You’ve Got Mail: Chitthi Exchange Is Bringing Back Snail Mail and Penpal Tradition

Image Credits: Rohini Kejriwal
Image Credits: Rohini Kejriwal Rohini Kejriwal

The joy of receiving a letter in your name is unparalleled, but in a world of instant messages and emails, the idea of writing letters has been lost along the way.

Echoing this sentiment, The Face at the Window (2016) writer Kiran Manral said, “There is a charm to letters and cards that emails and SMS can’t ever replicate. You cannot rub your fingers over the paper and visualise the sender, seated at a table, writing, perhaps with a smile on their lips or a frown splitting the brow. Smiley face icons cannot hope to replace words thought out carefully in order to put a smile on the other person’s face.”

In an attempt to revive the art of letter writing and bring back its joy to a younger generation that might not be as familiar with the process, Rohini Kejriwal from the Alipore Post initiated Chitthi Exchange – A letter exchange project aimed at bringing back the tradition of penpals and snail-mail.

Image Credits: Rohini Kejriwal

“The idea was to do this during the pandemic as a way to connect and have something positive going on. I feel like we have had way too much screen time. We’ve been inundated with virtual things right now so it felt like a really good time to have letter writing which is a very slow beautiful process back into people’s life,” comments Rohini.

Penpals are assigned through a Google Form, where you are expected to fill your basic details as well as the reason you wish to participate. On the basis of the answers, Rohini, along with her intern, Tanishka Pandey, selects penpals on the basis of common interests, books they might like or along age and location parameters.

Rohini has a sense of accomplishment in her voice when she tells us, “a lot of the people we paired actually know each other in real life so that was another funny thing to see. We got something right on intuition or whatever parameters we went with; it wasn’t a software that did it, it was a person. We had 15-20 pairs come up to us saying we know the person and we are actually good friends, so could we have someone else.”

In a world of WhatsApp and emails, where we’ve been conditioned to fast replies in the form of the blue ticks or seen, letter writing is a slow form that tests your patience. Rohini believes that “it is definitely a very interesting way to connect with people and especially with a stranger. There is a lot of vulnerability that comes with it. There is the constant excitement of, “Oh! any day now my letter is going to come.” She further adds how “a lot of people have never done this” and are unfamiliar with the idea of a postman arriving at 12pm with a letter that has their name on it.

Image Credits: Instagram, @bottomleftdrawer

When the world came to a halt in 2020, the lockdown brought with it a lot of mental and emotional challenges, a lot of people were locked in without family, partners or friends. Says Rohini, “The kind of responses we got to why people were also doing this is definitely like a sense of loneliness, not even loneliness like a need to connect in a new form.”

The project stems both from Rohini’s personal love for letter writing and her fascination with experimenting with new ways of forming human connections. Her brainchild The Alipore Post has long been a human experiment of sorts where she regularly engages with her followers both online and through offline events. While the lockdown might have affected her ability to host offline events, Chitthi Exchange is an attempt to go back to a traditional form of communication and in Rohini’s own words “to make letter-writing accessible again to make it fun and enticing again almost.”

With over 1400 people signed up for the letter exchange, I was most fascinated to know about the stories of human bonds that might have started coming up. Especially after one of my friends who have signed up for the project, excitedly texted me the other day when she received her first-ever letter at the age of twenty-two.
Rohini tells us about some of these wholesome heartwarming experiences, “We have a 7-year-old kid whose penpal is a 45-year-old teacher.” She also took this opportunity to send out a letter to her 3-year-old nephew which happened to be the first letter they received in their name.

In a world where social distancing has become the norm, Chitthi Exchange comes forward as a much-needed light of hope, connecting strangers and enabling friendships across the country.

You can sign up for the Chitthie Exchange Project, here.

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