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Monday, December 4, 2017

An ode to letters and streets that changed

In the Deccan area, Avinash Ramchandra Pawar used to be a celebrity of sorts. A single ring from his cycle's bell brought people to their doors with just one question on their lips: 'Majha patra ala aahe ka?' (Has my letter arrived?)" From news about the birth of a grandchild to success in examinations; from rakhi to a little brother to money for elderly parents; from letters from a lover to communication from foreign universities... people depended on Pawar, and other khaki-clad men like him, for all correspondence, or "posts" as he prefers to call them.
But that was more than a decade-and-half ago. A 56-year-old today, Pawar misses the good old days. And having worked for the past 30 years at the Deccan Gymkhana Post Office, he does know a thing or two about the good old days. "We shared people's grief and happiness. Whenever people received job letters, they would ask us to wait until the sweets were brought out. The first sweet was always given to the postman, for bringing the news home," he says.

V S Khadpe, Avinash Pawar's colleague, too misses the "human touch" of the days gone by. "No one waits for the postman anymore. It is just the passport, which is still sent via post, that people wait for these days. Otherwise, all posts today are limited to company communications and bills, which are dropped in letterboxes," says Khadpe, who has been delivering letter for about 40 years now. He even remembers the busy exam season.

"April and May used to be the busiest months of the year because HSC and SSC results were sent via post then. As soon as we entered any colony, expectant children would come out running asking if we were carrying their letters. They would wait impatiently until all the letters were checked. Some would grumble because their letters had not arrived yet, while others would rush back home to read the details aloud," recalls the 59-year-old Khadpe.

Meanwhile, at the Sadashiv Peth sub-post office, a 55-year-old Ashok Pawar recalls the pleasures of his daily delivery rounds.

"There were wadas across the Peth areas. Only cycles and a few bikes used to ply on those roads. And all lanes were lined with massive banyan trees." But the changing face of the city does not impress the veteran. "All those trees have been lost to road-widening projects. What one sees today is a feeble image of the glorious past of this magnificent city," says Pawar. Even advances in technology baffle him. "I know how messages can be sent and received within minutes using mobile phones. I have even tried sending emails. My son tried to teach me. Lekin jamta nahi," Ashok Pawar says.

He is not alone. Certain changes in the city have left many postmen wondering how Pune grew up to become so wrong.

"Sprawling bungalows have made way for highrises and sounds of horns have replaced birdsong. The air used to be clean just like people's hearts then. A child belonging to a family in the colony was everybody's little one and everybody would keep an eye on him or her," Avinash Pawar adds. Others remember how safe the city used to be. Postman Janardhan Digambar Dhadphale even embraced some changes — he comes to work on a motorbike and takes out his bicycle only for the delivery rounds. But people leave him seething, especially when he is reminded of a relatively crime-free Pune.

"Big crimes were unheard of. That is why the Joshi-Abhyankar serial murders shocked the city so much in the early 80s. People kept talking about the 10 brutal murders committed by the young students of an art institute. It was around that time that changes started creeping into the hearts and minds of people here," he says. 
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