The Forgotten Art of Letter Writing…..

A Pakpotpourri Exclusive

By: Yasmeen Ali

I never met Begum Hafiza, my paternal grand mother, the grand daughter of the Nawab of Gandara. A woman of reputed startling beauty, five foot ten inches tall, she was married to my grand father Syed Yousuf Ali, a Judge from Hyderabad Deccan, three inches shorter to her in height.

He was the scion of the family of Hazrat Syed Shah Abdul Razaqq Banswi of Bansa Sharif to whom the House of Fareangi Mahal were designated Khalifas.

She died an early death, way before my father was married. My father, and his two brothers, were brought up by my eccentric grand father in a house with no female presence.

I came to know this amazing woman through her letters written to my father. At that time, she was still in Hyderabad Deccan, with her husband, my father had come to Pakistan, to look for a job. A young man in his very early twenties.

Going through my father’s library, I came across the bundle of letters, that revealed my grandmother to me. The family politics. I laughed, I cried & smiled as I read those letters. To this day, they remain a cherished possession, locked away in a box that originally belonged to my paternal grandfather.

Her love for my father, whom she called Chand, and Chand he remained for the rest of his life, reflected itself in her writings, every four days  delay from my father in sending a letter to her, merited at least two from her expressing her concern at the delay.

In a letter dated 1st October 1958, she expressed her concern at my father’s health, a friend having met him & upon his return to Hyderabad Deccan, having reported his having lost weight. There is always the loving mention of Bitton, a closely related Aunt for which she had a fondness for. Incidently, she happens to be the mother of Gen® Talat Masud.

My youngest Uncle Syed Mehdi Ali Razzaqi, a poet ,well known for his compilation of “The Goddess”, his book of poetry, which won him an Award by the then President of Pakistan(once he too migrated to Pakistan), often put quaint notes at the bottom of my grandmother’s letters, that are hilarious and a piece of literature in themselves.

And, in that pile of letters were many by my grandfather, Syed Yousuf Ali, in his very perfect English. He had the honor of being the first Muslim to get a First Class First Position from Aligarh University in English Literature. His first degree. I am told, his picture still hangs today in the library of Aligarh University.

Also in the letters, was the one, he wrote on my birth, on 4th April 1962. A beautiful piece of art, it opens with, ”My dear Daughter-in-Law Begum Kaisar Aftab Ali, gave birth to a Daughter, by the Grace of God. May all joys, health & happiness attend- a Shahzadi(princess), in the third generation of the “House of Nizam”(Senior Branch in the Direct Line of Precedence).”

In another letter dated 7th August 1953, he writes to my father,” Now that the winter season is coming up, how are you exactly situated with your proper gear there? It was a mistake of mine, not to have kept here, your coat measurements, let me know the measurements, which can easily be done up by the tailor in a jiffy.”

What joys letters are!

What a link between our past & us.The past stood arrested in these letters in all it’s truthful brilliance.

Even when I was young, letters were the main form of communication between cousins  and friends. Making pen friends was one great way of learning about the world never seen. I have, with me, the scrap books containing those cherished letters, and cards exchanged on birthdays, weddings, birth of the children. People who have passed through the vicissitudes of time. My mother-in-law ,in whom I found a friend. Our exchanges were a source of joy to both of us. Now gone, her letters, each word vibrant & alive continues to  live with me.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of mobile phones & computers, gone is the joy of communicating through the pen. No longer is letter writing in vogue. No longer, the joy of waiting for a letter from a relative,  a friend. That is all history.

A quick e mail, a short SMS is all that is left to look forward to.

I cannot but draw a parallel here between the present lack of news paper reading. Few are left today, who start their day with the newspaper. The smell of fresh print & the excess black ink on your  fingers. Now, most prefer reading, if at all, on the net. Reading itself has become a dying pleasure in today’s world of fast communication!

Few, from the younger generation are aware of the joys of holding a good book in their hands. Rereading a book for the sheer  pleasure of it.

This same extreme dependence on computers has been done by some educators in schools too. A shocking method of teaching that takes care of the writing skills.

