Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pen Pal

"Pen pal? What does that mean?", I had innocently asked my English teacher. Having studied in different schools at different cities, I find it hard to remember when and where exactly did I ask this question, but I have a clear memory of coming across this term in a classroom - or a memory hardened by my belief of it being true. In any case, the answer came as quite a surprise to me. Never before had I thought of a friend whom you had not met; a friend whose face you hadn't seen; a friend whom you hadn't heard; but just a friend with whom you had shared your life and got only experience in return. At first the idea amused me. It wasn't only a 'pal' who hadn't seen you but also a pal who knew as much about your life as you told him (using 'him' as the gender neutral pronoun); who judged on the small portion of life that you showed him; who couldn't shout at you; who couldn't see you create a world that you wanted him to see. A pen pal offered a person to lead another life, probably the one he would like to have led, and still have a friend in that fantasy world.

Despite the appeal of the idea, I never felt excited enough to try to have a pen pal. It was less due to lack of motivation but more because pen pals appeared a thing of the past, at least until very recently.

Fast forward into the present; pen pals might still seem a thing of the past in this world of emails and Instant Messages. Take away the pen-paper based letters from the custom of pen-pals, the visits to post-office, the long wait for reply, and replace it with emails and a new culture begins to appear. A culture so similar to that Pen Pals, that it is hard to believe that it had ever left our side. I am not sure if it was me, who was unaware of its ongoing existence all this while or has this generation revived something that probably should never have been lost in the first place.

So, have I been able to create the fantasy world I imagined it would help me build? No. Why? Because the correspondence didn't begin with the intent of forming long term bonds the only evidence of which were words exchanged over the Internet. Even before I knew I had found a friend in the person typing in those alphabets from another corner of the world, I had shared enough about myself to keep the friendship real and not just based on the person I would have wanted to be.

However, I have had the opportunity to learn more about myself. Written (or typed) words offer the possibility of re-reading your own words - a definite advantage over spoken words. This let me, quite unconsciously, observe myself as a person I knew little of. It let me be the observer of my own life and watch myself narrate it to another. I have been amazed, impressed and even disappointed by things that I have written.

Wittgenstein equated the writing of an autobiography with self-discovery. I would state that a pen pal serves the purpose just fine and probably is easier to come by. In this world where a person sitting in another part of the world is only a mouse-click away, I would urge people to find a 'pen pal' that can help you discover yourself.


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