Here's how Paromita Bordoloi's 'Letter from a Stranger' initiative is making people more empathetic, less judgemental

Till date, Paromita's community of letter writers have sent over a hundred letters across the globe. She tells us more about her initiative and why handwritten letters carry an old-world charm
Till date, Paromita's community of letter writers have sent over a hundred letters across the globe| Pic: Paromita Bordoloi
Till date, Paromita's community of letter writers have sent over a hundred letters across the globe| Pic: Paromita Bordoloi

Do you remember waiting patiently for the postman each morning, hoping he's got mail? But in this age of instant gratification, this is nearly impossible — we have forgotten the art of waiting. When everything moves at the speed of light, none of us really want to wait for anything more than quick responses on Whatsapp. However, everyone will agree that handwritten letters carry an old-world charm, which seems to be lost with all of us stuck to our mobile phones. To reconnect with and revive the olden days, Paromita Bardoloi founded Letter from a Stranger earlier this year.
 The initiative came into existence in 2018 when Paromita, who is from Assam, was going through an emotional crisis. "It was like I was going in the right direction, doing the right thing and then a truck hits me. After the initial phases of denial and protest, I started writing letters to my friends as I had always been fascinated by handwritten letters . Each time I wrote, my heart broke, I felt no self-love and doubted my self-worth. But then my friends wrote back to me. And that was the beginning of my healing," explains Paromita.

The very first letter she wrote as a child were addressed to God, in which she wrote down every single wish she's ever had. She made sure they were stashed away in a safe place, to be retrieved later in life. "That was something which comforted me as a child. My father died when I was barely 11. By the time I was a 12-year-old, I started writing letters to the kids I met at school. Eventually, letters evolved into emails. But, I never stopped writing them. Since 2017, I made it a habit to write at least one letter each month to anyone who asked me to," adds Paromita, who currently resides in Delhi.

Excerpts from a letter:

“If for me the end of a vacation with my brother could make me feel so vulnerable - I cannot even begin to imagine what the loss of a parent could make you feel. I live by myself in a culture that constantly implores me to have a husband and children and is always trying to fit me into their templates. I am strong and independent. But it has taken me time to understand that strength comes from accepting your vulnerabilities. That "F" is the most beautiful thing that you have earned yourself at 27. Consciously, you were trying to steel your nerves - but your vulnerable mind took the leeway of falling apart on your behalf and grieving for your father. Your mind said "No woman! I am not going to allow you to trivialize your father's death. I am going to shut shop today!" Hence you had a blackout.

A relationship with our parents, even if we have had a difficult childhood, is the most important relationship. I don't mean it in a patronizing way. But if you believe in higher spiritual powers, parents are your source code, your triggers, your reason for mega-metamorphosis as your soul journeys through life. By trying to write your papers quickly and springing into action you were trying to trivialize your father's demise - but the sensitive side of you did not allow you to do that. The "F" is not a grade really or an exam you lost, it is a medal you won with flying colours - that you are a human being and that you have loved your father dearly. You should hold it to your heart, hug it, embrace it, put it in your tea like honey every morning and savour it! Submit to it, accept it lovingly. That's what I would do.”

Sukanya Bhadra, Letter Writer

As letters had already been an integral part of her life, she felt like sharing the hobby with others as well. "I have this whole support system of friends, family, therapists to help me ride my tide, what about others who hardly have this support system? I always live by one tenet in my life that is to use my real-life experiences to help someone in need. I put up a status on my Facebook profile, asking five women if they would like to write letters to strangers. You wouldn't believe me, but in an hour I had 37 of them willing to write one each," she says, laughing.

Till date, Paromita's community of letter writers have sent over a hundred letters across the globe. She set up a Facebook community, where a form is put up for writers and requesters of letters once every two months. Following which, the information is collated and the letters are distributed among the writers. Finally, begins the journey of responding to the letters. The entire initiative is run by volunteers and is completely free — you could be a writer or you could be a receiver, you choose! "I hope we have more writers in the future, as it is not humanly possible to take so many requests at once. I can only apologise to everyone who wanted letters from us, but we sometimes have to close the forms as our resources are extremely limited," she exclaims.

In order to write or receive letters, one must follow certain rules, says Paromita. "First, the writer has to show empathy and no judgement. The writer is also expected to share learnings from his/her own life. There are two forms, one is for writers and the other is for receivers. We put up the writers' form in our Facebook group. So that I can make sure that the writer is not a troll. And the receiver form is out on all social media channels. Every writer gets 25 days to a month to reply, and if anyone misses it someone else takes over. Post that if any receiver needs another point of view, another writer writes back. After the first letter, it is up to the writer or receiver to keep or close the channel of communication," she adds.

A principle that they follow judiciously is that the first letter is sent over email as there is sensitive information revealed by the receiver. For example, there is this person who identified as a woman at birth but now considers oneself as non-binary. "It will involve risk if we disclose their physical addresses because the writer at the end is a stranger. So for security purposes, we only reveal the email id. Post that if both of the parties are comfortable sharing their physical addresses and exchange handwritten letter, they are free to do so," shares Paromita. She adds that she would like to compile these letters into a book in the near future with due consent from the writers involved.

A session at The Empathy Circle

Paromita also has another feather on her cap. She founded The Empathy Circle in July 2018 along with another friend. It is a space where every month anyone above the age of 18 years, can come and share things about their lives — every person speaks, everyone is heard without any kind of bias or judgement. "We believe life has so much to teach. So we created a circle where wisdom can be shared along with empathy. During winters, we conduct it in public parks and in the summers we have people who allow us to use their spaces for these sessions," concludes Paromita.

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