Doesn’t one visualize a postman in khakhi uniform when he or she thinks of the word ‘letter’? Phones, e-mails, SMS and Skype are certainly the fastest ways of contacting someone today. Though the long-forgotten art of writing letters hasn’t rendered the postmen of the city of Ahmedabad without work, they definitely miss interacting with customers.
Appointed as a postman at Naranpura Post Office in 1983, Bhikhabhai Patel misses the way people used to wait at the doorstep for their letters. Patel, who delivers letters to residents of Usmanpura area covers Gordhan Park Society, Hare Krishna Tower, Sneh Sangam Society among other societies.
“When you visit a particular area everyday carrying hundreds of letters, you get familiarized with the residents there. Now almost all buildings have letter boxes. Hence, there is no interaction. It’s only when a Speed Post is to be delivered that we talk to them,” he said.
Patel mentions how residents would share news with them. “Be it a wedding, birthday party or someone’s death, we would also be informed. Some of my oldest customers still invite me to family functions. I remember one household where the son used to write love letters to a girl living nearby. He would tell me ‘please give her letter to me. Don’t drop it at home. I don’t want anyone to know’”, Patel recalls.
However Patel is optimistic and stresses on moving on. “The way the public has embraced technology, we also should adapt. I bought a mobile phone in 2004. The last time I wrote a letter was in 2011. You have to move ahead!,” he said.
Ajay Solanki* became a postman when he was 25 years old. “Times were different 30 years ago. Over 15,000 ordinary letters (personalized letters and transaction mails) would be delivered in a day before. The number has gradually fallen down to 9,000. However the accountable articles (registered letters & parcels and money orders) have increased. We get an average of 400-500 speed posts everyday,” he said.
But in his career spanning three decades, he has seen his interaction with the residents reducing. “Earlier residents close to me would offer sweets if their child stood first in class or daughter got married. Although familiar residents are concerned about my family , the news one, however, are more busy. We are just cordial to each other and don’t have unnecessary talks,” said the Gomtipur-resident.
While the percentage of personalized mails has gone down in the two decades due to emergence of telecommunications sector, postmen today deliver magazines, government notices, Bank cheque books, ATM and PAN cards, phone bills, credit card statements, money orders and stock market statements. They believe that their work is more diversified now.
Siddharth Bhaida, a 24-year-old postman at Ambavadi post office, opines, “Computerization has enabled paperless transactions for all kinds of mails. Now the postman doesn’t have to manually fill the register. Even though the number of personal letters is less, we have magazines, ATM cards, Bank cheque books and other mails to deliver. Services like express parcel, e-POST, Electronic money order (EMO), speed posts among others are also delivered by us.”
Fifty-one-year-old Laxmanbhai Darjibhai Chauhan, a postman at the General Post Office, Mirzapur, said “When I joined 31 years ago, we used to deliver over 1,000 mails everyday. There used to be 3 delivery rounds. Now we all make just one round and only deliver around 500 letters! Earlier we were over 250 of us. Now only 60 are left. Postmen who sort letters are just 12 as compared to around 35 in 1983,” he said.
Chauhan says that the city has developed rapidly and this has increased the distances. “Where one society had only 20 houses, today one building alone has 40 houses. So the traveling time has increased as everyone in a particular locality doesn’t write a letter or subscribe to a magazine,” he said.
Chauhan, who daily covers the stretch between Sarangpur and Panch Kuya Darwaja, said,“The whole stretch is developed. There are many multi-storey buildings there especially in the area around Chetan Cloth Market in Sarangpur. Sometimes the lifts work, sometimes they don’t. It gets very taxing. After I come home, I just want to rest.”
Two years ago, Chauhan was appointed as the Division Secretary of All India Postal Employees Union Postmen and Group D, G.P.O Division, Ahmedabad. “I put forward the grievances of other postmen in front of the postmaster,” he said.
Even though Chauhan has a phone now, he occasionally writes letters to his relatives. He states that half of his old customers have to moved to other localities. “But I still have a close relationship with the ones left. People might not write a letter today, but they still respect and value us.”