Of Letters, Conversations and Connections
Chitthi Exchange is a platform to send handwritten letters to a stranger
How does one define true beauty? Is it freedom, to be who we truly are, gallivanting between avenues of love and joy, is it childlike enthusiasm, unhindered by hate and prejudice? Is it a line of green gulmohar trees we grew up watching swaying underneath clear blue summer skies, or the joy and the pain of nostalgia. Is it hope for justice, is it an embrace, is it the smell of red roses, or possibly the comfort of familiar places and people, or the feeling of belonging, the assurance of love, and kindness. How does one define beauty? Perhaps we define in unison, in collaboration, we have conversations about beauty, and we exchange ideas about love and peace and joy.
We all have personal tales to tell, about friends we make, people we leave behind, cities which become homes, journeys that become experiences, tales of love and tragedy, of hope and loss. We write, sometimes we translate these tales into visual stories, and many times we share, disclose, ponder.
Telling tales and exchanging ideas, Chitthi Exchange by Rohini Kejriwal is a platform that inspires one to write, not in isolation, but together, to each other, as letters, postcards, notes, anecdotes, anything that stirs and starts a conversation. "I have been writing letters since I was a kid, letters were special, and you would count the days when one would get a reply. Chitthi Exchange is based on this idea of writing, not emails but handwritten letters to a stranger, a penpal, and investing in that beautiful process of exchanging thoughts through the handwritten word."
Letter writing could become obsolete, in the technology driven world. Rohini Kejriwal is also the founder of Alipore Post, and is at the forefront of this movement to revive letter writing, not only as a nostalgic process but as a mode of communication that allows people to express themselves in a quieter, more patient way, often bringing people closer in the current Pandemic world which has made physical meetings and social gatherings difficult.
"Chitthi Exchange was born in August 2020, during the pandemic. I noticed that a lot of people were itching for this kind of connection. Everything went online and it was a strange time for everyone. This was when we had an intern and could not figure out what she could do or contribute to. Since she was inclined towards working on community engagement, this idea was born. Running a pen pal project was always my dream, but I never had anyone to help me bring it to life. with my intern Tanishka's help. We initiated the project, we put together a logo, zeroed on text and an Instagram page for the project," said Rohini.
"The idea was to inspire people to learn about 'snail mail' and stamp collecting and was a way to pair people together based on a hunch, taking into consideration – demographics, age, and interests. Eventually trying to make complete strangers connect and have a pleasant, innocent experience, through letters. We need to connect with each other and the idea of listening to someone's story is innate to being human," she added. Since its inception, Chitthi Exchange has successfully done ten rounds of 'pairing', with about 1200 people in its initial round.
"The joy of it has been the kind of interactions people have had with say post offices. People tagging us in their posts and showing us how they are writing their letters, sending it out, visiting post offices. Through this project I have many times connected old friends too, purely coincidentally. Each person has a chance to forge something special with someone in another part of the country or the world," stated Rohini.
Rohini elaborates on how she wrote letters, to family, friends and penpals. She has taken that idea and turned it into a project when the world needed it the most. It is now bringing people closer and starting conversations, creating avenues of joy, friendship and acceptance.
"As a child I had two penpals, from Sri Lanka and Delhi, since we know each other through letters we share a warm, sweet, sisterly bond. Letters become a tangible memory, writing letters means that I have been thinking about that person. I still send out postcards, visit post offices, I will always remember the feeling of opening and reading a letter but won't really remember another tweet. And I have tried to keep this art of writing alive within the family too. I write letters to my niece so that she can experience this beautiful process of letter writing," she said.
"I even received a personal postbox from an Alipore Post follower and do hope to continue this pen pal project in the future with more editions of pairing and writing. Letter writing is like writing a journal, and every time one puts ink to paper, one can also be creative by adding art, stickers, using various stationery, pens, markers and making it a simple yet a creative experience to remember," she added.
In a world which is increasingly becoming a vivid mix of people, personal stories, snapshots of lives, dreams, lifestyles with social media sometimes becoming an overburdened, over used space for all private, social, public, political matters; letter writing through Chitthi Exchange has created a parallel world which makes calmer, slower yet deeper relationships through words. Read by only the receiver, understood and answered, forming a chain of reactions, emotions and conversations.