By Yinka OLUDAYISI Fabowale
For the bold and chivalrous, it is an avenue to capture their hearts’ desires with dazzling, rapturous literary lines, dripping with affectionate and poetic cadences oftentimes lifted right from Shakespeare or the wisdom of Solomonic verses in the Bible. In it also, the shy and timid find a refuge to hide and shoot Cupid’s arrows at the objects of their desires. Yet for others, it is the grease with which the wheel of love is oiled to keep it in smooth motion.
Almost invariably, the old art of love letter writing had always deservedly fetched the authors the reward for their intellectual labour and ended in the “And they lived happily ever after”, story for love birds.
Ladies, young and old, treasure such letters, sometimes accompanied with or without affectionate greeting cards, with equally well -crafted wordings of love, even for decades. “My wife is addicted to them-love letters, cards and all. Occasionally, she brings out some of the kept letters I wrote to her when we were courting and reads. She’s 42 years. Since we’ve been married, I have never missed giving her cards, especially on Valentine’s Day, Christmas or her birthday. If I didn’t, there would be trouble, because she likes it so much”, says Willy Eya, an editor with a Lagos-based leading national newspaper who has been married for 17 years.
The culture of writing love letters and exchanging cards was extremely popular and thrived before the advent of Global System of Mobile Telephony (GSM) in 2001 in Nigeria. Although it left no age bracket out, it was particularly common among youngsters–secondary school pupils and students of higher institutions, who, by virtue of their ages, of course, were more adventurous in amorous matters and/or seeking to contract marital ties.
Back in those days, hand-written letters were the means of communicating feelings among love birds. The message is often written on specialised and artistically designed letter writing sheets or torn pages of the pupils’ Higher Education exercise books and may run from one full page to six or even 10, depending on the wealth of resources in the literary ‘arsenal’, depth and creative ability of the writer in expressing his intentions and feelings.
This is then mailed or sent through emissaries, usually friends, siblings or neighbours of the loved one, from whom a “favourable response” is anxiously anticipated.
Among well-to-do members of the society, the letter is accompanied by romantic cards, flowers and/or gifts, a gesture copied from the western culture to which they are exposed through early contact, movies or literature.
However, the coming of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), especially mobile telephone that has eased the process of communication and made it a lot swifter, has tended to displace this tradition and made it look anachronistic. Now, with a simple touch on the button or keypad of any electronic device, be it handset, iPad, IOS, Blackberry or any other, love struck suitors can express how they feel about their adored prospects and receive instant response either orally or through pinging or other forms of texted messages!
Save for couples like the Eyas, still nostalgic about the glorious era, many people, including the elderly already in established relationships, are forsaking letter writing and taking to the more facile electronic version through their phones and other devices to express their feelings and emotions to loved ones.
Chief Stephen Olusola Ayangbayi is a retired Permanent Secretary in Oyo State. The 67 year-old says: “I use the phone to send sms or whatsapp messages. That’s what I do now, because I don’t know when last I went to the Post Office to buy stamp to post letter. Even if my wife is away to Ogbomoso for some time and I’m here in Ibadan, or I have some privileged information about what’s going on in the home to pass to the children, wherever they are, we easily get it across to ourselves and get instant reaction through the social media. This is quite unlike in our days when it took between three and four days for such messages to reach the destination and about the same span of time to get a response.”
Chief Ayangbayi adds that he hardly buys cards for his wife also, except on Valentine’s Day or her birthday, stressing that: “Even if I get something with fascinating expression, I try to memorize it and put it on my phone and then send to her.”
The retired top civil servant explains that besides the inevitability of “blending” with dynamic society, he particularly finds exciting the special features of the modern means of communication in that they enable participants to deepen their intimacy and enliven the interaction. “Talk of the smiley, hugs, audio and videos, etc, that colour and enhance the emotion you are trying to convey. You can get someone to laugh or cry, if you want to,” remarks Chief Ayangbayi.
If the situation is like that with the elderly, it can be better imagined among the youths.
“I don’t know about that (hand written letter). It’s old fashioned. I didn’t meet such things anyway. It’s my smartphone for me,” quips Ms. Shirley Tomiwa Adelegan, a 22-year old online marketer. Shirley who has a boyfriend who is studying in Ukraine says they are able to break the barrier of distance by keeping in touch through regular phone chats and texts.
A counterpart of hers based in Ikeja, Lagos, Ms. Olufunmi Amosun, also votes for the gadgets, noting that they make it a lot easier for partners and friends to connect and stay in touch at any hour of the day, irrespective of the distance. Her words: “Apart from the fact that you can get what needs to be said, said on the phone, texts allow you send love messages at any point in time. You have some texting so early in the morning to know how you are doing and some late in the day, sometimes when you are already curled up in bed, to say nice words. So, at every point in time you feel love around you, you feel part of the world of that person. Nobody writes letters these days again. That one has gone extinct. it’s archaic.”
