Good old red post letter boxes turn into garbage bins

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Image: Post Box opposite super market, in front of the Sikkim State Commission for Women

Technology, considered a boon if not misused, has made our lives simpler and easier. Sharing information and instant messages are two of its major uses. Though gradually, it has overshadowed the good old practice of reliability on letters sent via post offices, one cannot deny the immediate effectiveness of technology. However, there’s something about posted letters, postcards, postage stamps and the red letterboxes. It may be a feeling of nostalgia or an attraction towards something vintage – anything and everything about post offices are like a link between the new and the old world.

It all started during the 1650s when the term ‘Post Office’ was used following the legalisation of private mail services in England in 1635. However, postal services date back to as early as 2,400 BC during the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. In India, it is said that the first Post Office was set up in 1764 by the East India Company at Mumbai (the then Bombay). Like any other place in India, Post Offices in Sikkim also stands as a witness to the changing world. Everything around it changed, except the Post Offices itself.

Most of us millennials grew seeing the red letterboxes in our locality. Whether it was out of necessity or curiosity, we have at least once in a while dropped a letter or two in these boxes. Though most of these boxes are now not in sight, there are few left to see in and around the town. While these red pillar boxes go unnoticed by most, some of us may wonder whether they are still in use. Sadly, these boxes which were installed to collect letters and other useful documents for post now serves a different purpose.

The post box of the India Post which sits in Gangtok near the supermarket in front of the office of the Sikkim State Commission for Women now houses rubbish, conveniently dumped by the public. The box which once used to be full of letters and important papers now seems abandoned and misused.

When queried about the same with an official of the India Post in Gangtok, it was informed that the office has neither removed nor closed any letterboxes officially but some have been shifted to other places on request. The official however added that these boxes may not be in use by the public.

Though its use may have drastically dropped in the urban areas, in many of the rural areas, these pillar boxes are still in use to some extent.

The total number of post letterboxes across Sikkim is 551 as per the official record.

Through the years private couriers have also been one of the major factors in the decline of the usage of postal services. It is learnt that people nowadays use postal services only if it is a registered post.

As per the official record, there are a total of 187 Branch Post Offices, 25 Sub Post Offices and 1 Head Post Office in Sikkim. The Head Post Office is located at Gangtok. Every Branch Post office, Sub Post Office and Head Post Office has at least one post letter box depending on the area of coverage. But in case of some Branch and Sub Post Offices, they may have more than 1 box under their supervision.

The wide use of SMS, instant messages and other swift services have affected the oldest form of exchanging news and information.

“Technology has not only subsided the use of postal services, but also the traditional way of writing letters has drastically dropped,” says Neeta Bhutia, a 60-year-old who once enjoyed exchanging letters with her friends and family during the peak use of post boxes.

However, few things have remained the same like the bulk mail. Only the process of posting has changed. People, instead of dropping them in the letterboxes take the bulk mail directly to the Post Office and post them. This may be one among the many reasons as to why the boxes aren’t used anymore.

As per a senior Post Master, the use of postal services cannot be totally ignored despite easier and instant means of communication. The Post Offices still render valuable services for speed posting article, postal life insurance policies and other such services.

“I use postal services for sending my products which are ordered in bulk. It’s feasible and reliable at least for me. There are no good courier services in Gangtok and those which are available have terrible services and the rates are high. Though it takes time via India Post, this is the best option for me to send,” expresses Pooja Pandit, an artist who makes and sells handmade products.

The post boxes may now have been stuffed with rubbish and the use of postal services may have descended, however, one cannot deny its ‘classic’ charm and obviously the feasible postal rates. However, this comes as a concern and a question to us all as to whether our civic sense too has descended. Aren’t the dumping points enough, that we have now turned the post boxes into our garbage bins? Also at the same time, it becomes important for the concerned department as well to keep a check on these post boxes and uninstall them if there seems no necessity, instead of just making it as a keepsake.

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