I cannot but be reminded of the saying by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,” We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others. “

The writer is a university professor & lawyer based in Lahore. She can be reached on yasmeen.a.9@gmail.com

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Comments

  • Parvez Amin  On March 24, 2012 at 7:17 am

    You are so right. Also lost is the art of fine handwriting. I use cursive italic and what a pleasure it is to see the words appear on paper. I still cannot walk by a stationary store without looking in to see what writing pens and writing paper they have. The lasting memory is of the serenity of mind required to compose and communicate — completely lost wheen using a computer to write.

    • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 10:04 am

      I loved making my own paper designs when writing. Many appreciated it! :-)
      Cheers
      YAA

  • aden_ali  On March 24, 2012 at 7:36 am

    you have wrote at the very important and Very high quality point, no doubt it’s awesome piece:-)

    • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 8:09 am

      Thank you Darling.Love ou for sharing your comment here!

  • Mansoor Mubeen  On March 24, 2012 at 7:45 am

    it is so touching, that without meeting her grandmother once, you have such a strong bond with her through the letters alone, which incidentally were written to your father. it is so beautiful. we never appreciate the essence of our relationships when they are very much there. but we start missing on them once we have lost them for ever.i prey that we can inculcate this appreciation of our relationships in our younger generation, —————before it is too late.

  • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 7:46 am

    The art is lost. The medium of communication is dying,if not dead already.
    The sadness of it all.
    YAA

    • Mansoor Mubeen  On March 24, 2012 at 9:56 am

      you can say that, but i will rather put it this way ::: the art is not lost. it is the essence of relationship and its appreciation which is lost. , the purpose of writing a letter was to communicate, which has become faster and more efficient. and if some one has a flare, he or she can put some literary pearls in the e.mail or even sms.

      • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

        I will agree with U there Sir.Let me share here a quote with you,that I know you will appreciate:
        A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend. Emily Dickinson

  • shaista nilofer  On March 24, 2012 at 8:20 am

    So true, Yasmeen! I really miss the anticipation of waiting for the postman to deliver the post, the joy of opening a letter from a friend or family member….in fact I probably have some of your letters still…written when we were in college, I think…emails, sms’s are ok but cannot replace a hand written letter.

    Also reading…. I could go and on, e books may be convenient but the pleasure got from holding a beautifully bound book in your hand…reading the blurb on the back about the author and savouring the turning of the pages one by one as the story unfolds… no comparison!

    • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

      Hello Shaista, :-) I am so glad U have my letters.I kept your’s too. What great days those were. Communication was just so personal. I sit here today, typing away my reply to you & think,”God,where is my pen?”
      Love
      Yasmeen

  • Ali Kazim  On March 24, 2012 at 9:19 am

    What a pleasure reading your ‘Latest Piece’. Indeed words remain the most adequate vehicles of conveying thoughts and when scribed on a piece of paper they become letters expressing love, friendship, concern, joy, sorrow, bonding and the endless list of human feelings. The beauty and the joy of receiving an envelope in the mail, opening it with heart palpitating a bit faster in anticipation of what the words would convey! yes, a letter is one of the most beautiful prose poetry. SMS, telephonic conversation and Emails etc. are devoid of the personal touch. Amazingly, one can feel, smell and hear the laughter of the writer. Most may not agree but that is what I feel. Kudos to you for reminding the beauty of long lost tradition of letter writing. Warm Regards.

  • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Thank you. It is my first piece on a subject besides politics. I am so happy you liked it.
    God Bless U for encouraging!
    Love
    Yasmeen

  • Syeda Henna Babar Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Dear Yasmeen,
    Your writing is interesting.
    Best regards,

  • Afzal  On March 24, 2012 at 10:38 am

    MY DEAR YASMIN,
    I AM SURE YOU MUST BE ENJOYING AND HAPPY TO HAVE SOME IDEA ABOUT YOU FAMILIES BACKGROUND AND NOW I HOPE YOU CAN CONSTUCT YOUR FAMILY TREE.
    YOU ARE REFERING A PERSON NAMED YOUSUF ALI IS HE THE SAME WHO TRANSLATED QURAN SHREIF INTO ENGLISH.
    LOVE TO YOU SHAMSA AND YOUR CHILDREN.
    AFZAL

  • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Dear Khalu
    Thank you for the response.I have had such a great response on this one that I have launched a new blog for non political pieces.I do not need to construct my family tree. A Family Tree Book exists & was published many many years ago by a family elder.
    Dadda(Syed Yousuf Ali)to the best of my knowledge was not the one who translated Quran in English!
    Warm Regards
    YAA

  • I.Shrink  On March 24, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Loved the article and flowing writing style! Thanks. You are lucky to have this treasure!

