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Sooraj Ratnakumar |
October 07, 2004 08:27 IST
Do you ever realize that you never take the initiative to write to me?" emailed my second cousin. It was only then that I came to grips with the reality of this modern convenience called email.
In the days of yore – that is, less than 10 years ago – we used to write letters. I can remember my grandmother writing letters to her sister. She used to sit and write laboriously in Tamil because she wrote only on rare occasions and her control over the involuntary jerks of her hand was not perfect. She used to write long letters filled with affection and emotion, and ended by loudly proclaiming her lingering doubts of whether the hour's labour would be proportionately rewarded by the unreliable postal system. It never failed to amuse me to watch her write so passionately, and like all grandsons I used to tease her.
On one of those occasions, annoyed by my teasing, my grandmother considered it appropriate to enlighten me of the more illiterate ways of living, which to this day are prevalent in rural places. She narrated the tale of a friend who was not as fortunate as her to have enjoyed schooling, which, then, used to be a luxury for girls. Her friend, according to her, would visit her not very often. But when she did visit, my grandmother knew that she had come for a letter to be written. They both would sit and gossip, and invariably she would ask Grandma if she could spare a few moments to write to her eldest brother who was on his death-bed, or her once-a-neighbour who had been blessed with a new grand-daughter.
Two generations. Indeed it is a gap too big to bridge considering all the technological advancements that have been transformed from luxuries to necessities in life. Yet, it is not uncommon to see in Bollywood movies a mother asking the postman with unabashed enthusiasm to read the letter that her long-lost doctor-son has written from the city. No, I am not writing this to address the issue of illiteracy, which is far more serious than the topic at hand, and is being attended to in haste and in indifference by supposedly responsible organizations.
If my opening sentence did not make it clear, I proclaim now, I am writing this to make you write to your second cousin who thinks you don't think of her unless her email knocks at your inbox.
The past generation used to – and still does – take a lot of effort to write letters or make their friends write for them, and to read or make postmen read for them. Why, many a youth would agree that they get excited when they see their fathers handing over covers saying, "Beta, you've got a letter." I also have many a friend sitting before the computer moaning, "Nobody writes to me these days."
Why then do we not show the same enthusiasm in taking the initiative to write? I will leave that question for you to think over and analyze, for lack of time is not a satisfactory answer.
Anyway, times have changed. Now the keyboard replaces the pen, and email has made letters redundant. Still, has the situation changed?
Last week, when we struck upon the topic of emails, my friend confessed that he only replies and never once writes afresh. I nodded. I truly understood and empathized with him for I had developed that habit too. If email had died between the two of us, the only other decent means of communication would be the telephone. But then on the phone you have no control over the length and content of the discussion, leave alone the propriety in terms of time, location, and actions of your friend.
Even now I am baffled by the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of the email, not to mention the disuse of sticky and relatively expensive stamps. No more leaky pens, no more blotches on paper, no more licking covers, no more accumulating stamps, no more walking to the post office in the rain. Just the click of a button and you can rest assured that your message has gone to the right person unless you get an instantaneous reply from the daemon. What more can you ask for, other than voicemail, which already exists!
Such comfort and luxury. But to what end? There are still many like me who are lazy to the bone. Of late, my laziness had gone to the extent of just reading emails and even procrastinating writing replies. But one day I resolved. I resolved to at least reply to the emails as and when I read them. And I have kept up my resolution. That is, unless some overenthusiastic friend replies to my replies with such haste that it is annoying to keep writing to the same person over and over again on the same day.
One day I should also resolve to start 'composing' emails instead of merely 'replying'.
Consider the number of emails in your inbox and the number of persons who have emailed you. Pick your top ten buddies from them. Remember that all of these friends would treasure a short personal email that originates from you in a way incomparable to a 'thanks-for-reminding-me-of-you' reply. Now, would you wait for the next email from them so that you can press the 'reply' button and write? Or would you rather press the 'compose' button right now and start typing away?