Of the good, old World Wide Web

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 21 Jun 2018 10:52:59



Vijay Phanshikar,


Those were the days when letters brought with them lots of news about relatives, friends, neighbours -- good news and bad news, and with it came a lot of emotions that tugged at our inner beings like nothing else did, pulling, pushing, anguishing, 

languishing. And all this happened minutes after one man -- the Postman -- came and delivered the letters to us. He came regularly, and did his work with a smile. He enjoyed the work because he enjoyed looking at eager faces in homes waiting for the mail (as one of them told us one Diwali when we gave him some sweets for his kids and wife at home). Occasionally, the Postman would arrive with telegrams or money-orders. If the telegrams generally brought anxious news, then the money-orders did bring in some smile.

After he did his day’s job in sun, rain or cold, the Postman went back to his office -- the Post Office.
The Postman and the Post Office often fascinated me. For me, a child of five or six, both represented a perfectly-oiled system that was designed to generate faith and trust -- of people -- and keep those intact through thick and thin. So, I often looked for opportunity to visit the Post Office that was just a few hundred feet away from our home on Sitabuldi Main Road. Located in the western wing of the same building as the famed Rajaram Sitaram Dixit Library, the Post Office was a terrific place. For, there was not one single moment when somebody did not walk in or walk out. A steady stream of people kept coming in and going out every minute of the working hours.

The Post Office was also a cool place for a variety of reasons. One, nobody shouted there, and there were never any arguments, thanks to the overall high efficiency of the Department of Posts and Telegraph (P&T). Two, the oldness -- vintage -- of the building often fascinated me as I kept looking around everywhere: the walls, the high roof, the arched doors, the windows with vertical bars, the small flight of sandstone steps into the place, the calm-faced clerks who lurked from behind the high counters to interact with customers ...! But most fascinating was the persona of the Post Master who sat in a small corner room overseeing the operations.

More fascinatingly, the Post Master was an integral part of the community -- he knew the names of families in every house in the locality. He did not miss any special moments -- childbirth or marriages or funerals. And to most people, he was almost a friend, philosopher and guide, as
people confided in him with their personal issues very freely. That was the paradigm of trust that was so carefully built into the system that brought people’s letters, money, and emotions to homes from across seven seas. The Sitabuldi Post Office, thus, became a place of refuge for me, so much so that if I were not to be found around, Mother sent Rajaram, the odd-job man in our family, to the Post Office to fetch me.

Later, after we moved to Gokulpeth when parents built a new home, the Post Office there became a place to keep visiting. I turned ten and Mother opened in my name a Post Office Savings Account. That was the beginning of a training in responsible banking for the little boy. It was there that I learned handling the money that was supposed to have been given to me for good. I was allowed to deposit money every now and then, but needed the permission of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Phanshikars (my Father) to withdraw any amount.

How were I to know then that years later, when I withdrew all the money from that account and close it, I would walk away with an unbelievably large sum! Thanks to our family’s culture of middle-class values and discipline, the Post Office was a great school -- sort of -- for me and my sisters. It was there that we developed a sense of intense
connectivity with the world, as we were made to believe that the postal system held the world together.

Today, even though a newer technology also has created a World Wide Web, that sense of global connectivity which we had then, appears to be missing. For, in the postal system then, we found an emotional connect, which seems to be missing in these days of Internet and WhatsApp and Facebook and Instagram and what not ...! For, with the ease the new technology has brought in, there is a little sense of casualness -- and even carelessness -- today. Back then, we were made aware of the high degree of difficulty in the management of the postal system that connected us through similar national networks in various countries.

Naturally, with that awareness grew a sense of respect for the countless lakhs of men and women who managed the postal system in those wonderful days.
Unfortunately, one does not get to visit the Post Office every now and then. Alas!
However, fortunately for me, ‘The Hitavada’ premises has a Sub Post Office for decades. It has been there for god-knows-how-long. That has given me the facility of sauntering into the small place and exchange smiles with the staff there whenever I feel a little nostalgia.

It is, no doubt, a small place, just one room, and generally a woman heads the small team. But even in that little room, I cannot miss the sense of credibility the postal system still enjoys. Of course, there is much
deterioration these days. But then, alternate systems, too, are almost equally good or bad, despite the modern technology at their beck and call. True, the Department of Posts and Telegraph, too, has modernised itself in competition. And, according to me, it enjoys a greater respect in common people’s mind.

For me, the Post Office, however, was not a place just as an exchange point of letters and telegrams etc. It was an institution that made us believe that through the postal
network, we could connect with our people anywhere in the world. Thus, the Post Office had its own spiritual niche`in our lives.

And of course, it would be too stupid to forget about the stamps. Collecting stamps was a popular hobby among kids of our time. And whenever we went to the Post Office looking for a sly acquisition of a good stamp if someone had left one at the counter or on the floor, our hungry eyes would give away our intentions. So, the very honourable Post Master would call us close and hand over to us smeared stamps of various denominations and various countries.

There was also a very personal angle for my fascination for the Post Office. One of our uncles was in the Postal Service and rose to become Post-Master General of Madhya Pradesh. His personality, his achievement, his connections were points of awe I felt about him.

That apart, what made me fall in love with the Post Office and its system was one letter I -- and all of us -- often waited for almost every week. For, whenever we got the letter from our uncles who lived in Bhopal, we realised the power of the art of letter-writing. Our uncles talked to us through those seemingly inanimate words. They made us smile mostly. And when learned from the letter that that Diwali they were not to come visiting, we cried.