A species under irreversible threat of extinction, letter writers were a staple of Lahore culture when I was growing up.  They were literate and multilingual in a society where the majority was illiterate.  Although email has made their services irrelevant, a few letter writers survive by offering other products such as government registration forms for one thing or another.  The letter writers of Lahore sit on the pavement sit outside the GPO, a beautiful terracotta British Raj building on The Mall, the main artery for Lahore’s business and government.  I chose one of four letter writers because he was the first to ask me: “What do you want?”  I sat down on a very low, very small stool and asked him to write a letter for me to my son, requesting him to come and visit my birthplace.  He wrote a couple of paragraphs and then folded the page and sealed it in a yellow envelope without showing it to me or asking me for approval. I paid him one hundred rupees (approximately one dollar),  I walked into the cavernous and mostly empty General Post Office, went to one window to have the envelope stamped, to another for posting.  Fifty-five rupees (55c) and fifteen days, I was told.  Inshallah it will arrive.

General Post Office, Lahore

General Post Office, Lahore

My letter writerMy letter writer, with his competition

Writing my letter

Writing my letter

Standing purveyors of forms and documents

More purveyors of forms and documents

Addendum  My cousin Ilan just sent a link to a photograph of a scrivener offering Arabic and Hebrew letter-writing services in Acre (Israel) in 1962.

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