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Paromita Bardoloi began her initiative Letter From A Stranger, India, as the exchange of ideas and advice between her friends. But it has become much bigger than that.
In an age of instant messaging and two minutes noodles, writing a letter seems like a thing from another century. We are so constantly flooded with information, wisdom and conversations are taking a backseat.
A letter is an intimate experience that lets the writer go deep down within oneself and the receiver can read it again and again. At the end of the day, for both the writer and the receiver it is a therapeutic experience. Bringing this experience back is the initiative “Letter From A Stranger, India.”
Founder of Letter From A Stranger, India Paromita Bardoloi speaks to us briefly on this initiative.
Technology has changed a lot of social fabric. We don’t long for people. We don’t wonder what others are doing. Everything is available in real time. People are lonelier. Mental health is on an all time low. We don’t communicate anymore. We like, comment and count, constantly stuck to our phones. But when you sit to write a letter, you go down your own experiences and connect with someone.
The basic human need of every human is to be seen and heard. We all want someone to recognize us. A letter does that. Do you know why everyone so ferociously posts on social media and wants to be popular? Because they want to matter.
So letters are a way where we see people as they are. For people to feel heard and seen. Also when it is a stranger no one feels judged.
In our first circle a lady was going through a painful divorce. She wrote to us and she received two letters. And this is what she wrote back to us.
“I am writing in to thank you for this initiative. Last 6 months have been tough and these emails are the only solace I have been able to hold onto. It is not because they are in my favour or are positive. It is because they give me a feeling of having been heard and that is enough to feel lighter from within.
I am so glad I responded to your tweet that night. Only my heart knows how badly I needed these reminders and I cannot thank you enough for this. I promise to spread it forward in whatever way I can always and all ways.”
This email itself says how these letters are affecting people.
I have always written and received letters from various people at different points in life. They have helped me grow and heal immensely. So many times these letters have sustained me. And I still receive and write.
2018 was a very low year for me emotionally. I guess everything I hid myself from came to the surface. I choked every night. That was when I started writing one handwritten letter to a stranger every month. And the responses hit the ceiling too fast. It was humanely impossible to keep up with so many requests.
In the meantime I was also receiving daily letters from my long standing friends, reminding me of my own light. When 2019 came, I was much healed. By the end of March 2019 the idea came to me – why not have a group that writes letters to each other? It started as a Facebook status. And then I realized that it needs to be a group.
Women’s wisdom is something that is seldom recognized. All our ways of dealing with life has become masculine, as the male energy or the masculine way is revered. But the energy of female wisdom energy equally powerful.
Women move through life differently than men do. Historically, all narratives belong to men. Tragically, as women, we are supposed to see even ourselves through the male gaze. Through these deeply personal letters that are intimate, the idea is to have a platform where women share their life experiences and wisdom with one another.
I get a chance to read all these letters by default. I was amazed how much wisdom everyday women carry. Our writers are everyday women. Women you meet at work, your neighbourhood, or at home. Even I wasn’t expecting the kind of letters we are receiving.
You can request any letter and someone will respond. I pair one letter writer with one request. It is mostly done by my gut feel. And once I start receiving the letters, it’s like opening a hidden treasure. You have to read it to believe.
Yes, there are many platforms where women write. But those are published platform. But in letters, there are no audiences but one stranger. In these letters I have seen women ripping the layers we are forced to wear and write to someone. These letters are terribly vulnerable and raw. There is no self censorship in these letters. These letters contains everything almost that covers our lives, from divorces to the loss of a loved one. You name it and someone has requested it.
It a very simple process. We have a form, each for the letter writer and the receiver. Our letter writers are all women but the receiver can be of any gender. Our 3rd circle begins on 15th July. One can join our group here. All information is published on the group.
Though it started just as a friendly group, after receiving so many letters, the idea of a book compilation is taking birth.
I strongly believe that with due permissions the letters needs to be published, as guidebook to women especially on how to cruise through life. These letters are by everyday women, and that’s what makes it relatable and immensely powerful. Maybe someday when none of us are here, a young girl somewhere feels that there were sisters who heard her and left her a legacy of letters.
A book might take almost two years to come out, but I guess it must. That’s the vision as of now. We will keep crossing the bridges when they come, in the future.
“Last week, one afternoon while riding towards home, I saw this elderly woman rushing in the same direction. I must tell you that despite her weak legs and tattered slippers, she almost matched my 20km/hr speed. I pulled the brake and yelled through my helmet, ‘Masi, come I will drop you. I am going the same way.’
