It was a small, derelict post office in a dusty suburban town; a lone elderly post master was at the helm and three sorters assisted him in the task of sorting and distributing the mail. The mail bags used to arrive by the 10 o’clock train and the sole tonga of the town, carried them to the post office by 10:30 am.
The sorters would then take over, sorting and arranging the bundles of letters in their rightful slots. And by 2 pm, in the afternoon, they would start delivering the letters, each one to its destined address.
Every afternoon after the last bell had rung, I would rush to the post office straight from school, eager to know if there was a letter from any of the relatives, living far away from home. Of course, at that age, there was hardly any letter addressed specifically to me. It would be more like a passing mention in a letter from a married sister or an uncle. Nevertheless, the fascination never dimmed.
After I moved away from home to attend college at the distant town of Bhagalpur the very first letter from home, addressed to me, was a revelation of sorts; opening my eyes to the importance of the post office as a means of keeping in touch with family and friends. But the one disheartening note, especially for a young man in the trying transitory years between adolescence and youth, was the absence of a special letter from a special person. Unfortunately, someone ‛special’ was yet to make an appearance in my life.
It was during a short visit home on the occasion of Durga Puja that I first met Tanuka, the teenage daughter of the doctor who had been recently posted to the Government Hospital in town. Tanuka was studying for intermediate in Calcutta and was home for the vacations. Intelligent and bright, with a pair of loveliest eyes I had ever seen, she soon caught my attention. In no time, we became friends. We were two young people, sharing a lot of common interests. Thrown together in a town which was not so progressive, my reputation as a brilliant student and an all-rounder, perhaps contributed in no mean way. But her vacation was coming to an end and she had to leave right after Dussehra or Bijoya Dashami because a visit to her grandparents was long due.
We said our goodbyes amidst tears and promises to exchange letters. Since my holidays would continue till Chhatt, usually celebrated in November, she promised to write, immediately on reaching Calcutta. And then she left, leaving me with an unexplained sense of loss and perhaps a little heartache.
Three days later, I found myself at the favourite haunt of my childhood days – the old post office with the postmaster though a different man now, younger and lazier, and the three sorters, now old with advancing age; but one thing had remained the same – there was still no special letter for me. And the same was true the day after, and every day thereafter. My classes started and I went back to Bhagalpur but the letter from Tanuka never arrived.
In fact that decrepit little post office in my dusty suburban town never brought me any special letter from someone special. And my hope that it would bring a letter someday from someone special died too for the other day I discovered that the old post office was being demolished. A new one, brighter and bigger, was about to come up.
(Translated from a short story by Rishikesh Sengupta)