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Makers of mail memories 

The idea to start a platform that would connect people and spread positivity came about during the pandemic-prompted lockdown last year.

Published: 10th August 2021 06:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th August 2021 06:44 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: From exchanging heirloom recipes, stories from the Partition, illustrative works to comforting words — a handful of postcard and letter exchange initiatives have been keeping the legacy of handwritten communication alive. Roshne Balasubramanian lists a few that have been bringing back the snail mail and pen pal tradition.  

Chitthi Exchange -pen pal project 

Where it all started
For Rohini Kejriwal, the brain behind Chitthi Exchange, letters have a special place in her heart. Her life as a boarder in school meant writing letters to friends and family to stay in touch. Her fondest memories are of receiving inland letters and savouring the words. She also recalls signing up for an International Pen Pal Programme during her school days and still being in touch with a few friends through the initiative. So, the idea to bring back the tradition of letter-writing and that of pen-pals has always been a dream for Rohini, a writer and entrepreneur.

Why Chitthi Exchange?
The idea to start a platform that would connect people and spread positivity came about during the pandemic-prompted lockdown last year. With long hours of screen time plaguing lives, Rohini decided to offer an experience that was slow yet beautiful.

The initiative
Launched in July 2020, the letter exchange initiative has so far received thousands of sign-ups across age groups and borders, with several hundreds of pairs of letters being exchanged and connections being made, one snail mail at a time.  

How it works
The participants are asked to fill a Google Form with basic details and the reason for participation, interests, and a lesson this year has taught them. Based on the responses, common interests, age, location, gender, among other parameters, Rohini assigns pen pals. Once the pairs are made, an e-mail with the details of the person you are paired with is sent to you.

Creator speaks
“For a lot of people who were/are in isolation, Chitthi Exchange has provided a platform to foster good connections and they have been enjoying the process. The feeling of looking forward to your next mail, a tangible exchange is exciting. It introduces people to how the postal system works, especially in today’s world where many haven’t had that experience. Besides, people taking out a few minutes to write a letter, being vulnerable with a stranger — there’s something beautifully human in it.”After seven successful rounds of the pen pal project, Chitthi Exchange will be flagging Round 8 in September 2021.

To register and be part of the penpal project, visit: https://chitthiexchange.tumblr.com/

Make Mail - Snail mail project

Where it all started
Coimbatore-based Shuruti’s fondest childhood (and adulthood) memories are of receiving handwritten birthday greeting cards and notes from her maternal grandfather. Growing up, she was an audience to his exhaustive collection of letters and postcards and they soon became objects of interest for the creative. “I went on to collect postcards because I found them beautiful but was never a postcrosser or a snail mailer, this was until last year when the pandemic locked us in,” she shares.

Why Make Mail?
“I was tired of the Zoom calls and virtual meetings,” she says. The idea was simple — to check in on friends and acquaintances, not through digital messaging or social media platforms but handpainted, handwritten postcards. “I made about 70 to 80 postcards and sent them out. Once I did this, I realised the joy that delayed gratification had to offer,” she shares. After her blissful brush with sending postcards, Shuruti decided to spread the joy beyond her immediate circle. Make Mail was born.

The initiative
Started in July 2020, Make Mail hopes to revive the lost joy of sending and receiving postcards and letters. Since its inception, Make Mail has been sending about 15-20 free hand-drawn, handwritten postcards per month to anyone and everyone. “I had time to kill, so I started drawing on the backside of the postcards. I would have loved to send more than 20 cards. But since everything is handwritten, it’s a time-consuming process. So 20 fits perfectly!” she says. Make Mail also has an offshoot that caters to children, wherein parents can sign up for their children to receive an interactive postcard addressed to them. 

How it works
To sign up for a free handmade postcard for yourself or your loved ones, all you have to do is fill up a digital form (www.makemail.in/get-a-postcard) and wait for the love-laced piece of paper to reach you.

Creator speaks
“The process of writing cards for someone else and sending it has been beautiful. I am let into someone’s personal space; I see people apologising, telling they love someone… being the enabler of these messages, is a beautiful feeling.”Shuruti recently raised Rs 3 lakh through the initiative for a Covid care fundraiser, donating 100 per cent proceeds to Swabhiman Society. As part of the fundraiser, 2,500-odd postcards were mailed to the contributors. She is currently exploring postcards as an archival medium and hopes to document different aspects of life through them. The idea for a postcard subscription model is also simmering.

To receive some snail mail love, visit: makemail.in or Instagram page @Make.mail

Nivaala & Alipore Post - recipe postcard exchange

Where it all started
It’s been six years since Shruti Taneja lost her mother and about a year since her grandmother’s passing. Nivaala started as a passion project that stemmed from these personal losses. “After their passing, I realised that I hadn’t written down any of the family recipes for dishes that had been made for generations in our household. I realised I had taken them for granted — the mango achar (pickle), the gajar ka achar (carrot pickle)…because they were part of the routine. I understood it only when I craved them. This also got me thinking about how family heirlooms and recipes get lost in time, especially in a time where a majority of us cook merely for sustenance,” she shares, pointing to how these recipes are a repository of wisdom — about seasonal cooking and local produce that can be tapped.

Why Nivaala?
Like jewellery, clothes and other tangible heirloom pieces that are passed down in families, heirloom recipes too are treasures that need to be preserved. It was this thought, to preserve the precious knowledge from kitchens that led Shruti to start Nivaala. “The idea is to inspire people to record their family recipes and to take the legacy forward,” she explains.

The initiative
Nivaala was kicked off earlier last year by creating recipe journals that can be gifted to people within the families to document recipes. In line with their vision, Nivaala has collaborated with the Alipore Post, a newsletter, for a postcard recipe exchange project.

How this works
Visit nivaala.co/alipore-post-nivaala, order an illustrated postcard of your choice and share your favourite family recipe (mango curry, biryani, a sweet, chutney, a drink — anything and everything!). Share the contact details of the recipient (name, address). And voila! A handwritten, personalised recipe postcard affixed with stamps will be dropped off on your behalf at the post office. The project offers both savoury and sweet themed postcards. Single postcards are priced at Rs 99 while a set of 5 cards (4”X6”) at Rs 299. 

Creator speaks
“Cooking for someone and sharing food is usually seen as a form of love. With the pandemic, that opportunity has become limited. So since we cannot share food, why not our favourite family recipe? This way, we will be giving away a piece of our childhood memories and a legacy to another person, and this becomes an expression of love.”

To share pages from your family’s recipe book, visit @nivaala.co or call +91 9560295837

Postcrossing meet-up alert!
If you are a Madras vasi (resident), an ardent postcrosser, an enthusiast of all things Madras and posts or all of the above, here’s something exciting for you. A Madras Day Postcrossing meet-up will be held at Madras Literary Society on August 23, 10 am. Another meet-up, at the Pulicat Lighthouse on August 21, 7 am, will be held to commemorate International Lighthouse Day 2021 - A beacon of philatelic hope. For details, visit: community.postcrossing.com 



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