In pen-sive mood

Inhabiting the twilight zone of inlands, aerogrammes and stamped envelopes. Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

Inhabiting the twilight zone of inlands, aerogrammes and stamped envelopes. Photo: K. Ramesh Babu   | Photo Credit: K_RAMESH BABU

I got a phone call from a postman the other day. He spoke from his office 8 km away from where I stay. He had a letter for me, he said, with a glaring error in the address.

Now, if it had been an email I would never have known that someone was trying to reach me. The misguided missive would simply have bounced back to the sender with the terrifying message: “Mailer Daemon”. Knowing what “daemon” means doesn't stop me from quivering palpably at the very sight of the word. It reminds me of a cross between a flesh-eating ghoul and the satanic child in The Omen.

I am a harmless spirit who inhabits the twilight zone of inlands, aerogrammes and stamped envelopes. I hover o'er the graveyard of dead letter offices, buff-coloured telegrams and registered post (with acknowledgement due). Everyday I peer greedily into my mailbox, hoping it would contain something more elevating than bills and flyers. While we're on the subject of bills, my mobile service provider has been sending me pointed messages (which I pointedly ignore) about e-billing. The messages have, of late, started prodding my guilty conscience by reminding me of the millions of trees that are being sacrificed as a result of my selfish insistence on receiving the hard copy of the bill by post.

A reader recently suggested that I write about the lost art of letter writing. I reminded him that I had already covered the subject five years ago. I had also listed innumerable examples, in a two-year-old column, of what appeared to be the DoT's active discouragement of letter writers. I hate to repeat a topic. So why do I keep harping on the failings of the department? Because a journalist must always do follow-up stories. And besides, quite frankly, some experiences are just too rich to pass up.

Before I tell you more about the solicitous postman, let me give you further proof that the DoT punishes those of us who put pen to paper. My letters to a Mumbai friend take three weeks to a month to reach him. Inlands appear to travel slower than envelopes, leading me to believe there's a class hierarchy in place; postcards being the cheapest would perhaps suffer the longest delay.

You haven't heard the worst. When I posted a letter recently, a wasp came out of the box and stung my hand! If insects can build homes undisturbed in mailboxes, how often do you suppose the red van comes around? Mail used to be collected thrice a day, and then it dipped to once a day, but now it is surely once a week, if that.

To get back to the postman, I need to furnish background particulars, as they say in government parlance. Twenty years ago, I had taken out an insurance policy because my parents wanted to help out a struggling relative who, after his small business had failed, had just become an agent. Do such relatives exist in today's families? You might recognise the type. He is indispensable when there is a family wedding, running errands from dawn till dusk. On other days, gratitude for favours received keeps him at everyone's beck and call.

Twenty years ago I was a floating citizen and so the insurance premium notice would land up every six months at Big Brother's flat. Then I struck roots, but I retained the original mailing address to avoid confusion and paperwork. Twenty years passed, and the big day dawned. I got a letter stating that I would soon receive the grand prize (less than an average journalist's monthly salary) by cheque.

I waited. But instead of post I got the postman. He told me about my Speed Post letter (that's how he got my number) and asked where exactly these apartments were. “I am calling from Koramangala,” he said mystifyingly. Some underling at the insurance office had sent my cheque to a fictional Old Madiwala Road instead of Old Madras Road. The postman was not authorised to forward Speed Post to my local P.O. Instead, I had to collect it from him. “Come before 9 a.m.,” he said. Utterly crushed (since I am an owl and not a koel), I asked if I could meet him in the p.m. “No. In the afternoon I go on my rounds to BTM,” he said, adding helpfully that the post-office was “behind BDA Complex”.

The day after the call I walked unhappily to the bus stop, unwashed and unfed, at 7.30 a.m. As I sat waiting for the bus to start, as I listened to a Kannada FM station playing sugama sangeeta (the heavy-devo bhajan-kirtan hour was over), as I observed the houses on my way (the kolam-drawing hour was over, too, but it was early enough for the car-wash water to not have dried on the concrete), and as I pounded the streets of Koramangala at 8.40 a.m., hunting for the post-office in the vastness that lies behind the phrase “behind Complex”, I thought to myself, “Some good should come of all this.”

And it did. Not just my cheque, and the idli-vada-for-two that I picked up from a darshini, but this humble offering of mine. I hope you are satisfied with it. If not, you can always come buzzing up and sting my writing hand.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 7:30:51 PM |

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