Julius Eiyebiokin, a Port Harcourt-based IT professional, shares the ladies’ views. He says: “For me, phone texts is it. It saves the time and effort in the aspect of communication and transportation. I can instantly express how I feel to my loved one with the use of virtual emoticons.”
But some Nigerians are mourning the fast dying old tradition of letter writing. They argue that apart from reflecting and encouraging their alleged intellectual laziness, the ascendancy of the use of information technology in intimate relationships is eroding values and taking out the excitement formerly associated with it.
Oladusi Komolafe, a Deputy Director at the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, in his 50s, regrets that the e-devices have taken off the youths the effort to read intensively and extensively as the older generation used to do, to prepare and compose masterpieces of letters in order to impress objects of their adoration. According to him, the intellectual worth of the young men and women is the worse for it.
He blames the problem on the fallen standard of education and superficiality of the young people themselves, saying: “The quality of education now has waned as against those days. How many of today’s graduates can write good letters, with decent, correct sentences? They don’t have interest, their interest is in phone, distraction is too much. And because they are not ready to learn, what can they sit down to write. Whereas you would marvel if you see what a Standard VI school leaver wrote, with cursive, elegant hand writing.
“In the past, we strive to get educated, because we know education opens doors, makes you a worthy member of the society. But, now, the priority has shifted, it’s now a rush for cheap money, whether in politics or through yahoo yahoo. There are no real models to emulate, no standard to aspire to.”
Chief Ayangbayi agrees with Komolafe. He notes that the old medium, laborious and “crude” as it may sound to the present generation, promoted learning and the literary culture to a large extent. He recalls: “Many of us read literature books to acquire knowledge and in order to make expression with which to write the letters or relate situations such as in Othello, a Shakespaerean play, to the one at hand for a reaction from the other end. We challenged ourselves.”
However, supporters of the new media believe they are even better placed in terms of knowledge base. Remarks Eyebiokin: “The internet has made things a lot easier. One only has to type in what one is looking for in Google; and voila, more than is even required will be searched in a matter of seconds.”
But, critics insist that the painstaking effort of achieving things which characterised the way things were done back then is thereby eroded. They cite the adverse effect of the way this generation attempts at using short-cuts for virtually everything including abbreviating and abridging writing in the social media is gradually distorting formal mode of communication.
Indeed, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo once noted how appalled he was on returning to his Department of English at the University of Ibadan, after a leave to serve as the Vice Chancellor of and retirement from the university, only to discover such aberrant writing mode amongst students of a 400 Level class!
Apart from that, Komolafe and Chief Ayangbayi believe the modern means of communication tends to be too permissive of moral laxity and make nonsense of the glorious hard to get game girls played during a chase back then. Notes Komolafe: “Our parents don’t open up for visitors to their daughters as you have now. So, you may live next door to your girl, but you may not see each other to talk. But, you write and you enjoy the secretiveness of it all.
“But now, perhaps, all a boy needs to do is make a casual request, ask the girl, ‘Can I have your phone number’. And if she likes him, she gives him and from their on, it is taken that he’s toasted her and they start chatting on phone. So, any girl you are interested in is just a phone call away. Whereas back then, for three months, you are still stalking your proposed lover, you’re still lurking by the street corners.”
But a young couple, Mr. Kolawole and Mrs. Rume Adelegan, expresses disdain for this view, describing it as a presumptuous generalisation. According to the Rume, although she met and exchanged phone numbers with her husband, who was working as an Estate agent in Festac, Lagos during a chance encounter near his office in 2011, it took months of “hard work’ and chatting on phone on his part to eventually woo her.
“As at the time we met in February, I was to go for my NYSC. Between that period we didn’t see, but he was always calling me. He didn’t tell me his intention, but we were always talking on the phone until about April/May when we got to see briefly when I came back from the NYSC camp. That was when our friendship moved to dating. He took me out and expressed his liking for me. In fact, he helped in my redeployment to Lagos State becausee then he said he would want me to be his wife.”
Asked how they communicated when not together, Mrs. Adelegan quips: “Mostly we chatted or texted on phone. He would tell me: ‘ You have merry legs (2ce)’, ‘I like your eyes’, ‘You ‘ve got a cherubic face’, ‘I look forward to when you’ll be my wife, ‘etc. There was no dull moment because there’s always gist to tell… No, he didn’t send any flowers, there was no card, but he was always calling. He sent a lot of texts. Sometimes he sent up to two pages.”
Rume says she never missed getting cards from her fiancé, because “He was always flaunting my photograph as his DP (Display Picture) on his whatsapp and BBM accounts. That showed he was proud of me and ready to show it to the world.”
To be continued next edition