Somewhere around high school I remember my English teacher introduced us to the “art” of letter writing. Those days - it was an academic exercise. Those different types of letters, where to write the “from” address, the “to” address, the subject line and all that. The intention was not to write a letter to a government official or to write a leave application to the school principal, the intention purely was to write an answer to the relevant question when it popped up in the English term examination. Make the English ma’am happy and your score-sheet will show up with a smiley face.
As a wide eyed kid, I still remember some of the finer nuances from those English classes. My teacher taught us to keep everything on the left margin of the letter - “from” address, “to” address, the date etc. My father used to write it the opposite way, in a lot of cases he used to put the date and place in the right side of the letter. As a twelve-year-old I have had arguments with my father trying to prove that my teacher was right and he was wrong and he should change the format he used. Aah those priceless days when the words of a teacher used to be the absolute sermon. Unquestioned and inevitably unerring! Poor my father, I’m pretty sure he would’ve smiled when I tried to “teach” him the ways of “modern letter writing”.
Oh, and the other thing, the ending of a letter. A formal letter was supposed to end with a “Yours faithfully” or “Yours sincerely”. On the other hand, an informal letter would end with “Yours truly” or “Yours lovingly”. I’m actually surprised I remember this much details about what I learnt in those English classes. I should’ve taken English literature or poetry and studied further. Instead what am I doing with life?
Little did I realize that what I learnt then would most likely end up to be proficiency in a dying form of communique. What used to be the art of letter writing, due emphasis on the word art, has now been denigrated to snail mail. Imagine that. Once the primary form of communication between son and parents, husband and wife is now collectively referred to as snail mail. The advent of electronic mail has blown to smithereens the “art” of writing a letter, it is now commonly referred as the “format” of an e-mail. I still use letters occasionally when dealing with government officials and banks in India. In fact, I cherish those times when I actually can touch pen on paper, write some lines in the prescribed format of an official letter and sign my name at the bottom, but such moments have become few and far between. I wonder in the future, some few years down the road, will I be using pen and paper at all for any practical purposes? When my kids reach high school, will they have a class covering letter writing? Let me surmise. Oh, they will most likely have a course about writing emails for formal and informal purposes. Some day he or she will probably come up to me, see me write an email and correct me, complaining that I am rudimentary in my computer skills! And my father, sitting beside me with a pen and paper in his hand, will have the smile of his life!