  • Laila  On March 24, 2012 at 11:08 am

    YAA
    What a beautiful piece. What a surprise! This piece places you in the category of versatile writers!
    Kudos!
    L

  • Zubair  On March 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Thank you for this lovely piece of “History”. Yes letter writing has really become history and with it the art of good writing. I emember my early schhol days when we were taught how to begin, write and end letters, specially to elders. It was a standard format which I saw only in the PAF official service writing.

  • Huma  On March 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Dear Yasmeen

    What a beatifyl piece of writing. Thanks for sharing with all of us.

    All the best.
    Huma

    Sent from my U.S. Cellular® Android-powered phone

  • Willy  On March 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Many thanks for sharing, YAA. Very touching indeed.

    Bill

  • Charlie  On March 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    what a wonderful article; resonated with me; i use a turkey vulture feather pen to capture the lofty thoughts, purified by vulture as the words flow onto parchment; as a student at the university of texas in austin many, many years ago, i would stand for hours in the michener art gallery marveling at the handwritten pages of wordsworth, byron, shelly, dante, wordsworth, etc.; to see their handwriting was magical; they were there; their imprint; their life print; their soul; their breath; that wonderful moment breathed by them onto the page through the handwritten word; this is why i have invested the last few years in using this method for my journals in hopes that my ancestors may, as you, learn something of themselves, through that one who exists upon those sacred handwritten texts; you sound like an incredibly deep and perceptive person; i thank you for such a wonderful article,

    charlie rodriguez,rn

  • Yasmeen Ali  On March 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Dear Charlie
    Thank you for taking time out to read & respond. This is my maiden effort at writing a non political piece. If you google Yasmeen Ali Lawyer Pakistan, you will come across a million hits.Literally.
    In school & college,I would design my own letter pads. Choose ink pens that flowed. Black ink. Seemed so profound! My cherished possession is a Cross pen, heavy & so smooth,that belonged to my grand father. You sound like a man after my own heart. I started writing a diary this year,penning my thoughts for my children. One day,once I am dead & gone, they and hopefully their children, can meet me through my writings.
    In fact,the response to this piece is so awesome, I have launched a blog for non political pieces. Please do visit:http://thetonguewagger.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/the-forgotten-art-of-letter-writing/
    You mention keeping a journal.Is there something you would like to share as an Article?I can run it for you.
    Thank you again for writing!
    Rgds
    Yasmeen

  • Imtiaz  On March 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Thank you very much for this fine prose. Really enjoyed reading it as much as a letter coming in by post.

    With Best Regards,
    Imtiaz Rastgar
    CBI External Expert
    Centre for Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI)
    Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
    154-B, St 53,
    Sector I-8/3,
    Islamabad 44760

  • Aleem Afridi  On March 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you , Yasmeen ! for this very interesting article. Yes ,
    letter-writing was fun , and then waiting for the post-man for the
    return mail , was even greater fun.
    AA

  • Rizwan  On March 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Well written Yasmeen, it is truly a forgotten art..

  • Naveed  On March 24, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Thank you. I will forward to a number of Hyderabadis I know!

    Greetings from London where I am on a short holiday. Trust you are yours
    are well and thriving!!

    Warm regards,

    NR

  • Idrees  On March 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Writing exposes the soul as nothing else can, except perhaps the body
    language, or the vibration of presence.
    idrees

  • Nasim Siddiqui  On March 25, 2012 at 12:54 am

    Beautiful Yasmeen . Family rememberence is a pleasure & a source of
    pride . To follow the treasure of their lifi for posterity saves us
    decades of experimentation . Best Wishes Nasim

    • Yasmeen Ali  On March 25, 2012 at 1:11 am

      Thank you.I Knew YOU if no one else will appreciate this one.
      Love you for encouraging.
      Yasmeen

  • Jeremy  On March 25, 2012 at 1:10 am

    Mr. Yasmeen Ali,

    I found your recent oped article fascinating. I am currently a student at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio in America. I was wondering if I can have your mailing address since I am a letter-writer. I would like to write you a letter soon.

