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An elegy for the modest postbox news
29 November 2001
Mumbai: Certain things in life refuse to change. Refuse to change their place in your nostalgia packed hearts, that is.

Take the lowly postbox, for example. Despite its 'communist' redolences colourwise, one aspect that bound and was probably liked by Indians from every nook and cranny of the country was - and still is, shall we dare say? - its redness. No amount of destabilising and destructuring - be it the Emergency, Kashmir, Assam, Khalistan, Mandal or Ayodhya - could erase that bell-shaped pan-Indian image.

But what history or geography couldn't do, the new-age economy has. And our beloved postbox is rusting, dying a slow death. Unsung. Unnoticed.

Apart from the abandoned box, how many of us today wait for, or even remember, that old postman in his fading khaki uniform, who diligently dropped those letters and MOs from our kith and kin? Very few, and those few probably in remote hamlets where, forget communication networks, even electricity and potable water are unheard of.

Which takes us to the advanced role of communications in our lives, and that is definitely something to be proud of - even though it has made the postal system redundant.

The 1990s telecom boom, which was the result of Rajiv Gandhi's and his tech-savvy buddy Sam Pitroda's dream, revolutionised (in a real sense, not the Indian communist way) our society tremendously. Overnight, yellow boards screaming PCO/STD/ISD mushroomed everywhere from snazzy Bangalore to rustic Bahanahalli.

Malabar's veiled woman no longer waited for the weekly perfumed airmail from her husband in the Gulf; every alternate day she could hear his trans-Arabian Sea voice, over an instrument Graham Bell had invented at a time when the Arabs were still tending their camels and living off dates in the desolate, dusty wastelands.

Of course, now, mobile phones have practically taken over the landlines, but the charm of dialing a number or anticipating a call, and talking away to your heart's content, remains undiminished. It's almost a family pastime.

As if the telephone's onslaught was not enough, the final years of the last millennium saw the advent of the mother of all communications: the Internet. Overnight, Indians, who could afford a computer and a VSNL connection, started typing out messages to friends at the other end of the world for the cost of a local call; the immediacy, not to speak of intimacy, associated with the system made it an instant hit. Cybercafes started occupying the adjacent spaces of most telephone kiosks.

And now we hear WLL and GPS are offering much more sophisticated communication options, virtually pushing the last mail into the proverbial dustbin of history. Is the eventual death of the mail just an Indian phenomenon? Seems so.

In the US, the hotbed of the communication revolution, the postal system continues to be an integral part of the American life, and they will never let it die. They will, no doubt, come up with movies like the 1936 masterpiece Night Mail, a classic narrative of the charming world of the postal world.

But in India...

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An elegy for the modest postbox