Friday, December 19, 2014

Penning the holiday spirit

My piece in The Hindu today:

December means different things to different people. For some it is the time to celebrate the year gone by and look forward to a new beginning. For others it is the time to introspect, to look back with fondness – or regret – to long for the time lost. And to some, like me, it is the time to indulge in nostalgia. 

Whichever category one might fit in, there is no denying that December brings with it things that make us smile. The faint sounds of carol practice at the neighbourhood school, the bright colours of Christmas at a nearby mall, the misty mornings, the sunny afternoons, the never-ending evenings.

For most people who, like me, grew up in the pre-mobile and pre-internet era, December also brings with it the faded memories of a long forgotten practice of writing to our loved ones.

Come December and my father, like every one else’s, would bring home a big bunch of greeting cards. Sometimes blank inside, sometimes with his and mother’s name printed in them, the cards would be a source of much amusement for us. Over the next week or so he and my mother would diligently write to each one of our family members, relatives, friends, and acquaintances (we were always moving cities and the list grew longer every year), that we had not met many of them in years, or written to them in months notwithstanding. After the cards were written, addressed, and envelopes marked with ‘Book-Post’, we, the lowest in the chain, would get the responsibility of pasting stamps on each one of them. The activity would take days to complete and would fill our afternoons with unparalleled excitement.

Sending the cards however was only one part of the story. The other – and more rewarding – part was receiving them: the joy of discovering an envelope in the letterbox, the anticipation of tearing it open, the thrill of finding one from that special friend (and sliding it into a book). Weeks were spent in opening, reading, counting and displaying the cards. Some liked to put them up in their showcases, some would display them on the top of their refrigerators and some, who had far too many, would string them together on a ribbon and hang them about. (I would put my share of the cards on a soft board, along with the birthday greetings and was super proud of my enviable collection).

Then, somewhere along the line, we discovered the telephone. We could now talk to whoever we liked, so what if we had to wait until 11 PM for the pulse rates to go down? Calling a loved one, listening to his voice, and wishing him personally was far more gratifying than writing and waiting for a response (the telephone exchange even replaced the dial tone with ‘Happy New Year’ on the new years day).

When the mobiles came in, the calls were replaced by SMSs: it is far more convenient to write a message – or copy someone else’s – and send to everyone at once rather than calling everyone. There was no need to peep into our letterboxes anymore; the love and wishes were now delivered directly into our inboxes. And now we have Facebook and Watsapp.

Thanks to technology we can wish all those who matter to us at one go, and can even share pictures, videos and voice messages. Unfortunately though the love that comes along with the wishes can no longer be displayed on the refrigerators or show windows of our drawing rooms, neither can the messages be strung on a ribbon and hung about the house. They either remain locked in our smart phones, or get deleted to accommodate a few more selfies.

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