    Jeremy

  • Brig Larif  On March 25, 2012 at 1:25 am

    Beautiful piece on a very important aspect of social life. Old letters used to be nothing short of family history giving out exact and true feelings. Disappearance of letter writing has made our lives really drab and devoid of emotions.
    Thanks for writing and sharing this wonderful piece.

  • Jyoti Menon  On March 25, 2012 at 1:27 am

    I am feeling very nostalgic now. A very timely post.A truly wonderful, nostalgic post on The Forgotten Art of Letter Writing…..

  • Salim Nawaz Gandapur  On March 25, 2012 at 2:10 am

    Dear MS Yasmeen ALI,ASOA.
    A delightful piece, indeed!
    In 1954, my father went on a Colombo Plan Scholarship to Canada for some ten months.Every single night, the last thing he did was to write an aerogram letter to his wife and 4 sons(we have no sister). That is a treasure trove of almost 300 letters, a veritable family heirloom! We cherish the ability to bring his experiences to LIFE whenever we desire.GREAT!
    Happy birthday in advance! Take good care!
    Regards
    Salim Gandapur!

  • Yasmeen Ali  On March 25, 2012 at 2:11 am

    Dear Saleem Sahib,
    Wassalam & thank you for the heart warming mail.I can only imagine,how wonderful it must be to re connect with your father through his letters. In fact,so amazing has been the response on this piece(my maiden effort in non political writing), not only from Pakistan but US,UK & India,that I was forced to launch a new blog for non political pieces. http://thetonguewagger.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/the-forgotten-art-of-letter-writing/
    And Thank You for the Birthday Wishes.
    Take care too sir.
    Warm Regards
    Yasmeen

  • Admiral Sirohey  On March 25, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Life style changes with time. The learned know what is to come. When I was doing advanced studies in Communication, laser technology, quantum physics, computer hard and software, et al a professor used come once a week from Germany to discuss (not teach) what may come in fifty years. In two years it will be fifty years. All that vision has come true. While cherishing the past preparation for the future is necessary. By the way all that has happened is hinted in the opening Ayat of Sura Al toor.

    I have tried to keep up with it but it is no longer possible. While I have access to all the world news, I still can not do without DAWN though no longer what it was.
    Nice Read.
    IAS

  • Hasan  On March 25, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Very well written on a refreshingly different subject.
    Keep them coming !

  • Varris  On March 25, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Nicely written. I would have preferred actual quotes from the letters to make it more interesting.
    Varris

  • Yasmeen Ali  On March 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Thank you.I have used actual quotes on 2 occasions.My daddi’s letters were in Urdu.
    Rgds
    YAA

  • Naveed Tajammul  On March 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    In pursuance to the art of letter writting,having read the article by yasmeen ali,i realized with passage of the last decade or so,with the influx,of the laptops,and the punching boards,the sun,was indeed setting,for the art of writting,letters beside.and i suddenly re-called, this rhyme,i wonder who wrote it,but,it is a pleasure reading,it, aloud too; i guess today it can be termed as an, Epitaph to the art of writing.

    If writing is legible,large,very round,
    Ambition,good nature & talent are found.
    Small neat & flowing,precise and quite clear,
    Shows,cleverness,caution,a manner sincere.
    Letters,well formed with large space between
    Keen observation and great skill are seen,
    If your writing should slant all away to the right.
    An optimist you are,with plenty of fight.
    Slant to the left & don’t.dot your i’s.
    Then you’re thrifty & cautious but life can be sigh’s
    No,T-bar ? Dear-Dear how careless you are
    If you are Not more careful,you will never go far.
    Your Margins are wide,nice generous you are
    They are Narrow ? your instincts for giving are few
    Block capital’s, simple your presence of mind
    Flourishes,wiggles,you look ahead Not behind.
    When letters are upright & boldly outlined
    They show that the writer is honest,refined.
    If your writing is hurried,with slightly raised ”T’
    Impatience,deceit & ill humour i see,
    Strokes which tilt all ways show real indecision
    (rest & assurance will bring more precision)
    Expression & Manner can often conceal
    But, your writing,your true self will always reveal.
    It is a epitaph as the writing has now ceased.

