Every Diwali or New Year’s eve time, daddy used to tell didi (my elder sister) and me: “So madams, when are we going to buy the greeting cards?” And mummy used to come running with her list from the kitchen, “Ok, you need to get one for my sister-in-law, one for my brother who has moved to Goa, one for Mr Kaushik who was transferred to Madras last month….” The list used to be long. Papa, didi, my brother (he got included in our gang pretty soon) and I would exchange glances and even without a cue, begin teasing mummy. Papa would say: “Kamal, you want to send cards to the entire world. Is it really necessary?” And mummy would add: “Ek do yahi to mauqe milte hain jab rishtedaron, doston aur jaankaron ko hum bata sakte hain ki hum unhein yaad karte hain (These are the only few occasions when we can tell our relatives, acquaintances and friends that we remember them).” And papa would agree with her.
My little sister, with her big innocent eyes would listen to our conversation with interest. While papa and mummy would painstakingly prepare the list, we three rascals would either throw tantrums on a few names (as if we teenagers really knew who was important to the family and who was not) or throw in a few names ourselves to show off we too remembered “important” names. But mummy and papa listened to all our suggestions making us feel important. Amazing — their patience! And if our recommendations got added in the list, then hurray, we had struck gold. One-upmanship among the three of us was quite elating – it gave us a high actually.
So, two or three bicycles (scooters and cars had still not got added to our family’s assets then) would come sliding down our bungalows at Air Force Station (Chennai) or Artillery Centre (Nasik) – depending on where we stayed during those years – and a gang of three (sometimes four if my brother joined us) would cycle to the market to choose greeting cards as a family. We used to love this outing that made us feel so important. Sometimes, my kid sister too would go piggy ride on one of our cycles on this historic family ritual! By the time we returned, mummy would keep hot tea and halwa or pakodas ready to encourage us to help papa to write on those cards. Papa had, and still has, brilliant handwriting. He also was a very good writer but somehow, never got the exposure to have his work published. His stories might still be lying in some trunk at my parents’ home I think. But then, let’s return to the greeting cards. So, papa and didi (who again, is quite artistic) wrote on the cards. “Aadarneeya bhaisahab,….”, “Dear Guptaji…”, “Priya didi…”…. the cards were addressed to so many people. My brother, younger sister and I were assistants – inserting cards in envelopes and stacking them according to the areas they were to be posted to. Papa used to spend quite an amount on buying and sending those cards. For a middle class household with four growing children, these exercises burnt quite a deep hole in the pocket. But mummy and papa felt it was essential – they just didn’t know the way to ignore these important tasks.
This was a ritual at our home. And in many other homes, till about two decades ago. Those days, when you visited a fauji’s (Defence personnel’s) home during festive times (Diwali, Christmas or even New Year), you had to bend down to walk in the drawing rooms decorated as they were with greeting cards in all shapes and sizes received by the family – often on a string (or two strings depending on the number of cards the family received) running from one corner of the room to the other. It was a matter of pride, and happiness for the families receiving the cards. Perhaps, some even displayed them even as trophies to show their popularity. Little acts of happiness. Joy was such an easy feeling those days.
I agree – I often bought more cards than I could send, promising myself each time that I would certainly send them. A few lay in my drawer till the next year – it was a pity because I used to pour all my feelings and love in those cards meant for my friend Rekha, Birmi mamaji, chachaji… I used to be pulled up at times and be forced to walk to the post office to actually send those cards.
When I got married 18 years ago, the scene changed but the ritual didn’t. My husband, a Printing Technologist, was always the one responsible at our home for printing the cards on festive occasions, specially Deepawali, to be sent to our relatives and friends all over the country. The cards were all duly signed by my father-in-law on behalf of the entire family, a pretty big one, and then dispatched by my husband or brother-in-law in various directions. By now, my words had begun to gain some weight. So often, I phrased a few lines to go on the cards – in Hindi. And always, always, my father-in-law mentioned to whoever was ready to listen that the lines on the cards were penned by his youngest daughter-in-law, that is me. Actually, my initiation into the card ceremony in my married home began right in the first week of my marriage. My husband told me to give him half an hour three days after we were married, because we had to sit and sign the cards he had printed – as husband and wife — to thank all the guests who had taken out time to attend our wedding.
Moments such as these were cherished by one and all. There was sweetness in relationships. There was a thought that went into the words we sent miles away to people we cared for, and loved.
It’s a different era today. Greetings cards are virtually non-existent as e-cards enable us to wish our near and dear ones at the click of a mouse. The designing, wording – everything comes readymade. That way, even the feelings, emotions are readymade I think. What feelings are we putting in cards that do not have our stamp anyway? There’s nothing wrong with the technology, please don’t get me wrong. It comes in handy and at least allows us to send virtual cards to more people than we can imagine. But quite often, these are meaningless cards sent to people we wouldn’t have sent them to had the process not been so easy. Quite often, these are calculated professional exercises – for one reason or the other. Quite often, we don’t mean the words written in those beautifully designed cards. But, we send them anyway. An emotional exercise! Where have all the real greeting cards vanished? Or, have we forgotten our way to the greeting card shops?
Aren’t our feelings becoming virtual? Aren’t our relationships treading on the path to a virtual, artificial, pseudo world where affection and love is very temporary? We are all guilty of such shortcuts, aren’t we? Which is why I wonder: What are we teaching our children? Do we have the right to crib about “today’s generation’s failing values” when we have been introducing them to shortcuts in relationships ourselves? In India specially, where we so proudly talk of mothers passing on “sanskaar” (values, culture) to their children, I wonder, if we are really doing it in true spirit.
I have erred in this regard. Haven’t you?