After tracing historical moments through family photos in the Indian Memory Project five years ago, photographer and designer Anusha Yadav is now on a mission to collect old love letters. Over the past few months, Yadav has procured six letters (dating before the year 2000). But by next year, she hopes to find enough letters to turn the collection into a self-published book. “We’ve stopped writing by hand. This project is about tracing handwriting, languages, words and expressions,” says Yadav.
As part of the process, Yadav will seek the permission of the sender and the receiver. If required, she is ready to travel across continents to make that happen. “Letters are for private consumption, unlike photographs that are shot to be displayed. These are harder to access and the copyright involved is more tedious,” she says.
Keeper of memories
A graduate from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Yadav spent over a decade as a designer in advertising before starting the Indian Memory Project. The online compilation of photographs — submitted by people — highlights stories of Partition, the Independence struggle and the lives of diverse communities.
“I started off wanting to do a book on Indian weddings, as it is one of the most documented events ever. I wanted to get pictures from people’s albums,” says Yadav. However, the project failed to take off and, instead, gave birth to the Indian Memory Project. “For the wedding project, people submitted all kinds of photographs, like a man driving a vintage car. And the older these photos were, the more interesting they were to people,” she adds.
Over the last few years, Yadav has managed to collect a sizeable number of photographs to document the stories behind them. Inspired by the project, countries like Singapore, Iran, Malta, Estonia, Japan and South Africa have shown interest in starting their own chapter. “It has already begun in Canada,” shares Yadav.
Last month, she took over the Instagram account of The New Yorker (@NEWYORKERPHOTO ) magazine for a week and displayed photographs from her collection. “It opened up a whole new audience, which is very exciting. People have opinions and ideas about the subcontinent, and this project helped change some of those,” says Yadav. For instance, one of the images that generated a lot of interest was of fashion model Veena Sajnani in 1970 and her experience of winning the Miss India beauty pageant back then.
Letters of love
For the love letters project, Yadav plans to print handwritten/typewritten letters along with their stories and a transcription. “This book can be a great gift for someone you love,” she adds.
One of the letters, which may be a part of the book, was written by an Austrian man to a German girl. “The only way he could write to this girl was by learning her language,” says Yadav. Another letter is from an Indian soldier to his wife during World War II (1939 to 1945).
“In fact, someone recently told me about a suicide note written in blood, which I am yet to get my hands on,” says Yadav. Interestingly, she has also heard of a letter which was sent as a refusal to a marriage proposal. “But the lady never received it and the gentleman ended up marrying her,” she adds. And it’s not just the romantic kind of love that interests Yadav. It could be a letter from a mother to her son, a letter between siblings or from your long-lost pen pal whom you fondly wrote to as a child.
With such a keen interest in all things love — weddings and letters — is she a romantic, we wonder? “I am a realist. Romance is not realistic,” she asserts.
(The writer tweets as @CultureCola)