These young Mumbaikars don't want letter writing to fade away
To keep letter writing alive, this group ditches instant messaging for once-a-month snail-mail date
The post-box standing on Bellasis Road, in Mumbai Central, isn’t just a signpost of a bygone era for Fayesal Siddiqui. Twice a month, it becomes a destination for him.
(L-R) Sameen Borker, Fayesal Siddiqui, Heema Joshi, Sandhya Kannan at the Pali Market postbox in Bandra
The 28-year-old, who is currently assisting his father at his law firm, religiously ditches emails, Whatsapp, Snapchat or any other form of e-communication for his once-a-month snail mail date with friends. Most often they land up in the letter box of Vashi resident Sameen Borker. Borker started writing letters to her friends 10 years ago, when she moved from Mazgaon to Navi Mumbai. Siddiqui was one of those who’d get a visit from the postman. “It’s not that we don’t communicate on Internet platforms. It’s just that we like writing letters, and feel that it is an art that needs to be kept alive,” says Siddiqui who co-founded the Bookhad blog on Wordpress where the two review books.
But, they aren’t alone in their endeavour to keep snail mail alive. “Social networking has taken the charm out of communication,” says Ravi Kiran, who will start working for a Chennai publishing house this month. The 25-year-old feels the joy of a letter lies in its anticipation. “The whole process of writing a letter, waiting for a response lends it a surreal quality. There’s a pleasure in the tardy discovery of the other person,” says Kiran who has been writing letters for the past seven years. But, once everything has been said in emails and tweets and Facebook posts, what’s left? “The usual,” he says, “We discuss books, movies, and travel.”
Kiran was reintroduced to the love to letter-writing through a mobile app called Lettrs which allows you to digitally compose a letter with a range of cursive fonts, paper types and stamps to choose from. The app, which was launched as a web interface in 2013, allows you to write personal letters, or if you prefer, make them public. “My ramblings on Lettrs were appreciated by people from countries like Romania, Puerto Rico, Germany and Spain,” gushes Kiran who often writes virtual letters to these new ‘pen pals’. “Handwritten letters are limited to friends in Mumbai and Bangalore, because you’re assured that it’ll get delivered within a week,” he adds.
Drew Bartkiewicz, founder and CEO of Lettrs.com, says a desire to create a lasting communication prompted him to set up the company. “In the summer of ’94, I fell in love with a girl from Madrid. I returned to the US and then we had six months of long form letter writing back and forth,” says Bartkiewicz who later married the same woman. A few years ago, the 48-year-old brought out all the old letters for his three children. “To my surprise, the letters evoked an interest in them. But, technology was necessary to sustain the interest in a 16-year-old who texts and tweets at lightning speed,” he says. The app today has more than two million users across 170 countries. Indian users rank second in number after America.
Indian letters, Bartkiewicz says, are intriguing. “Not only are they well written, but also original, poetic, funny and insightful,” he says. In fact, Lettrs hired an Indian staffer, Sunandini Bansal in January, who is in charge of user interaction.
Mumbai-based content writer, Sandhya Kannan, makes a pitstop at the post office near her Mulund residence atleast once in three months. “People queue up for bill payments, but rarely do I see them at the letter box,” she says. For her friends who don’t write letters, Sandhya’s love for letters is ‘fascinating’. “They like receiving letters, but never write back,” she sulks. “But that doesn't stop me from writing,” she smiles.
Bartkiewicz feels technology hasn’t wrung the death knell for letters. “It has just made us rethink how letters can be reinvented. Not everything in life done faster the better. Letters are like fine wine or a sunset walk, the slower the better,” he says.