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2019

15/01/2019
The Indian Post Office In Antarctica, And The Journey Of A Letter

The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.” - Lewis Carroll

Post office. Now, that’s a far-fetched thing to hear about these days. May be it brings over a nostalgic feeling in some of us. Those red letter boxes (however many are left these days) don’t hold any importance in our lives; and neither do those good old post offices where an old man would probably go and enquire if he has received a reply from his NRI son.

It’s an age of emails and phone calls, Whatsapp messages and video calls. The few leftover and tattered-in-state post offices only hold importance for things like identity verification and postage stamps required for bureaucratic work.

But then, what if I tell you that there was once an Indian post office that was situated in Antarctica? Yes, it was an exciting place to be at one point of time. It was established in the year 1984 during the third Indian expedition to Antarctica. It was located at Dakshin Gangotri, which was the first scientific base station of India situated in Antarctica.

As exciting as it sounds, this post office was indeed situated in a stunning location and it was more than just a post office. In its times, it used to double up as a place for multiple support systems, including the presence of an ice-melting plant, laboratories, storage, accommodation, recreation facilities, a clinic and also a bank counter.

I guess I would have been more than happy to be the resident postmaster at that place.
Dakshin Gangotri was decommissioned in the year 1990 after half of it got buried under the ice. It is nothing more than a historical site now.
Coming back to the Dakshin Gangotri PO, an interesting fact about this place is that as many as 10,000 letters were posted and cancelled in this post office in total in the first year of its establishment. Although the post office is no more there, it is a favourite stopover for Indian tourists who visit the place in cruise ships.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that India doesn’t have a post office at the Antarctic Circle anymore. The current Indian post office in Antarctica is situated at Maitri, where the country’s current research station is also situated.

The presence of an Indian post office in Antarctica just goes to show the importance of handwritten letters. At times, what really makes me wonder is the journey of a letter. For instance, when I used to send a letter to my maternal grandparents back in those childhood days, it used to travel all the way from Kolkata to Bhilai in Chhattisgarh. That meant a 1,000-km journey of an enveloped piece of paper over a couple of days. The letter would make its way from the local postbox to the doorway of its desired destination via mail trains and the postman’s cycle. So a letter’s journey would involve several modes of transport and endless amounts of beautiful landscapes to cross.

Those times were simply amazing. I feel so good to even remember how I would anticipate about whether the letter must have reached my grandpa just by the amount of days passed since I dropped it in the letterbox. And the excitement attached to the receipt of a reply was unparalleled. I think there used to be a drop of joy attached to a letter at every stage of its journey -- right from the time it was posted by the sender with too many hopes, to till the time he receives another letter in reply.

I am grateful that post offices still exist in the world. At least it provides me with a feeling of security that when a day comes wherein computers turn against us or something really bad happens to the world of gadgets and technology, and we are left behind in a Terminator-esque world, it will be the hand-written letters that will come in use.

Besides, an email can never overpower the feelings attached to a letter written by a person with his own hands. I would give anything to smell ink on paper, in a letter that was written by a loved one.




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