Vignettes of our postal system
Most of us who are in our 60s and 70s now must have fond memories about our visits to the post office and tryst with a postman.
Most of us who are in our 60s and 70s now must have fond memories about our visits to the post office and tryst with a postman. When in school, some of my teachers often sent me on errands to a nearby post office either to fetch postal stationery or to put some letters into the wide and narrow mouth of a big red post box that stood firmly on a concrete platform at the steps of the post office. Nothing fascinated me more than the jerky ticking sounds of a telegram machine kept on a large, musty wooden table of the PM(Postmaster)!
During my college days, I often visited our college hostels. There it was a regular scene. On seeing a post man entering the spacious grounds, boys used to mob him to collect their letters and money orders. When at home I waited eagerly for the arrival of our postman, Ramappa on a rickety bicycle. He delivered a sheaf of letters at our home at least once in a week. I looked forward for letters from a girl who I foolishly thought loved me. And even after she bulked me, I waited for Ramappa with as much anxiety for exam call letters, marks memos, wedding invitations, and greeting cards from my near and dear ones.
What makes me recollect these personal memories? Reading of 'The Last Post', a slim book by Anil Dhir, dug up in me all these fond memories. Anil is an avid philatelist and it is this hobby that culminates in his writing a small but fascinating account of Indian Postal system for ages. In the very first chapter titled, 'The Last Post', Anil gives a beautiful, picturesque account of his journey to Jeypore in the Koraput District of Odisha. What takes him there? He goes there to meet and make a film on Nila Nayak who, according to Anil, "got punch drunk from the morning and meandered his way through the day carrying the mail for the post office in his ramshackle and creaky one horse cart." Nila and his family have been doing this for about 90 years. From here Anil leads us through his story about his visits to unique post offices which were the smallest, largest, or most remote and in weird spots, at high altitude.
Chapter after chapter in the book treats you with wonderful vignettes about the postal system in the world in general and in the State of Odisha in particular. You come to know about the oldest letterbox in India, about how thousands of homing pigeons were inducted in the postal system in many countries, in particular their imaginative use during the World War Two. Chapters like, "Black Borders", "The Dead Letter Office", and "The Dak Runner" reveal fascinating stories about the evolution of the Dak system, about the commitment, dedication, sacrifices of the people involved in the system. People of this generation must know why mourning covers and stamps are issued and how the philatelists vie with one another in collecting such covers and 'black bordered' letters. Anil himself has a huge collection of about 5000 such 'invaluable, poignant little pieces of history' in his possession!
The story of the foot runner carrying the mail through all seasons, his encounters with wild animals and robbers during his nocturnal journey through forests makes a good read. Few of us know that our unclaimed and undelivered letters and parcels eventually end up at a "morgue of the mails", euphemistically called, 'Return Letter Offices'.
Many such vignettes hold your attention in this book. One wonderful feature is that it displays some rare and very valuable pictures connected with the postal system and almost every chapter bears the official seal and number of the post office the author talks about in the pages. Like rare stamps, this book by a great philatelist deserves a place in your collection.