Handwritten letters, fountain pens, rotary phones, typewriters, Walkman, film cameras, VHS tapes — are these the stuff of the yesteryears? An essential yesterday, forgotten today? Have they lost their charm and utility with the passage of time, leaving just lingering memories?
A neatly written letter crammed into the scented pages of an A4-sized letter pad; a fountain pen that made all the difference to a growing up girl and her handwriting in an Indian city – obsolete gadgets, habits and their impact in bygone eras make for a fascinating recall. Check them out – with a piece of history and some quirky facts.
Here is the second in a six-part series of stories.
Part one: Rotary phone and telegram, when communication was a challenge
The fountain pen and my founding years
By Sharmila Dhal, UAE Editor
When was the last time I used a fountain pen? Honestly, I don’t remember. But as my fingers go click-click on the laptop, as against putting pen to paper, I must admit the train of thought is beginning to transport me into the wonderful world of nostalgia.
A world when you literally had to come of age to be given your first fountain pen; be trained to hold it gently but firmly between your thumb and index finger, the nib touching the paper at a precise slant, not straight up nor stooped down, with no undue pressure being exerted, all so that you could make a smooth transition from the yester-grade pencil.
Let me think. I must have been in Class 3 when I began to make the grand shift, my cursive writing turning from grey to blue, even as I learnt to avoid any blotting and use an ink eraser if I needed to make amends. I also picked up the art of fuelling my pen on my own by carefully filling it with ink drawn from a humble bottle with the help of an eyedropper. My parents took special care to keep the ink bottle out of my reach at other times, lest I knocked it down, resulting in a besmirched pool of blue.
Those were the days when people took immense pride in their cursive writing. The flourish with which we could employ the fountain pen was something we aspired for right from our younger years. We grew up with diaries and scrap books, our handwritten notes providing a window into our unlikeliest whims and fancies. We treasured charming letters handwritten on beautiful letter pads. And our joy knew no bounds if we received a fountain pen as a birthday gift. A Parker or a Sheaffer fountain pen of our very own, like a family heirloom almost, was our ultimate possession.
I am not sure at what point I began to use pens with ink cartridges or for that matter the ballpoint pens, which for a long time were taboo for us at school for fear that we would ruin our handwriting. But over the years, technology and convenience must have prevailed. Just as the digital age has taken over and it is almost natural for us to write on our computer or mobile screens today.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, I’d rather not go down that lane. Let’s just say it’s a sign of the times.
Handwritten letters and a walk with my father down to the red mailbox
By Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor
As children, my sister and I would eagerly count the hours, awaiting the arrival of our father from his frequent trips to India, who would always return with a treasure trove of delights that would while away the hours that were beyond the entertainment scope of the resident Channel 33.
Yet, tucked between the crisp copies of the latest Nancy Drew adventures and Tinkle comics was a cargo far more precious – letters penned by our cousins from India. Those white envelopes with their blue and red trimmings were often our gateway into a faraway land that was far more inviting than any Enid Blyton novel.
Minutes would be spent examining the writing on the envelope, weighing its precious content, debating whether this particular letter was perhaps heavier than the previous one and holding it up against the light to make out faint markings of…. was that a sticker?
Growing up in Dubai during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was a time of analog living – the cellphone was still very much a twinkle in the eyes of its creators while emails were a luxury limited to governments, banks and organisational juggernauts.
For an impressionable seven-year-old, the only form of communication to the outside world that her pocket money would extend to were handwritten letters. And what a time that was. Hours would pass in minutes as every minute detail of the past few months were neatly crammed into the scented pages of the A4-sized letter pad that the neighborhood Al Fahidi Stationary would keep in stock.
Red pens, crayons and markers would enunciate for us where our voices couldn’t carry, while our precious stock of stickers would come out with zeal, indicating a person’s worth in our hierarchy of likable cousins.
In return, we expected no less. Tales that were perhaps a tad less adventurous than swash-buckling pirates were meant to leap from the pages. What happened when the teacher discovered the slime poured into her purse? Was the resident hostel ghost still haunting the halls late into the night? Surely, you didn’t encounter it in the library that evening, did you?
My love for letter writing only grew over those formative years, especially when our school encouraged each of us to return one summer with a pen pal with whom we could communicate with regularly over the school term. Every week, I would dutifully lick that stamp and walk with my father down to the red mailbox down the street to drop off a letter to my pen pal in Pakistan, counting the days when a reply would come.
But as time went by, those walks became longer somehow, those frequent trips to India became lesser and life found its way to distract us towards many other discoveries. Yet, a wistful evening decades later can sometimes lead me back down the garden path to return to that cargo of letters and relive those memories so preciously crafted at time when imagination was all we ever needed to embrace life.
Tomorrow: The days of cassette player, Betamax and VHS