Rosalyn D'Mello: The madness of waiting for words

We have grown so accustomed to finger-swiping and touch-screen efficacy, that our patience and anticipation have greatly diminished

To my dear reader,

It is 1:36pm here in Dhaka. The weather is pleasantly warm, the sun shines in neat, clear strokes, emblazoning everything with its heat. I have been nestled in an auditorium listening to art critics speak of finding form. And I was privileged to hear a presentation by Salima Hashmi that involved her reciting her father, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s letters sent from Hyderabad Jail in the late 40s, early 50s, to his wife Alys. The exquisitely crafted postcards were written in English but published in translation in 1972. The originals were eventually infested by termites. Some 29 survived.

A letter is much more than a mere form of communication. It is a documented transcription of one’s latitude of thought at its very birthing. Fingers translate that automaticity to endow it with flesh. Pic/ThinkstockA letter is much more than a mere form of communication. It is a documented transcription of one’s latitude of thought at its very birthing. Fingers translate that automaticity to endow it with flesh. Pic/Thinkstock

I have spent the last four days tortuously awaiting a reply to a letter I sent a friend. It feels strange to call him a friend, given that I’ve probably only met him about four times in my life. But I was captivated by his language and he was lured by mine and we embarked on an epistolary intimacy. We both move too much between places and so our correspondence is mostly online. But the madness of waiting is the same.

The fast-paced contemporary world we live in makes no allowances for the infinitude of time. So accustomed have we grown to the immediacy of finger-swiping and touch-screen efficacy, that our capacity for patience and the experience of the luxury of anticipation has greatly diminished. But why adopt the slowness of the handwritten exchange when one can communicate just as easily through Whatsapp or Messenger or the endless swathe of other such apps that convey breathlessly the fact of your correspondence being read, green ticks and all?

A letter is much more than a mere form of communication. It is a documented transcription of one’s latitude of thought at its very birthing. Fingers translate that automaticity to endow it with flesh. Its contours may age, the paper may fade, the ink become invisible, but its soul, embedded in its literary contents will always have archival value.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz never thought to publish his letters to his wife. Listening to Hashmi reading them, one cannot help but be charmed by all they reveal... his recording of the weather, his concern for his children, his philosophical ruminations on the difference between pain and unhappiness, his love for humanity, and his passion for Alys. All of it is articulated with elegance from the confines of his prison cell as he lived out his five-year sentence on the charge of treason. Salima read one or two replies from his wife; one a witty recalling of a “left-handed compliment” she received from an acquaintance who said something about how he wouldn’t have minded prison if he had a wife like her.

Every now and then Gmail reminds me that I’m running out of storage. I have to hurriedly run an application that sorts through the bottomless pit that is my inbox, to identify the mails with heavy attachments that I can then delete. It is then that I begin to discover letters I forgot existed; evidences of past seductions, a French boyfriend who would send me songs, a Swedish one who had sent me poems, an old female friend who has severed her connection with me. There’s a whole messy biography of thought contained in that virtual mailbox and I’m often not sure what to do with all that archive of emotion.

I doubt I’m alone. You, who are reading this, do you suffer the same predicament? On the one hand a lack of meaningful correspondence, on the other the discovery of reams of sentences nestled in a virtual labyrinth? An uncatalogued library of both solicited and unasked for exchange?

And do you have a solution for how to deal with these intimacies?

If yes, write to me.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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