It doesn't happen often, but once in a while it does happen. I'll think to myself that it's time to shut down my little letter-writing service and call it a day. I've done it for almost three years--long enough to say I did it and to know what it's like. Something always snaps me out of that thought though. It's usually one of my customers writing to say thank you for a letter I wrote on his or her behalf, but this time it was another letter writer.
Yesterday The New York Times featured the story of G.P. Sawant --a professional letter writer living in India. He's been writing letters on behalf of others since 1982 and is just now having to shut down his business because of the tech boom. I was aware that letter writers who sat outside post offices and transcribed missives for illiterate people once existed. I had no idea that they survived this far into the 21st-Century. Now that I do know, however, I'm very sad to see them go. Mr. Sawant says that people no longer need him because they can use the telephone, which hasn't always been the case in India.
Our letter writing stories are so different--his is much more beautiful and tragic. Our crafts are very different too--he sees his customers face to face while I mine meet me online. He writes for the illiterate, and I emote on behalf the inarticulate. Mr. Sawant also has a very strict policy that he does not write love letters. He says, "Love is fickle and dangerous." I agree wholeheartedly that love is both, but it is my guilty pleasure to write those precarious love letters. Despite our differences, I still feel an odd connection that transcends cultural and professional convictions. We're both the keepers of other people's secrets, and our clients open up to us in a way that only therapists can relate to.
Mr. Sawant was able to make a decent living off of his letter-writing craft, whereas it's something I do on the side. He has to stop letter writing in the face of technology, and I've found a way to fuse the two together. I have modernized an age-old practice, and he has inspired me to continue carrying the torch. I've decided that I will keep going until I, like him, have done it for twenty years or have written 10,000 letters, whichever comes first.