The Post.

My earliest recollection of anything to do with post is the longing for letters from my mother when I was eight years old. My parents and my siblings were then in Bombay and I had been left with my paternal uncle at Madras as an experiment to see if I would be compatible with my childless uncle and aunt for them to consider adopting me. This was quite a normal practice in India those days, and in some places, still prevails. That experiment failed but this post is not about that.

I went to school in the same school where my aunt was a teacher and generally had a very pleasant time during that one academic year that I was with them. My mother would religiously write post cards addressed to me and I was the only one in my class receiving mail from anywhere and was quite a hero for that.

By the end of that period, my family moved to Madras and my parents took me into their home, and the letters stopped.

Subsequently, whenever we went to our village for holidays, we would see postmen delivering mail to our relatives in the village. They were called runners and would cover many villages in a day by running between them with a cloth bag slung over their shoulders and a spear in their hand. For those interested, some details of these runners can be had from this fascinating site.

That spear totting postman was replaced by this man who was captured carrying mail from the railway station to the local post office some years ago.

Nowadays, that postman has been replaced by vans like this:

Now, city dwellers hardly use the Postal services, as Courier organizations have captured the imagination of the urban public. It is however a vital service for the majority of Indians who live in small towns and villages and depend on the post for their communications and more importantly for those all important money orders that are sent by members of the family working in far away cities or even overseas like the Middle East.

After the first introduction to the post via post cards from my mother, I got hooked to the post again, but more glamourously this time. My elder cousin was a librarian at the United States Information Service library in Madras, and got me involved in a Pen Pal programme. I exchanged many letters with three boys of my age from the USA, and over the years, as all of us grew up and found more interesting things to do, we stopped corresponding. A few years ago, with exposure to Google and Face Book, I tried to find them with no success.

That interlude also exposed me to the unique specimen, the stamp collector. Some of my friends were stamp collectors, and I was quite popular as I could give them American stamps! The only things that I collected were, punishments and injuries and scars from sports and games.

The next stage in my exposure to the post was growing up further and exchanging mushy love letters, about which I do not wish to elaborate here.

Then came my working life when the Indian Post took a very important role in my activities. As a traveling salesman, and living away from my family, I had to depend on letters and money orders and had an Identity Card issued by the Postal Department to enable me to collect letters and money orders addressed to me Care Of Post Master in many towns. I also had to write daily reports and mail them and had to use a combination of the Indian Postal Service and the Railway Mail Service. Writing and receiving love letters continued during this period as well and for some time into my married life when, immediately after marriage, I was sent on an all India traveling assignment by my then employers and I had to leave my new bride at her maternal home for the duration.

At the end of that assignment, I got promoted into the management side and was at the receiving end of daily reports and orders from customers as well as writing a large number of letters and reports to customers and the head office. All these were through the Indian Posts and that practice continued well into my working life till faxes and telexes took over and eventually the mobile telephones and computers with emails.

For the past twenty years, I have stayed put in one place and have established a good rapport with the post office that is responsible for our area and its employees, particularly the two postmen who deliver mail to us. Their service is excellent and I have had occasions to take up their cause with truant despatch departments of magazines who tend to blame them for internal dislocations, resulting in my not receiving subscribed for magazines.

It is however sad that such a vital service oriented department, by and large very humane and efficient, finds its importance gradually eroding due to other faster means of communications. Courier companies have taken away a large chunk of their business and despite coming out with innovative new products, the department is unable to compete with the more efficient couriers who offer both collection and delivery services.

Sadly, I have met young people who have no idea of what role the Indian Post has played in the history of their country and find it quaint that we depended so much on snail mail and money orders. This is an attempt at informing them what an important part of life was the Indian Postal system for people of my and older generations.

Guest Post – Defilements

My friend Anil went down memory lane to come up with this post about his childhood and the problems of semi rural/rural India of the forties and early fifties. While in some parts of India, some of the older people still follow some of these beliefs, these have mostly disappeared.

Anil personally, grew out of this background, became an Artillery officer and fought wars beside getting wounded in action too. The first time I met Anil and his lovely wife Nina was when I was on a hospital bed recovering from my first surgery for a hip replacement. In earlier days, a visit to the hospital itself would have been considered a defilement!

Without much ado, I take you to the post to give you an idea of India of a long distant past.

“My childhood was completely governed by severe and conservative middle class Brahminical customs and rules. These were meant to be followed at every single breath and the simplest act of crossing a street meant violating at least a few of them.

In a society riddled with many castes, life was made even more difficult by innumerable sub-castes who had their rules too. It might never be possible to list them since they seemed to have been designed only to ensure the Brahmins maintained their superiority.

Broadly, these customs covered External and Internal defilement of your body. Therefore, on your way to school or office you were advised to stay away from strangers since it was presumed every person on the street was defiled in more than one way.

Naturally therefore, every defilement had a specified cleansing process that had to be followed outside the house lest you contaminate others in the family or worse, the house itself.

