Now I wish to recount my experiences at rural post offices in villages and hamlets. Departmental employees with sufficient seniority in accounts matters (like me) were posted to central post offices . The central office has to supervise over the work of six to ten minor part time post offices in villages. The central office incorporates accounts of all these small offices on a day to day basis.
Here let us remember the very old days 200 or 300 years ago in Modern Europe i.e in the industrial age. The post office was a revolutionary innovation of the West 200 or 300 years ago. The aim was to establish an accurate and safe “end to end” route for private letters with highest safety and security. The Indian postal system, introduced about 150 years ago by the British colonialists, was modeled on the European postal systems and has a glowing history .Here I write some recollections of the beautiful little Indian rural post office.
I told about our rural illiterate post bag carriers of the “pre-computerization” days .I remember very well these rural post bag carriers. They bring sealed postal mail bags from the dozen or so smaller offices situated in the hamlets. The rural post bag carriers travel on bicycle or even by foot travelling beside endless green fields and village paths. They exchange little post bags on the way with other hamlets .What is meant by exchanging is this. They give to the rural post office a sealed post bag from the central office containing incoming letters. Simultaneously they collect from the rural post office a sealed post bag meant for the central office and containing outgoing letters . For them this duty to and fro on the prescribed route ends only after the last bag is handed over to the concerned post office
I worked as head of central post office at three different places.Each office had about ten staff. Daily in mornings four or five rural post bag carriers would come one after another punctually at the prescribed time bringing small sealed postal mail bags from the hamlets. After work they chat and sometimes help in “stamping” letters and in tying and sealing bags( in which work they are experts). All of us would chat in a friendly joking way sipping hot tea.I treated them in my peculiar thinking style only as friends. Those are really unforgettable times—chatting after busy office work with the rural post bag carriers. Many of these semi-literate rural workers with smiling innocent faces ,with graying hair and stubby beards would be in a relaxed mood after four or five hours of laborious work. But they are very respectful especially towards college educated persons like me.They would often express wonder( with mouths agape) while hearing wonders of the big city and the big tricks played there .
They were dressed in khaki uniforms and also ,in “ancient times”(30 or 40 years before that time) had khaki turbans, an umbrella and also a sturdy staff with a bunch of little bells fixed at the top. This was to frighten wild animals. They had to travel such dangerous routes in interior hilly areas. It is said such routes exist in North-East hill states even today. The many stories of tedious long journeys of post bag carriers pained us a lot. They carry bags in sun, rain and storm and sometimes passing through small forests or wading through flooded streams . And they do all this work for a very negligible monthly allowance.Luckily their problems are now being aggressively taken up by leftist trade unions . Some acute problems have been solved.We often in those days felt very angry at the plight of the post bag carriers in rural areas.
These village postal mail carriers were respected(i.e. a little feared) by the rural folks. The rural people felt that the post offices and post bags belong to the high and mighty government in Delhi and that even touching the post bag or arguing with the mail carrier and delaying his journey would land them in a police station! Otherwise the mail carrier was a most friendly creature talking with everybody in a jolly way, sipping tea in the little village tea stalls and stopping near the green fields for a small chat with the people there. All the people he met in his daily travels were his friends .
I immensely liked the rural post offices as they were situated in beautiful rural scenery. There is no need of going to Lake District in England or to high mountain villages in Kashmir or to Brahmaputra Valley.I liked the simple rural customers who come to the small window counter of the post office to purchase a letter, to post a letter in the red letter box or to inquire whether any money (“money order”) was received in their name . Some came to the office even at 7 pm (when we were struggling with our day’s accounts) to inquire whether they can get a post card. They would think that post office is busy from early morning to evening and is a mysterious place!
The part time post master in hamlets( whose accounts are daily incorporated in to our central office accounts) worked for just two or three hours every day . He was generally a teacher or a well to do and respected farmer . He generally does not strictly follow the prescribed duty hours . Sometimes he mixed up his personal cash with office cash because both were thrown into his spacious coat pocket temporarily when he was in a hurry to go to his fields.Sometimes an official from city( a uniformed senior postman) pays a visit to check the work of rural “mail lines”. In those old days when there were hardly any motorbikes he often came riding a bicycle. The village is too far away in the interior and he is hungry and cannot get a meal. He feels irritated and becomes angry for nothing and would threaten the part time post master with an adverse report to the district authorities . The village post master arranges a sumptuous meal and cools the temper of the visiting official.
In the central post office a very familiar thing is the big letter- sorting cabinet. It is very sturdy and is often made of fine teak wood . The cabinet is divided into long deep “pigeon holes ” by fixing in it vertical and horizontal wooden plates . The pigeon holes are labeled with the names of several post offices and letter-sorting offices. In the mornings bulky bags from mail train or the mail bus are received and contain large number of letters.(This was in old days when the computer,internet etc have not yet arrived and had not started their tricks to create a paperless world) .These letters are sorted i.e. separated for each village . They are put in bags and sealed with an address label for the concerned village post office. These bags are carried by rural post bag carriers on bicycle on prescribe routes and at fixed times. They have to follow the route very strictly at prescribed timings. In their return trip on same day they bring the outgoing letters posted in the villages. They are again sorted in the sorting cabinet and sent to destination towns in the sealed bags prepared by the central post office. These sealed bags are sent through buses, trains and airplanes to destinations.