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TED2007

Lakshmi Pratury: The lost art of letter-writing

March 3, 2007

Lakshmi Pratury remembers the lost art of letter-writing and shares a series of notes her father wrote to her before he died. Her short but heartfelt talk may inspire you to set pen to paper, too.

Lakshmi Pratury - Connector
Lakshmi Pratury is the host of The INK Conference and was the co-host of TEDIndia 2009. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So I thought, "I will talk about death."
00:12
Seemed to be the passion today.
00:14
Actually, it's not about death.
00:16
It's inevitable, terrible, but really what I want to talk about is,
00:18
I'm just fascinated by the legacy people leave when they die.
00:21
That's what I want to talk about.
00:24
So Art Buchwald left his legacy of humor with a video
00:26
that appeared soon after he died, saying,
00:30
"Hi! I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died."
00:32
And Mike, who I met at Galapagos, a trip which I won at TED,
00:36
is leaving notes on cyberspace where he is chronicling
00:41
his journey through cancer.
00:45
And my father left me a legacy of his handwriting
00:48
through letters and a notebook.
00:52
In the last two years of his life, when he was sick,
00:54
he filled a notebook with his thoughts about me.
00:58
He wrote about my strengths, weaknesses,
01:02
and gentle suggestions for improvement,
01:05
quoting specific incidents, and held a mirror to my life.
01:09
After he died, I realized that no one writes to me anymore.
01:15
Handwriting is a disappearing art.
01:20
I'm all for email and thinking while typing,
01:23
but why give up old habits for new?
01:26
Why can't we have letter writing and email exchange in our lives?
01:29
There are times when I want to trade all those years
01:33
that I was too busy to sit with my dad and chat with him,
01:39
and trade all those years for one hug.
01:43
But too late.
01:49
But that's when I take out his letters and I read them,
01:51
and the paper that touched his hand is in mine,
01:57
and I feel connected to him.
02:00
So maybe we all need to leave our children
02:03
with a value legacy, and not a financial one.
02:07
A value for things with a personal touch --
02:10
an autograph book, a soul-searching letter.
02:13
If a fraction of this powerful TED audience
02:17
could be inspired to buy a beautiful paper --
02:20
John, it'll be a recycled one -- and write a beautiful letter
02:22
to someone they love, we actually may start a revolution
02:27
where our children may go to penmanship classes.
02:30
So what do I plan to leave for my son?
02:33
I collect autograph books, and those of you authors
02:37
in the audience know I hound you for them --
02:39
and CDs too, Tracy.
02:42
I plan to publish my own notebook.
02:44
As I witnessed my father's body being swallowed by fire,
02:48
I sat by his funeral pyre and wrote.
02:52
I have no idea how I'm going to do it,
02:56
but I am committed to compiling his thoughts and mine
02:57
into a book, and leave that published book for my son.
03:00
I'd like to end with a few verses of what I wrote
03:04
at my father's cremation.
03:06
And those linguists, please pardon the grammar,
03:08
because I've not looked at it in the last 10 years.
03:11
I took it out for the first time to come here.
03:13
"Picture in a frame, ashes in a bottle,
03:16
boundless energy confined in the bottle,
03:20
forcing me to deal with reality,
03:23
forcing me to deal with being grown up.
03:26
I hear you and I know that you would want me to be strong,
03:29
but right now, I am being sucked down, surrounded
03:33
and suffocated by these raging emotional waters,
03:37
craving to cleanse my soul, trying to emerge
03:40
on a firm footing one more time, to keep on fighting and flourishing
03:43
just as you taught me.
03:49
Your encouraging whispers in my whirlpool of despair,
03:51
holding me and heaving me to shores of sanity,
03:55
to live again and to love again."
04:00
Thank you.
04:02

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Lakshmi Pratury - Connector
Lakshmi Pratury is the host of The INK Conference and was the co-host of TEDIndia 2009.

Why you should listen

After two decades in marketing, venture capitalism and social entreprenuership, Lakshmi Pratury turned her focus toward linking her home country of India more tightly with the American community. Her firm, Ixoraa Media, runs meetings and events to spark dialogue and make connections. In 2009, she co-hosted TEDIndia and saw such a warm response to the conference that she founded The INK Conference, in partnership with TED, that would pick up where TEDIndia left off. Watch the INKTalks channel  to see some of the brilliant ideas shared at the INK Conference. Pratury blogs at Lakshmi's Lounge.

She worked at Intel for 12 years as a marketer and evangelist, then moved to a VC firm, Global Capitalist Partners. At GCP, she focused on connecting India's legendary software-development community with US tech. She began to focus more strictly on relationship-building with her move to the America India Foundation, where she founded the AIF's Digital Equalizer program, offering technology education to some 80,000 children and 2,000 teachers in India. She also launched the AIF Summit for social entrepreneurs from India.

The original video is available on TED.com
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