When postmen brought love: Ever asked your parents about the charm of hand-written letters?

We did. When trunk-calls were too expensive and snail-mail the only option, the postman was the messenger of love and affection, and everyone waited for him eagerly.
When postmen brought love: Ever asked your parents about the charm of hand-written letters?
When postmen brought love: Ever asked your parents about the charm of hand-written letters?
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How difficult was a long-distance relationship 50 years ago?

Ask 70-year-old Kumar and he giggles, then laughs loudly and says, “You will never understand, even if I explain it to you.” A graduate from IIT Bombay, and now retired and settled in Kerala, he is shy about sharing his story, but hasn’t forgotten how, as a student, he used to write one letter every month to Jaya, who was his cousin and lived in Kerala. For almost a decade, until he got married to her at 30, he wrote to her about everything happening in his life at the IIT campus, from the mundane to the special. Somewhere along the way, amidst the monthly letters and yearly family get-togethers, they realised they had fallen in love. “It was the letters which kept us going for so many years then, even when we were thousands of kilometers apart,” he says.

For 68-year-old Gopalji Malviya, a retired defence studies professor from Madras University and settled in Chennai now, the love of his life wasn’t far away in another city, but the relationship was top-secret. Their parents did not approve of their young, teenage love – in fact, they got married without their parents’ knowledge. Back in the early 1970s at his hometown Allahabad, the friendship with his Tamilian neighbour Lalita slowly grew into love with stolen glances, secret meetings, and most importantly, poetic letters. “And you know who my first ‘postman’ was? Her father! He was the best postman I ever had,” he says with a wily smile, “I used to hide the letters inside books and ask her father to give it to her, we never got caught. I had other carriers too, many of my friends used to deliver my letters.”

Gopalji and Lalita as teenagers, when they used to exchange secret letters.

Kumar too remembers his postman, a real postman. “He was a tall, Muslim man, I remember,” he recounts. “Mostly he would leave the letter in the box when I was not around, but if I was then I would come running to the box to pick up the letter and he would smile at me. It was like we had an unsaid understanding about how important those letters were,” Kumar says. What would have happened if he had misplaced some of those letters, or they never arrived, I ask. “It never happened, but if I did not get a response for long from her it used to upset me. But sooner or later, the postman always came with the letter.”

The Malviyas still have some of those letters preserved. As we sit down at their Chennai home to talk about their struggle for love, Lalita and Gopalji explain how those letters were the medium of communication between the two lovers as they were not able to speak freely and openly, or on a regular basis. “There was a lack of opportunity to communicate my love and affections. Many things that I wanted to say, I conveyed in writing. But we also told each other some mundane things in the letter, like where I was going the next day, or when we could meet next,” Gopalji says.

So, what kind of romantic lines would he write in the letters? “I don’t remember all that now,” he says, when Lalita chips in, “He used to write a lot of poetry, and lyrics of famous love songs. He used to write a lot.” Gopalji suddenly remembers it all, and breaks into a medley of poems and songs he wrote then. “Can one convey ‘I love you’ without saying ‘I love you’? I did that. I wrote about the weather, or just my day at work, and it would still convey my love,” he recounts, “Letters used to give us the opportunity to think and pen our thoughts, overcome our shyness and express our feelings.”

“Our meetings often used to end abruptly, because someone was coming near us or calling us. So, I would not be able to complete what I was telling him. I would then write a letter to him about it and send it over,” Lalita says.

Letters brought love not just for young couples, but for parents and children too. When you talk about hand-written letters to 63-year-old P Rajendran, he says it was the letters from his father PR Parameswaran, who was in jail, that he remembers the most. A member of the Communist party in Tamil Nadu, his father was put behind bars under the Preventive Detention Act in 1962, and under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act in 1971. “We would receive his letters regularly and my mother would read them out aloud to me. I still remember the handwriting of my father. You know, that is something this generation does not know. We used to know each other by our hand-writing,” he says.

Rajendran (far right), with his father (far left), at his wedding. Also seen senior communist leader VP Chintan (centre).

“I was just six years old then, so he used to write asking me about my studies. He would give me good advice. And he asked my mom to be in touch with the party, and assured her that the party would take care of the family when he was in jail,” he recounts, adding that thinking about those letters makes them very emotional even today.

But which letter moved him the most? “One from my daughter Sowmya, when she was just three years old. I was away from home for a month, and she asked her mom for the spelling of the words and wrote a letter with just 5 words – ‘Pappa, I want a doll’. That really made me emotional then,” he says.

This article was created by TNM Brand Studio in association with ZEE5, and not by TNM Editorial.

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