“Please Mister Postman, look and see – Is there a letter, a letter for me ?
I’ve been standing here waiting Mr. Postman, oh, so patiently
For just a card or just a letter – Please, Mr. Postman, oh yeah
Is there a letter, a letter for me ?? – The Carpenters ( English Pop Group)
During the ‘ National Postal Week’ which started on October 9 and lasting till October 15, I would like to salute all the dedicated Postmen who do their job by braving through different weather conditions like rain, gusty winds and blazing hot sun, and deliver the letters to our doorsteps. Some of them walk long distance by foot, other ride bicycles- but they make sure that they deliver your letters during certain time of the day. To all the dedicated folks at the postal department, especially the Postmen I say, ” You are all appreciated. Keep up the good work that you are all entrusted with, and may God bless you “.
Not too long ago, we all loved writing and receiving letters. Waiting for the postman to bring our special notes from loved ones never failed to make our day. The words in the letter and the feel of the paper in itself gave us many fond memories. Sad to note that times have changed, because Emails and couriers rule the present day,depriving us of the joy the arrival of the khaki-clad postman brought us. Even Postal business in US has been badly hit, because nearly 75% of Americans use emails/Internet to do most of their communications. US Postal Department has cut down their employee force by half, and even closed many post offices all around the country.. But such situation has not reached India yet, because not many Indian folks have computers or got access to computers/Internet.
The ?tring-tring-tring? sound of a bicycle bell, accompanied by a brisk voice shouting out ?Post!? meant that the postman had just come by on his morning rounds. I am talking about decades ago, when I was a school kid? and I remember rushing to pick up the casually (but accurately) tossed letters flung into our house compound by the postman. For my mom, the postman meant a letter from my father, who was then working in Bombay , and it would usually be a blue inland letter, addressed carefully in his neat, scholarly handwriting.
The opening of the letter was always done by my mother. After she has done reading it, she would pass on the letter contents to me or sometimes she used hand over the letter itself for me to read. I used to read and re-read the letters, my imagination filling all the spaces between the lines. Of course, I used to always write back, after my mother had finished her reply in minuscule print, in order to save space. I now marvel at how much I squeezed into that one small inland letter, writing on the inside flaps as well ! Then seal it and mail it.
But presently, the postman hardly ever calls ? most people prefer to communicate with each other on email, the ubiquitous mobile phone, or even on video chat. Even daily-wage earners and educated people coming to work to great urban centres from far-flung smaller towns and villages prefer to keep in touch with their families back home via the mobile phone. Yes, it is faster, requires less effort, mostly reliable, more direct ? after all, one actually hears the person at the other end.
I am not saying that all postmen are perfect in delivering the mail to the right person, because there are quite a few who create some blunders. Like our old postman who is to deliver letters to the residents living at Souza Lane (Kadri-Pumpwell) area, many a times he used to deliver letters to wrong addresses. With D’Costa, D’Sa, D’Cruz, D’Silva families being our neighbours residing at “Souza Lane”, and we being D’Souza’s – the postman used to always get confused with our surnames, and deliver letters to wrong houses, like dropping off letters in our mailbox belonging to D’Sa or D’Costa, and sometimes giving letters addressed to us to D’Silva or D’Cruz Or D’Sa ! Not to mention also when I resided in US, even my mailman once created a big blunder by dropping off my mail in my neighbour’s mailbox – the bad part was that the piece of mail belonging to me was a ‘PlayBoy magazine’ which was found by my neighbour who is a 79 years old lady, in her mailbox. She was all fuming,unhappy and non-cooperative , no matter how I tried to explain her, that it was the mailman’s mistake, and not mine. Oh well ?
But the magic of waiting for the postman to deliver a letter really was something else. Receiving a letter, tearing open the envelope or the inland letter, and reading the contents, written in different coloured inks, various handwriting styles ? but all written with some purpose, with someone having taken the time to sit and compose it, address it, perhaps from some old diary with many addresses, and having then taken it to a post-box and dropping it in ? all that is a thing of the past. Look at the scene today ? hardly any letters come by post. I barely know my postman. All you get by post is junk mail, telephone/mobile bills, and reminder letters about your past due payments.. For some strange reason, people prefer to courier even mundane things like cost estimates or bills for services rendered.
You would probably say that emails and video-chats are much faster and easier. Easier? Maybe. But can you carry an email message in your pocket or handbag, to be opened and re-read whenever you wanted? And all the gadgets are so power-dependent ? if your batteries give out or if there is no power, you cannot read all those emails! And how about all those romantic letters that you wrote? Another thing, this whole ?instant communication, instant access? business is perhaps another factor that may be driving us mad with stress these days ? nobody is sitting down and thinking and taking a breather. Like you would if you had to read or write a letter. I wonder how many of us even use a pen to write on paper these days ? I am sure the trees must feel happy with all the paper being saved, but you know what I mean ? getting a sheet of white paper or an inland letter ready, sitting at a desk, choosing a nice, smooth-flowing pen, writing the name of the place and the date on the upper right corner, settling down at a table or a desk, and beginning to compose the letter.
I remember that licking inland letters was not enough ? apart from the fact that it tickled the tongue, the gum was never enough, and one had to use glue from a small glass bottle (plastic was not so common those days) to seal it, and then walk down to the nearest post-box to drop the letter, checking the little black metal board on the box, of course, to ensure that you were in time to catch the clearance for the day. A small side-note, talking of licking envelope covers or letters ? in US we used to get envelopes that had flavoured gum-flaps!
Of course, posting a letter at the post office was not such great fun ? the place provided for sticking on stamps was always messy, and the postal department had, for many years, a jar of some indistinct grey-brown home-made glue with a wooden twig for sticking on the stamps. You had to be an expert to find a relatively clean and non-sticky part on the sideboard to place your envelopes or letters on! . A visit to a post office about few days ago to post a letter showed that this had not changed ? the only difference was that there was a commercially sold plastic jar of gum, but everything else was the same! There was not even that wooden twig, some ingenious soul had inserted an empty plastic ballpoint refill, which everybody used!
Yes, letters and the postman played a very important part in our lives. As we grew up, the postman was the one who delivered our first interview call letters for job openings, and the subsequent ?appointment orders? ? and this information would be shared with him! I look back at those years and wonder what happened to that magic ? replaced by cold emails that can be opened at the touch of a few buttons on your latest hi-tech gadget.
Of course, the system was not without its flaws. When I was in college, the postal department had introduced a new system ? different coloured boxes for different destinations, like green for state capitals, blue for local, and red for all others, something like that. I had dropped an important letter in the wrong box at a big post office. Anxious that the letter should not get lost, I waited for the postman to come and clear the boxes. Perhaps I could explain it to him, I thought. When it was clearance time, I saw the postman stride purposefully to the boxes, with a large canvas bag in his hand. He unlocked all the boxes, and swept them all into the same bag!
In those days the postman continued to be a vital part of our existence, delivering interview letters for jobs, appointment orders, bright yellow postcards announcing births, postcards with black-edged corners signalling that someone had died, wedding invitations, greeting cards, passports ? all with impartiality. Keeping the links with the outside life going, but with that human touch. How all that has changed!
I still remember my mom and dad used to help our neighbours and also daily wage labourers who were un-educated, in writing or reading letters for them.? When my parents passed away, it is said that apart from the writers and other literary giants, the majority of the mourners were these humble folks, many of them loudly lamenting about ?who would write and read letters for us now!? Today, I think I could say the same about the letters and postmen ? who writes and reads the old-fashioned letters anymore? No matter what, all I would like to say, ” Long live the Postman?”.
Author: Alfie DSouza- Illinois