By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Past often haunts me and certain things of the past make me nostalgic. I still remember certain things of the past which are no longer existent. They make me very sad. I know that we should not look back at the past, rather we should look ahead to the future. I know that it is wrong to dwell on the past, since it would never come back. Sentimentalism often clouds our reasoning process.
I miss certain things which gave me immense joy. They were the letters, which have become scarce in this age of information technology. Once letters were very popular form of communication and they attracted people like magnet. We loved to receive letters from friends and relatives. Today my mind goes long back and the pictures of my days in the Dundas Hostel in Calcutta appear as in a kaleidoscope. We were students of Scottish Church College. Goodness Gracious! I feel as if it was in another century and in another planet. This feeling is tural, as things were vastly different from the present in that era.
In that era letters were an indispensable part of life and life without letters was unthinkable. They used to bring cheers to our hostel life. After the classes were over we returned to the hostel and all of us went to scan a notice board fixed on the wall of the corridor. The same process went on every day regularly. The board on the wall displayed letters addressed to different boarders. All the letters to the boarders were stuck on the notice board. It was our habit to scan the board immediately after returning from college to find out if there was any letter for us. If anybody saw any letter with her me on the envelope she went wild with joy. Receiving a letter was a momentous event. I became terribly sad if I did not find any letter addressed to myself. So were the other girls. Such was the fascition for letters in that era.
The postman was a favoured person. He moved around with his bundle of letters and people waited for him eagerly. In that era the only way to keep contact with friends and relatives was through letters. But today the letters have lost their importance and they have become nearly extinct. Nobody writes letters and I have not received any persol letter for decades. I really miss them. The modern young people would laugh at you for getting sentimental about letters. For them it is a waste of time and energy to write rambling letters in this scientific age of mobile phone, computers, e-mail, Facebook and all that lot. Through all these scientific gadgets, communicaton can be made in a jiffy. You don’t have to spare your valuable time to letter-writing. In this age when ‘fast’ is the password of modernism, one has to go for “instant” service and we cannot languish over letter-writing. But for me these scientific gadgets to make instant communication with friends or relatives are not half as interesting as the letters of the past. What the modern young people do not understand is that those letters were not some irrelevant jumble of words, but they scripted history of the age, which could be treasured. They contained the warmth, the feelings as well as emotions of the writer. They were also descriptive and depicted the real picture of the time. But today these e-mails, messages over the mobile phones or Facebook do not have a trace of warmth or emotion, which could be found in the letters of the past. Besides, letter-writing improved the creativity and imagition of the writers.
I think letter-writing is an art. If the children are taught to write letters, they will be able to improve their creativity, imagition, handwriting and speed in writing. But nowadays nobody is interested in writing letters and they may not even know how to write a letter. Very soon the letters may become museum pieces. Today the only letters I receive are official, which do not interest me in the least. These letters may be from the Income Tax Department or Insurance or from some other office. They usually do not bring any good news and hence they are not at all welcome.
I have not received any persol letter for a long time and I abandoned my hope for a letter, as it would be only hoping against hope. But I was really surprised when some weeks back a letter came to me by post. Who could have written a letter to me, I wondered. It was certainly not an official letter. The address on the envelope was hand-written. I was a bit apprehensive. Anyway, without wasting time on idle speculation, I slit open the envelope and brought out the letter. The contents bewildered me.
I could see that it was not a letter in the real sense of the term, rather it was a kind of notice or a memorandum. It was descriptive, informative as well as instructive. The letter offered you a fortune provided you followed the instruction of its writer faithfully. Mystified — I scanned the letter thoroughly and found it was a kind of eulogy aimed at extolling somebody — a godman or a saint or a superman (I could not unravel the identity) to the skies. The letter-writer seemed to be a lady, her me was clearly written and there was no scope for doubt. She was unknown to me. The recipient of the letter was asked to make copies of the letter and to circulate them. If you were uble to write so many copies, you could print them. And if you faithfully carried out the instructions, you would be a millioire within matter of days — but if you were foolhardy enough to disregard the instructions of the letter-writer, disasters would come to you in a row. I could not help wondering if the woman was mentally unhinged.
I peered into the letter again — the stories rrated within were awe-inspiring. There was hope as well as despair. That is, there were promises of magnificent gifts, but veiled warning as well. The letter-writer seemed to be considerate enough to suggest that if I were uble to write fifty copies of the letter, I could get them printed as well. But whether hand-written or printed, I must make fifty copies of the letter and send them to fifty persons. Apparently somebody printed fifty copies of the letter and sent them to fifty persons and he won two lakh rupees in a lottery. Another went a step farther and he printed hundred copies of the letter and sent them to hundred persons and he won (hold your breath) twenty five lakh (in a lottery turally). Imagition boggles at the vision of such magnificent bonza. But there was an ugly side as well.
There were grim stories of somebody delaying the printing process and consequently incurring huge losses in business. Somebody ignored the instructions laid down in the letter and lost his job. Another lost his child for disobeying the instructions while yet another lost his wife for the same reason. Various persons suffered extensive damages for disobeying the command of the letter-writer. They were all blood-curdling horror stories, which may be disastrous for a person with a weak heart.
Obviously the godman mentioned in the letter must have been a great lottery fan, and apparently he believes that accumulation of money is the sole aim of our life. But how commonplace of him to think like the common people! If he is a true representative of God, his thought process must be above mundane things. As far as I understand, a godman aspires after spiritual benefit, never material gains. The sender of the letter also seemed to me to be a firm believer in the lottery boom.
I went through the letter again. The temptation of all that money — lakhs of currency notes danced before my bemused eyes. We all want the Midas touch — don’t we? But making fifty copies of that letter or printing all that trash daunted me. How could you possibly approach a respectable printer with such a silly, embarrassing request to print copies of the absurd letter? He will surely think I had gone bonkers! I could not gather enough courage to do that. How could I post the copies to my friends and acquaintances? I could not possibly inflict that ridiculous letter on some unsuspecting innocent people.
The bait of all those lakhs of money was alluring enough to bewitch anybody. Such is the power of money. Even in such a scientific age my reason got tangled. I knew the letter was trash — but could not quite shake off the grim warming of its writer that disasters would come in a row to those who disregarded its instructions. It was a battle between head and heart. The letter made me uneasy for a couple of days. I think fear of the unknown clouds your judgment and you act out of character. We all behave in the same way. I was totally confused and could not decide on my course of action. Then fortutely my reason clinched the matter. I tore up the silly letter and threw it in the waste paper basket. That is what the letter was — a waste paper.
After throwing away the chain letter, I was on tenterhooks for some days. But I consoled myself with that wise adage that “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush”. These sayings do bring some solace to the disturbed mind — don’t they? Hence we have to remain content with the money we have in hand without hoping for the illusory fortune. But I really do not understand the motive of the person, who starts this racket of chain letters. What does the racketeer gain by such mischievous action? I think it is a needless waste of time and money. It may be pure malice or a kind of devilry on the part of these silly letter-writers. But why do they bear so much trouble to write some stupid letter, make copies and post them to some hapless persons? What is the idea behind these mischievous activities. Do they gain anything? Or, are they mentally sick? I wish somebody would enlighten me. For me, chain letters are nothing but rubbish and the proper place for them is the garbage bin. But the choice is entirely yours.