In this era of Facebook, Internet, and Google+ friends, it may seem outdated to discuss pen friends but four decades ago, they formed a more personal social network.
I was in a rural school in Punjab and my pastimes were reading literature and writing poetry. The state education board those days published schoolchildren’s writings in its magazine “Pankhrian” and my works found space in it frequently. A few readers would write to the editor in praise of my ideas but there was no way to thank them. Then, the magazine introduced a pen friends column and I wrote to few boys and girls, asking for friendship. The first response was from a boy of my age who appreciated my writings and shared my hobbies. Even though I started with two or three pen friends, he was the only one with whom I continued to correspond. He was also a budding writer, so we would exchange poems and thoughts, and wish each other on birthdays and New Year. Collected like a treasure, those letters and cards remain in my cupboard.
There were no phones then. Letters were our only mode of communication, and we would wait eagerly for the mail. It was late into our friendship that we met face to face.
I had chosen to be a doctor and entered Government Medical College, Patiala. He had dropped out of school after Class 10 because of domestic issues and enrolled as private candidate for graduation. Interested in journalism, he started publishing a local tabloid from his place near Patiala, bringing his paper to the city for printing.
He would bring to my hostel the articles, news and advertisements, and make a rough design of the paper in the medical college before it would go to the press. The interaction allowed our friendship to blossom and also served to quench my thirst for writing and journalism, a relief from the dry profession of medicine.
This friendship continues to grow, as there was no selfish motive involved. We would share and discuss many things. He got married before me. I was always invited to all his functions as part of the family.
He completed his education in journalism and served at top posts in newspapers. I went on to complete my degree and set up a practice. But our discussions on common interests continued even in the busiest days of our professions.
Now his children have got married and he teaches journalism. We don’t write to each other anymore but remain in touch through Facebook and emails. When we’re in a gathering, nobody believes we started out as pen friends 40 years ago, and I insist we’ll stay so forever.