Bearer of tidings

Bearer of tidings

Despite great strides by e-mails, snail-mail postmen leave a special mark in people’s hearts. Ever since I turned 17, I became fond of the postman. Because, a girl used to write to me! To prevent dad from getting hold of the epistles, I met the postman at the start of his beat. This fear disappeared eight years later, when as a captain in the army I got daily letters from my fiancée.

Minister R A Kidwai declared Sundays as postal holidays. But the army field post offices deliver mails all 365 days, as soldiers look forward to them in forlorn places. I received a letter in Sialkot sector in Pakistan during the height of Indo-Pak war on a Sunday in 1965, in less than 24 hours from the postmark at Trichy.

Some postmen leave an indelible impression. None can forget Ranga of Wellington, Tamil Nadu. With a trademark ‘naamam’, he would spot you from miles away and deliver the mail with a smile. Remembering names of family members and the house-names (such as, Rosary, Holmwood, Retreat, Kenilworth) of all 300 student officers including foreigners and 50 staff members, he would even tell you that he had dropped such-and-such letter in your mail box.

Azhagiri was our beat-postman in the 40s to 60s in Trichy. Handsome like actor Karan Dewan, he would smilingly say: ‘Maami, naalaikku unga letter varadhu!’ (Aunty, your letter is coming tomorrow!), not disappointing anyone. Kannappan joined him in late-50s. Though not bad at heart, he was anti-thesis of Azhagiri, with a permanent frown. He used to address boys in singular as ‘dei’ in Tamil (the nearest equivalent: ‘Hey you’). The only time he ever smiled was when we called him ‘Major Kannappa’ after the hero of the then popular serial-novel.

Foul-tempered and mostly drunk Arumugham in National College beat used to get teased by us: “Paramasiva, un Parvathi engay?” (Paramasivam, where is your Parvathi?). Intoxicated, he couldn’t run. Once Paramasivam had come sober, wanting to teach a lesson and a cousin teased him. He caught and thrashed the offender with a thorny twig in the athletics ground. The teasing stopped!

The field postmaster on deputation from civil with us couldn’t sleep thinking of war. Youngsters named him ‘Donald Duck’ after his looks and gait. He was thrilled when circumstances forced our pull-back by a few kilometres during war. Due to his habit of not burning the seals and letters before it, Pakistan had falsely announced some names as PoWs, including my commander’s and mine, while we were safe this side!

The post-lady in MG/Residency roads in 1992-94 comes to mind next. Confused at her khaki uniform, I had once foolishly asked my staff to find out what a policewoman was doing inside my HQ. Then, of course, is Sridhar, a union leader now serving our colony. We had problems a few years ago with him and got him moved out with great difficulty. He is back and I can vouch he is one of the best postmen today in India!