Daakiya Daak Laaya
The Rise And Fall Of Indian Postal System
“Daakiya daak laaya
kushi ka payaam kaheen dardanaak laaya
daakiya daak laaya …”
—From the film ‘Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein’ (1977)
The Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini starrer 1977 film was a flop in the Box Office, but the song, penned by Gulzar and sang by Kishore Kumar is an all time hit, in the annals of Hindi songs.
From the moment, Rajesh Khanna as the postman Ravi enters the village on his bicycle, carrying the familiar bag of ‘Daakiya Babu,’ and the village urchins run after him in curiosity, it’s a story unfurling. The entire song tells about the small happenings and emotions in rural lives, and the age-old bonding of the common people’s lives with the institution called post office and the key person in the picture, the postman or, Dakiya Babu!
9th October was the International Post day, duly celebrated in India. But In the e-age, the familiar character of old world postman is fast becoming a rarity!
With the telegram long dead, postcards and inland letters long forgotten, most possibly not many people are depending on money orders, with the advent of banking service. Via internet, all communication can be exchanged in a jiffy, so the traditional role of the postman has changed.
Entering Mumbai GPO near Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), one of the heritage yet functional centres of yesteryears, I became rather nostalgic. Where is that busyness and interaction with the common people inside this majestic building with colonial air!
During our post childhood days, the GPO was one of my favourite loitering places, specially during Diwali and Christmas times, when rows of stalls outside the GPO used to sell colourful envelopes and designer card, putting stamps on them and handing them to the clerk in the special counter was so thrilling, in those halcyon memories!
Now you generally find a lot of Savings Scheme and Postal Insurance agents around, and the peons from the nearby offices who bring bulk mails. Of course, the Courts and government offices still depend on snail mails.
“60 percent of our revenue is now generated from banking and insurance.” Ashok Kumar Dash, the Chief Postmaster General of Maharashtra Circle, answered to a query.
He also agreed that the personal communication modes like the postcards, inland letters and envelopes, are on the way of phasing out. The future hope of the postal department and its prime emphasis is on e-commerce.
In August, this year, RBI has issued payment bank license to India Post. So, apart from the Savings Schemes, post office accounts can now be used to make various payments.
The Postmaster at Bengaluru’s Seshadripuram Post Office, Shri Sundar Raj has joined the postal department in the year 1982. He says: “In those days, we used to get at least 10,000 Registered posts everyday and never kept any exact count of the ordinary ones. Today, the total delivery in this post office per day is just 5 to 6 thousand.”
An officer in the in Mysuru division told that the personal communication material counts just 10% of the total postal deliveries they make. Even 15 years ago, personal communication material like postcards and inland letters used to form around 90% of the daily deliveries.
Massive changes have occurred in the communication arena, with the advent of e-age. But in the villages, where internet and electricity are still a rarity, snail mail still happens. But, post offices have dwindled in numbers, as postal department found them unprofitable, in this era of postal savings and life insurance.
The bond between postmen and the common people is almost non-existing in the cities and in the towns, unlike those past years. But in some rural pockets, these men in Khaki are still loved and admired. Here is the example in 2011, from Bhadravathi Taluka in Shivamogga (Shimoga) district that has publicly mourned the death of the popular local postman Chandrashekar, affectionately called as ‘Post Chandru’.
In the collection ‘Galpoguchcha’, Tagore has a very poignant short story, named ‘Post Master’, an emotional bond between the village postmaster and his servant Ratan.
He has also written a symbolic Play named ‘Dakghar’ (Post Office/1912), where God is symbolised as the King who sends a letter to a terminally ill kid Amol. This was the letter from the King, the kid was earnestly waiting for. The letter itself was ultimately the message of death!
In Munshi Premchand’s story ‘Kazaki’… we find this Harkara, or the mail-runner, who is a depiction from the writer’s childhood experience.
RK Narayan in his “Malgudi Days” has immortalised the little Post Office in Malgudi, where Thanappa the local Postman delivers letters, on his bicycle, pedalling across the town. Thanappa is not just the postman of Malgudi, he is one of the most loved characters who is a link for so many lives!
In this particular story, ‘The Missing Mail’ there is the interaction between Thanappa and the Ramanujan family, and how a very significant role is played by the postman in getting the girl married, bringing to life a time when the relations between the local postman and a family were strong and he used to be an integral part of their lives.
This touching story also revives the memory of us, who have seen the telegram in India (the service has closed down, years back) and how the opening of a telegram was always perceived worrying as it often used to bring the death news of one’s near and dear ones…!
My grandfather received all the important news of his life through the infallible, Post Cards!
In the early years of the last century, as an ever drifting educational inspector, he got the news of the family arrangement of his marriage with a suitable girl, via a postcard. The birth of his first son also came through a postcard. The frequent transfer orders also came via postcards. Thus also the news of various family marriages and the demise of close relatives, scribbled on the back of the postcards.
In case of urgency, his father would write: “Consider this Postcard as a telegram and come home sharp!”
Only on a few occasions he received Telegrams, instead of letter, and one of those was the demise of his father!
There was no internet or Courier Agents during our Childhood days too. The very sight of a Postman was too welcome in those days. He would bring various subscribed Magazines, sent through post. Red and blue bordered envelopes, sometimes green and orange, depending on the country of origin, the exciting messages from family people and the relatives abroad.
