The power and intimacy of handwriting

I love writing. I prefer to do it with a pen. Black ink on white paper. I haven’t done that in a while; blame it on PCs. The closest I’ve come to writing on paper these days is to scribble Post-it notes. That isn’t great because it doesn’t showcase my handwriting.

At the risk of self-flattery, let me say my handwriting was good. It was legible and neat. It wasn’t the usual cursive writing I learned in primary school. After grappling with it for some years, I gave up cursive writing. Since the focus was to interlink letters, I could never write neatly. And it slowed me down badly.

One day I chanced upon a project report written by my father. It was beautiful. Each letter was crisply formed, with perfect straight lines and lovely curves. I fell in love with his handwriting.

Over the next few days, I tried to copy my father’s writing style. And I succeeded. It looked so good that I mustered enough courage to show it to my father. I have loved it; he said something like, “you’ve learned to write like me.” It was nothing like cursive writing, but it was neat and beautiful. It also helped improve my writing speed.

I fell in love with my own handwriting so much that I flaunted it. Nobody could make out the difference between my handwriting and my father’s. Except us.

My father’s handwriting

The difference was in the finish. My father’s script was crisper. More elegant. Perfect as print. Mine wasn’t bad. It paled only in comparison with my father’s handwriting.

I was fine with it. After all, none of my friends and classmates will get to see my father’s handwriting. So long as there was no comparison, my lettering shone well. It was not the best in class, but it was among the best. I was OK with it.

Typewriters came into my life when I became a journalist. Although I had no formal training, I had to use typewriters. With practice, I learned to type with five fingers at a decent speed. A speed good enough to turn in stories quickly.

I didn’t have to physically write stories, and the lack of practice affected by handwriting. The letters began to show signs of deterioration. The strokes of ‘f’ and ‘l’ ceased to be straight, and the curves of ‘c’ and ‘s’ were no longer perfect. I continued to write letters to friends and family, but that was an occasional exercise. Not enough to keep a steady hand.

The arrival of computers brought emails with it. Mobile phones came with text messages in tow. Letter-writing became the practice of a distant past. I ceased to put pen on paper. Handwriting became a forgotten art, and the intimacy of letters was lost in the slipstream of newer technology.

I don’t write letters anymore. But my close friends still keep my old letters. Letters that spilled into five pages or more. Pages that carried news from our neighbourhood, the pursuits of our mutual friends and our shared passion for cricket, movies and books. They loved my writing and my handwriting.

One friend’s son remembers me and my handwriting from my letters to his dad when he studied in Odisha in the eighties. A long-lost friend from Bengaluru reconnected with me after her husband de ella found my letter during spring cleaning at their Canberra home de ella. My wife treasures the letters I wrote during our college days.

All of them loved my handwriting. But I could never say mine was the best. Because my father’s script was always better. A refined version of my handwriting. It always was and remained so till the day he passed away.

These days, my handwriting is restricted to signatures on checks. When a friend relocated to India recently, my gift was a book. “A handwritten message in the book, I shall treasure it,” she wrote back. That’s the power of handwriting.

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