Postman Passing

I noticed our neighbourhood postman stuffing mail into the apartment mailboxes yesterday. The khaki uniform that characterised him is history. The modern day postman wears crumpled clothes and until I saw his bag full of junk mail, I did not even make the connection. The tribe is now unrecognisable. People had a close relationship with their local postmen. They were a good source of news on what was happening in the neighbourhood. I remember that they came around during the festival season to collect their tips. And everyone happily paid a few rupees. It was the extra bonus they earned apart from the official one.

There were songs in films (This one features the superstar of the time – Rajesh Khanna) where postmen were the harbingers of important news – but like the town crier, their roles have now been marginalised to the extent where they no longer command attention but are relegated to the attic of our thoughts. Even as recently as 2008, Shyam Benegal made a film with the postman as the protagonist – Welcome to Sajjanpur. It is about the marginalisation of the breed. Postmen were respected because they were among the educated few who could read and write. Their help was taken for everything from writing petitions to love letters. In the film, it is the rapid adoption of the cell phone that hastens his demise and status in society.

When was the last time you physically posted a letter into a letter box or waited for the postman to deliver one? The familiar bright red post boxes are gone. They used to be at every street corner within walking distance of most apartments barely 10-15 years ago. Maybe things haven’t changed too much in deep rural pockets but with cell phone connections expanding by 4-5 million every month, it can’t be long before letters written for love, longing and simply to keep in touch are history.

Email may not have the same romance but it’s all that this generation knows. Text messages delivered at the push of a button tens of times every day. Short messages flying between numbers for everything from mood updates to gossip. The world has gone social with a vengeance and the casualty is the one from a less hurried time. I am not mourning the passing of the postman. Waiting interminably for news of a job application or admissions does not endear the man to you. And if was a rejection he brought, he bore the blame as well.

I’m just wondering what it means to enter a profession in its prime and see its value eroded steadily over time. Going from being in an inner circle to becoming irrelevant can be hard. Especially when you put in your best years and in the sunset of your life, see that it finally means nothing at all. Are the BPO employees of today the postmen of a future generation?