Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Anchal: The mail must go through


An old, dilapidated building atop an isolated hill. Totally deserted. No one goes there anymore. The path that led to the structure once is no longer traceable. The letter box is crumbling with rust and may topple any day.

But it is all part of recent history.

A few decades back this place was a hub of activity. It was an Anchal office. Now, Anchal was the name of the postal service of India’s native state, Travancore. I haven’t been able to clarify when this service began. Initially it was meant for government communications only. But in 1860 it was opened to the public as well.

Anchal coexisted with the British India Postal Service but they didn’t work in tandem. Both were separate entities. Anchal delivered letters only within Travancore State and the neighboring Cochin State which too had a similar service. For any mail to other parts of the country, the British India Postal Service had to be relayed upon.

Travancore introduced postage stamps in 1888. Cochin followed suit about ten years later. These stamps had two major differences. The early Travancore stamps showed only the Sanku, the State emblem whereas the Cochin stamps carried the portrait of the ruling Maharaja. Travancore had its own currency in which the value of the stamps was shown. In Cochin stamps, this was in British Indian Currency.

The Anchal Service used the railway, boats, buses and even canoes. And there were the Anchal Runners who delivered mail to the offices in the interiors where other means of transport could not reach. They ran at a steady pace holding a two-foot long staff on which bells were attached. The chiming would warn the people along the route that the Anchal Runner is approaching. They should remove all obstacles from his path.

The mail had the right of way.

Quite a few people used to gather at the Anchal Office even though there was a home delivery service. Normally they spent time gossiping till the mail came. The Anchal staff knew almost everyone in the locality. If there was mail for anyone present it was handed over to the addressee and then the Anchalkkaran (the delivery man) would go on his rounds.

There would still be a few hanging around the Anchal Office even after that. These are the illiterate. Someone has to read out the letters to them and also write replies on their behalf. I suppose that those who offered the service for pay or otherwise, were men of honor who would not reveal the contents of the mail.

Shortly after Independence Travacore and Cochin became one State and the Anchals merged. On April 1, 1951 the Anchal Services were absorbed by the Indian Postal System.


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