Article Hindi

World Post Day: 11 beautiful songs that capture the lost art of letters

On World Post Day (10 October), we recall some wonderful songs that capture the romanticism and joy of writing, sending and receiving letters. 

Shriram Iyengar

In the age of instant messages and Whatsapp, the task of sitting down to write a letter feels like an unnecessary chore. Once upon a time it was the best and easiest way for people to communicate across their distances. From love letters sent under the hidden cover, or messages hidden between lines, there was an art of writing letters that is now forever lost.

Yet as the world of postal messengers fades into the sunset, they have provided lyricists and music composers of Hindi cinema with a treasure of songs that capture the romance, and dreaminess of letter writing.

On World Post Day today, 10 October, we recollect 11 beautiful numbers that capture this lost art form in a digital age.

1) 'Afsana Likh Rahi Hoon' — Dard (1947)

The song is sung by Uma Devi aka Tun Tun. The now famous comedienne was only starting out as a singer and was roped in by the composer, Naushad. Another newcomer was Shakeel Badayuni, for whom Dard was the first big project offered on his arrival to Bombay.

Incidentally, the critics railed against the film as a failure, but it went on to be a musical success launching Naushad as one of the top composers in the country. A beautiful composition that captures the slow, shy romance of writing a letter to the beloved, it remains the remnant of an age when letters were the only form of long-distance communication.

2) 'Tera Khat Leke Sanam' — Ardhangini (1959)

The sight of Meena Kumari, prancing to music, is always a rare reminder that she was more than just a 'Tragedy Queen'. Before the epithet latched on to her in the second decade of her career, Meena Kumari was one of the fast rising leading ladies of Hindi cinema. This wonderful song sung by Lata Mangeshkar, and composed by Vasant Desai, captures the sweet nostalgia of the excitement before the arrival of a letter, and the joy at its reception. It also has another oft repeated motif of the days of old, the 'jhoola' or swing. Not many songs feature them now. 

3) 'Ye Mera Prem Patra Padhkar' — Sangam (1964)

Raj Kapoor's Sangam is filled with scenes that drip of romance. This wonderful song is one such element that captures the Showman's habit for motifs. Sung by Mohammed Rafi, here the letter becomes the medium of love for the shy and reserved Rajendra Kumar as opposed to the grandiose Raj Kapoor. As Rajendra Kumar worries about not annoying his beloved, he still confesses his love for her. Well, at least he was worried about consent. 

4) 'Likhe Jo Khat Tujhe' — Kanyadan (1968)

Rajendra Kumar's reticence might have been charming, but it can hardly match the charm of Shashi Kapoor in Kanyadan (1968). The effortless charmer that he is, Kapoor embodies the extravagant lyrics of Gopaldas Neeraj painting the stars, spring and flowers, and the nascent dawn into his love letter. The song's lyrics are visually colourful and immediately arresting, which have naturally made it a very popular number through the ages. Of course, there is the power of Shankar-Jaikishan's music that adds the relish to an unforgettable song. 

5) 'Phool Tumhe Bheja Hai Khat Mein' — Saraswatichandra (1968)

Talking about being descriptive, Saraswatichandra (1968) was a beautiful moralistic tale that spoke of the spiritual nature of love, and the challenges it can cross to sustain itself. The music by Kalyanji-Anandji won the National Award for the film. While the song is one of the underrated gems, 'Chandan Sa Badan' is the more famous one, it contains some beautiful imagery and sentiment. From its reticence, shyness, to the unravelling of emotion through simple letters is beautiful.

As a verse in the song goes 'Milna ho to kaise mile hum/Milne ki surat likh do - Nain bichchaye baithe hain hum/ Kab aaoge khat likh do'. No one writes like this anymore.

6) 'Phoolon Ke Rang Se' — Prem Pujari (1970)

Flowers seem to be a common imagery used through all these epistolary songs. With Dev Anand, the imagery acquires a different charm as he sings it to a group of foreign children. Although Neeraj's lyrics are more about love and the passion of the hero, the letter forms the key line in the opening stanza. The film was a commercial failure, but SD Burman's songs remain evergreen even after four decades. Dev Anand would later suggest another song from the film 'Rangila Re' as one of his all time favourites. 

7) 'Tere Khushboo Me Base Khat — Arth (1982)

Interestingly, while the rest of the songs for Mahesh Bhatt's autobiographical drama were written by the late Kaifi Azmi, this wonderful nazm sung by Jagjit Singh was written by the little known Rajendra Nath Rehbar. The poet is better known among literary circles, but this song remains an eternal favourite for its captivating imagery. The idea of a letter being more than just a message, but an Indian form of Proust's madeleines that allow its receiver to travel through time and experience memories is a lovely touch.

Bhatt's film earned Shabana Azmi the National Award, but the song earned Singh a place in immortality.

8) 'Chitthi Aayi Hai Aayi Hai' — Naam (1986)

From one legendary ghazal singer to another. Pankaj Udhas's rendition of this Laxmikant-Pyarelal is one of the most iconic moments of the 1980s. Mahesh Bhatt's film about a young rebel losing his way (aptly portrayed by Sanjay Dutt) arrived at the cusp of India's liberalisation. In an age when international trunk calls were not affordable, and emails were still a pipedream, letters were the only mode of communication. The song, a beautiful portrait of Indian parents remembering their sons and daughters far away in foreign lands touched a chord. It was selected as one of the top 100 songs of the millenium by BBC Radio Worldwide in 2000. 

9) 'Kabutar Jaa Jaa' — Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989)

This was the moment that kickstarted the 1990s decade. The decade of liberalisation, when a young India became familiar with hanging out by ice-cream parlours and the telephone. Despite that, Sooraj Barjatya's take on a love story blossoming within a traditional family structure turned to the age old tradition of sending love letters through doves.

Composed by Raam-Laxman and written by Dev Kohli, it was one of the best selling albums of the 1980s. The freshness of the lyrics capture the innocence of first love, the excitement, and the importance of the medium of the letter that makes it all possible.

It almost seems ironic that the star of the film, Salman Khan would go on to fight cases for illegal hunting. A good thing, it was not doves that he hunted.

10) 'Sandese Aate Hain' — Border (1997)

By the arrival of the 1990s, the telephone had taken over from the post office. The latter was reduced to official correspondence, and the arrival of the internet relegated it to oblivion. But every once in a while, the service would find mention in Hindi cinema. JP Dutta's Border was set during the 1971 war with Pakistan, and had a special song dedicated to the letter.

Sung by Sonu Nigam and scored by Anu Malik, the song was written by Javed Akhtar. It won the lyricist a Filmfare award and rightly so. With its wistful touch of nostalgia, longing, and love, the song is a tearjerker.

11) 'Nazm Nazm' — Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017)

The millenium has moved on from the old mode of communication with mobile phones, Facebook, and even Twitter featuring in films. But every once in a while, the letter still features as a time and tested motif of love. In the wonderful Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), letters become the mode of communication for the reclusive writer played by Ayushmann Khurrana, and his fan, played by Kriti Sanon. As their love blossoms through letters, so does this beautiful song.

The original composed and sung by Arko Pravo Mukherjee won him a nomination for the Filmfare award for Best Song. Evocative and poetic, the song captures the flow of emotions from the heart to the words and down to the page. This version, by Ayushmann Khurrana, is quite and impressive attempt as well.