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An Initiative Where Strangers Write Letters To Each Other

An Initiative Where Strangers Write Letters To Each Other
September 20
12:25 2019

NET Bureau

In an age of Instant messaging, the art of writing letters is almost dying. But this initiative, “Letter From A Stranger, India,” lets strangers write to each other. And it’s catching up well. Founder, Paromita Bardoloi tells us why she felt the need to have a letter writing circle and what it holds, in the future.

Why This Initiative:
Paromita by her own admission loves to write letters. Born and brought in a sleepy town of Assam; letters have been a big part of who she is today. “I have been writing letters since I was 12 years old. You know you went to some place, met kids of your age, exchanged addresses and wrote letters. And somehow sub-consciously it became a part of my being. In a letter you could be more open. Also in that process I found a lot about myself. Letters can free a lot of demons within and it can be a therapeutic experience.” But she said that the real change came once she graduated from college. “You know, till you are in an academic institution, you met the same bunch of people everyday and you got to spend all your time with them. Plus I stayed in a hostel. So it was then you did not need to look for anyone else. Academic institutions gave that security. I went to Miranda House. Apart from studies, I was so engaged in extra circulars’ that letters took a back seat. But yes, when this guy wanted to go out on a date with me, I asked him to write me a letter first and post it, which he did. When you are that young, you are constantly surrounded by people, who are like you. But the real game begins once the farewell is given. The exams are over. And you step into a new world. That’s when life hits you. You realize no one reads poetry. Office politics runs like fever. Deadlines are the norm of the day. You wonder who you are at the end of the day. To add that distress, I fell severely sick and had to be hospitalized. That’s when letters were my companion to survival. I came home to recover. And through social media I came across two artists from Karachi. We were exactly of the same age and were facing with same questions about who we were at that time. I used to write to them and vice versa. I still have those emails. Though, it seems another lifetime, now.”

Paromita Bardoloi

Paromita Bardoloi

But it was 2018, Paromita says that actually brought me here. “My life was going very well until then. You know those years when everything is almost perfect. You are smiling ear to ear. Everything going good for you. It’s like you are doing all the right things and staying on your own road. But isn’t life all about unexpected turns.” Paromita says that suddenly something happened. And it hit her like a rock. “For first few weeks I was in denial. And then I realized how broken I felt. That is when I again wrote letters to my friends. And they replied. Over many such long letters, I had clarity. The pain started receding. And it is August 2019 now. I have crossed that bridge, almost. But that hit left a mark on me. Something changed from within. I realized that I have a strong support system. I had people who will spend time writing letters to me, what if I create a platform where people write letters to each other and found a community of hope.”
“That was how I began the first circle of letter writing in April 2019. Right now we are almost over with the third circle and have written almost 100 letters.” Paromita added.
In This Initiative All Writers Are Women:
The most interesting thing about this initiative is that all the writers are women or anyone who identifies themselves as the female gender. However the receiver can be from any gender. Paromita says that the world history or the world view is mostly decided by men. It’s also the male gaze that tells women about their bodies and lives. But do we everyday women feel about it the same way. Over centuries, it’s the male wisdom that is revered and heard of. So when women write to anyone, it’s their wisdom that is heard. “These letters are an attempt to bring out women’s wisdom, though I know it’s a very small step. But I strongly uphold the view of one step at a time, one letter at a time. Men and women are equal. But we cruise through lives very differently. Our gender history is very different. Also most of our receivers are women too. And in letters everyone feels free to strip their soul. I have seen such wise letters, that I often feel that they need to be pinned in the city walls.”
Paromita says that when women write to women the letters are more vulnerable. It’s about everyday women sharing their wisdom. “In our 3rd circle we had two women; one in her twenties and other in her forties, sharing about intimate partner violence. The letters have so much empathy and wisdom that it almost made me weep. This is sisterhood at its finest.”
Letter Requests Comes For Everything: From Finding Love to Dealing With A Divorce
Paromita says that letter requests comes for varied queries, ranging from finding love, divorces, the worth of being a man and you name it. She says that each time she goes through the requests; she wonders how every human is looking out for someone who can answer them. She adds, “Interestingly one very common question we find from almost all age group, beginning 20 to 40 is, “Will I find love?” its strange how in the hearts of our heart we all long for a place called love, that will heal us of all our wounds.”
This is a completely a volunteers driven initiative. “It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that it’s completely runs on the back of our women. Each circle has 25 to 30 volunteer writers. They take the requests that keep pouring. We conduct one circle in every two months. We make sure that every query is replied to. And in some cases, more than one person replies to a query. It’s amazing to see the amount of emotional labor each letter carries. None of our volunteers’ advice. They share their own experiences. One of our guidelines to write letter is to write with empathy. And if you read all the letters, empathy has been our hallmark.”
The writers say that writing letters helped them go closer to themselves, to hear their own voices and heal somewhere. The receivers say, they learn, they feel heard and understood. In gist they feel healed somewhere. In the whole process of writing and receiving, everyone receives the gift of being heard and seen. That is why writing and receiving a letter is a wholesome process.