  • Sohail Parwaz  On March 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Yasmeen! You spoke for me. There was a time when I was known for writing ‘Letters’ (not mails). I have archived the ‘jawabs’, but unfortunately now I dont find anyone to whom I write ‘Khat’. I still have my poet and writer dad’s old fountain pens (mostly Parker) still writing.

    • Yasmeen Ali  On March 27, 2012 at 4:34 am

      Ah yes Sir! Neither do I. And MISS it so much!
      YAA

  • Syed Bilgrami  On March 26, 2012 at 4:32 am

    So true Yasmeen. IWaiting for the POST MAN had a very different un explainable joy. Hand written letters from family and friends with well chosen words carried more love, effection, caring and closeness which have always been a source of bringing pleasure.

    Now we hate postman and avoid walking to the mail box as he only brings displeasure – BILLS. Hahaha

    • Yasmeen Ali  On March 27, 2012 at 4:33 am

      Bills!
      Lol. :-)
      YAA

  • mabbaskhan  On March 26, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Ya that was beautiful so let me read it then i ll comment its nice to read you after a long time. I believe that pen with an liquid ink some time includes blud in the pen how can you put it in boilpion had some values now every thing boilpiont pen

  • mabbaskhan  On March 26, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Then your elders must have a contact with kibla zafar mehdi who was governer of haidrabad

  • mabbaskhan  On March 26, 2012 at 11:30 am

    very romentic ustad e mothram kia bat ha ap ka likhna ki

    • Yasmeen Ali  On March 27, 2012 at 4:32 am

      Thank you Abbas Sahib for the kind appreciation.
      YAA

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  • spain chile brawl  On January 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    whoah this blog is wonderful i really like reading
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  • mabbaskhan  On January 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I have ed writing with Ink pen after geting inspired by this post now pen and diary became part of my life Adaab> Beautifully written in Ryal words

  • Ali Kuli Khan  On June 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    What a beautiful Article ! I, totally, share your views and thoughts which you have so eloquently brought out; obviously, the Apple has not fallen too far from the Tree and a great deal of the Art has rubbed off on it ! We pray for more power to your pen.

    Fond regards

    Ali Kuli Khan

  • Ghayur Ayub  On June 30, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    YAA
    Enjoyed reading your piece. Having a dip in glorious past in a most romanticised style of linguistics you brought freshness in your expression. Thank you for sharing it.
    Best
    GA

  • Chungoo  On June 30, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Nice.That used to be style.
    “Men of Letters,” was a very desired goal,for people who wanted to write,personal or any subject
    I used love writing letters.To parents. Friends too. As,mostly,we were in boarding-schools,then in service away from home and friends. Specially with a fountain-pen.
    Now,it is Skype.Tango.WhatsApp.And the likes.
    Future,may have telepathy ! Who knows !
    SR.

  • K. Bajwa  On June 30, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Had a great time reading it. Very joyously penned. You are right fully proud of your glorious heritage. And I am lucky to have known you Yasmeen Behn.

    K. Bajwa

  • Abdullah Hussein  On July 1, 2013 at 2:38 am

    Dear Yasmin
    I am delighted to read ‘The forgotten art . . .’ for I have always lamented the disappearance of a handwritten letter, a living, breathing thing which, if discovered under a heap of yellowing papers after fifty years still carries the warmth of the hand that wrote it and bears the soul of the writer. A written word never dies. Thank you.
    Abdullah Hussein

  • Khalid Mehmood  On July 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Dear YAA,

    What a lovely piece to write and then share. It was nostalgic and took me all the way down to memory lane of the past when I used to enjoy writing and then reading letters. As you mentioned truly , we save those and then destroy by discretion.
    The world has changed so much with technology and the new generations will not be able to understand all this. I was quite shocked a few years back, when a college professor told me that some of the schools in US are going to abolish manual writing skills from their curricula.
    Thanks a lot.

    KM

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  • gangtokay  On January 29, 2014 at 7:36 am

    I shouldn’t be so sure if I were you dear lady. Admittedly, letter writing and reading has been on a decline, I am happy to report that not all is lost. I have many friends and acquaintances who lament the absence of letters and letter writing. I myself managed to ‘score’ a pen-pal from, of all places, Twitter! We just need to have the willingness in us to write them first and patience to look for someone who is willing and happy to write back. Happy writing! :-)

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