Srinagar: Agha Shahid Ali called Kashmir a country without a post office, and what irony has indeed made it so. The mobile phone and the internet have combined to do in Kashmir what they done pretty much everywhere: kill the art of letter writing, end the practice of posting greeting cards, and rendering obsolete the uniformed, bicycle-borne postman.
Postmaster Bashir Ahmad Dar, 52, is among the last of his tribe. “Now you can see a postman only in history books, or in a dream,” he says. “Many years have gone by since my bag used to be full and heavy with letters. Now I don’t even carry it. These days we don’t require a bag, as now we have only five or ten documents to deliver, and they easily fit in the pocket.”
Bashir said that two decades ago, people used to sit on their verandah or stand at their gate and wait for the postman. “There was a charm and love in that wait. There was a hope and feeling in that wait. People used to wait eagerly, for news of their loved ones who were far away, or for a photograph they longed to have a glimpse of.
“The new generation hardly knows the priceless value of a handwritten letter. The words and even the feel of the paper have become part of fond memories, and they will go on to become heritage,” Bashir remarked.
He said in the past few years, not a single postman has been appointed at GPO Srinagar. He said the department is aware that the job of a postman has been overtaken by technology.
“Only nine permanent postmen are working in the department. Now the postman’s role is to only transport some official documents and parcels. Nobody writes letters or sends money orders through post office,” Bashir said. “In fact, the department has hired young outside workers, who have their vehicles for transporting parcels and all. The postman’s role is diminishing with each passing day.”
A group of these “outside workers”, who work on contract for the Srinagar GPO, said, “In the one year since we were appointed here, we have not delivered any letter or money order. We only deliver parcels. We are not permanent here and we are like any other private employee. They have a crunch of staff here but still they are not hiring anyone permanently.”
Zahoor Ahmad Mir, a senior postman at GPO Srinagar, said that “handwritten letters have their own importance, which cannot be found in new technology like e-mail, Viber, WhatsApp.”
“There was such feeling in handwritten letters that even with all the spelling and grammatical mistakes, a person could at once understand what was being conveyed. In letter writing, things are elaborated, not shortened as in today’s text messages and emoticons,” Mir said.
“We always found time to write letters to our friends and relatives, no matter how busy we were,” Mir said, dismissing the argument that people were much too busy these days to write, or even to read letters.
“I still have many letters which my parents and friends sent me. Whenever I get time, I read them and re-live my childhood. I used to tell my children about those letters. But now, because of technology, everything has changed, even the feelings and emotions that were found in letters,” Mir said.