<%-- Page Title--%> This Much I Know.. <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 114 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 18, 2003

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The Power of the Written Word

Saqi Rahman

A friend of mine, bereft for two years with the grief of her husband leaving her as husbands do, finally succumbed to getting engaged to another and better. She being lovely, accomplished and earning a salary that puts her in the top tax bracket (which was her first mistake, as marriage guidance counselors say you must never admit to earning more than your husband) could have done so after the second day after his departure. Male interest in her is easily aroused. But nothing could touch her heart until this man. So what is it he did?

He wrote her love letters and quoted Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.” When she told us this, the two of us, her two best friends from school immediately fell in love with the same man. We know she will understand, as she knows this universal truth: Nothing gets a woman quicker or more thoroughly than a well-written letter. Preferably one of the love-letter genre.

It's the power of the written word.
And what inspired Ms. Browning to write those immortal words? How can she not, after receiving from Robert Browning: “Now listen to me. You're every gesture, every movement, every word pleases me. I will not have an atom of it otherwise.”

Yes, how could she not?
I for one could not. And none of my friends could either. We would all start copying out "How do I love thee" Many Ways, etc. and sending them if anyone ever wrote "Listen To Me," etc.

It's just this, this realisation that someone focused on you so intensely, he thought of you so much that he gathered writing paper, a pen, some time and a secluded corner to write his heart out to you knowing that once the letter is sent (envelope closed and sealed and stamped with his own hand) it's forever. That he wants you to know that this is final, he is with you and it's not a temporal telephone conversation that can be forgotten or not remembered correctly.

In brief, the written words of endearment enchant.

The written word that enchants a woman need not always be a love letter. On the same plane is the writing of a book (of poetry and not Accounting or Mechanics if you don't mind) and dedicating it to you. This is a rare cosmic event and you need to be the right person or even the wrong person at the right place and time.

When my friends and I were university students, there was this boy who used to actually read all the Bertrand Russells we carried around to show off our (mythical) intellectual heights. We stayed away from him in case he started discussing any. That he was skinny, wore huge thick glasses and was ugly helped in getting us to stay away. Giving up on us, he got together with a girl wearing similar glasses from some department unknown and we saw them standing in corners, he passionately expounding on whatever, and she just smiling sweetly.

And then his poetry book came out published by the Oxford University Press and dedicated to her. His Muse and Inspiration. We nearly committed mass suicide. We wanted our names on the Dedication Page of his poetry book…too late!

And they are still in love. Happily married, but not to each other and living in different countries, he in some world capital and she in Dhaka. Which illustrates another universal truth: if you want to stay in love, always marry someone else and live at a great distance from your beloved.

If there is a competition on the Greatest Love Letter Ever Written, one of the top ten is going to be Napolean Bonaparte's letter to Josephine. He begins, “I love you no longer; on the contrary, I detest you. You're a wretch, truly perverse, truly stupid…You never write to me at all, you do not love your husband; you know the pleasure that your letters give him yet you cannot even manage to write him half a dozen lines, dashed off in a moment. What then do you do all day, Madame?”

You cannot really say I love you with more passion than that. But make sure you tell her you are quoting Napolean, if you are going to use the first two sentences only!

Although they say it's always the man who writes the first letter, it's always women who hang onto these letters long after the man has died, or even worse, gone off with someone else. Or, and this is the unkindest cut of all, becomes someone who doesn't even remember he wrote any. Women will moon over the letters, carry them all over the world with them and they will become the substitute for the person who once wrote “Escape me? Never. Beloved!” …and now cannot remember or is writing to somebody else.

Mileva Maric, beloved and then wife to Albert Einstein, preserved each and every one of the hundreds of love letters he wrote to her. Einstein only managed to keep eleven of her replies. That's men for you.

But women will be women. Which is why Nobonita Dev Sen, the celebrated Indian academic, writer and wit, went nuts when her luggage got lost in an American airport. When they asked her what she had in the suitcase that she was going to pieces over and would she give an approximate value so that they could reimburse, she writes she could not admit that it was a bunch of letters wrapped in a silk scarf. Finally her suitcase was found and the letters with it and she lost them again, this time on a train journey. She tried to console herself by thinking that the man who wrote the letters was gone, so she should let the letters go as well. I think we can guess the identity of the man who had loved, written and gone…to win the Nobel Prize. But the letters were still being treasured by the receiver.

Such is the power of the written word, words actually written on paper in the sender's own handwriting. Not typed on the computer screen. Just press “delete” for those. For the ones written on paper and put in envelopes, the “delete” button does not work for one half of the human race.


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