Growing Space for Letter-Writing by Khurshid Alam
--Need to Recognize New Forms of Letter-Writing
Shrinking space for letters from our life has drawn attention of many people. People lament that they do not write letters as frequently as before and the art of letter writing is lost now. We cite lots of reasons to it like introduction of penny post in the 1900s when Carlyle and others were on the verge of ending to send letters through costly letter posting system, invention of telephone through which you can get connected to people from any corner of the world instantly, then the mobile phone and finally—not finally though as many new electronic media may be invented which may be even faster, easier and cheaper— the immediacy of the Internet have erased the very reason to write letters to people. But is it so that these are the only reasons that killed the art of fine letter writing?
What I find that judging the art of letter writing is not fair enough, apart from all these reasons. I would like to repeat the words of C. E. Whitmore, who opined this on essay writing, that a single continuous tradition for ‘letter writing’ is vain (The Field of the Essay, P.M.L.A., XXXVI, 551 ff). We are opiated to a structure of writing where we begin with writing address and date on the far right, to salutation on the left, to main letter body in the middle, to closing words and signature at the end and then we recognize that structure as letter. The second big thing is letters written on papers with pen are regarded as the real letters. We have to first break from this ‘single continuous tradition for letter writing structure’. Then we can move ahead and recognize other letters as letters and give them due value.
Though it is true that the space for letters in the print media—newspapers and magazines—has been continuously shrinking, yet we find the letters that see light are worthy to read. There is more importance attached to letters appearing in the print media. The print media want to associate the relationship with the readers through letters the readers send. And the letters submitted to print media are too many. The media cannot dare suspend their relation with the readers by closing the column for ‘Letters to the Editor’. So the space for letters has shrunk, its importance has grown.
Here I would like to mention the name of Keith Flett, the voice of the readers, whose letters have appeared in all leading British papers including The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror, the Evening Standard, the London Review of Books, New Statesman, The Morning Star, Tribune, New Musical Express and What's Brewing among others. Keith is the most famous letter writer of Britain and is known for ‘good writing and clear speech’. He has faced ban by many editors one time or the other for his free voice but has never stopped from dropping his letters in the letter-boxes of the presses for years now.
He writes in all media available today but he finds that the letters appearing in the press attract people more.
In the age of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, texts and YouTube, why bother to write a letter to the editor? I use all the above formats, but it is only when I have a letter published in a national paper that people stop me to say: “I saw your letter”. They hardly ever say “I saw your tweet” or “I saw your post on Facebook”. (Keith, August 2010)
This is what we have to break from.
Short Messaging Service (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) are the messaging systems which are no less important media than letter writing to the people in relation: if we accept that letter writing is done to send messages to the people. The advent of social networking sites such as Orkut, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tweeter, blogs and others are more powerful media where we communicate our personal views on board. While through letters our communication is one-on-one basis, talking on social networking sites is one-to-hundreds basis communication; where the population of readers you are not acquainted with constitutes more. So the advantage is more with the new age communication media.
There are many instances when a message on social networking sites has created great hue. For example, when Shashi Tharoor talked about the ‘cattle class’ to the ‘economy class’ in air service on Tweeter, it created so much fuss and it was termed as racial. Amitabh Bachchan shared his personal joys about his daughter-in-law’s pregnancy on Tweeter. Many big personalities tweet their feelings and share information on such sites, which sometimes run into controversies. This shows that these media have strong value.
Email communication is the best alternative to letter writing! As hard copy format of letter has address and date, the email has email id and date auto-generated, then we write the body message, with the same popular closing words and signature. The Internet-based communication has a good easily formattable signature also, of which we can take great advantage.
Many may be still hooked to the idea that email communication does not enjoy the same reverence, I can argue further with all humbleness that all letters written in olden days are not as worthy to read and make record of. We know letters of only a few writers who when writing used to write ideas, thoughts, and feelings, or describe the immediate environment they lived in, in picturesque words. People in those days too lacked the art of fine letter writing as A. G. Gardiner shows in his essay On Letter-Writing.
So the fashion of letter writing in hard copy formats is waning but both the space and the art of letter writing are growing instead. Now we have to give value to it by applying ideas, thoughts while shooting an email to our people, or talking in leisure on social networking sites, or sending too fast SMS through mobiles in the same picturesque words. We are waiting for the John Keats, the Madame de Sevigny, the Lord Byron, the Mirza Ghalib in writing ever memorable email communications.
CLRI Nominees for Best of the Net 2011 award Declared
We had a brain storming session to read the pieces and collect the ratings from the readers from all walks of life and from around the world. We worked hard to select only few pieces from the list we first collected. Then we concentrated on fewer pieces. Finally CLRI rates the following five poems (chronologically) as best:
- Three Visionaries by Khurshid Alam
- The House of My Old-man by Aditya Shankar
- Lotus-reused as a metaphor by Dr Sonnet Mondal
- Bharatnatyam by Tahera Mannan
- A Birthplace But No Memories by Vinita Agrawal
- The House of My Old-man by Aditya Shankar
- Birthplace But No Memories by Vinita Agrawal
- Muslim Community has Failed as a Community by Khurshid Alam
CLRI 2/5 October 2011 issue is special in the way that it has some pieces on our themed issue: Corruption. Corruption is presently a very hot issue in India. Mother India Wails by Pankajam and Forced by Carolyn Agee are on the Corruption theme.
While CLRI includes an essay on psychology by Amir Aziz (The Netherlands), and poems by Abhishek Tiwari (West Bengal, India), April Avon (St. Petersberg, Russia), and Jéanpaul Ferro (Rhode Island, US).
We request the readers to leave feedback as it helps us improve our quality and prove to be true to their expectation.
Editor, CLRI, October 2011.