The other day I had visited my elder aunt’s house, there below the stairs, I found this old metal (tin) box. I was saddened to see the box being used for storing old keys, nails, and screws – nearly sixty years ago, in its glory days, the box held inside it a treasure trove of language wisdom – one of the two magnum-opus publication by my grandfather Sri Krishnaswamy Sarma (Sarmaji). It had inside it a hefty book of over 1500 pages celebrating, teaching, and sharing the joy of the art that is almost lost nowadays, the art of letter writing.
The book was called “LIFCO’s Big Letter Writer”, first published in 1952 and no longer in print. In my childhood days, I have seen the book in my father’s desk who used to refer to it every day. Tragically, we don’t have a copy anymore, the one we had in the warehouse I was told was lost in the devastating Chennai flood of 2015. Luckily, when I mentioned about Big Letter Writer in a family get-together, my uncle said he has an old copy with him, a treasured gift from his father (my grandfather) – immediately I rushed to his house and borrowed it. Going through it, I was stunned on the standard of English language used in writing the letters, the eloquent usage of words, the variety of letters, and, the wide-ranging topics they covered. Apart from the 1200 pages of letters, the book also has over three hundred pages for a ‘little’ Encyclopedia.
It is probable there are only a few copies of this book that has survived, stored safely in houses and in libraries, Chennai’s Connemara Public Library has a copy and so does India’s National Library. Through this post, I wish to give you a peek, by reproducing a few random pages from the book. Courtesy: LIFCO, Madras.
In the next page to the Publisher’s note (given below), it is interesting to read a thank you note for a supplier – the Metal Box Co. of India Ltd., who made the tin box (seen earlier in this post) that was used to ship the book. Note the usage of plastics (polyethylene) even in the 1950s.
In the below letters, you can read the conservative nature of the society towards educated women in those days. It feels good to note the progress we have made in this regard in the last fifty years.
Somethings don’t change I suppose. Reading the letter below, you will be surprised to read that corruption was even then associated with the Police force! But the letter actually starts with something more important – “The first thing you should remember is this – In Independent India, unlike in the days of the British rule, the police officials, like any other Government official, have to serve two masters – the first, of course, being the Government and the second being the Public.
The below letter gives a piece of advice to a soon to be postal clerk – “First and foremost, always keep smiling and receive members of the public with courtesy”.
The last day or two I spent, going through the book has been a fascinating experience for me. I am sure the book will keep me busy for several more months. I am glad I noticed the box and recollected the book – a big thanks to my aunt for holding on to the metal box for the last six decades.