My dearest Kiera, I begin. Inevitably, I pause to look at the words, the extra sliver of space between the ‘i’ and the ‘e’, easy to loop otherwise — say, when I write ‘thief’ or ‘believe’, but the ‘ie’ in her name has a different sound quality. It’s Ki-yea-ra, and that space — so instinctive by hand, impossible to typeset — makes the name look the way it sounds.

My dearest Kiera, I write by hand every Saturday, on a yellow legal pad, in a letter to my daughter at a boarding school, and I marvel at how much the practice of writing by hand tells us about ourselves and a world we have, sadly, abandoned. I’ve been earning a living by employing the written word for some 14 years now. Yet, it is only now that I have begun to actually ‘write’ as the verb was originally intended, which is the act of putting pen to paper, as opposed to its new interpretation, of merely conjuring up words. A relationship nurtured by actual letters, I now realise, is not just a process of filling up a page, but in sacrificing speed and ceding control of delivery, ours is becoming a collaborative discovery of the happiness of delayed gratification.

My dearest Kiera, I write, and then I wonder what should come next. For, at a time when you can be everywhere — watching a woman and her car being rescued from a flooded Bengaluru street to watching a woman and her car being rescued from a burning Californian highway — it is difficult to comprehend how to be here; at a table, packing your anecdotes and your anxieties within the ruled lines of a page. I have to think ahead, construct sentences and sequences in my head before I start to write. There is no luxury of cut and paste, selecting a paragraph and bringing it to the beginning, or nudging this line and inserting that story. In a world that has allowed us to start doing before thinking, I struggle with this reversal. All week I catch myself noting, “I should write to her about this, I should tell her about that”, and, yet, when I sit down to start writing, I don’t know what to say or where to begin. I have to force myself to think, to melt down the clutter of my week and simmer it until what’s significant rises to the top. I have to prod myself, long secure in storing everything in disks with terabytes of memory, to sift through thoughts and delete what’s not useful. It’s more challenging than I imagined.

My dearest Kiera, I write and then I am interrupted by the doorbell. It’s the Amazon guy with the book I ordered even as I was reading an interview in which it was mentioned. Or the Big Basket guy delivering groceries from a list that is so smartly devised that it tells me things I need even before I realise I need them. Or an orange-clad Swiggy man with the apple strudel that looked enticing and, in one moment, was in my cart and on its way to me. Or it’s the ringing of the phone; the incessant beep of a WhatsApp message bemoaning the terrible state of the nation, or the trill of something I said being retweeted by someone important, or the ting of an email, always urgently seeking a response because what else could be more important. Digital responses are easy to tap through, even a note to my daughter wouldn’t be hard to dispose of in a couple of minutes. “Hello hello”, I often write in reply to others’ mails on my computer, implying right up front that I am busy and this is going to be brief. A letter demands time. A letter, I am beginning to realise, comes to life only in the absence of bells and beeps.

My dearest Kiera, I write and it immediately makes me sit up. This is a serious task, my body tells me, the table has to be the right height, the elbow at the correct angle. A letter cannot be written slouched in bed with the pad propped on your thighs. The pen must be smooth, but not slippery. I have to watch my ‘r’s, they tend to look like ‘n’s. And I realise I have forgotten how to write ‘w’. The second curve slips away, looking like nothing. I flip over to the last page on my pad and write “twenty” several times, re-teaching my muscles how to connect an ‘e’ to a ‘w’, without it looking like a shaky bridge. I cannot believe how frustrating this is. I can see the irony of being a writer who cannot write. I haven’t even got to the hardest part.

My dearest Kiera, I write, it is bittersweet to wish you happy birthday this first year that you are not celebrating with me. I am careful to limit the bitter and accentuate the sweet, and I struggle with the task of doing that without the comfort of a delete key. How do you filter what flows from the head to the hand? When do you let it run, when should you make it stop? What is committed to a screen is ephemeral, easier to wipe than to create. What is committed to paper is eternal. What I scratch out magnifies the betrayal of my mind by my heart. It stays on the page, a dark blot, a secret her mother almost told her.

My dearest Kiera, I write. And having written so, week after week, in a process that makes me question everything about me, about her, about us, I am at last certain that those are the truest words. My dearest Kiera, I begin truthfully. And All my love, I end.

Veena Venugopalis editor BLink and author of The Mother-in-Law