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Sunday Sentiments

  • You’ve got mail

    Posted On November 10, 2004

    By Karan Thapar

    It may seem odd but it’s true. One of my fondest memories is Daddy opening letters. I can remember him slicing through the top of envelopes with a letter opener. Perhaps because he was a military man it had the feel of a brandished sword. I would sit and watch with fascination. The post would be brought in on a silver salver and Daddy would carefully feel each letter before choosing the first to open. Then, with a touch of bravado, he would wield the letter opener.

    I well recall the ‘slssh’ as Daddy slashed the envelope. I think the sound pleased him too. Often he would catch my eye and smile. At the time I longed to grow up and open letters with similar panache. For me the act became the hallmark of adulthood.

    Forty years later I’ve achieved my ambition but with a difference. I use a letter opener but not with bravado. Only in self-defence. I use it as a shield. Far from an act of self-expression it’s self-protection. But before I race ahead of myself let me take a step back and start again.

    Do you like receiving letters? Or, better still, invitations? I do and always return home full of expectation. By then the post has arrived and I’m eager to know what I’ve received. Assuming it’s not a bill, it’s thrilling to slit open an envelope and reach for the letter inside. But of late I’ve discovered this simple pleasure has become positively dangerous. For lurking in unpredictable parts of the envelope are sharp staples that can scratch or cut your fingers. And if you escape injury, chances are you’ll tear the letter.

    Perhaps the problem is with the envelopes we use or a newly acquired sense of postal insecurity. Either we can’t lick down the flaps or we’re convinced the postman will read our letters. So people have taken to stapling their letters inside. And it’s not always at the edges that this is done. Often it’s squarely in the middle. Worse still, more than one staple is used. Sometimes it’s as many as three or four.

    Consequently I frequently push my fingers inside an envelope and encounter a profusion of staples which scratch my skin. And it’s always where it hurts most – under the nails!


    To avoid injury you have to carefully prize the envelope open. If you don’t have a conventional letter opener you need a knife, even a scalpel. The worst part is that it’s not just the envelope that’s stapled to the letter, the letter itself can be all stitched up. If someone has written two or more pages each has to be individually unstapled. By the time you’ve done that you’ve probably torn the letter.

    All sorts of people seem to be guilty of this folly. Banks, for instance, send their statements stapled in at least three different places. That makes it very difficult to keep the document as a record. By the time you’ve opened the envelope it’s lacerated. Government departments are equally guilty. But now, most amazingly of all, wedding invitations come similarly fortified.


    I’ve received some of the most elaborate only to discover that the envelope is riddled with staples, each of which is stuck to the card inside. By the time you’ve opened the envelop the invitation is effectively destroyed.

    In the old days – and it wasn’t that long ago – the belle lettre arrived enclosed in premium bond envelopes that felt good to touch. The flap was tightly sealed and you could imagine the satisfaction the sender must have felt as he or she licked it down. It’s the final act of writing a letter and it completes the operation – what the Americans would call closure! Today, alas, the staple has taken over and this simple joy seems to have been forgotten.

    So I appeal to all letter-staplers to desist from such rampant folly. A letter should be a joy to receive not a hazard or a chore. And if you’re really scared the postman will read your missive I have two solutions to offer. Try scotch tape – it’s as effective as a staple but it won’t damage the letter. Alternatively, embarrass the postman. Write the sort of letter he’d never want to read again!

    But if you’re proud of the letter you’ve written – or pleased to extend an invitation – don’t ruin it for the person it’s intended for. And if you aren’t, well why bother in the first place!


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