The last time i used a letter box was around 15 years ago. My father had asked me to drop an envelope inside a red colored postal box located close to our house. 

In my childhood during eighties, i use to see a postman visiting our area almost daily. A postman’s job was to physically visit a place to deliver a letter, mail or a parcel. Practically a human carrier of messages. Dressed in a khaki pants and a khaki shirt with a matching cap, the postman carried a bag full of letters inside. It was a cloth bag which they used. Sometimes due to the weight of it, the postman would leave the bag with the security at the gate and carry only a few letters which had to be delivered to the recipients house. There were no lifts or elevators in those days. So logically it made sense not to take the heavy bag along as he had to climb up a staircase. He would return after delivering the letters, collect his bag and move to the next building. These were common scenes in those days. 

Each postman was assigned a specific area or a locality. So we were familiar with our postman and personally knew him. And this was a case with most others as well. Sometimes, a different postman would also pass by our street but we knew that he’s not carrying our message. The day a postman knocked at our door, it use to be a special occasion. Every family member would ask curiously whose letter is it? Reading a letter was exciting and use to be a trending topic of discussion for that particular day. And if someone was not present at that time, he or she would get updated on their return. The family use to sit and discuss the reply to the letter. What information has to be shared and the latest developments in the house. Be it about a child’s exam results or an upcoming function, start of a new job or purchase of a gadget. Everything use to get discussed and appropriately written in the letter. Mostly, it was handled by the head of the family. After completing the letter, one of the member would got out and drop it in the letter box. And then await for a reply from the otherside.

A letter box outside a local post office

This process of communicating with our relatives, friends and even business associates use to take weeks and months. It was all subject to how far the letter has to be delivered. Sometimes, if the recipient was travelling about which we may not be aware of, the reply use to get delayed. And on few instances, some people use to write about their holiday and travel plans in their first letter itself to keep us informed. It’s a courtesy which we extended because not everyone had a telephone in their houses. So a large part of communication happened via handwritten letters. 

Writing a letter in a legible handwriting was a skillful task. The member in the family with the best handwriting use to get this privileged role. Afterall, handwriting represented the families level and position in some form. And the most challenging part is that there was no scope of making errors. But, sometimes there use to be  cancellation of words here and there on account of human error but no one complained.

Another one hidden inside a footpath

Another interesting fact is that many people use to preserve their old letters to show it to the younger generation. Reading letters was also a past time whenever local relatives would visit a house. It gave them a chance to know about the well being of the people staying far off. This way the values of sharing, caring and concern for others remained intact. And this is how we stayed connected and connections were more meaningful. 

Visiting a post office was quite normal in those days. The elders in the family were aware of the working system of the local postal department. It was a skill which they taught and passed onto the the younger generation. Just like the banking process which we learnt from our dads and moms. 

A notice board inside a Post office

Some people also developed interest for stamps and made it into a full time hobby. I know one of my uncle who is a passionate stamp collector and lives in Madhya Pradesh which is in the central part of India. He also participates in exhibitions to showcase his collection. And he will never skip mentioning about his hobby even today when you meet him. It’s rare now and if someone is into this they will be labelled as old fashioned.

Letter writing was not limited between families and relatives. Many special relations and life long bonds were built through exchange of love letters. Although i never had a chance to write one but i am sure this write-up will revive memories of those who practiced and mastered this art. 

Today, technology has changed the entire fabric of communication. The purpose of sending and receiving a message has lost meaning and reduced to a practical demand. We have moulded ourselves into the culture of gmail, whatsapp and fb messenger with time. The personalised touch is lost. And so are the emotions.

The marketing brand gurus and the creative advertising souls have given messaging a new dimension. One of the marketing techniques which i know they use frequently is ‘Email Marketing’ by which they keep sending newsletters. I am writing about this in particular because personally i find it very annoying. Thankfully, these messages get tagged as Spam. 

Any one who has signed up for an email account gets blasted with hundreds and thousands of mailers. The moment you login you will have brands offering you an insurance, free trading account, personal loan, holiday packages, credit card with extra reward points, real estate properties, shopping discount coupons, free entry into a seminar for education abroad, air miles and much more. The list is exhaustive. One of the email read ‘You are invited to buy a house in the most luxurious real estate projects by our company in Dubai and this invite is only for an elite few’. How did they new i am looking for a house in Dubai? At least the email made me feel that i fall in the elite category….they just nailed it…

Email marketing services like the mailchimp, sendinblue, moonmail and so many others have taken up the role of a postman in the modern times. And these guys operate smartly and don’t visit our houses at all. They just cleverly drop an email into our inbox.  How many of us read such mail’s is a question mark. The essence of communication has got diluted and i wonder what is the relevance of sending emails. 

What do you feel, which era of communication was better the current one or the old system. Clearly both have their positives and downsides and i leave it on you to decide. For me, the old one was better. 




Author: VIjay Malhotra, Mumbai

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