National Postal Week

S. Balakrishnan

World Post Day is celebrated each year on 9 October, the anniversary of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1874 in the Swiss Capital, Bern. It was declared World Post Day by the UPU Congress held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1969. In India, National Postal Week is celebrated annually for a week from Oct. 9.

 A business (!) letter written 85 years ago in the year 1935 reveals many interesting insights of that era -

My maternal grandfather has purchased spectacles in that year. He was then 44 years, when people generally start wearing reading glasses. But my mother, who was then around 2 years and now 87 years old, assures that her father never wore glasses; neither do I remember even when he died at the age of 90. He used to get up as early as 3 AM and start reading religious scriptures without reading glasses. Unfortunately, I started wearing specs at 18 years itself; maybe I didn’t get his gene. I have short-sightedness; hence my wife used to complain that I lack far sightedness. However, even at 65 years I can read without reading glasses whereas she needs reading glass. So, was it for someone else that my grandfather bought the glasses? Whatever it is, let us get on with the business of knowing the contents of the business letter.

                The sender of the letter, an agent of the specs company who tied up the business deal first with my grandfather, informs  him not to give the cost of the ‘kannadi’ (specs in Tamil; the word also means mirror) to his agent who probably followed up the deal. Instead, the amount has to be sent through Money Order (M.O.) direct to the company, less the commission for the M.O. Because the other agent was removed from the service of the ‘kanndai’ agency for lack of trust, for causing loss, etc., he informs and stresses again that the money has to be sent through MO only. This is important and if you act otherwise it would lead to dispute, he even warns. A simple but politely stern letter.

Written on 7 Oct. 1935 from Muthupettai and addressed to Pamani village, near Thiruthuraipoondi, 30 kms. away, it is not clear when it actually reached my grandfather, as the postal mark is smudged. But even though the business letter is written with pencil it is still legible, after 85 years! The post card cost Nine Pies in 1935 itself! I think it is a costly affair. King George V (full name George Frederick Ernest Albert, born June 3, 1865) was ruling us from England since 1910. Hence his head is printed on the card. He died within the next few months, on January 20, 1936, to be succeeded by Edward VIII who abdicated hardly within a year, on December 10, 1936, to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson of the United States. He was the only British sovereign ever to voluntarily resign the crown. 

As I read this letter now, after 85 years, I find it strange and funny that caste name is mentioned casually in the course of writing; the writer, Mr. Somasundaram, introduces himself as belonging to ‘Pillai’ community. How does it matter, I don’t understand!  The other agent’s name is never mentioned but he is simply referred to as ‘Iyer” (Brahmin). ‘Mudaliyar’ is affixed to my grandpa’s name. Good that Tamil society has changed a lot in these years, getting rid of the caste affixation – at least in public life.  It is regrettable that people from most of the other States still continue with the caste name as their surname. 

The postal mail was nicknamed Snail mail on e-mail arrival. Now instant messaging like  SMS, tiktok, Insta, fb, WhatsApp, etc., have made email redundant. What a communication revolution within 20 years! Yet, I do miss the handwritten letters that had a personal touch. As we go through the old letters we get emotional which is not the case with instant messaging.