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How India Post Cemented a Long-Distance Friendship

Two people, not teenagers, but not yet adults either, met during a training camp. They arrived as representatives from their respective colleges. Their interaction lasted not more than five hours at the most, over the two days of the camp. They departed, with a tiny spark within – one they didn’t realize would grow steadily over the years to lend a radiant glow to light up the rest of their lives. They actually met perhaps a mere 8 times in the years that followed; and yet, 24 years down the line, they stay close friends.

What’s the glue that held them together?

A sharing of thoughts over the years, through the missives they sent each other, using “Bharatiya Dak” or “India Post.” Regularly in the beginning, and sporadically later on, before graduating, in keeping with the times, to email and WhatsApp.

The correspondence began in 1994, with the good old plain blue inland letter, for the humble post card was open to prying eyes. While there wasn’t anything to hide, it felt cheap to offer one’s innermost ideas as a feast to those who lacked the mental bandwidth to truly understand what was being communicated.

Days and months passed, and slowly but surely, there was so much more to say that the one-and-a-half page length offered by the inland letter could no longer suffice.

So, they graduated to the pale yellow postal envelope, filled with one or two sheets of paper, depending on how much one wanted to share.

Occasionally, the letter – a few pages longer – would be clothed in a plain envelope, especially if a considerable period had passed between this and the previous letter. This required extra effort. One needed an envelope of the right size; the letter had to be carefully folded to fit, and then, it had to be weighed, and stamps of the correct denomination stuck on, using the watery gum, borrowed from the communal gum bottle, tied to a wooden bench outside the dingy neighbourhood post office.
Letters arriving at educational institutions would be dropped into a common box from where expectant receivers would pick them up. When the same handwriting adorned an inland or envelope to your name with clockwork regularity, there would be a few knowing smiles and nudges besides a few wagging tongues. They only added to the sense of being on an adventure, exploring uncharted territory in a relationship that didn’t fit any conventional label.

In those letters, words were weighed carefully before being put down on paper, for there was no means of deleting an error without leaving behind a tell-tale sign. Terms like “my dear” and “yours lovingly” held a specific emotional connotation, and were avoided, not to be lightly used in the generic sense they’re bandied about today.

Replying to a letter was an art, too. You responded to what was being shared with you, answered any queries raised, and put out information of your own, to give the reader a sense of what was happening in your life.

You had to be careful with the exact address you wrote out; the PIN code was the holy grail that held the key to correct delivery of your letter. One number misplaced and all your painstaking effort would find its way to a pile of discards or back to you depending on how conscientious the delivering postman was.

A particular turn of phrase could be the source for countless minutes of rumination, leaving the reader wondering about what actually was being conveyed. Yet another sentence could thrill you into feeling awed by what was being described. You laughed out loud reading some parts, and some parts left you dewy-eyed. Whatever the sentiment you experienced reading a letter, life would never be the same again.

Every letter you sent took a part of you to some corner of the country; every letter you received brought you a part of someone from that same corner of the country.

The corners changed, the two young letter-writers grew older, and went on their separate paths. Over the years, the communication rose and ebbed by turns, it’s frequency a slave of their life situations.

Edging towards the silver jubilee of that first fateful meeting, the content of those letters of yore has been forgotten, but the memory of the connect still lingers, flavouring present-day conversations.

Those same two people, not yet old, but not young either, still keep in touch. Separated by geography, but united by a common history. Biologically ageing, and yet, the mental chemistry intact.

Thanks to the unwitting role played by India Post two decades ago, these two persons are now growing older and wiser – still together.

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