Sunday, April 21, 2013

Post Cards and "England Letters"

A post card was the most popular medium of communication between two places in the country some five or six decades ago.  An area of about 20 square inches on one side and half of it on the other side was for messages.  The remaining one fourth was reserved for writing the address for delivery by the post man at the destination.  If more space was required for writing the message, one could use the "England Letter".  Its actual name was and is "Inland letter", but it was referred to popularly as the "England Letter", especially in the rural areas.  One reason probably was because the England bosses ruled the country for a long time and the other was due to the two words sounding similar.  The third brother of the family, envelope, was considered expensive and reserved for official communications and rare occasions when sheets of paper were used for writing or to enclose some document etc.  There was a fourth brother of the family available for sale at larger post offices; special envelopes for carrying letters abroad, popularly known as "Foreign letters".  All of them are still in use, but have been replaced to a large extent by electronic communication medium like e-mails.

As a young boy I was fascinated to find that such cards and letters reached the addressee in a distant place.  Whenever the post man came to our street, we children would go behind him till the end of the street to find out which houses received letters that day.  One other thing that pleased us most was when the post man brought money orders.  My mother received two money orders (MO) every year; her two younger brothers always sent a M. O. to her a week before the Gowri-Ganesha festival.  The message part of the MO given to her with the money by the post man contained the usual request for utilizing the money for purchasing pooja items for the festivals.  The earliest MO amount as I remember were five rupees and increased to ten rupees in due course.  This sending and receiving of MO, however small the amounts were, was given high importance by both the senders and receivers and was a symbol of the bond between brothers and sisters.  One of our neighbors was working in a far away city and his wife would wait for the arrival of the post man in the first week of the month, bringing the MO sent by her husband for household expenses.  The post man would come promptly and deliver the money.  She used to keep a four Anna coin (quarter of a rupee) ready and gave it to him after receiving the money.  For quite some time I believed that it was part of the postal procedure.  It was much later that I learnt that this coin was actually a tip and it meant "To Impart Prompt Service"!

Those were the days of very low literacy and many villagers used to come to see my father and seek his help in writing letters for them.  My father would purchase postal stationery during his visits to the nearest big town and keep a stock of post cards, inland letters and envelopes to meet the requirement of the villagers.  Sunday mornings were busy times with many illiterate people from nearby villages coming for getting their letters written by him.  Some of them brought inward letters (letters received by them) and ask him to read them over.  Then the reply was to be decided and written by him.  As the letter for one villager was being written, others would sit below the tree in the front yard and patiently wait for their turn.  The process of writing a letter would start with inquiry about the addressee and contents of the message to be written.  There was no particular order in their answers and it was left to him to bring it into an acceptable form of communication.  He would write the letters, read them over to them and then mail them.

Whenever my father sat down near his small desk for writing cards or letters, I would take my place next to him and keenly observe how he went about it.  When I was in primary school, I was not allowed to touch any of those things; the desk, cards and envelopes or the pens.  As I moved to middle school, I was permitted to help him with placing the desk in its place, filling the pen with ink, pasting the inland letters with gum and finally going up to the post box to mail those cards and letters.  When I was sent to post the letters for the first time I was told to put the letters in the box and salute the post box so that the letters were delivered promptly.  I did this faithfully for sometime until I realized that the instructions were in jest.  During my first year at High School I was assigned to write the letters for the villagers under his watchful eye.  He would then scrutinize them and approve their mailing.  Once he was satisfied that I could do a good job of it, he delegated all the writing to me.  Literacy level improved by that time and the number of villagers coming for such errands also declined.

My father always wrote the address on the cards and inland letters first and thereafter went about inking the messages on them.  After observing this system, once I asked him why he did so.  In response to my question, he told me a fine story.

Those were the days of early marriages.  One village boy was married immediately after he finished his metric examination.  He was about sixteen years of age and his wife was studying in middle school.  He was sent to a city for pursuing his college education.  His father had instructed him to write a letter every week to inform the progress in his studies.  He had to comply with the instructions of his father.  The boy himself wanted to write to his young wife.  (He was probably reading "Mysooru Mallige" of the famous poet K S Narasimha Swamy!).  He bought two inland letters from the post office and wrote to his father as well as his wife.  The contents of letter to father conveyed that he was fully concentrating on his studies and his mind was occupied by only this and nothing else.  The letter to his wife had the opposite message: he was always thinking of her and had no interest in the studies.  He even expressed annoyance with the father for not allowing him to stay with the newly wed wife and forcing to go away to a distant place for studies.  Both the letters were fine in their own place.

He had no habit of writing the addresses on the inland letters before writing the contents.  The letters were sealed with gum before the address part was completed.  While writing the addresses on the two inland letters, he wrote the address of his father on the letter written for his wife.  The letter meant for his father was mailed with his wife's address on it!      


  1. How nostalgic the write up is!! As usual written with subtle humour. Hats off to your sterling qualities of story telling
    S. Raman

  2. Youy funny episode keep us charged with good sense of humour and also a pleasant to read beautifully worded English language.I adhore your command on the language and making good use of the same without iota of hesitation >please keep it up .My compkaint is that thiks time there was a long gap .I hope you will make good for it in coming days

  3. Such a lovely article! How important the post-office was in those good old days and as important were the 'writers' such as your father. Something beyond the comprehension of the youngsters of today. The article brought back memories....Being in the boarding school from 8 years of age, letter-writing (to oparents) was a compulsory ritual every sunday morning and was strictly overlooked by our Warden. We would also help the hostel maids by writing letters to their families on their behalf. The Post-man had such a revered place with us boarders.

  4. I was really happy to read this article. You are giving a great tribute to your father, not only in this one, but in other ones too. The way he interacted with the community is very well written including your part in it too. Thank you for sharing this one as it makes us to go back to our old times of waiting for the mailman anxiously at different stages in our lives. (UR)

  5. How can I appreciate each word, even now I would love to receive a letter by post!

  6. Wonderfull, nostalgic article , well written and ended beautifully with nice humour . Do publish this to enable more people enjoy the article .


  7. A simple story narrated in such a lovely manner. Only Keshava Murthy can do it.


  8. Interesting Piece. Summer vacation and the monsoon wedding was also a season of good postal traffic in the early sixties.
    As a science student I found it diffisult to understand Consumer Surplus in economics. But an analogy with the humble postcard in the Suneja Guide fixed the concept better in my mind.

    The explanation was: The postcard costs fifteen paise and can
    carry a message to a place to which the train fare maybe Rs. 100.
    So if the people opt to pay Rs 2/- for the post card they would still find it cheap. The difference of 1.85 Rs , the book said,
    was consumer surplus.

  9. I like this ....


  10. I miss Thaata. Love this post, Appa.

  11. Hats off to your wonderful narration. I enjoyed it. Thanks.

  12. Nice Story. It touched me. Reminded me of my good olden days when we use to write and receive letters. It was really a thrilling experience. Regards
    -Gopinath Pai

  13. Sir i really enjoy the story & understood the important of TO address thank you sir keep it up

    S.Ramesh kumar
    TMB LTD.,

  14. The narration style needs appreciation sir..hatsoff!!! I learn't one point from your style of communication - 'add a tint of humor to make it interesting". Thank you Sir!!