The flight of the postcard
When was the last time you received a letter in the mail that was not a bill or marriage invitation, questions KK Swaminathan.
When was the last time you received a letter in the mail that was not a bill or marriage invitation, questions KK Swaminathan. Being the owner of 4,600-odd postcards, Swaminathan may have received one yesterday, the day before or perhaps is getting one right now, as you read this, from one of the 80 countries to which he has sent postcards through Postcrossing.
A side project by Paulo Magalhães in Europe ballooned into a worldwide communication phenomenon, finding its niche in Chennai as well. The idea is simple: you create a profile on the Postcrossing website, save your preferences (lighthouses, heritage sites, wildlife, or miscellaneous), send postcards to the five randomised addresses you are assigned and wait for your five until you move on to a different set of people.
The first two months are critical, shares photographer Perumal Venkatesan or Pee Vee, who spoke of the movement in his talk ‘The Magic of Postboxes’ for Nam Veedu Nam Oor Nam Kadhai’s World Heritage Week series recently. “I began my journey in 2012 but the cards took a while to come so I lost motivation because nothing happens for a few weeks after you have sent the mail. The same continued till 2015. It was only after I saw the community in Chennai and Bengaluru buffing that I gave it another shot,” he shares.
Friends on the other side
Whether one stays committed for a decade or gives it a second chance years later, there is something about Postcrossing that keeps you coming back to it. To some, it is the mystery of what they will receive and to others, a means of exploring creativity. For Swaminathan — who has been in the game since 2011 — it is the exclusivity of conversation. “It feels like coming home and finding guests waiting for me to discuss different topics,” he says. He may have signed up on the website to add to his postcard collection, but the experience has also fostered memories with once strangers. “I have a friend in Argentina, whose profile had a picture of Shah Rukh Khan on it. So, for her, I recorded some movies on a memory card and sent it across,” he reminisces. The gesture became a turning point when the movies inspired her to mend her then aggrieved relationship with her mother.
Gokoulane Ravi has also come upon unforgettable friendships through the initiative. It was his search for a postcard for an online friend in Australia ten years ago that brought him to the website. “I have met some kind souls through Postcrossing. One such person is Claudia, to whom I spoke more regularly after our first exchange. Once, I shared that I was getting married and came home a few days later to a large FedEx package that she had sent containing a thin metal box — a 2,000 piece puzzle of my wife and me. ‘There will come a time when you will have nothing to do, and this is for then’, she had said (That time is yet to come). When I had my daughter, then too, she sent across a couple of toys in a kind gesture,” he shares. He might still keep in touch with some friends online, but it is still the postcard that he cherishes. “E-messages are all about the message conveyed. But the postcard is not about information, rather the journey, the stamp, the picture on it. Think about the person, the stranger, who is spending their time and money for your postcard. When the postcard reaches, unlike the blue tick, I see the effort and the kindness. One of my friends called it written love,” smiles Gokoulane, who has now inspired his wife to indulge in the hobby as well.
Postcrossing, as a phenomenon, has not only played a part in the revitalisation of postcard exchange directly but further created ripples in the community. For there are several Facebook and Instagram groups established for it. This is where architect Thirupurasundari Sevvel found some pen pals and postcard buddies nearly 18 months ago. “There are a few groups I am a part of. These groups are very active; you talk to people and become friends. It’s like opening Pandora’s box,” she shares. Like Swaminathan and Gokoulane, she too has cultivated wonderful friendships. “I simply asked a friend in Germany about the free postcards being given there, and she not only sent me all 50 cards but also went out of her way to write about every place pictured respectively. Now, we exchange recipes, current happenings, the state of our countries and more,” she shares.
For the sake of posterity
In a world where social media messages and emails dominate communication, the art of handwritten notes have slowly become a novelty; something so basic in nature has become the face of a heartfelt gesture. Perhaps, this is why younger generations, too, are taking to postcard exchanges, as in the case of the students of the University of Madras. T Jaisakthivel of the Department of Journalism and Communication and the Postcrossers Club on campus is feeding this interest. “The students are registered as Postcrossers. We want to bring this hobby to the students as they know little about it.
They said this is interesting since they are always on social media and this shows the love of the person. Furthermore, it makes people write more on paper (which they do only during exams) and helps their creativity,” he says. They also hosted postcard writing on World Postcard Day and World Radio Day, a memorable affair for the students. In his journey, he has found access to rare stamps, such as the BBC Anniversary collection, on which he would have otherwise spent a fortune.
Along with the Postcrossing community, he is also working on a Postcrossers diary for 2022, and an Introduction to Postcrossing in Tamil. Where Jaisakthivel indulges college students, Pee Vee aims for a younger audience, who he thinks will benefit from the fun activity. “Every year, a few of us reach out to schools and give children postcards to write for their first time during World Philately Week. It allows them to touch and feel the card. It kindles their minds about what story to write. My daughter saw my postcards and set out to write her own,” he proudly shares, adding that Postcrossing is a big tool for kids. According to him, Postcrossing needs to be shared at this level first: “Four inches of paper is not a paper, it is a school in itself.”
In the city
When these future enthusiasts are ready to find a community, they will find a flourishing flock in the city. Chennai Postcrossers meet every few months, shares Gokoulane. “When we decide to meet, most times we design and publish a postcard for the occasion. We all sign the cards and share them with other Postcrossers to announce that the meet-up has happened. This happens across India. The number of people writing postcards is increasing, slowly but steadily,” he says. But as with all good things, there are still some wrinkles to be ironed, such as the information on international stamps at local post offices, he adds.
Thirupurasundari, as an active member of the heritage scene, also makes us aware of some meet-ups. “The Madras Literary Society with Nam Veedu Nam Oor Nam Kadhai hosted a meet-up, and there was a postcard meet at Shenoy Nagar post office,” she informs. Where Postcrossers are blooming in number, the postal service is benefitted as well, observes Vikneshkumar A of the postal department. “This is a plus for the postal department because now, instead of just collectors, others are also beginning to seek postcards and stamps through Postcrossing.
Through these postcards, you also have a chance to learn about other countries and cultures, and increase your general knowledge. You spend time with yourself, too, trying to find a card, know what the receiver likes, what they want, then write and send it,” says the fellow Postcrosser. While Covid has limited the exchange internationally, Vikneshkumar is glad to have found friends on Instagram and Facebook through this hobby in the past two years. Perhaps, they too, will join the list of long-term friendships created by postcards.
Bringing back the dwindling art of writing and mailing postcards is the Postcrossing community that sends and receives memories and memorabilia, while also expanding their world and the friendships in it