Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end…..
The opening line of the 1968 hit rendered by Welsh singer Mary Hopkins is haunting, for it transports us to bygone days and fills us with nostalgia for the quaint charm of a very different life……….
Although, I’d be honest to admit, it wasn’t all hunk dory, by today’s standards. Other than a few wealthy families, most people had not heard of telephones in their homes, and patiently endured the pain of separation until they managed to meet up with their loved ones again. Telegraph offices provided the facility of long distance calls for emergencies, but it would be so time-consuming and costly that the middle classes managed without exercising the choice. Of course, there were no mobiles, so that option to keep in constant touch with those you want (and a few who you don’t want!) was ruled out. It was naturally unthinkable that video chats would one day enable you to draw a person in another continent into your drawing-room.
The only positive side-effect of living with the primitive technology was that when you finally met your friend or relative, it would brighten up your day no end, and it would take a quite a few days or weeks before you run out of topics for animated discussion. You had enough to catch up on! These days, in contrast, parents in India are so well-connected with their children in some faraway land, that what was had for breakfast or lunch is updated on real-time basis and there is little or no scope for surprise.
But those days had it’s own advantages. We did have a device called a letter – which is slowly becoming extinct and derisively referred to as snail mail – which involved painstaking effort with a fountain pen, to make sure that the writing was legible and conformed to the prescribed form, depending on whether it was a personal letter, business letter or a semiofficial letter. There was a set form for the heading, salutation and closure or signoff but the body of the letter provided sufficient scope for ingenuity and creativity to come into full play so that the intended thoughts, ideas and sentiments found expression and got conveyed to the addressee who would receive and read the letter. There were no modern tools like “smileys” and one had to rely on one’s command over the language to convey everything.
Of course, when the addressee would receive the letter was a matter of speculation. If one was very particular about the delivery, one could send a registered letter so that the delivery was ensured, even if after a week or two. But an ordinary letter depended on fate. Most of them reached the destination and got delivered properly but quite a few would be lost into permanent oblivion. There would be a strange charm about the entire exercise – the writing effort, the envelope, the postal stamps, sealing the envelope and pasting the stamps with glue (or the more practical alternative of licking the stamps and the envelope so that you didn’t have to search for glue) and finally walking up to the nearest postal boxes and dropping it into the box. At the other end, the mail carrier would usually be quite a character and his dedication would win your heart over as he carefully carried and brought the letter meant for you.
That was a slice of yesterday, to suggest that while its wise to embrace the new, we should also treasure the flavors of the past.