In the days before emails, sms and social media, people would spend a good amount of time drafting their letters, carefully selecting each word to get their emotions across, parents would ask endless questions on inland letters about their child’s wellbeing who could be studying in a boarding school or college faraway, while urgent news would be delivered by telegram. Those were the simple days, where love would blossom over letters, a far cry from the dating apps like Tinders and Grindrs today.
And of course who can forget the Telegrams, which were discontinued in 2013, marking the end of a service which was the harbinger of good and bad news. Started in 1850 by the British East India Company, it was introduced on an experimental basis between Calcutta (Kolkata now) and Diamond Harbour and was opened to the public in 1854.
Old timer Ramchandra Murthy recalls how the arrival of a telegram would incite equal parts of anxiety and excitement. “In those days, news of birth, wedding, accident or death was delivered by a telegram, so naturally, the moment someone said, taar bheja hai it was enough to cause worry,” says Ramchandra. But as emails and newer modes of communication opened up, the 163-year-old service found itself edged out.
Fast-forward today and the postal service is still very much the same, only it has moved with the times.
Mail in the digital age
At the General Post Office (GPO) in Abids, once the clock strikes 8 in the morning, the delivery hall starts buzzing with activity as close to 32 postmen begin to filter into the room divided in four main areas. It is here the sorting of thousands of letters takes place. Letters, registered post, speed post, parcels, money orders are all segregated into their respective piles under the supervision of four assistant postmasters. In the crowd of the 32 postmen, there are five postwomen and five young recruits who deliver official mails.
A long table with small slots, each painted with different numbers, stands in the centre of this large hall. The number denotes the area and the postman designated to it. Each day, gunnybags full of letters are emptied and the letters placed in these slots according to the addresses by a senior sorting postman. The postmen collect these and set out for delivery around 11 am. For ex-armyman Ashok, the job is one he enjoys. After physically gruelling stints in Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland and Assam as a soldier, the everyday routine of delivering official mail in and around the Abids circle is something he finds restful. “I come across different people daily, some of whom have become friends. Since I handle important documents and inter-office mails, I have to be very careful to whom it is delivered,” says Ashok who has been working at the GPO for two years now. His job also entails delivering notices, and all sorts of legal documents to shops in market areas. “At times, it does get irritating when they don’t accept the letters and we have to keep going again if it’s some kind of notice but we have to be patient. With passports, we need to be extra cautious,” adds Ashok. Like him, there are others for whom the day starts as early as 7 am. In a day, a postman will deliver close to 200 letters, out of which some go undelivered, while there are also those which land up in the Return Letter Office (RLO). Depending on the quantity of the letters, a postman may return to the office by 5 or even 7.
Despite the enormous quantity of mail that comes in daily, most at the Post Office admit that in the age of digitalisation, the convenience of email for communication has overshadowed the beauty of writing personal letters. It’s only in rural areas that people still use the old school letters. On their part, the Dept conducted a philatelic exhibition recently on account of the upcoming celebrations of World Post Day on October 9.
A lifetime of good deeds
Having retired from the Dept of Posts in 2013, Rameshwar Rao shares why he has no regrets from his decades-long career.
The customer is God; this is what Rameshwar Rao who retired as Assistant Director General in Department of Education likes to tell recruits whenever he visits a post office. In his 40-year-long career spent in various capacities in the Department of Posts, he liked to distribute such jewels of philosophy to his subordinates wherever he went. Starting his career as a clerk in Sirpur, Adilabad district, in 1974, Rameshwar Rao had the opportunity to work in districts across the two States. “I worked in Anantapur, Mahabubnagar, Kurnool, Chittoor, West Godavari and even Delhi before retiring from Hyderabad,” recalls Rameshwar.
Working in villages and districts, the job gave him ample opportunity to interact with people from all strata of society, many of whom became friends for a lifetime. Having garnered all sorts of experiences in his career working as an upper division clerk in Palamaner, as Inspector of Planning in Kurnool and Inspector, Post Office in Proddatur, he recalls one instance where he was able to bring a definite change in the lives of pensioners. “Once when I was travelling to a post office near Kuppam, I overheard the conversation of a man sitting beside me. He was talking about the misdeeds of a branch post master in the post office of Sanganapalli. In those days, pensions given by the AP government were distributed through the post office. The branch postmaster and the delivery agent connived and forged signatures and embezzled the money. After hearing this, I planned a surprise visit in the next three days and went on foot to the Sanganapalli post office which was 8 km away. I found that they embezzled money from 36 to 40 money orders of Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 in the period between 1980 and 1983. Following a detailed enquiry, the branch post master was suspended and removed from service,” recalls Rameshwar.
On another occasion, while working at Bhimavaram, a young man approached Rameshwar asking for help with a passport issue. “Apparently, the Post Master at Undi, a village nearby, was refusing to give him the passport owing to some confusion in the name. In villages, it is common for a person to have two different names, like a nickname. The man had to leave for Dubai in a few days so I simply sent him to Undi and instructed the postman there to open the passport and crosscheck his photograph. In many such cases, it’s a matter of simple common sense, you know,” says Rameshwar, smiling. Much later, having forgotten the incident, he got a call from the man who was about to board the flight in Hyderabad. “He thanked me profusely. It is simple things like this which are most satisfying,” adds Rameshwar.