While reading the story, “Waiting for the postman to ring twice” (The Hindu, August 26, 2012), I was reminded of my younger days when I used to spend my school holidays in my mother’s ancestral village house where there were dozens of cousins in my age group. We used to do all sorts of adventures like plucking mangoes and coconuts and trekking in unknown undergrowths. The postmaster was one of my uncles. He employed our family’s devoted servant, Nambiar, as his assistant, who was called a “runner”.
One of his duties was to collect letters from different places and bring them to the post office where they would be sorted as south-bound or north-bound and they would be put in two different bags. The post office, as also the railway station, was close to our house. Those days, there was a mail compartment in each of the mail trains, and one could post a letter in the mail compartment by affixing an extra stamp. Nambiar used to take these bags to the mail trains. But he had strict instructions from his postmaster not to accept any letter by hand from anybody.
On occasions when elders asked me to post a letter, I avoided going to the post office and facing my uncle. I resorted to the easier option of catching Nambiar and giving him the letter, but he would refuse to accept by hand. Then, feeling pity for me, he would ask me to keep the letter on the floor and would take it from there, thereby satisfying both of us.
Once, Nambiar came and told us that as per the new rule, “runners” who know cycling were entitled to an additional allowance, but he didn’t know cycling. So we children decided, as a challenge, to teach Nambiar cycling at his late age. We knew it used to be a difficult task — Nambiar’s midriff was famous among us as it was rather on the bulging side.
The bicycle shop gave us a cycle on hire for a full day for eight annas. With some convincing, the shopkeeper agreed to the night hiring. We selected the temple ground for our coaching on a Full Moon Day.
We managed eight annas and hired a bicycle on the appointed night and took Nambiar to the temple grounds. We put him on the cycle seat and with two boys propping his stomach up from either side, we did our best, for hours, teaching him cycling.
As we all became very tired, a cousin decided that we needed a break and that he would climb up the shortest coconut tree and pluck a few tender coconuts. After drinking coconut water, we would resume. He climbed a tree and dropped a few coconuts. The sound of falling coconuts woke up the neighbourhood and a torchlight flashed on us! We took the cycle and ran for our lives. I still do not know how Nambiar escaped and what happened to his cycle allowance.
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