The Pen Drive

It is not the same as having a thousand prompts at your fingertips. But then you are the postcard’s writing instrument and not vice versa, some smartfolks tell Manasi Shah

By Manasi Shah
  • Published 29.04.18
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WORDS’ WORTH A postcard writing workshop organised by Amanda Sodhi in south Calcutta

At a cafe in south Calcutta, a mixed bunch of men and women is scribbling away on postcards. They are writing to parents, long departed; relatives, estranged; friends, lost and yet to be found.

"People are usually in tears by the time they are done writing," says Amanda Sodhi, who is supervising the activity.

Sodhi runs Pen Paper Dreams, a writing workshop that is as much about encouraging creativity, as it is about therapy. Apparently, there is something about the act of putting nib to the non-smart postcard that facilitates contact of memory and emotion, heart and head.

She has the consent of some of the letter-writers from her workshop to share their stories.

Tina Jain wrote a postcard to her father with whom she has a somewhat strained relationship. The teenaged Satyam Tripathi wrote a postcard to his grandmother, whom his parents had forbidden him from staying in touch with following a family feud. Tina Drolia wrote to her boyfriend in New York who was about to visit India. Vrinda Maheshwari wrote to a depressed friend. Siddhartha Chatterjee, who is with the Kolkata Police, exchanged love letters with his wife at one of the sessions.

Sodhi chose the postcard for prosaic reasons. She had an idea that any invitation to fill entire foolscaps with confidences would scare most. A postcard on the face of it looks easy to tackle. She says, "But I soon noticed that a lot of people had absolutely no idea how to even fill out one - where to put down the address, the stamp and, of course, the actual message."

Some of the participants elaborate on the experience. Tina Jain says when she was asked to fill two postcards, she decided to address one to her father and the other to her nine-year-old son. "I belong to a conservative family where we do not discuss feelings. I have been married for 11 years. I realised I had not expressed my love for my father for a long time. I wrote about the good I see in him and that no matter what differences we have, I will always love him." The second letter she wrote was to her son, because she wanted him to experience what it feels like to receive a letter.

Satyam wrote his letter in Hindi, so his grandmother in Benaras could read. "I wrote about how much I miss her. Told her I remembered the many sweaters she would knit for me when I was younger. I wrote about how I still have them in my wardrobe and that I miss her every time I see them. I put down my memories of her, how she would take me to melas, feed me jalebis and have long conversations," says the 18-year-old.

Tina Drolia wrote to her boyfriend in New York who is about to visit India. She tells us that more than the message itself, she wanted to savour its wait with him. A wait, she says she figured, linked sender and recipient more closely with sweet anticipation than all the emoticons at one's fingertips. She also wrote to her best friend from childhood with whom she has been in touch only intermittently.

Mona Sengupta wrote a postcard to her father who died in 2015, and an uncle, long dead, who was her local guardian when she was studying in England. "I was writing to them, but I was, in a way, writing to myself," she says.

Amanda Sodhi says she makes a trip to the post office after every session to drop off the postcards. Sometimes participants want to hand-deliver their missives. Satyam's postcard never reached his grandmother in Benaras. Tina had one hit, one miss.

Sodhi tells us that not many worry about the final physical destination of their postcards. "On the contrary, they seem to enjoy that uncertainty. Sort of like putting a note inside a bottle and setting it afloat in the vast open ocean."