For over a decade postman D Sivan braved harsh weather, hilly terrain, and even wild animals to deliver mail to some of the most remote areas of Tamil Nadu’s Coonoor.
“I had been chased by a mother elephant once. On that day, I thought I wouldn’t survive to deliver mail to those eagerly waiting for my arrival with good news,” he recalls over a phone conversation.
On March 7 this year, the 65-year-old hung up his khaki satchel in which he carried letters and pension money. In a career spanning nearly 35 years, it was only in the last decade that Sivan’s job was filled with adventure. After joining India Post in 1985, he worked for 25 years as a stamp vendor in Wellington, a sleepy town in Nilgiris district. He bid farewell to his desk job after his promotion and transfer to Hillgrove post office as a Gramin Dak Sevak Mail Deliverer (GDSMD). Even getting here was a task as it involved walking 7 kilometres through tea plantations.
“I would start my duty by 10 AM at Coonoor Railway station post office, which was my account office. I worked as a mailman at Hillgrove post office, which is 10km away. I would take a local bus from Coonoor bus depot to CMS bus stop. From there I had to walk 7 km through the thick, greeny tea plantations to reach Hillgrove post office which is situated in Lower Singara. Usually, it takes one hour fifteen minutes to reach the branch office by foot,” says Sivan.
One of his stops, to deliver the letters, was the Hillgrove Railway Station, where the station master welcomed him with a cup of hot black coffee. “Exactly from there, my ‘Into the Wild’ journey would begin. From 1 PM, I would walk over the Nilgiris Mountain Railway track for 40 minutes to reach a village called Vadugan Thottam. This 40-minute journey included two tunnels, three long bridges, and a dark and gloomy forest stretch of Western Ghats. Merely 10 to 20 families are living there,” he says.
His route also included Lower Singara, Hillgrove government-aided school, Vadugan Thottam, Marappalam, KNR Nagar, and Kurumbadi. The 15-kilometre treks everyday were tedious in the beginning, Sivan says, when he didn’t know how to navigate through the thick forest. But it became easier once he spent more time studying the route.
During one such trek he encountered a herd of elephants grazing along with calves. A mother elephant charged at him suspecting him to be a hunter. Sivan ran and hid behind a tree. He was saved when truck drivers spotted him and began to honk at the elephant. It wasn’t just the pachyderm, he also had close encounters with sloth bears, leopards, deers, snakes, and other wild animals. Sivan would often chant the Gayatri Mantra and worship several trees along his way to thank the forest for protecting him from the dangers.
Sivan says his job also made him aware of the effects of migration. Next to Vadugan Thottam is Marappalam, a 20-minute trek. It had only one primary school. Sivan used to deliver mails to the school teachers working here. But as the student numbers began to drop every year, the school fell into disuse four years ago.
“Due to the harsh climate and the need for modern necessity people used to migrate from forests to other places. If any letters came for the migrated people, I would track down their current address by asking neighbors and deliver the mails at my own expense” he says.
His last stop of the day was always Kurumbadi, a tribal hamlet. Old-age pensioners used to welcome me with black tea, he says. “Their love for me is unconditional. I only delivered the mails to them but they made sure that I’m not returning home with an empty stomach” says Sivan.
From there, he would take the local bus to Coonoor RS post office to handover his mailbag and call it a day.
“In 2010, I was wearing boots to trek but this job brought me closer to nature so I switched to slippers and, sometimes, I would walk on bare feet to feel the earth. Hope, Inside the jungle I left my footprints without hurting anyone” says Sivan.
His post-retirement plans include a trip to the Himalayas. “If there was no corona lockdown, now I would have been in the Himalayas. This corona ruined everything”, he says.
Nithya is a subeditor with with IeTamil.com
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