Future plans:
Paromita says that the idea of this whole initiative is to create a safe space where people feel heard and seen. In an age of information and divide, it is a way of finding a middle ground where we all belong, where people feel a sense of togetherness. “For us every writer and receiver is extremely important. That’s why we hold one session in every 2 months. For us it is a sacred space to be ourselves and everyone is heard. The idea is not to have huge number of letters written. The idea is to have an impact on everyone who joins a circle. We are not after how many numbers of people joined us; we are about how many were impacted. That is why every writer gets almost a month to write one letter. Also when queries are sensitive like abuse or loss, I have a brief talk with the writer. That is why every letter is so precious. And we are grateful that the receivers have come back to us with heartfelt responses. Though on the surface it looks beautiful and seamless. But behind the scene a lot of emotional labor goes through. No one is paid or asked to pay. It is just a group of women from different parts of the world coming together. They are all everyday women. Women who are going to work, mothers, single parents, and so on.
We hope that may be in a year or two with due permissions, we can publish the finest letters. They are so wise and beautiful that even when none of us are here, neither me nor the writers, these letters will stay as a handbook to many on how to cruise through life. And that they are not alone. We made through and they would too.”
Excerpts of letters received:
“It is easy to preach – love yourself. We do love ourselves, but we have been conditioned to seek this validation from others. Be it love or work, we need appreciation and attention. It is this expectation, the unrealistic expectation that is the root of the pain we inflict upon ourselves. It is not that we do not know what is exactly happening in our relationship but there’s also a hope bordering delusion that things will change for the best and we will find the love we are seeking. It is for this reason that we keep overlooking the signs that the person is not worth our time or our feelings. We think we can make the relationship work if we focus only on the good ‘parts.’ But deep down we know the truth which we are not ready to face.”

-Janaki Nagaraj

“There is a support system we develop, wherever our homes, families and friends are. Just because we are in a different time zone, let us not doubt the sincerity or loyalty of those ties; they are constrained by geography as much as we are.

You owe it to yourself to be happy. So all I will say is, let there be co-travelers on your journey wherever you go but try not to make them either the milestones or the guiding posts. You have your own destination. You will find your way. And sometimes being alone only affords more focus. So try not to dwell on what is left behind but on where you can reach. And trust me all the people, who you think do not have time for you now, will be the ones rooting for you.
As will I and the people on this platform.”

-Nupur Jhingran

“I didn’t get back to work immediately just like how you are going to and I know it is going to be difficult for you, but you don’t need your mother to supervise. If you are worried about the safety of the child or you don’t trust the help enough to leave her alone with the baby, then I am sure you can find a solution to that. For starters, you can install CCTV cameras in the house in different places that you can access whilst from work. Nowadays CCTV cameras are really cheap and this service will not cost you a fortune. You could also negotiate with your employer to give you time off for lunch the first few days till everything gets into a rhythm. If you think your employer might not be accommodative, let your husband come home during lunchtime to check for a few days.
No matter if your child is with your mother or house help you will always be anxious, I would suggest you just pick the phone and check-in between. In due course of time, the anxiety and guilt will definitely reduce. For everyone, it is a different feeling, but separation anxiety is a real problem and it will be both ways. Just go easy on yourself.”
-Sangeeta Reghu

“I know you’ve been your own motivator and your own strength. But with your own self, it’s okay to not be strong. It is okay to be weak too. When you need to take the time to heal, when you need to take the time to love yourself, its okay to let go of all those motivating thoughts and just give yourself that love. Because that’s the time when you need to let yourself heal. That’s when you need to let yourself let go of being in control.
It is easier said than done, and I’ve learnt this the hard way too. So, I can completely relate to what you say about heartbreaks and being alone and yet having to be strong.”

-Piyusha Vir

“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe.

However, almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

-Shagun Gogia


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