My earliest memories of romance lie beating at the bottom of my guitar box in the form of a neatly folded parchment that smells of dark rum with a coating of mint cigarettes.
As a young man born in the late 90s, I was struck by romance at the tender age of two. My parents used to take me to the movies pretty often. The first movie I saw in the theatres was Titanic. And somehow, unconsciously, the hopeless romantic in me took shape from the moment Jack (and I) laid eyes on Rose.
My mind was not developed enough to truly comprehend the ongoings of that film. And following the theories of Jean Piaget on cognitive development, I absorbed every scene, every dialogue, and every soundtrack, and became a hopeless romantic as early as I could begin to speak.
That is where my love for parchments grew. Not in the form of pictorial art, but more textual in nature. Letters became my form of expression. Insight if you may into my very being. And I fully embraced the concept of pouring my heart onto a parchment, if for slightly innocent reasons.
While I enjoyed writing for any and every reason, my true inclinations were always one of the heart. The sweetest and most precious remembrance, was when my heart started to pour for my high school love – more often than I could think of. I wrote and kept on writing for the greater part of a year. I passed those little notes on through my friends and hers. Left it under her seat. In her purse. In the library while recommending a book. I’d even drop one in her shoes when we went skating together. This was in an era before Facebook. And we didn’t really use emails back then, else I might have come across a creep.
The day after we broke up, she gave me this box of all the letters I had written for her. The box and each letter in it were encased by the scent of jasmine and mangoes, a rather peculiar body mist that she wore. We moved on, our lives on different paths and we haven’t talked since. But that box still remains seated on the bottom shelf of my cupboard, lingering ever so slightly of jasmine. And every now and then, after a couple of drinks, I find myself sifting through the letters, remembering those beautiful days and the remnants of a love long past.
Writing a love letter in my mind has always been a captivating art of literary craftsmanship. While the writings in the current era are alive and well, having been simplified by technology, the digital nuances have rendered writing a love letter a lost art.
Part of the enduring power of love letters from the likes of Beethoven and Wilde is that they are symbolic artifacts of romance, embodying the best and most intimate parts of the writers' physical and emotional minds.
But now it is facing a slow and painful death, and it's taking one of humankind's most beautiful expressions of love with it. And soon, this art will turn into a memory of a past medium too.
From a literary standpoint, the love letter has had an enriching history, evolving continuously to fulfill the pronouncement of human desires. Letters of many great men and women are displayed in museums and libraries alike. Of historians, celebrities, literary virtuosos, and ones written by kings, rulers, and presidents.
Beethoven’s "Immortal Beloved" is a testament of the highest order that added a new dimension to his musical works and his life. Bonaparte’s Letters to Josephine transcend time, space, and geopolitics. Even Oscar Wilde’s Salome and the four great plays act as the cornerstones of his great legacy.
Advancements in technology should have made love letters better. But the digital explosion in the past two decades has given rise to an unplanned element that communicates faster. I’m talking about the inception of memes and emojis.
When a picture is worth a thousand words, an emoji/meme is worth a hundred. But its meaning is in constant flux. And that is a real loss. I don’t mean they are emotionless or lacking in authenticity or intent. But the fact remains that the act of writing a letter imbues a unique level of communication adding a sense of space and time. Which seems lost in translation to memes and emojis.
In my mind, the beauty of love letters lies in the passionate, deliberate desire to "get the message just right." It has the power to grasp someone’s attention and emotions. Composing a letter slows down our thoughts, transforming our emotions and expressions into an act of reflection and introspection. A charm that a meme simply does not possess.
This brings me to the second train of thought. A thought that has its origins linked to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Much like scientists who perform experiments, make observations, understand, and learn about the world, children follow the same process for the development of their minds. They observe and interact with the world around them, continually adding new knowledge, building upon their existing understandings, and adapting previously held ideas to accommodate new thoughts and information.
With a dying art and a heavy heart, I am left to believe that the children of this era have limited pools of knowledge to extract information and expression. A study shows that 1 out of 3 people born after 2000 do not know how to write a letter. And 1 out of 2 has never received one.
The art of expression among the youth is left limited to simple anecdotes and dialogues captured from movies and sitcoms. With an attention span that now rivals that of a goldfish, the one species forever mocked, our minds have descended to a point where instant gratification outweighs patience. The persona cultivated from novels and letters is considered boring and outdated. No longer constrained by the herculean task of penmanship, our expressions and articulations have lost face and continue to do so evermore.
If this continues, I fear we might never have a mind even remotely resembling that of Vygotsky. This letter shall become the last piece of exceptional craftsmanship. And make me the last unchallenged preacher of Piaget.