I wrote my first letter home when I was eight years old. I wrote the last one when my 97-year-old father’s stroke left him unable to read any more of them. In the years between I kept writing Dear Mum and Dad and then Dear Dad through all the cycles of my life until there was nothing left to say because there was nobody left to say it to. My home and my parents were in Pakistan but my boarding schools were in Kashmir, India, England, Australia, wherever my parents’ quest for the best education discovered them. Scattered, we were spending more time apart reading, writing and waiting for letters than together, talking and hearing each other’s voices. Letters had become our family’s bricks and mortar, the place that gave us shelter under the same roof, confirmation that we were safe. We wrote and wrote, how we wrote! Everything we said and did and felt and missed we wrote on pages alive with our breath and fingerprints, folded into envelopes and aerogrammes, hundreds upon hundreds of them, licked and sealed, covered in stamps and postmarked with dates that bore witness to sixty-five years of post-war world history. More than chronicling our family’s story, those bundles, boxes and carefully filed letters are our family, blended proof of our separate existences on different continents, of each other’s voices that we didn’t hear in our ears until school holidays when we all slept under the same roof. That’s the kind of family we were.
The letters are here with me today. As I weigh my family’s life in my hands I feel the impatience with which, each in our own way, we waited for these letters. However old I become, letters will always take too long to arrive and will always comfort when they do; however deftly technology shifts time and space, I shall always remember how great the distances truly are from over here to over there. // Hazel Kahan