“When was the last time you received a handwritten letter?” she asked me and I was transported to a time 20 years ago when my grandmother would send me letters from Thane. We would speak over phone quite frequently, yet she insisted on writing letters and was even more unrelenting that I wrote back. And so I would, in my squirmy handwriting sprawled all over the page (I had no sense of alignment). She soon came to live with us and the letter-writing came to an end.
I am sure the story isn’t very different for many others in my generation.
In these times of fast living, handwritten letters—that take days, sometimes weeks to reach their destination—are termed ‘snail mail’. The ink on old letters fades by the day and their charm, though not entirely forgotten, remains tight shut in a box full of memories.
One woman in Mumbai is trying to open that box of nostalgia and revive the art of handwritten letters with her unique initiative, The Snail Mail Project.
Sumedha Sah is an architect by profession and a self-taught artist. The self-taught artist from Nainital was introduced to the practice of writing letters by her father and till date, she cherishes every word exchanged through these letters.
However, when she asked herself about the last time she had received a letter, she realised that these age old letters carefully placed inside a box were all she had; that didn’t seem quite right.
“A handwritten letter is a thing of beauty. It’s an art that embodies all things intangible like emotions, expression and nostalgia. I wanted to write letters, but I had nobody to write to. And I realised that there might be many people like me who have nobody to write to. Therefore, I decided to be that someone,” Sumedha recalls.
After moving to Mumbai to work as an Architect and pursuing an artist residency at the Industrial Design Centre at IIT-Bombay in 2015, Sumedha decided to start a project that would allow her to exchange thoughts and ideas, and collaborate with people. She posted an open invitation on social media? for people to write letters to her; in response, she would draw them an original illustration accompanied by a handwritten note.
“The idea of receiving something tangible from a stranger’s world excited me. It was like receiving a window through which they were allowing me a peek into their world. I combined it with my own love for letter writing and illustration. So, it was perhaps simply the result of all that I adore,” says Sumedha.
In a short time, The Snail Mail Project has received a great response not only from across the country, but from around the world.
People from Poland, Turkey, Scotland, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA and UK have responded to Sumedha’s shoutout with letters penned by hand.
Sumedha, who has received about 30 handwritten notes so far, has no specifications about the letters she would like to receive and simply wants the project to be a platform for anyone who shares her love for letter writing.
“Your letter may be about anything, a book you’re reading, places you’ve been or your ideas about the world. It can be anonymous. A paragraph or a page. A letter or a postcard. A doodle or a photograph. A pressed flower or a broken leaf. A word you love or a phrase you hate. Really, send me anything (except the usual formal introduction letter, please!) that engulfs your imagination or anything that you feel is worth sharing with the world,” she says.
Aside from sending an original work of art to the letter writer, Sumedha also posts on her blog about every letter she receives.
When asked about a special letter she has received, she struggles to pick one, and ends up admitting that all the letters are equally dear to her. Finding time in her busy schedule to create a personalised artwork for every letter writer is difficult, but it’s a labour of love in her own words.
“This project has no deadline, no end date. I don’t mean to stop this ever. I wish to keep receiving beautiful letters from all corners of the world,” she concludes with a smile.