The missing ink

How wide people smiled to see you last week. A month-old bundle bravely swaddled in a huge theatre foyer, surely the youngest member of the audience. At curtain call the director quipped, “A play on love letters in the time of email.” Recalling your scrunched sleeping silhouette, I silently asked: And what will you grow up to scrawl, if you do write at all, babe?

Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel in the play Love Letters
Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel in the play Love Letters

Will your fingers — first pudgy then perfect — ever lightly loop the tail of a ‘g’, flick the curve up from an ‘m’ and arch it over a vowel right after? Will you form a firm hand taking tall ‘t’s high with upstrokes or hanging low swingy tailed ‘f’s? Will you enjoy trying out at least three kinds of contours to arrive at a smooth ampersand ‘&’ only your hand shapes?

Not really. You will text, you will tweet, you will blog, you will beep... You will tap and click a keyboard, not stamp and lick an envelope... You will not see warm words inscribed in a book from a friend... your heart will skip no beat over a lover’s note.

It’s death in the digital era for the last of penmanship. Handwriting, what’s that — illegible scribbles, almost hieroglyphics today.

Handwriting is power, passion, play. It expresses those sides of personality you can’t share publicly on social media. It is what we need to discover thought. Think before you write versus think as you type. Yours is an age all keyed up about being keyed in, not to think and ink.

There’s more rich complexity and depth encoded in a handwritten page than in anything touch-typed. Elegant and intimate, cursive writing is both art and science. It cues cognitive commands, urging the brain to run with high-speed neural responses, visually track positions of a pencil or pen, twin finger-hand movements. The physicality makes the mental processes clearer, more memorable.

But who could blame you when an education itself stops you from writing. These tech-ruled years will seat you in smart classrooms with spiffy tablets and computers. At best you’ll learn to print in block capitals. Catholic schoolteachers were wise early on to the fact that cursive cues engage circuitry in the head, creating a skill that’s de rigueur to learn. They got that writing is a communicative flow, not mere motor movement. Reality demands we digitise. But why toss out handwriting altogether, ludicrously declaring it irrelevant.

“You have a nice hand” is a compliment you won’t hear. There’s irony at work here. You’re born to a generation dying to be different, obsessed with specialness. Strange, because what can be more deeply distinctive than a cursive style of your own? Scripting by hand says so much about you. With the daub of a neat nib we set ourselves apart. To kill off this rids another facet of us that is quietly individual and we’ve done enough of that already. Forgers and fine artists alike have witnessed the wonder of not one person on the planet writing the same as anyone else. Your imprint alone, akin to the tender trellis patterning every snowflake never replicated. If this isn’t ultimate cool, tell me what is.

Longhand can be classy and sassy, nuanced not neutral. Revel in the revelation. Where the pen, like a divining rod, moves each human hand towards something the writer can simply feel and not see till alphabets dance on the page. The magic of filling that blank sheet with straight lettering or slanted flourishes is hard to describe.

Only those who’ve had kids until the late 1990s have known the pleasure of crying over crayoned notes saying Happy Birthday or I’m Sorry or Welcome Back Home or Missing You Mom or My Hero Dad. Your parents are going to switch on a flickering screen to savour such lines. For some of us that’s a loss worth mourning.

Stubby, slim, young or gnarled, fingers perform beautiful actions. Yours too will come to circle and hold, caress and clasp close many things dear to you. A pen the least likely — because that’s just the way it is.
So slumber on baby, ignorance is bliss.

The writing may not be in your notebook, it’s on the wall.

Write in to Meher at mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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