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?)