Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gentlemen's letters

A few months ago, I met an old gentleman (and there is no way you describe him, except as a gentleman) who used to work in public health. In his seventies, and still volunteering, still very upright, very straight-backed, very soft-spoken and very 'correct'... (if it was possible to fall in love with somebody in the future that is suggested by the present, I could easily fall in love with him). The sort of man who will draw up a little cushioned stool to the telephone which is kept in a corner of the corridor near the hall, dial the number for you, hand you the receiver, ask you to sit on the stool while you talk, and step away to stand at a polite distance himself.

I found myself thinking that if only I was sixty years old, I'd marry this old man (except that he already has a charming wife in her sixties).

This is the sort of man who begins his email, addressing me as 'Dear Ms Zaidi' and 'with reference to your letter dated.....' and goes on to tell me about his most recent holiday with his wife, before moving onto more professional matters.

I found myself responding with a letter that began with a prim "hope this finds you in a best of health and spirits".

Having written this line, I paused and thought - I have never, ever, used this line before. We were taught to use it in school, in semi-official correspondence or when writing to a great-aunt you've never met but who religiously sends you boxes of chocolates. Nobody says things like 'hope this finds you in the best of health...' outside of school homework in language class. Maybe not even there.

But I did say it. Because it seemed right. Because now, I know what it means. Because it was a straight-backed, upright, correct, gentlewomanly sort of thing to say.


WillOTheWisp said...

Not 'ladylike'?

the being said...

wow! they don't make those anymore :(

Annie Zaidi said...

willothewisp: i chose the word 'gentlewoman' on purpose. lady means little in the indian context. 'ladies' only reminds me of toilets, or old-fashioned restaurants with a 'family' section where 'ladis' can sit in relative purdah.
sudha: true, but they don't make us women the same way either.

Anonymous said...

pink/pinkest of health!

Anonymous said...

Isn’t it so nice to come across people who bring out the best in us?

One feels protective about such kind souls…their old world charm…

If there were more people like them…this planet would be a much nicer place to live in…

Jay Sun (http://moirealitybites.blogspot.com/)

Anonymous said...


Annie Zaidi said...

jedi: :)
jay sun: you're right. one does feel protective abotu such people.
pawan: :)

johnthebarman said...

Dear Ms Zaida,

I was delighted to read your article.

I was reminded of a poem 'Love' by Billy Collins. Its about a girl getting onto a train watched by a boy. And the reason he wrote it...

'is to tell you that when she turned
to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her
and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted

when they are looking up at God
when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God.'

You also have a way of looking. It is a way of looking that enables us to see beauty or God or a gentleman behaving well.


johnthebarman said...

Dear Ms Zaidi,

I would be honoured, when you have a moment in your busy life, if you would visit by blog, http://johnthebarman.blogspot.com/
and be first to make a comment.

My Best Wishes,
John the Barman.

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