Bills, credit card statements, low interest rate balance transfer offers and discount coupons for pizza, oil-changes and groceries. The typical american life features a dreary mailbox -little inspiration for trudging down and checking one's mail. Growing up, I was a big letter-writer, and reveled in writing long letters to friends, pen-friends & grandparents, either on those blue "inland letters" (or aerogrammes for international mail. :-)) or on fancy stationery. I remember all the tricks my pen-friend and I resorted to to smuggle coins in the mail, well concealed to prevent them from being flicked en route, so we could exchange currency of our respective countries. :-) The whole experience of letter writing was completed by picking out stamps to stick on them and dropping them off in the red post-box. I always awaited the postman eagerly, and was famous for hounding him on his route daily. "pacchis by aath ke liye kuch hai?" Often the postman saw me approaching him and would start fishing out the whole building's mail from his brown bag to give me. :-) The clerk at the local post office would regularly alert me to new stamps that had come in and I would excitedly use them, with a request to the receiver to send me back the stamp. :p Thanks to this craze of mine, my mother had to ensure that the postman was given a generous "bakshees" every year during diwali. :-)
I kept up some of my love for "real" mail after coming here. It was a bit of a shock when I first saw how the clerk at the post office here used a plain bar-coded sticker in place of actual postage stamps on my outgoing mail. Since then, I made it a point to ask for "nice stamps" on my mail. For a while, I continued writing letters or just sending photos and other snippets of my life here that could be sent by mail. Slowly, this hobby dwindled. Instant messaging, phone and email conveyed almost everything and did it faster than letters, but not necessarily as accurately. Trips to the post-office now became a chore- only undertaken when tax-deadlines loomed large. Letters became restricted to when someone was going to India and I could send a letter through them. My mailing activities were reduced to postcards while traveling and the annual rakhis, birthday cards and such. Even there, I was starting to get tardy. For someone to whom remembering birthdays came naturally, wishing someone on their birthday started to become a "to-do" item on my list. I'd be lucky enough to get my phone-call in on time, within any time-zone, let alone actually plan in advance and send something in the mail. I've never had a single sheet of stamps last me as long as they did over the past many months. Recently, I mailed a friend his birthday present, again, a couple weeks late. The whole act of going to the post-office and sending the package out perked me up, as I relived the joy it gave me. For a normally reticent guy, my friend's overwhelmed reaction and excitement at receiving his present, albeit late, was even more heartening. I am going to do more of this now, I was beginning to forget how much I enjoyed it.