Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Postman never rings even once

Where is the Postman these days? That friendly-looking guy in khaki uniform with a shoulder bag matching the dress in colour and age. When did you receive a hand-written letter addressed to you last? In my case, it has been ages since I received any such letter. I do still receive dividend cheques sent by post. I do receive junk mail sent through snail mail. But hand-written personal letters? No. Things were never this gloomy. Even as recently as ten years ago, we looked forward to the postman's arrival thrice a day. He would bring at least once or twice a month inland letters or at least postcards that have been posted by a grandmother living in a far-away village telling us about her recent hospital visit or a classmate remembering us after years and enquiring about the jumps or falls that we have experienced in our career or a poor cousin asking us to spare some money for the wedding of his youngest sister. Whatever the contents of the letter were or whoever had sent it, it gave us immense satisfaction to realize that someone had taken the trouble to remember us and spare a few moments to write a few intimate words with his own hands.

The advent of e-mail, with all its otherwise admirable qualities like speed, low cost and ease of despatch, has killed the snailmail. And with it, the intimacy we shared with the Postman. Even the Postman now feels guilty when he knocks at our doors at festive times once or twice a year and asks for Diwali or New year tips. The old bonds are no more intact. The e-mail has given us the confidence that life will go on with or without the Postman. It is not only the rise of e-mail culture which is responsible for the near-demise of Post Office. The mobile phone revolution too has contributed to this. Telegrams as a means of urgent communication ceased to survive when Fax was introduced in business establishments; personal telegrams stopped when telephone services expanded, first the landline and then the mobile.

Post offices wear a deserted look. They do every thing except handling mails.Well, almost. Last year, the Government of India used Post Offices to handle collection of Annual Income Tax Returns filed by the citizens. Recently, I saw the neighbourhood Post Office selling Aloe Vera Juice. It is not a joke. It is 100% true. Of course, Post Offices handle other tasks such as Public Provident Fund, National Savings Certificates, Monthly Income Scheme etc. But then, Banks are essentially meant to do these things. The primary purpose of the existence of Post Offices is to pick up mail posted in one town and deliver it to the addressee in another town. So, Post Offices have started suffering an identity crisis. To rub salt on the wounds , the private courier organizations that have mushroomed in India have ensured that Post Offices do not even get an honourable share of speed mails or handling of important documents meant for safe personal delivery .

One might say this. If horse-drawn coaches could give way to automobiles and steam engines could be dumped in museums after Diesel or Electric locomotion became the order of the day, what is wrong in Post Offices disappearing and Private Couriers taking over or Postcards being replaced by Hotmail and Yahoo mail? Nothing wrong. Except that I experience some pain somewhere deep in me. Perhaps some of you do too. One more familiar edifice associated with our childhood or boyhood has fallen. One more way of life hinting that meaningful life without complexities or hitech was still possible has been blown away. Should all progress be necessarily through destruction of familiarity? Is there no mid-way?

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