judge shares, “For each of my kids, I write a letter to them on their birthday. I talk about the year that has gone by and how it has affected me. I have done this since they were born. My children are now 37 and 35 and they always express how much they value those letters and can’t wait for their birthday to receive their next one. My children continue this practice with their children today. Anyone who has come across old letters that belonged to their parents and grandparents, are transported back to a time and place that understood the power of letters.”
Writing by hand forces us to think methodically, thoughtfully and carefully, without the shortcuts of emojis. When one handwrites a note, they must give time and meaningful attention to the other person. This medium creates the aura of intimacy by giving and receiving undivided attention. Writing a love letter is an act of composition, of reflection, of introspection, with the recipient at the front of the writer’s mind. It is an act of literary craftsmanship. “I’m a complete romantic and a bit old fashioned. So, when I first met my wife, I wooed her by writing letters to her every week. Having said that, this was during the time when there weren’t any smart phones or the Internet. To add a little drama, I would spray my signature perfume onto all the letters before sealing them. After almost 25 years, my wife still has all those letters and brings them out to re-read them. We reminisce our young love and she claims that she can still smell the perfume on the paper. I continue to write letters to her, till date. No amount of emails or texts can ever ape that feeling.” Rakesh Mathews, 46, an advertising executive recalls.
Part of the enduring power of handwritten notes from the likes of Beethoven and Bonaparte, is that they are true artifacts of romance, embodying the best and most intimate parts of the writer, physically and emotionally. From the smell and texture of the paper to the quirks of handwriting, the physicality of a love letter carries more context, meaning and memory than a note dashed off on a smartphone.
This may sound simple, but sometimes, sending a letter is just a way to remind someone that they are on your mind and that you care. If you decided to quickly text someone how you felt, or called, it probably wouldn’t last too long. But through letters you can communicate your love in a detailed manner and that is forever. “Even today, in the midst of a busy lifestyle, getting a handwritten note is the most heartwarming gesture one can experience. There is something about opening that envelope and unfolding that paper to witness the message that is only meant for your eyes. That letter, then, can be revisited as many times as you like. You don’t have to save it in a folder or risk losing it if your phone crashes. It’s there forever,” Asma Qazmi, 37, an economics teacher shares.
In a world where everyone is so dependent on their instant messages, on their ‘last seen’, ‘read’ and ‘unread’, it’s as if the charm of the whole process is diminishing. And doing so on a much faster scale than we think. So, we decided to ask around to find out that if you were allowed to write one love letter to someone, living or dead, who would you, write to?