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A Post Office in the Hills

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By BIJOYA SAWIAN

It was the sensitive review in Garhwal Post, the cover of the book, the poetry and the title, ‘Postcard Poems’, by Mugdha Sinha that, eventually, inspired me to write this piece. I had tucked away these feelings for a long time guarding them jealously wanting so much to pen them down but yet not wanting to share. It happens when one is in love and I was with that little post office in Char Dukan. When it was demolished and replaced with another eating joint or – is it a store? – I wept. That little post office was, to me, a treasured gem in a fast[1]vanishing world that will never return, an oasis in one of my favourite parts in the lower Himalayas.

Whenever we would go up to Landour, I would place my order and then walk up to the post office, buy a couple of postcards and inland forms, and write to family in Shillong, to friends who are braving a summer or to someone who I hadn’t communicated for ages, someone I had not dared to fearing an emotional reply. In that little post office in Landour I felt free, unfettered, I was ready to let go. I was ready to fly. It was a delightful experience because I was sharing a very special moment from a very special place with someone who will be treated to a surprise, the little postcard from the Mussoorie hills, faraway.

I once wrote to an aunt who lived between Cherrapunji and the Nohsñgithiang Falls because the bend in the road leading to Sisters Bazaar reminded me of the promontory on which her ancient cottage sat. That was all I could tell her because that was all that the little postcard could hold. It gave her so much joy, however, that she put it on her mantle piece leaning on her antique clock. It was shown to all her visitors and contents read out with much aplomb. “Imagine receiving a postcard from a place which is part of the Himalayas, the Himalayas!” she would apparently shout most dramatically, being an eccentric spinster, my storyteller friend.

Another postcard was to my parents informing them that I would be in Shillong with my two sons for the summer. When I reached Shillong two months later the little cream postcard was by my mother’s bedside alongside her spectacle case and box of medicines. I plan to look for it this coming summer. I hope to find it so that I could frame it. It is important to cherish good memories. They are balms for us in times of pain and loss and the inevitable upheavals that fraught our lives.

When I went up with close friends who would understand my passion I would settle for an inland form and write to people wholike me, wait for the postman, like they would for that first shower after a dry and hot summer. A sister in law in Jodhpur was one of them, friends in Mumbai, cousins and nieces who would understand the words, the emotions, the feel of the paper, light blue in colour.

Mugdha Sinha writes, “You love hard like brick and mortar/ cement and concrete/I love like soft petrichor/aroma of vanilla and feather touch/of all things intangible/You need a cadastral map and compassion/all I ever need is fertile imagination to fall in love.” Well, all I ever needed was that little tin roofed space of red and green at the foot of a rocky slope, a wooden bench and table, a postcard and a pen to fall in love.

This post office was set up in 1847 by Captain Fredrick Young, popularly referred to as the founder of Mussoorie. According to historian Ganesh Saili, the father of Jim Corbett, Christopher William Corbett worked as a postmaster here from 1850 to 1863.Ruskin Bond, who was close to many of the postmen, as one could well imagine, was sad when the authorities decided on the closure. I was devastated even though I am just a visitor or maybe I am not. Maybe I was part of these mountains in some lifetime and, maybe, I will always be. Besides Landour, there are places there that I actually never ‘leave’ – a bend on Camel’s Back Road with a view of the temple above Cloud’s End; the slope going up to May Cottage; the Kasmanda Palace garden; Charleville and the Academy and, last but not the least, enchanting Lynwood to name a few, but that’s another story.