By ditching Twitter and FB for snail mail, Divya Padmanabhan keeps in touch with the age-old art of writing.
When 17-year-old Divya Padmanabhan started junior college, she had a hard time making friends and adjusting to the new life. But expressing her emotions through writing came much easier to her. That’s when she thought about writing to strangers around the world and making connections via letters. "I googled how to make pen pals," says Padmanabhan. "I came across some web sites that required you to pay some fee and was put off by the idea."
A few weeks later, Padmanabhan found penpalsnow.com, a web site that allowed people to select age groups and interest areas in order to start writing to each other. "This website neither required money, nor photos," she recollects. "It wasn’t even that intrusive, so I made my profile and wrote to a couple of people. Some wrote back promptly, and we’re friends to date."
While most teens text and tweet to each other, Padmanabhan prefers the age-old snail mail. "There’s a sort of psychological satisfaction in writing," she says. "Seeing a person’s handwriting, the souvenirs they send, the inks they use, etc, give you an insight into their lives. There are only so many fonts to choose from and photos to attach on email. It’s a bit limiting." A usual exchange between Padmanabhan and her pen pals in Britain, Canada, Belgium and Poland (all teenagers) includes everything from venting about education systems to talking about peer pressure.
"My Polish friend and I discuss rock bands. My British friend Thomas and I discuss playing the piano," says Padmanabhan. "Elska, my Canadian friend, is the one I talk to most often. We even email between letters." While Padmanabhan’s pen pals tell her about the bullying at their schools, and send her pictures of the four feet of snow that their cities get, she sends them pictures of Mumbai and other "Indian looking" stuff, like bookmarks.
She realises that hers is a weird hobby for today’s times. "I’m not on social media, so people think I’m mad because I prefer writing to tweeting," she says. "But the best part is that when writing to people who live far away, you’re never waiting for a reply. The letters arrive unannounced and leave you beaming with joy!" And while she might be struggling with making friends, she says having friends in different countries is a blessing in disguise. "Friends can get suffocating, but this way, I know that they are available and I have someone to talk to, while skipping the pressure of maintaining friendships."
From HT Brunch, February 22
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