In the good old days

In the good old days, a “love letter” could make or break a relationship. Here’s Sandip C Jain with a beautiful walk down the memory lane

Many have asked me over the years as to how I got initiated into writing. Yes, I received education in one of the finest English medium schools in the region, St. Augustine’s School which had some of the most wonderful teachers. The lessons in English that Mr. A.T.Dasgupta, Father Felix and others, of course gave me a foundation but I must acknowledge that I had two very unlikely gurus who made me fall in love, head over heels, with writing.

My first guru of course was my classmate, desk-mate and khaini-mate- the indomitable curly haired Mr. Gupta(no first name please). He looked like a miniature version of Gabbar Singh, complete with dark complexion, curly hair and tobacco filled lower lips. But then rather than being armed with guns he always carried along something more powerful-Books. It was he who initiated me into reading- by the time I finished Class 10 I had completed reading the entire collect of books by writers like Sidney Sheldon, Jeffery Archer, Jack Higgins, Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum and of course James Hadley Chase. I cannot forget to credit Commando or Tintin or Archie and Asterix comics for broadening my English vocabulary. Of course in later years my reading appetite increased to such an extreme level that my wife often now refers to herself as my second wife- she says my first wife are my books. But then it is my second guru which is actually the subject of this article.

My second guru is the one which actually got me hooked to writing and she is named, LOVE LETTERS!! Yes, writing love letters in school initiated me into writing and made me realize the powers of a well constructed sentence. I realized it could make or break many a dreams or lives. Several months of romance could be finished off in a flash with one poorly constructed love letter or many days of cat and mouse games could end up in a romantic liaison with the help of a flowery love letter.

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Writing love letter was an art form in those pre Facebook and Whatsapp days. Those who excelled in this art generally walked away with the trophy, to the envy of his competitors. There were some acknowledged experts in every school who excelled in this fine art. Their services were much in demand and the better ones almost had celebrity status amongst all budding Romeos in School. I was one of them in St. Augustine’s School during my senior school days.

Of courses, I would have preferred to be the Romeo myself rather than be the “letter writer” for the other Romeos but then with a face like mine and with the skeleton like body frame I possessed during those days, I had absolutely no hope of winning over anyone of the female gender. I had some wonderful nick names- kath kira, sidra, murkhutta and lamkhuttay- definitely not very heroic names which would win over any St. Joseph’s Convent girl. Who would wanted to be known as Kathkira ko girlfriend after all.

Like I said, writing love letters was a fine art form- many things had to be considered. It had to be considered if the girl would hand over the letter to her school Principal or not; it had to be considered if she already had a boyfriend. Whether she had a tough looking brother had to be found out and it also had to be ascertained who were her friends. Finding out about her friends was most important so as to be sure that the person sending the love letter hadn’t previously sent her friend a similar proposal. Whether the girl had long hair or short hair and whether she was tall or short had to be noted so that adequate words could be found to praise her attributes.

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I cannot take names, you may call it professional ethics, but when I look back at some of the love letters I wrote then, I still choke with laugher. I recall a few; one was for a girl from St. Joseph’s Convent by a classmate of mine. After three days of momos and alu-chops and chini-pops, which I received as bribe to write that letter, I wrote a letter which included the line, “I have a disease and it’s only cure is you”. It was carefully copied down by the Romeo in his own handwriting and dispatched through a Postman, not before spraying the letter paper with Old Spice perfume stolen from his father’s bathroom cabinet- the postman was always a junior student who had to be pampered and protected. After several days of restlessness and sleeplessness came the reply. I still remember a fattish envelope being delivered to him. He opened it as quickly as he could and out came his original letter, torn to a hundred pieces, and it was accompanied by a chit which read “MADNESS IS A DISEASE CURED IN MENTAL ASYLUMS, NOT BY LOVE”…

The tail piece is that the two now have been married for 21 years and the sum total of his disease and the medicine she administered has produced three little cures…

The other very funny episode in this chapter of my life is one in which another Mr. Gupta was involved. Every one knew him as Amit. Amit as in Amitabh Bachchan, complete with white shoes and all. He took a fancy to a very pretty Condy (St. Jospeh’s convent girl for the uninitiated).

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From an Army background, pretty as an angel and very talented, she was the lead actress in the Annual School Concert which we attended. So infatuated was he by her that he decided to pour out all his feelings for her in a love letter. He didn’t ask me to write. Insecurity?? God knows but then after a week of his letter being delivered our English teacher as well as the School Principal, Father Felix came to class with an envelope.

The envelope contained a letter which seemed to have been written in red ink. On closer inspection it was a letter written in blue ink but edited in red.

The girl after having received the letter handed it over to her school Principal who forwarded it to Father Felix after having edited the horrible piece of love confession.

Of course Father Felix was furious, not because he had started the letter saying “Me Amitabh you Minakshi”, not because he had actually dared to write the letter but because of the murder of the beautiful language of English that he had committed.

I still remember Father Felix, one if the most wonderful person I have ever known, saying ” I don’t mind you idiots writing love letters, it’s your age to write them, but please don’t murder English so brutally.”

Needless to say, the letter was pinned to the School notice board, under the caption, HOW NOT TO WRITE A LOVE LETTER”

In the good old days
A sample “I Do” letter from the archives “A Thousands Kisses” of Smithsonian Museum

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