Hunting for post boxes in this send-by-courier era

My father worked in the postal department; for me, as a child, red meant post-box red. Letters were everywhere. Sitting in a post office, waiting for my father to complete work, I’d see postmen hefting sacks of letters, or pouring out the contents on a table/ the floor. I’d see letters sorted expertly into piles, then bagged and put in vans. The smell of paper, of gum (that thick sort they used), pervaded the air. Once, when I had to go somewhere, I sat behind a postman’s cycle instead of a sack of letters.

When courier services started, I don’t remember imagining that they would ever become so big and so cheap that they would impact the postal service. But somewhere down the line, I started seeing courier services as more reliable than the postal service, and began switching to it for more important documents.

My changed approach hit me one day when I needed to send a very important document to a senior official at Dak Bhawan, Sansad Marg, the building that houses the senior-most officials of the Department of Posts. That is also the building where the head post office is, and where letters are sorted. I remember hesitating somewhat at the strangeness of my choice, but I finally used a courier service to send the document instead of posting it. My father had passed away by then, and I did pause to think of how he’d have seen my action–a betrayal? an amused smile at the change in the world?


Anyway, so a few days back I wanted to send a letter. A simple postal letter, not a courier, not an email. An old-fashioned letter in an envelope and with a stamp on it.

I thought I knew where the nearest post-box was. I walked to it. It was missing. I asked some street vendors around, young boys. They frowned at me. I asked some older men in shops. They thought for a few moments and could not recall when they’d last seen the post-box. I asked them whether there was another post-box nearby. They couldn’t remember. Go to the post-office, they told me. But it was far away so I walked to the next location where I had seen a post-box some years ago. That was missing, too. However, I saw many “collection centers” of courier services as I walked.

I finally ended up reaching the post-office (at least the post office was still there) and using the post-box there.

Since that day, I’ve been scanning my surroundings for post-boxes. I’ve not found any, except at post-offices. I don’t claim to have looked hard enough, and I’m sure there are still post-boxes around, just fewer of them, and less noticed by people. I guess times change…

(do kids today even know what a postal stamp is?)

4 thoughts on “Hunting for post boxes in this send-by-courier era”

  1. I remember those smells Swapna. I used to go to the post offices and the RMS in my days as a traveling salesman to collect mail and money orders sent to me care of post master and to post daily reports from the latter. I can write a tome on those adventures including the necessity to carry the Postal Departent’s Identity Card which preceded the passport!

    I still use the prepaid Rs.5.00 envelope to send mail, or the prepaid stamp not required envelopes that magazines send for renewals etc. I use the former rather than the Inland Letter form which was more economical because I am unable to write due to my palsy and use the computer to type out and print letters.

    In my locality there are two post boxes that I know of which have been there for the past 23 years that I have been here. The two postmen who visit me have become ‘friends’, who sometimes pick up mail when I telephone them on their mobiles, or bring me the prepaid envelopes knowing fully well that I will reimburse the cost to them and that they can expect a nice Diwali bonus for all that they do. On the rare occasion that I have to go to the post office which is three kilometers away, I find crowds like I find in the SBI, migrant workers sending money orders and other things. The rural population still depends on the postal system.

    In my case, there is clearly a marriage of modern technology, the computer/printer and the mobile phone that the two postmen carry!

    I do use the courier services also but resent their inevitably coming in the afternoons to drop off stuff and waking me up from my siesta.

  2. Ah yes, the postman as a friend… Till a decade or so ago, I used to recognize (and be recognized by) the postmen of our area. More recently, though, I’ve been stopped by courier boys outside my home, and given a packet–they recognize me and save time by giving me the packet on the road instead of coming up to the house.

    The postal service reaches every corner of the country, a fact we often don’t spend enough time appreciating. Courier services are not obliged to cover all geographical areas, and they don’t include rural/ extreme areas in their scope. Effectively the postal service, which charges less than courier services, ends up spending more money serving distant areas at low rates…

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