I am writing to you after a long gap. A sudden unanticipated inflow of work kept me occupied for the last two weeks. Such unexpected change in work schedule is part of scientific research. The work is not yet finished, but now I am getting used to the extra work. It also means that a lot of routine work has piled up — cleaning, organizing, refreshing social contacts, and yes, getting updated with what is going on in the world. So I sat down and browsed through the large pile of newspapers looking for anything interesting that I might have missed.
And then, this news item caught my attention. A postman hadn’t delivered his share of post for two long years and was suspended. The pile consisted of 14,000 letters. Today we are not surprised at delayed delivery or non-delivery of our posts. Perhaps that is the reason behind the popularity and preference for registered post, speed post, courier etc. And yes, e-mails — at least we do know whether they have been delivered successfully or not.
This news item reminds me of one TV serial on Doordarshan (what else!) which presented similar scenario and addressed the effects it might have on people’s lives. The only thing I remember about that serial is that the director and his wife were also actors in some of its episodes. The background of this serial was something like this — an old postman had died, his son found several bags of 20 years old undelivered letters. He made up his mind to deliver them. I am not sure if that is the correct version, but it was something like this only. Now, it implied that the letters reached the people 20 years later! And in all that time their lives had moved on; so everything was upset with the arrival of these letters. You know, however deep the wound be, time does heal it, and slowly we either recover from our experiences or at least get used to them. But if something turns up from our long forgotten past, it would not just bring mental agony and pain, but could also change our present day circumstances.
The only episode that I remember from this serial narrated the story of an old couple living in Delhi. They were daily labourers. The husband used to participate in election rallies also — you know, when leaders give public speeches, they need audience . . . and people are given 10-20-50 rupees to build up crowd, cheer and make noise. You know that, don’t you? Now, this couple, living such a life, one day received a letter from some Ansari in Jammu telling them that their daughter was with him, and asking them to contact him at the address given. The oldies were shocked because they had lost their daughter 20 years ago! As I told you earlier, the letter was sent 20 years ago, it is another matter that it took so long in reaching them. Well, the couple somehow collected money from here and there, and just managed to reach Jammu and knocked the door of the man who had written that letter.
Now, what had happened was like this — post partition, riots broke out, the little girl lost contact with her parents, and was picked up by a Muslim family. The gentleman found her approximate address and wrote a letter, which never reached. The parents on their part could not find their daughter and soon gave up hope. And now, 20 years later, this letter was telling them that their daughter was alive and safe.
However, everything was not well. On receiving them at his residence in Jammu, the gentleman grew sad and silent, and told them that they had arrived a bit late. He assuaged their apprehensions and told that the girl was perfectly fine. The problem was that the girl, now 24 years old, had got married just two days back, and was leaving the country with her husband the very next morning — from Delhi — never to come back again. That means, they had only one night to travel all the way to Delhi and try to see her off at the airport. In all his kindness and also to lessen his own burden of guilt, the gentleman gave them his private car with his driver to take them to Delhi. That is the whole story.
There are certain aspects of any piece of art that keep haunting you all your life — it could be a sentence from a novel, any image in a painting, a scene from a movie, or a moving melody. There were scenes in that episode — two to be specific — that have hammered the episode so deep in my memory that I simply cannot wipe it off.
While traveling from Jammu to Delhi, the driver stopped at a roadside dhaba to have dinner. He asked the old couple to eat something, which they refused — mainly to save time and money. At the dhaba, the driver happened to meet his friend, and the two shared their individual experiences. The friend told our driver that he was carrying a newly-wed young couple in his car and was having a gala time enjoying their romantic conversation. Our driver got jealous and cursed his fate for having to drive an old couple. All along the journey, the old couple had been pressing the driver to drive faster. The latter was getting annoyed and every time he was asked to go faster, he told them that he cannot do so because it was a hill route.
When the journey resumed, the old woman once again asked the driver to go a bit faster. Now the driver could tolerate it no more; he stopped the car and asked the two to get down. He scolded them heavily and refused to take them any further. The couple kept pleading, but he did not budge. When they got helpless, the old woman suffered an attack. The driver first thought that it was fake, but then realised that it was not so. He asked the man about the woman’s problem, who told him the whole story, and about his wife’s weak nerves. The driver was apologetic and made a promise to them — ‘However be the weather or the route or the traffic, I assure you that I would take you to the airport on time.’ Oh my, you should have seen that intense scene! And from then on, the driver rode like a mad man, zoom-zoom-whew-shooo . . . And Delhi!
Second scene is from the airport. There the couple was refused entry, they got further delayed, entry was closed, and they could not meet their daughter. Then the driver took them outside — to the boundary of the airport from where the runway was partly visible. When the plane took off, and started flying in the air, the driver turned to the old couple and said, ‘Look there! In that plane . . . is sitting your daughter.’ The old people looked up at the plane, and waved their hands . . .
Do you remember the title of the serial or any other episode(s) from it?
Mail comprised magazines, calendars and 2,000 Aadhaar Cards: 14,000 letters undelivered for 2 years, postman suspended, The Indian Express, 31 July, 2017.