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India Post is a government operated system, one of the largest postal service providers in the world. There is a post office available in every Panchayat village in India. When I was a child I didn’t understand the difference between Panchayat and non-Panchayat villages. I did understand, however, that our neighbor non-Panchayat villages did not have a functional post office as we did. Whatever the difference, our village hosted a post office, which was managed by a Karanam – Clerkship. This Karanam was one of the well-reputed professions in villages. They knew about all revenue related calculations and held all records. They would perform the initial procedures related to the buying and selling of property. The post office and Karanam’s office were in their own home. We also had a public telephone service available at the post office. The phone was black and heavy with a disc dial and handset on a wire. I would stare at this telephone each time I visited the post office. It wouldn’t ring often and while I never heard it, my friends told me it would make a loud noise when it rang. I often asked questions of the postmaster who was a brother of the Karanam, about the usage of this phone.
Our postmaster was a man of few words who always sported a serious look. He really spoke a single word during delivery unless there was a need such as naming the recipient. People understood him as he rang the bell in a pattern. He collected the outgoing mails from the letter-box and distributed the incoming mails for our villagers. He would answer all my questions precisely with great patience. Sometimes he would call me to assist him with his work. It wasn’t a big deal. All I had to do was to count the postage stamps, cards, inland covers, envelopes. I would get excited to see new stamp collections whenever a new collection arrived. I would look at minor details of the art printed on those postage stamps with the help of my newly bought magnifying glass. I would carry this glass in my pocket wherever I went.
One day our postmaster gave me the gift of one postcard valued at fifteen paisas – paisa equals to 1⁄100 of Indian Rupee, in appreciation for my help and explained to me the usage of it. The postcard was a rectangular, yellow colored, thick paper card. On one side of the card, the full space was available for the sender to write a message. On the other side, there was a marginal area left for the address of the recipient with a stamp printed on the top right corner above the address blank. I was very excited to receive the postcard. The first thought on my mind was what message I would write and then if I wrote something, how would it remain private as it would be an open message. I asked my mother to guide me in deciding to whom I should send the postcard. She advised me to write to my grandfather to inquire about his health as he was sick the last time we visited during our vacation. I wrote that first letter with a lot of care and affection for my grandfather. I would ask my mother for every second line to give me inputs to continue further as I wasn’t aware of the pattern of letter writing. I took two days to complete that letter and ended up with a few corrections. But I was satisfied with the final result. On my way to post the letter, I had a lot of doubts such as – ‘what if there are mistakes in the address?, how long does it take to deliver the letter? How does the postmaster know the letter addresses my grandfather?’.
My excitement continued, and I bought another postcard after two weeks to send a similar message once again because I wasn’t sure if the first postcard had been delivered to my grandfather. Because the radio news reader had announced that many services were shut down due to the rains. I convinced my mother the rain might have wiped out the address from the postcard which prevented delivery of the postcard. When we visited our native place during our vacation, however, I enquired immediately of my grandfather if he had received my posts. To my surprise, both the letters had been delivered, and he showed them to us. I calculated how long they took to be delivered based on the seal they marked on each delivery. After that, in every letter I wrote, I would request acknowledgement of the letter hoping my grandfather would respond, even though my grandparents weren’t well educated.
Finally, after many requests, a response came from my grandfather. Maybe he grew tired of my requests and wrote it for me. Our postmaster came ringing his bicycle bell to denote there was a post for us. I read out loud and made my mother and sister listen to the message. My grandfather’s handwriting was a big mess. My mother was the only person who could read it through to the end without trouble. The message was simple. It stated that everyone was fine in our family and they were looking forward to seeing us during the upcoming vacation. He conveyed his best wishes to me for my first major entrance test preparation which made me nervous about the examination.
The habit of writing letters earned few pen pals for me. This practice continued for a few years until modern technology and accessible telephones built a bridge between the people in a more efficient way. Some of my pen friends preferred to remain anonymous and the rest, though I got to know them well, eventually didn’t remain in frequent communication.
Next Episode: Tale Of A Zamindar