How two women are reviving the lost art of letter writing with carnivals for students across India

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By Roshni Chakrabarty:

The art of letter writing is slowly dying, not just in India but all over the world. From the oldest recorded handwritten letter sent around 500 BC. AD by the Persian queen Atossa, to the invention of the telephone in 1876 and the popularization of e-mail in the 1980s and 1990s, communication became ever faster.

Today, we can simply pick up our smartphones for a video call to our friends and family sitting on another continent at no additional cost other than our current data pack.

So, is letter writing really dead? The Indian Telegram Service closed in 2013 after 163 years of service. But the postal service is still doing well, even though young people are barely aware of its existence.

We can still write letters. But how many of us ever do? Pen Heaven surveyed 1,000 people about their letter writing habits and preferences and found that while 64% wouldn’t write a single letter in a year, 69% would love to receive a handwritten note.

Why? Because it is unique, it has a human touch, it preserves our emotions and our regional languages ​​and it really makes us feel special. Almost every family or individual would have a collection of handwritten letters and cards stacked up for keepsakes.

Shivani Mehta and Harnehmat Kaur, two recent graduates from the National Institute of Design (NID), took the pulse of epistolary writing and decided to repopularize it in today’s digital world by founding and hosting “Daakroom”. , a carnival of epistolary writing. .

Through this initiative, they have engaged over 500,000 people and written letters.

We chatted with the co-founders to learn more about the relevance of letter writing today, why we need to revive it, what kids can learn from it and how, and we also gathered tips on how to way to write better letters for our loved ones.

HOW IT STARTED

It’s the duo’s true love of letter writing that has brought them together since their college days.

On World Post Day (October 9) in 2013, Shivani and Harnehmat set up a small postcard stand at the NID. Now they have moved on to large-scale events and campaigns to popularize letter writing again.

They receive a lot of support and encouragement from the Indian Department of Posts for their many initiatives.

HOW DAAKROOM CARNIVALS WORK

Daakroom’s goal is to inspire people to write letters again, especially children, as they belong to a generation growing up in the digital age. The name comes from “daak” which means “post” in Hindi.

“Daakroom is a unique carnival designed to reintroduce children and wider audiences to letter writing in innovative, creative and engaging ways,” says Harnehmat.

Daakroom hosts competitions, events and workshops around writing and post – such as philately (stamp collecting), calligraphy, origami, graphology (the study of scriptures), letter writing, the manufacture of postcards, etc.

It also features music, drama, dance and interactive Postal Service demonstrations, rolling out fun ways to get people of all age groups excited about writing letters, the founders explain.

“What really works best in Daakroom is how the carnival acts as an enabler. Our job is to create an environment that encourages people to write and gives them multiple triggers and reasons to write,” she says.

“Another reason is to bring different generations together in one day, in one place, and to initiate conversations and exchange of stories,” says Shivani.

“Because when children come to Daakroom with their parents, we no longer need to tell them to write. The stories of their parents can do the magic just as well, if not more,” she adds.

WHY WRITE LETTERS?

“While our methods of communication evolved over time and became faster and more efficient, unfortunately they could not capture emotions as effectively and uniquely as by hand,” says Harnehmat Kaur.

She lists a few reasons for why the letters are still relevant today:

1. Letters stand out amid the digital clutter. They can even provide a digital detox both to the author and to the addressee.

2. They are one legacy. They last forever.

3. They capturing and preserving emotions better than any other means of communication.

4. They help you identify the few most important people in your life who you would write for.

5. They preserve your unique writing. Although there may be thousands of fonts, each handwriting is unique.

6. Letters celebrate and preserve regional languages because you can easily handwrite in any language you know.

7. Letters have the power to take you back in time. They are like time capsules.

8. They really do the recipient feels special and important! Even today, receiving a handwritten letter is extremely joyful.

HOW DAAKROOM WORKS WITH CHILDREN

Today, most children grew up with a smartphone in their hands and only wrote a letter if their language program needed it – formal letters to government officials or newspaper editors, and letters informal to friends and family for imaginary scenarios.

“A large target audience for Daakroom are school-going students, as they are the most unfamiliar with the practicalities and beautiful nuances of postal mail,” says Shivani.

“In our experience, their engagement in letter writing is mostly limited to textbooks and many don’t even know a postal network exists!” she says.

The younger GenZ generation needs immediate gratification and they are used to it. The challenge of making letters an acceptable medium for them makes working at Daakroom so exciting.

Daakroom works with a growing network of schools across India. The team runs school outreach programs to spread practical letter writing know-how among students through activities, workshops and contests that encourage maximum participation.

These usually take place a month before Carnival to help students understand the concept.

“The idea remains to share knowledge on various items of postal stationery like yellow postcards, inner letters, the hobby of collecting stamps, i.e. philately, and topics related to writing like calligraphy and graphology,” says Harnehmat.

Picture postcards are always popular collectibles and are ideal keepsakes.

“They hold a bit of the place (photos, stamps, postmarks) and a bit of the sender (handwriting, food stains, love) and end up reaching a very happy recipient!” she says.

TAKE DAAKROOM ACROSS INDIA

Harnehmat and Shivani aim to take Daakroom to 10 major cities in India by 2030 like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Kolkata etc. and hold rotating carnivals.

They also cater to iconic personalities in India who can inspire their fans to take up letter writing as well. They even got replies from Amitabh Bachchan, Gulzar sahab, Manish Sisodia, Gul Panag and others.

Another route taken by the founders is to partner with brands to organize pan-India letter writing events such as “Letter to my Supermom” with JK Paper.

HOW LETTER WRITING CAN IMPROVE WRITING SKILLS

“Any tactile activity in today’s extremely digital age is great for children, but writing in particular activates multiple centers in the brain,” says Shivani.

“Letter writing, a more personal and thoughtful extension of writing, leads not only to improved skills, but to many other sociological and psychological aspects,” she adds.

With Nipun Bharat’s research and the founders’ own experience of running a letter writing club in schools with children, here are some examples of the impact of writing on children:

1. Writing is a process of understanding thoughts and sharing them with others. This enhances cognitive and emotional quotient of a child.

2. Multilingual writing process that comes out well when writing a letter helps a child’s local language be valued and celebrated.

3. Without cut, copy, paste options, children learn to structure your thinking better and are more aware of what they say and how. In today’s age of instant gratification, this process helps develop patience and clarity.

4. Letter writing in the early years promotes learners’ ability to creative thinking and help Express one’s feelings in a better way.

LETTER WRITING TIPS

The founders of Daakroom shared with us some great tips to start writing letters. All you need is a pen, a sheet of paper and your heart!

1. Don’t get overwhelmed. Letters don’t have to be multiple pages. Even a little post-it note saying you love or miss someone can do wonders to brighten someone’s day.

2. Although the slowness of the post and the time it takes add its own beauty to a letter, if you are a beginner and don’t know when your letter will arrive, consider using faster modes like the express post, registered post or surprise someone simply by slipping your letter under their door, under their pillow or in their notebook!

3. Try to put your phone away when you write, as this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of a letter. You can write it without digital distractions. Even if you want to concentrate while writing an email, a ping on WhatsApp or a call from someone can very easily disrupt your flow.

“Find your reasons for writing!” Remember, a digital message will never make the recipient as special as a handwritten note,” says Harnehmat.

“Collect the addresses of your loved ones from your phone contacts and send them a piece of your heart to cherish forever on birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, promotions and even just like that…because why not?”

[Daakroom’s upcoming carnival is scheduled for December 4, 2022, at Gandhi Darshan, Rajghat, New Delhi, from 10 am to 6 pm.]


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