Money Orders, with adjoining chits, and big insured parcels holding precious Benarasi Saris or Kashmiri Shawls purchased from a shop at Chowk or Gyanvapi, or at Munawar Road in far off Srinagar.
And I can still remember two or three postman visiting our home during festive season, to ask for their Baksheesh. One used to deliver the ordinary mail. The other the registered posts, and the third-only telegrams!
Postcards Becoming A Nostalgia!
The Postal Department still sells the blue inland letters which costs Rs. 2.50 each and usual postcards that cost 50 paise, even when it spends Rs 7.18 on printing a postcard.
The quarter Anna postcard was introduced for the first time by the Indian Post Office in July 1879. This was meant to communicate from one place to another within British India. This was the cheapest form of post provided to the Indian people to date.
Then came the postcards for government use in April 1880, and the reply post cards came in 1890.
Early Indian postcards were printed in Germany, and in Britain. In India, Raja Ravi Varma, with his famous press at Ghatkopar in Bombay started printing postcards in the 1890s.
The Inland Letter came in later years and became popular among the couples and the lovers, for their privacy and the budget.
The optimal use of an inland letter was made perhaps by the Malayalam magazine ‘Innu’ (means ‘Today’), printing it entirely on an inland letter.
But today, the Department of Post, under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, is scaling down its traditional service of postcards and Inland Letters.
It has printed about 2 crore less,postcards in the fiscal compared to 2013-14. The department printed 10.44 crore postcards in 2012-13, but for the fiscal year 2013-14, it has printed 8.13 crore.
In an RTI response to S.C. Agarwal, the Department has revealed that it is spending Rs 7.18 for printing one postcard, while selling it for just 50 paise from post offices. Same is the case with an inland letter, which is available at Rs 2.50, but costs Rs 7.18 to produce.
The department ended its 163-year-old Telegram service in July 2013, as it was incurring heavy losses in revenues.
According to the Department, it suffered a loss of Rs 6.99 per postcard in 2010-11 and Rs 6.85 per unit in 2011-12. In the financial year 2012-13, the department incurred a loss of Rs 6.68 per unit.
Times have changed. The government officials think that the sponsored ‘Meghdoot‘ postcards, which carry advertisements, should be encouraged, so as the huge subsidy should not be forced on the people in turn.
Fading Image, Dwindling Service
The workforce in the Postal Departments, with the advent of new economic policy in the nineties, mainly comprises contract employees.
Many of them now engaged to work only for six hours, and they are free to pursue other jobs. The payment of the permanent employees are not satisfactory in any way, also the postmen posted outside the city limits, get no house rent allowance , as they are considered locals.
Earlier big companies used to have a post office inside their premises. Now they are seeking courier agencies for contractual services. They do not allow postmen inside their premises anymore, and accept mail even of their employees, at the reception outside. So the relation between the postman and the common people is gone.
Also there is this falling morale of postmen, in a corporate oriented environment. Earlier, they were respected and there was social affinity. Now, the cities are not postman friendly. Go to any place and they are not welcome inside, no familiarity with the people is also a drawback in postal efficiency.
As the personal communication which was the mainstay of normal postal services is ebbing out, the postmen are deputed in other jobs.
Mainly services like delivering BSNL and MTNL Telephone Bills, Driving Licences, Passports , Adhaar Cards, Court and other Legal communication, University Study Materials, delivering Registered Small time Newspapers and Magazines at negligible rates, Government Letters, and the bulk of the Corporate consignment the postmen carry now.
Among the many new roles they now perform now is selling the Post office related financial and retail services.
“We also deliver the items ordered via e-commerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart,” sinformed a senior postal superintendent.
“These days, on an average, 90% of the letters we carry are business related.”
A social worker C. Gopalan, who runs a socio-cultural organisation named ‘Aravind Bharathi’ in Chennai, says that the rampant corporatisation has taken the toll on Postal department.
This is country which has a major percentage of people living in the rural and semi-urban areas, for them Corporatised Postal Service like couriers is too costly, but they are now present in smaller places also.
A letter sent in an envelope costs just Rs.5 via Indian Post. But if you send it via a private courier agency, it will cost you 80- 120 Rupees depending on the status of the agency!
The problem is that the postal department has become ineffective. Earlier an ordinary letter would reach Mumbai from Chennai within 3 days, but now you are not sure, when it will reach. They have introduced a costly ‘Speed Post’ service, but even it’s so ineffective, that people are helpless to go to the private courier agencies.
“People like me still rely on the Indian postal service, like millions in the villages and smaller towns. But the Postal Department has become too deteriorated in their services. They are closing down Post Offices in the villages and cutting down their numbers in the towns. Staff strength is also deteriorating. What was conceived as a service department is now gradually catering to the corporates.” Says a compulsive letter writer like Gopalan.
India still has the largest postal network in the world.
Incidentally, after a strong network established by the British, Indian Postal Service has registered a seven-fold growth since independence.
It has 1,54,866 post offices as of recent census and out of which 89.78% are in rural areas and 10.22% are in the urban areas.
However, 5, 00,327 villages in the country are still without any post office.
And Uttar Pradesh tops the list, where 86,435 Villages have never seen a post office!
By Deep Basu
Images were supplied by the author.