Wednesday 11 October 2017

'Mail has increased but charm has gone': An Indian postman's existential crisis

On National Post Day, Kerala postman Ferdinand Perera, who has spent 34 years in the job, longs for the good-old days.

'Mail has increased but charm has gone': An Indian postman's existential crisis

He was one of the most "awaited" persons in several homes, until a decade ago.

Stuffing letters, greeting cards and other parcels in his tiny sack bag, he used to pedal his bicycle for kilometres braving rain and scorching heat to distribute them.

In remote villages, he was the only link to get connected to the outside world.

But, when handwritten letters and greeting cards gave way to e-mail and e-cards and mobile phones and faxes became the major tools of communication, Ferdinand Perera has become one among hundreds of postmen in Kerala who have started facing an 'existential crisis'.

As the country observes National Post Day on Tuesday, Perera, who works with a post office in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, said the perception of the society towards postman has changed a lot in the last decade and he has become just a "carrier" of some printed bundles now.

The 55-year-old postman said the arrival of new-end communication tools has taken the sheen out of a postman's life who was once considered as an integral part of the society.

"Like in the past, me and my colleagues are delivering mail at the doorstep of people now also...But, the job has lost its soul and old charm. A kind of existential crisis haunts me," Pereira told PTI. "We can say technically that the number of postal mail has increased these days...But, unlike letters, cards and telegrams in the past, bank documents, telephone bills and magazines comprise the major chunk being sent via post now," he said.

Recalling the good-old days of his 34-year career in the department, a proud Perera said there were times when he was finding it too difficult to accommodate the letters and greetings cards in his hand bag.

The overflow of greetings cards even forced him to skip his meals during many Christmas seasons years ago.

"It was a time when people exchange every minute information regarding their life, whether it happy or sad, via letters and post cards. By all means, we were the messengers of their life...In many houses, we not only delivered letters, but also used to read it out for them, he recalled. There would be air-mail envelops to be distributed in almost all homes in coastal areas near here, where at least one family member would be working in the Middle East," the postman said.

"Though the working time would start from 9.45 am upto 1.45 pm, we used to work till evening as our bags would be full of letters and parcels. We were aware that each such letter would have a message of either happiness or sorrow," Perera said.

According to records, Kerala Postal & Telegraph Circle was formed on the July 1, 1961, bifurcating the then Madras Circle. Prior to integration with Indian Post Offices on April 1, 1951, there were separate postal systems called 'Anchal Service' in the erstwhile princely states of Travancore and Kochi during the per-independence era.

The 'Anchal Service' was meant for communication within the state only. Historian Malayinkil Gopalakrishnan said the Anchal Service was launched in Travancore to bring flowers from Thovala (located in present Tamil Nadu) for the daily rituals at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple here. "Anchal service was started in Travancore by the then king Anizham thirunal Marthandavarma.

The early postmen were known as Anchalottakkar or Anchal Runners," he told PTI.

Clad in special dresses, these 'anchalottakkar' would run with postal bags with a two-foot staff in his hand on which bells were attached. When they came running, ringing the bells, everybody would move away to clear his path, he said. After Independence, all the then existing Anchal Offices were either amalgamated to the nearby Indian Post Offices or re-designated as Post Offices in the same location.

On formation of a separate Circle in 1961 for the whole state of Kerala, the development of the Post and Telegraph services in the state got accelerated. 
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