External defilements broadly consisted of seeing a corpse, letting a sweeper crossing your path or even touching a menstruating lady in the family. In fact these ladies made sure they banished themselves to one of the back rooms dedicated for the purpose and stayed there until they cleansed themselves. Use of leather articles like shoes and purses was forbidden as was touching anything with the left hand. My younger brother, who was left-handed, and otherwise an asset as a sportsman, had the most torrid time at home. Our grandmother’s only job was to correct him. He couldn’t touch any food with his left or write or even touch her.

Internal defilements were principally around food and beverages. Milk was hawked by people who couldn’t be touched but the milk they sold was acceptable! I suspect liquor was a “NO” anytime but in retrospect, I wonder why men spent a week-end out of town every month!

Defilements, external or internal, were a matter of principles which were purely a matter of convenience depending upon work, time and place.

And so while we grew up, one day on return of my father from one of his trips my brother, then seven, challenged these customs and flung his food and anything he could get hold of around the house. My father, a soft spoken timid man, joined him and soon we were all flinging things around. Finally, a shocked grandmother tearfully decided only she would follow her customs and rules and we could do as we pleased. We’ve never looked back since.”

And Anil, thank God for that!

The East India Company.

The East India Company from London came to India in the year 1600. It was the forerunner of British Colonial rule over the entire Indian subcontinent, currently called South Asia.

All Indians of my generation and before learnt all about the EIC and how they were replaced by direct Crown rule as part of our history lessons. Such history has tended to get diluted subsequently and perhaps many modern students may not be even aware of the role played by the East India Company.

Earlier this year, we came to know that an Indian has bought out the East India Company and was in the process of turning it into a departmental stores.

Today, it is a vibrant organization with a clear vision of where it wants to go.

There will not be many Indians who will feel as deeply about this development as I do. I am sure that those who do, will join me in saluting Sanjiv Mehta.

Conrad, another hero that I wish had been me!

Who would you like to meet from past history?

As I had indicated in my last Saturday’s post, this is the sixth post to answer the seven questions that Grannymar had asked in her meme.

Veera Pandya Kattabomman.

Among the first Indians to take on the East India Company, this little known hero is a Tamil icon.

I do not want to write much as the link given gives more than I ever could. I simply fell in love with this heroic figure as a young boy when I saw a film made on his life and subsequently, read everything that I could about him.

Margaret Mitchell and Gone With The Wind.

Having been led by chance to re-read “To kill a mocking bird”, I am tempted to re-read Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the wind.”

There are some striking similarities about these books that seem rather odd. Both were written by Southern American women. Both were geographically located in Southern America. Both were made into remarkable and memorable movies. Both won the Pulitzer prize and many awards for the movie versions.

And, both authors did not write anything else.

Both have quotes that have become famous.

Atticus Finch’s “But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted – if I could hit ’em; but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Rhet Butler’s “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

I wonder if there are any more similarities between the two. Any additions will be most welcome.

Memories Of The Three ‘R’s

I had taken my father to the local lending library for his weekly quota of books to read, and while I was waiting for him to return the last lot and pick new ones, I was browsing the shelves. I came across the old classic “To kill a mocking bird” by Harper Lee and decided to re-read it after perhaps thiry years or so. Just bringing the book home brought back memories of Gregory Peck in the movie of the same title and how much the book and the movie had impacted me and many of my friends.

Many of my readers should also be reminded of this wonderful book and the equally wonderful movie. I don’t have much to say about them. What I wish to write about is the peculiar identification that I now have with Scout Finch. In the very first chapter, Scout recollects how she had problems with her teacher about her reading skills. Let me quote:

“I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church – was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoe laces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory, listening to the news of the day, Bills To Be Enacted into Laws, the diaries of Loronzo Dow – anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

I do not remember this passage having any impact on me when I had read the book the first time all those years ago. For some strange reason, this time around, this passage stands out as a very important lesson. When talks about this experience, she has just attended her first day in school. The teacher simply was unable to accept that the little girl could read so well and blames Atticus for teaching her using the wrong methods!

I do remember learning how to write using specially ruled notebooks with alphabets and words printed on the margins to copy and practice. I also remember learning the multiplication tables and doing simple additions and subtractions in the Montessori school to which I went till I was taken out and put in a regular school in class IV. I have been trying to remember how I learnt to read and as much as I have struggled with that thought, I simply cannot remember formally undergoing training to read. Like Scout, I just seemed to have picked it up, without formally going through a process of learning how to read, though I learnt Tamil first and English much later. I have vivid memories of eagerly awaiting the arrival of the weekly quota of Tamil magazines over which I would fight with my mother and later on with my siblings. I too can honestly say that “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

I wonder if this is something that is peculiar to me or everybody feels the same way about how they learnt to read. I will be truly interested in finding out from my readers if this is true in their cases as well.