Tingggg, or a more melodious tune on the phone or laptop, and you know an email has arrived. Getting used to this easiest process of exchanging mails for the last couple generations, has very conveniently made us forget about the early days of communication, especially sending and receiving mails when men used to literally run with mail bags, defying all hardships on the way which would often pass through dense forest. They were called ‘Runner’.
In fact Geoffrey Clarke, the then director general of the Imperial Post Office Department in the British period, puts it aptly, when he writes, “The romance of the post office must always lie in the Mail Runner, or Harkara. The number with tiger sated with his flesh is post count, the Himalayan snows have overwhelmed him and flooded rivers have carried him off and oozy swamps sucked him down. But in the face of all these dangers, has the runner ever failed to his duty? According to the stories, never, and in real life perhaps not more than once or twice.
Precursors of the postmen, the Indian Dak Runners were first appointed during the British Raj in 1850s, although the number of mail runners are reduced, the practice is still alive in distant remote villages, they work for the Indian Postal Service Department under the Grameen Dak Sevok Mail Carriers (G.D.S.M.C.)
Bhondu Gope, a resident of a distant village in Purulia, a district of West Bengal, is the last mail runner still at service. It comes down in the family tradition and Bhondu, in his 40s, was compelled to join the job when his elder brother who had taken after his father suddenly perished. Married to Nanaibala Gope and the father of four daughters of which two are married and a son, he struggles to be the breadwinner of the family. Daily Bhondu carries posts for three P.Os in the Ayodhya hilltop – Ayodhya B.O., Saharjhuri B.O. and Ranga B.O. in return of his extreme hard work, he acquires a minimal salary without any provident fund or insurance facilities whatsoever. With a job full of urgency, he gets only ten days leave in a stretch of a year and even if he is unable to work due to sudden illness he should arrange for a substitute.
Previously he used to carry loads of money orders, parcels, postcards daily but gradually the contents have shrunk significantly. The advent of technology is to blame as the internet & smartphones knit the people closer and made communication easier. So, presently only the E.M.O (money orders) and parcels constitute his load, sometimes there is cash on demand from the post offices of hilltop.
Bhondu has his own stories to tell while he knows that he probably is the last of his clan. The related authorities may take proper care to secure an assuring retirement for Bhondu. With him, winds up a long romantic and thrilling story that has been depicted in our literature and songs through different writers at different times.