ART, ARTISTS, MUMBAI
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Sumedha Sah – Creator of Snail Mail Project Explains Why Strangers Write to Her

Milan Kundera has succinctly summarised nostalgia and longing in his words, “The more vast the amount of time we’ve left behind us, the more irresistible is the voice calling us to return to it.”Looks like Sumedha Sah from Bombay has paid close attention to these words, and responded by creating The ‘Snail Mail Project’ – a medium to convert a life story into something indelible.

It is a cute little project that creatively constructs artwork inspired by handwritten letters from strangers all around the world. This project aims to bring back the long-dead practice of letter writing and strike a balance between the aesthetic beauty and our tech-savvy world.

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Photo | Sumedha Sah – a self-taught artist and architect based in Bombay, founder of the Snail Mail Project.

  • Hi Sumedha! So good to have you here – as the first guest from Mumbai! Please tell us something yourself.

Hi! I am equally excited to share my story with the Roots and Leisure community. Well, I am an artist based out of Mumbai, but technically – an architect with a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Architecture. I am 30 years old, and currently pursuing my artist’s residency at the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Powai, and working as an architect with a small collective called Apt.

  • Tell us about this interesting project of yours – the ‘Snail Mail Project.’ How did it all begin?

The Snail Mail project had been brewing inside my head for a few years but it never materialized then. But when I moved to Mumbai for work, and also pursue my artist residency at IIT, I found the perfect time, place and opportunity to start. It all came together.

Having grown up in the quaint hill station of Nainital, Mumbai was just the opposite of where I came from. Therefore the move made me long for things like connection and acceptance. It was a deep longing of wanting to take something from my past and add it to  my present. That’s when I combined my love for letter writing and art and came up with this idea of the Snail Mail Project. Simply put, it is a combination of all that I adore.

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Home in Nainital | Sumedha Sah

“My absolute favourite thing to do at home is to go for a walk in the forest that surrounds my home. Brings back so many childhood memories.”

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Sumedha Sah with husband Kartikeya | Home, Nainital

I believe a handwritten letter is immensely powerful; its value lies not only in its permanence but also in the fact that it helps us connect with our minds. I do it simply because I believe each of our lives however small, is special and the stories we tell are unique and should be shared.

So how the ‘Snail Mail’ works is, people send a handwritten letter to me, and in return, I create an original artwork – inspired by their letter – and is mailed to them.

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Letters to Sumedha Sah from strangers | Snail Mail Project

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Artwork ready to be mailed to sender | Snail Mail Project 

  • How has the response been so far?

When I initially started the project I didn’t know if it would reach anyone at all. I made a simple post explaining the Snail Mail Project on my personal blog. When I received my first letter I couldn’t believe that someone, somewhere had read about my humble project and taken out time to write back to me.The feeling was magical; the first letter was from a boy in Poland and since then the project has grown organically to reach hundreds of people. That is the unassuming power of art. It connects so we can collaborate.

  • Which letter or artwork has been the most interesting so far; something that has left you overwhelmed.

I have received about 50 letters from places as far as Scotland, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Poland and of course many parts of India as well. It is hard to choose a favorite, but there was this particular letter I received from a student from the University of Chicago called Janey who was on a one-year fellowship by the International Innovation Corps working on sanitation and waste management in Mumbai. Janey had been in India for a while and had slowly come to recognize the passions that existed in this country. In her letter she wrote, how mentally and physically she’d been exhausted with working with waste all day yet she loved the comfort she found in the streamers of smoke that gracefully sailed up from her hot sweet chai, and the taste of it by the roadside. 

She wrote to me about the simplest of things, the importance of the local chaiwallas. It was a home-bred story seen from the eye of someone who wasn’t from home. It was interesting because the story was rooted in our soil but the branches had spread out across oceans and continents.

To me it was beautiful how such a small thing can encompass so much meaning in life. In return I drew for her a teapot with hot steaming tea, as homage to the Mumbai chaiwallas.

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Sumedha’s artwork in response to Janey’s letter about Mumbai’s chai wallas | Snail Mail Project

  • What is so special about the ‘Snail Mail Project’?

I guess the popularity of Snail Mail lies in its fundamental idea. The idea of exchange, connect and co-creation.All of us, busy bodies are looking for a way to slow down and connect with our world and ourselves. This project enables one to take a breath, sit down in solitude, reflect and create.

Another thing that resonates with people is its undefined nature; it is for anyone who wishes to send in a post. A post, which could contain anything, you want to send. It could be a photograph, pressed flower, broken leaf, a poem, a newspaper cutting or a few heartfelt words. It could be whatever one thinks is worth sharing with the world. Apart from this, there is no denying that, writing and receiving letters is a joy in itself. No matter how much the world evolves technically, elements of the past will keep calling out to us to create our own magic.

  • So how do we send out our letters to you? How can we participate?

Anyone can participate by writing to me on theumbrellabar@gmail.com ,and I will reply with all the details of participation.

  • As an artist, where do you draw your inspiration from?

Born to a family of artists, mountaineers, photographers and horticulturalists, I was exposed to the idea of self-expression at an early age. However, only much later, while I was working as an architect in Auroville, I discovered the joy of art. Illustration came to me by chance and I continued it passionately. I have recently started working on paintings and exploring mediums like acrylic and watercolors. I find inspiration in the monotony of everyday and a very big influence comes from nature and my time as a child growing up amongst beautiful natural surrounding.

Handmade cards, ready to be mailed – with handwritten letters. Follow the Snail Mail Project on Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, and do participate by writing to Sumedha Sah at theumbrellabar@gmail.com

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Handmade cards by Sumedha Sah

Sumedha’s artwork now available on her R&L Shop

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The Snail Mail Project

Shiori Chan

Features Editor, R&L | That Petite, Tattooed and Ordinary Girl who thinks Life is all about Movies, Books, Music n all things Illuminated.

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