An Ode to the Forgotten Art of Letter Writing

When was the last time you wrote a letter? Or received one?

I received two in the span of two weeks. The first was from @raghavmodi along with a book that I won at the end of The Sunday Book Club Twitter chat. (More details on the chat to come soon, so watch this space for more!) The second was from Random House India, with a really cute jute bag they sent me.

An ode to the forgotten art of letter writingAnd both times, I felt an irrational urge to sit down with paper and pen and write a letter back. But in this digital age, when I’m connected with everyone “real time” through email, What’s App, Facebook and Twitter, there’s no real need to write anymore.

Lost are the joys of receiving letters…of watching out for the mailman to drop the mail off…of sitting down with a pen poised over a blank sheet of paper, gathering my thoughts before I begin to draft a response. Now things are immediate. As soon as something of note happens, my sister in New York knows about it through What’s App, my parents in Pune are given all the details breathlessly over the phone or via SMS, and friends get updates through Facebook and Twitter.

In a few years more, letter writing may indeed be a lost art. And wouldn’t that be a shame?

But there are some noteworthy initiatives out there. Like the Daily Rumpus’ Letters in the Mail, through which subscribers get letters from famous people three to four times a month for a fee. Some of the letters were typed, others handwritten. Some include illustrations, all were signed. They are then photo-copied and sent to subscribers.

The real nostalgia that I feel is for actual letter exchanges. The ones where you can see where the writer hesitated, where they crossed out an unformed thought, where their pen ran out of ink, or leaked out and blotted the paper. Spots where tears were shed or water was spilled. Little flourishes like a quick sketch or a trellis decorating the margins.

In my nostalgia, I sat down and went through the letters I exchanged with my boyfriend (now the husband) when we were dating. I was in Mumbai he was in Delhi and those letters were our primary way of keeping in touch – along with phone calls and emails – but the letters were still diligently written. Each one was sent with something – a pressed flower, a card, small mementos such as key chains and once even a box of potpourri.

Then there were the letters I used to write to my father, a Chief Engineer in the merchant navy. Little girl’s letters, young teen’s letters, young adult’s letters, until finally these were also replaced by emails.

Then there were pen pals. People I met on my travels abroad who were fascinated with the little girl from India. A few letters were exchanged. Some friendships were forged and then forgotten in the sands of time and due to the faulty Indian postal system.

But now I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter or received one. Until I got these two notes after a gap of years and years and years.

What about you – do you still write and receive letters? Or do you, like me, sometimes feel nostalgic for old fashioned, hand written letters?

Posted in Scrambled Thoughts and tagged , , , , , .


  1. I LOVE writing letters, the only problem today is that I have got so used to typing that my handwriting has deteriorated so much and I think I am the only one that can read it!

  2. That’s so sweet… I’m trying to bring back a bit of letter writing in my life and also plan on sending postcards when I travel next. It’s something I want my daughter to do because the last thing I want is for her to grow in a world where the art of writing, expecting mail, the joy of stamps is lost.

    • Travel postcards are the best! I love the little slices of places that they depict. And I think it’s great that you’re introducing the joy of letters to your daughter. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the almost stream of consciousness letters I used to write to my father. 🙂

  3. Lovely post. And I’m looking forward to your post on the TSBC with bated breath.

    Last month, I met an old friend and as we got talking, he asked me why I didn’t write letters anymore. I laughed and told him that with email and phones, there wasn’t any need, was there? To which he brought out a bunch of letters I had written and posted from wherever I was travelling. They were actually my first pieces of travel writing. To say I was surprised to see those letters is a bit of an understatement, but I suddenly realised how much I missed writing and receiving actual letters.

    Yesterday, I wrote a letter after I don’t know how long and sent it to my niece. I speak to her everyday, but I think she will enjoy receiving it too 🙂

    PS: That bag is gorgeous 🙂

  4. I really love the art of letter writing- and feel awfully guilty that I don’t partake it it more consistently. I am hoping to get better at it- I do have some time now that I am on bedrest….

    • I’m keeping you and the baby in my thoughts Alexis. Writing letters and reading would be two lovely things to do while you’re on bed rest and before the baby arrives. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Do You Write or Receive Letters (in the mail)? « rAZmatAZ

Leave a Reply