She paused and looked at me with her teary confused eyes. She swallowed her saliva and said, ‘Beta, my daughter had called. She wants to see me urgently.’
I asked her to sit comfortably and checked the direction. She was speaking her top notch from behind, ‘She is not well. Must be the fever.’ I consoled her. After a 15 minutes ride, I reached my place. I thought I would ask her to take an auto or so, and I slowed down.
‘Beta, drop me here. I will manage from here.’
She must have sensed that I wanted her to get down and manage on her own. But when I saw her sweating face, my mind gave up on my heart. I said, ‘I have to go a little farther. I will drop you home or nearby.’
I paced the accelerator and stopped nearby her mentioned lane.
‘My house is just a few steps from here. Please come and drink some water.’
I thanked her and drove back to my workplace. I sank down in my chair. My stomach was empty but my soul was fulfilled.
It was not because I gave her a lift but because I did something out of my comfort zone for someone else. And I must tell you Kavita, that feeling was out of the world. I did not feel hungry and tiredness was afar after riding for nearly an hour. Dropping her nearby my gate would have accounted help but riding her home during those needy hours was blissful like those silver linings.
We (I and Masi) have bonded well after that incident and I came to know that she cooks in the hostel mess of our college. Some relationships do not need a name or time to bond. It happens in the moment and emotions strengthen it.”
“So, instead of worrying about what they think, it should only matter what we think because we have to live with our choices, they don’t. Let’s give ourselves the time we need, and silence the stories that expect us to meet a certain standard in order to feel sufficient.
Don’t want to get out of bed? Don’t. Want to draw and paint the whole day? Do exactly that. Feel like eating chocolate and watching your favourite romantic comedies all day? Go for it. Don’t want to go out with friends? Cancel all plans. Have someone in your life that unloads all their problems on you? Tell them that you want to distance yourself from these conversations that drain you out, and stick to it. Does that sound selfish? Maybe it does. Is it harming anyone? No. Is it helping you? Immensely. Is it important for your peace and survival? Only the most important. So is it worth? Absolutely!
We are each expected to look after ourselves when we come into this world, and self-love to me is exactly that – looking after myself. It manifests in different ways for different people – you might want to look after your mind by meditating and your body by working out and nourishing it. I do it by allowing myself to do the things that I want to do and feel the things I want to feel, and by telling myself every waking hour that I AM ENOUGH. That no matter what, I am the daughter that my parents raised me to be. When I feel down in the dumps, I ask myself this – are the years and effort my parents put in making me the person I am worth anything if I let it all go to waste and turn into a shadow of my previous self? The answer is always no, and that has always been my anchor.
What’s your anchor?”
“I have travelled with women groups and met so many single women rocking in their 30’s – 40’s. While I speak to them, they do tell me of similar issues and how it doesn’t affect them anymore. Putting it in points, I hope you can introspect and ask these questions to yourself.
1) Are you sub consciously looking for a partner or, it’s the society pushing you to believe that choosing to be single is not normal?
2) Leaving aside what others think, Are you happy in your current space, the way your life has shaped up so far?
3) Are you comfortable talking about your choice to all with conviction, without being bothered that you would open avenues to be judged?
4) Have you identified what exactly makes you feel low? Is it that you want everyone to respect your choice and not bother you? Please note, with all honesty, not everyone will ever understand you and that’s alright.
If your answer to all is in affirmation, you have almost arrived to a stage to feel more proud of yourself and be loud and clear about your choices in life. You will have right people supporting you, being inspired by you. Mark my words, it takes courage to live by the choices which doesn’t fit to norms made by the so-called society. So give a pat on your back, for being so courageous. You can’t stop people sending negative vibes, but you can always kill it with positive ones.”
Grief, as someone has once said, is just love that has no place to go. Clearly you loved your father very much. But I’m sure he would have loved you just as much, and not wanted you to feel guilty.
Our lives are so full of doing what needs to be done, that we often have no time for ourselves. We might stay away from our loved ones. Or our loved ones might have moved away to live their lives. While, yes, it would have been more comforting to you to have spoken to him before he passed away, these things are often not in our hands.
Grieve all you want, take your time. It is your right. But guilt is something else – I know it is easy for someone to say this to you; I might feel the same way in your shoes. But my friend, just letting you know that sometimes the choice is taken away from us, and you’ll need all your emotional energy to grieve fully so that you find peace some time in your life, and some emotion to give those others you love and who must love you. For they must be grieving too.
Image source: Paromita Bardoloi
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