An Epistolary Relationship For The Ages

Shortly after I finished high-school I bade goodbye to a good friend. He was headed to the United Kingdom, to join his father–he had taken up a job with a civil engineering firm. My friend would, so to speak, ‘repeat’ high school; he would take his A-levels and then seek university admission. I was sad to see him go; he had been a constant companion, providing a nerdy interlocutor for conversations about cricket, music, science, and of course, girls. We had cut school and harassed teachers together; we had fretted about life after school together.

But all was not lost; we could write to each other. We resolved to do so. I was not lacking in confidence in my letter writing abilities; I had, after all, spent two years in boarding school and built up a diligent correspondence with my mother, and over the years I had often exchanged letters with my grandfather. I had some facility in the art of writing a letter.

And so it came to be. For five years, from 1984 to 1989, as my friend finished his university education, we corresponded regularly. We wrote letters by hand, sometimes on plain sheets of paper, which were then folded and stuffed into vintage airmail envelopes–the ones with those colorful, seemingly serrated, blue and red borders–and sometimes, more conveniently, but less thrillingly, we wrote on Indian postal service aerogrammes.

My friend wrote to me about his school, the friends he made, the music he listened to–the kinds of things boys and young men in the making talk about. We discussed the Indian cricket team’s fortunes; we lamented sporting failures; we crowed over sporting glory. We ‘talked’ about the movies we had seen, and sometimes, in a nod to our growing maturity, we offered each other commentary on the world’s geopolitical state.

I looked forward to his letters; I presumed he did the same on his end. The sight of that aerogramme, the airmail envelope, marked with the distinct impress of Her Majesty’s Postal Service and my friend’s stylish, busy handwriting, never failed to produce a little thrill. I would tear open the flaps, making sure not to destroy the missive visible within, and then eagerly read through its contents.

I left India in 1987, but our correspondence continued. My address, my zipcode, changed; my friend’s did not. Now I typed up my letters using the fancy word processors whose use I had recently mastered; I used laser printers to produce gleaming printouts on fancy white paper; my letters sped across the Atlantic, powered now by the US Postal Service. Besides his letters, my friend sent me newspaper cuttings with cricket scores, commiserating with the sad deprivation I was now subjected to in the Land Without Cricket.

Early in 1989, we both switched to email. Later that year, my friend moved to California to begin his graduate studies. We continued to write but the frequency of our correspondence began to trail off. We met each other on our trips to the East Coast and West Coast; we spoke on the phone.  Later, after finishing business school in Boston, he moved to New York City and began work, first with a management consulting firm, and then later, with an internet startup. He got married; he had two children. Our lives steadily grew apart; I was a graduate student and an academic; he was a businessman. He once suggested my failure to respond adequately to a message from him indicated we had grown too far apart; I said I did not think so, and shortly thereafter we met again for a drink. All seemed well.

Last year, after my daughter was born, he wrote me an angry email, asking why he had not been sent a birth announcement, why I had not visited him in India on my last trip there. I wrote back, pointing out the only announcement I had made had been on Facebook, that I had not informed anyone on an individual basis, that my trip to India had been consumed by familial commitments and even some legal hassles. My explanation did not seem adequate to him; he did not write back. I have not heard from him since.

But I have not forgotten his postal address from those five years of sustained correspondence: 102 Wandle Road, Morden, Surrey, SM4 6AE UK.

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