I MISS MY POSTMAN
I had bouts of nostalgia during my recent visit to Thailand to see postmen in uniform delivering letters. Letter boxes, located at convenient intervals, were serviced regularly. It was a scene reminiscent of my growing up years right into my fifties. The British gave us the Police and Posts with their reach to the remotest villages. Both wore khaki but while a postman was always welcome a policeman was not. My village got a post office in early fifties. Until then the postman came to my village from seven kilometers twice a week to deliver our letters and parcels. He also carried some stamps and postcards to sell to those in need. And like in Bollywood movies he would read out the contents of the letter to the illiterate and take down the dictated reply. A telegram he brought occasionally (until recently post and telegraph were a composite department commonly referred to as P&T) gave the family some tense moments imagining the worst. They held their breath and heaved a sigh of relief or anguish only after the postman had deciphered the contents for them. His visit was most looked forward to when he was expected to bring money order. While in boarding school I used to receive a monthly stipend of rupees five per month from a charitable trust. Only four rupees and twelve annas (equivalent to today’s seventyfive paise) came into my hands as the sender had deducted two annas as money order commission and the postman took his own cut of like amount.
A postman also carried love letters. When courting my wife-to-be as a young albeit high ranking officer my ears would strain to catch the sound of the approaching footsteps of the postman in the hope that hidden in the pile of sarkari dak there could be an epistle of love from my sweetheart. Today, decades later, I take my hat off to the postman and his department for carrying and delivering our correspondence without fail or falter. The address on the envelope or postcard was often written illegibly but by some miracle it managed to reach the correct destination. In mid sixties I was posted with my battalion at Ziro, the district headquarters of Subansiri Division in NEFA, now called Arunachal Pradesh. My men were all Gurkhas. Ours was a non-family station and we always hungered for information from back home. The letters took three weeks but they reached all right. The address on the envelope was often semi-legible and spelt not in alphabet but in numerical; Ziro became O.
A post office catered to a sizeable area and population. To make things easier for the public letter boxes painted red were strewn all over. These have since disappeared and can now be seen only outside a post office. One could write a letter, stamp it and put it inside the letter box. The postman opened the letter box at fixed timings and carried the contents to the post office for onward movement. Even the unstamped envelopes were carried but the recipient at the delivery point could have it only on payment of a token penalty which went not into the postman’s pocket but into government coffers. A postman was not transferred frequently allowing him to know the by lanes and households of his area. He was GPS in himself. He was courteously met and it was two-way traffic. It was the personal touch which marked him out from other government functionaries.
The letters the postman brought carried some interesting stamps from India and abroad. Persons of all age groups, chiefly youngsters, were avid stamp collectors and philately developed as a distinct activity of Indian Post. These stamps were little pockets of history and we are going to miss these along with the postman who brought them to us. The government occasionally brings out commemorative stamps but these mostly go unnoticed.
As the internet and mobile phone made writing and mailing letters redundant our interaction with the postman became minimal and limited to delivery of speed post which is the old registered post in faster mode. The government has decided to say good bye to the postal system of yore. To be in with the times it is slotting itself in cyberspace through the ePost Office, The idea is to gradually run the post office on the lines of a commercial bank. One totally unconnected and new line of new business for the postal department is to lift Gangajal, the holy water, from Hrishikesh and further upstream and sell it in containers through the post offices. The doorstep delivery will be through the postman who will be attired in a new garb complete with an all purpose smart phone. For old timers like us it will not be the same.
My millennium grand children living in metros have never seen a postman and cannot relate to my childhood experiences. And I am so full of them. They are familiar with courier who is not my favourite. He turns up at odd hours. While I would like him to make the delivery in the forenoon he will wait till my post-lunch siesta. As I am halfway through my forty winks he will ring up on my mobile to seek directions to my abode, not once but twice, even thrice. Then follows the trill of the door bell leaving me no option but to go out and face him. But he does not make it that simple. He insists on my PAN number and lately Aadhaar details. By the time I have searched them out and shown to him I am fully awake and thoroughly cheesed off. My postman would never have bothered me like that. I will continue to miss him.
Sudhir Kumar Jha
6 October, 2016
(The author is a retired Director General of Police, Bihar. He is a free-lance researcher and writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org) .