The (quaint) essential art of writing

“How many of you know how to write a letter?” We asked a classroom full of 7th graders last week. All hands in the room reached for the ceiling. “And how many of you have written a letter and posted it?” Just about three hands remained.

For years now, children have learnt how to format and write formal and informal letters. But most of them end up not in the post box, but in their exam papers, which almost makes the whole exercise pointless. That is the reason why we are committed to making school kids actually write letters. To their parents, relatives, friends, classmates, or even the Hon’ble Prime Minister; as long as it means that they sit down, and, for a moment, actually think about the person they are going to write to.

That is the important part. Choosing the paper, the pen, thinking of that ending note, the perfect stamp, and so on. Writing a letter really builds a person’s character and helps with their communication skills, besides helping in communication itself.

“But why letters, when we have emails and phones these days?”

A student of Metropolitan Central School, Bangalore, was curious to know, after a school visit to the GPO and an introduction to letter writing. It is no surprise that the young generation finds the ‘obsolete’ means of communication unnecessary. In today’s age, everything needs to happen right now. Every message needs to be conveyed, every moment shared as soon as it happens. There is a fear of falling behind everyone else if you do not log into your online social network for even a day.

But there are things which do not need to be conveyed immediately, messages which become sweeter with the time that it takes to write them, and the time it takes for them to reach. Time is a very important factor.

Besides, these are not exclusive means of communication. A phone call replaced the telegram because of the immediacy it offers. So too for an email. Letter writing does not aim to fight with these modes of communication, but simply to coexist and be embraced for the value of the service that it provides.

But how will we understand what a letter means if we have never written one, or received one? How will children accustomed to the internet ever see the difference between logging into an email account and tearing open an envelope?
“As against emails, when you send a letter, you send a part of yourself. You spend time thinking about the person, thinking about the things that are important enough to be penned down. You physically touch the paper, write with the permanence of ink, even send your DNA as you lick the stamp to stick it!

That’s what we want to do. We want to make the world write, one school at a time. We want to make students (and adults even) think beyond the crutches that technology has given us, where we have restricted our emotions to emoticons, and our handwriting to fonts. And we want people to pause in this fast paced life, to give a few minutes to acknowledge the important people in their lives.

“Of all the things about language, I like letters the most.” Neelesh V. Saran.