Most of us, who are between 60 and 70 years old, have fond memories of our visits to the post office and our appointments with a letter carrier. When I was at school, some of my teachers would often send me shopping at a nearby post office, either to get stationery or to put letters in the wide and narrow mouth of a large red mailbox that stood firmly on a concrete platform at the level of the steps. from the post office. Nothing fascinated me more than the jerky ticking of a telegram placed on a large moldy wooden table of the PM (postmaster)!
During my college days, I often visited our hostels. There was a regular scene. Seeing a postman enter the vast grounds, the boys used to assail him to retrieve their letters and money orders. Back home, I eagerly awaited the arrival of our postman, Ramappa, on a rickety bike. He delivered a bundle of letters to our house at least once a week. I was eagerly awaiting letters from a girl I thought foolishly loved me. And even after she puffed me up, I waited so anxiously for Ramappa for review call letters, grade notes, wedding invitations, and greeting cards from my loved ones.
What makes me remember these personal memories? Reading ‘The Last Post’, a little book by Anil Dhir, made all of these good memories in me. Anil is an avid philatelist and it is this hobby that culminates in his writing of a small but fascinating account of the Indian postal system for ages. In the very first chapter titled “The Last Post”, Anil gives a beautiful and picturesque account of his trip to Jeypore in the Koraput district of Odisha. What brings him there? He goes there to meet and shoot a movie about Nila Nayak who, according to Anil, “got drunk on punch in the morning and meandered around all day carrying mail for the post office in her creaky, creaky cart.” Nila and her family have been doing this for about 90 years. From there, Anil walks us through his story on his visits to unique post offices that were the smallest, biggest, or farthest and odd places, at high altitudes.
Chapter after chapter, the book treats you with wonderful vignettes of the postal system in the world in general and in Odisha State in particular. You get to know the oldest mailbox in India, how thousands of carrier pigeons were brought into the postal system of many countries, especially their imaginative use during WWII. Chapters like “Black Borders”, “The Dead Letter Office” and “The Dak Runner” reveal fascinating stories about the evolution of the Dak system, about the commitment, the dedication, the sacrifices of those involved in the system. People of this generation should know why mourning envelopes and stamps are issued and how philatelists compete with each other to collect such envelopes and letters “with black edges”. Anil himself has in his possession a huge collection of around 5,000 “priceless and poignant little pieces of history”!
The story of the runner carrying the mail through all seasons, his encounters with wild animals and thieves on his nighttime journey through the forests makes a good read. Few of us know that our unclaimed and undelivered letters and packages end up in a “mail morgue” euphemistically called “Return Letter Offices”.
Many of these vignettes grab your attention in this book. A wonderful feature is that it displays rare and very valuable pictures related to the postal system and almost every chapter bears the official seal and number of the post office that the author talks about in the pages. Like rare stamps, this book by a great philatelist deserves a place in your collection.