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Monday, May 9, 2011

A Postman’s Knock — Literally

Comment on the book published by Dr.Kk. Ramachandiran N, PMG, Mail Management, Chennai

It was some weeks ago (Madras Miscellany, January 10th that I had referred to a book that was due to be published, Indian Postal History – Focus on Tamil Nadu. I was at the release of Dr. K. RamachandiranN's Ph.D these's-made-into-a-colourful-history the other day and heard him relate several fascinating bits of Madras-specific postal history and caught up with more in his book.

Something new I learnt was about dak bungalows, though the explanation should have been obvious. I had always thought that they were Travellers' Bungalows run by the Public Works Department. But apparently in the late 18th Century the PWD had been put under the charge of the Postal Department and, with that arrangement, the Travellers' Bungalows too came under the Postal Department. With the mail carts also accepting officials as passengers, that service too was linked with the Travellers' Bungalows and they became dakbungalows. The Dak Bearer service, as it was called, accepted private passengers too, if there was space for them after the requirements for officers had been met. This service also offered palanquins and dholis for travellers.

The first Railway Mail Service (RMS) came into operation in the Madras Circle, virtually the whole of South India, on September 29, 1871. The route it catered to was Madras-Cuddapah-Raichur. This route also pioneered the Travelling Post Office in the Madras Circle from April 6, 1874.

The first telegraph office in Madras was, I learnt, opened in 1863. Not long afterwards, in 1866, the telegraph line from Madras to Colombo across the Palk Strait was laid from Rameswaram to Talaimannar. Apparently there was a connection to Peneng too, presumably through Colombo. Then Dr. RamachandiranN lays pointed emphasis that this boon to the business community was “particularly” beneficial to “the Nattukkottai Chettiars…. actively involved in trading with the two neighbouring countries.”

Letter boxes away from post offices were introduced in the major cities of India from October 1854. That was the year the postal system introduced postmen to provide home deliveries. In February 1959, the Madras Circle had the distinction of recruiting the first postwoman in India. K.Padmakshi Amma was appointed to the Thiruvanathapuram Postal Division.

Despite this column welcoming the postman's knock, it would appear to be out of touch with all the different services the Postal Department offers. I had heard of the Postal Savings Bank, but the Postal Life Insurance Scheme was a new one on me. Apparently the success of the banking scheme introduced on April 1, 1882 led to the insurance scheme being launched on February 1, 1884, originally for postal employees alone, but gradually being extended to government and quasi-government service employees as a whole. Giving an idea of how big this business is, is the record of R. Venkadesan, Development Officer, PLI, in the Tamil Nadu Circle. For 12 years in succession he has been the country's leading generator of PLI business. In 1997-98, he began his gold-medal-winning streak with Rs.13 crore business and, increasing that figure every year, he recorded Rs.51 crore in 2008-9 and was heading for nearly Rs.100 crore the next year at the time the book was being written.

Snippets include the fact that PIN code 172114 is in Sikkim and is the highest post office in the world, at 15,500 feet, that the first postage stamp on a Tamil Nadu subject was issued on August 15, 1949, and featured a Nataraja bronze, the first Tamil Nadu Centenary to be honoured was that of the University of Madras on December 31, 1957, and that the first Tamil personages to be honoured were the legendary Tiruvalluvar on February 15, 1960 and the more recent Subramania Bharati on September 11, 1960.

And did you know that C.V.Raman, Akilan the author, R.S. Manohar and Vivek the actors, K.Balachander the film director, and Dr.V. Gopalakrishnan, the toponymist and linguist, had all served in the Postal Department at some time in their lives?

All this information and more that, reading between the lines, I sense is available warrant a much more comprehensive history of the Postal Department, the present edition just whetting the appetite.

Hindu 8.5.2011.

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