Much of the last ten days, I’ve spent nursing injuries. This makes me sound like a war hero when the fact is that my injuries were almost whimsical in their puny-ness. With my unfailing gracelessness, I managed to slice the pad of my index finger with a miniature knife. Yes, a miniature knife. It’s by far the worst way to cut yourself. You can’t ask for sympathy when the wreaker of violence is about two inches long and a few millimetres in width. It doesn’t matter that the said miniature blade being embedded in the flesh by those few millimetres results in some degree of messy bloodletting and much pain. It’s still a miniature knife. However, you try typing with a finger that’s fought with a Liliputian blade. Not fun, unless you’re one of those people who gets off on pain.
Then, possibly in divine retribution for me raising the middle finger salute as often as I do while writing, the first joint of my third finger started aching. My first reaction: onset of arthritis. (If an Indian isn’t allowed an over-the-top reaction, I don’t know who is.) My grandmother had excruciating arthritis in her later years. By the time I knew her, her fingers were starting to gnarl out of shape. She still sewed, embroidered, knitted, cooked, played cat’s cradle but over the years, I saw how the pain exhausted her and how the painkillers stopped working. The moment my finger started feeling the sting, I figured I’d inherited her arthritis. Naturally. And of course, that resulted in me fast-forwarding to a near future when I’m sitting with knobbly fingers that can’t dance across the keyboard.
So I bought some paper and a ball point pen that needed the least amount of pressure, and once I figured out how to hold the pen reasonably securely with my thumb and ring finger, I started writing. Because I will not imagine a world where I can’t write. Writing is a very physical act to me. A friend of mine uses that voice-thingy that lets you talk into a mic while the computer transcribes what you say. I wouldn’t be able to do that; partly because the software would short circuit if I said my name ( Asian and African names aren’t yet very recognisable for most software). More importantly, I think writing was always a bodily activity for me. You bend over the page, you feel what you’re writing on under your wrist, the body of the pen leaves its red imprint on your fingertips… it’s all very tactile. Letters taught me this.
I’ve kept in touch with one of my dearest friends in the world through letters. It’s been more than 15 years since we first met and for 13 of those years, we’ve been on different continents. I remember as kids we used to send pillow-like envelopes to each other and they’d be crammed with everything that had happened in the month between one letter and its reply. I remember I embarrassed him in school because I’d stuck pictures of artfully-clad Claudia Schiffer walking down a runway in one letter, which Mr. Genius decided to open at the dinner table. Like so many, we’d decided that if we didn’t find anyone to fall in love with by the time we were 30 — at that age, 30 seemed a shuffle away from senility — then we’d pretend to hook up (he’s gay) and save on rent by moving in together. It was the perfect plan. Except we grew up.
Kirsten Lepore’s darling little video, “Bottle”, made me remember the early years of letter writing. It’s the story of a sandman who becomes a snow(o)man’s pen pal of sorts. Our letters had none of the charming romance of Lepore’s couple and we’re probably going to be exchanging missives for many years yet (fingers crossed). But he does now live in snowy climes while I can walk to the sea. I was watching the end of “Bottle” and remembering how things changed when email came along. Our childish ideas of the future gave way to the realities that we waded into with every passing year. When receiving letters became easier, something dissolved. Fortunately, though, we didn’t. He’s still my rock, even if I have to swim a little further to reach him. Hopefully, he would describe me the same way.
Go watch Lepore’s “Bottle” and keep tissues handy. If you like it enough, vote for Lepore at this link.