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Tracing India's post
It's daunting to chronicle India's postal history - especially since Vedic times - and to talk about its every milestone, every stride. But Steve Borgia loves what he does. Now he wants to build a museum dedicated to the country's communication system.
Steve Borgia is an unlikely name for a man raised by an orthodox Hindu family in Chennai. "Sure it is, " he says. "You see, my father met this Portuguese priest who did a great deal of good work during the Raj. He was so inspired that he named me after him, without sparing a thought to how misleading it would be. " What's not misleading about Borgia, though, is his avowed commitment to chronicle India's postal history.
A businessman by profession, the 51-year-old's collection is a veritable treasure trove of a communication system that continues to link thousands of villages and millions of lives. He has everything from photographs of old post-offices and dilapidated post boxes dating back several hundred years to odd badges worn by mail runners. "When I bought a 6-feet-tall, old Albion press that prints stamps, most people I knew thought I had gone mad. But it was my way of preserving our artifacts. I want to build a postal museum where I can showcase these things, " he adds.
Borgia has, in fact, just put together a coffee-table book - Pigeons to Post - on India's vibrant postal service which began during the Vedic period. "It was a tedious procedure documenting development of the Indian post. Part of the reason for this was that we have no proper data, even now, regarding the movement of post from rural areas to India's urban pockets, on the use of post cards, offices in various districts and states, " he says, adding that he painstakingly compiled information from the national archives in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai to retrace this fascinating chunk of our history. He even went to the British Library in London to collate material. "The guys at the British Library said they had already dispatched the material to the Indian government, but back home there was nothing to be found. It was a conundrum. Finally, I could source duplicates and piece together this book. "
Borgia says though the tradition of philately runs strong in India, when it comes to serious academic research on the postal service nothing of much significance is available. Recalling that it was as a student roaming about the ateliers of France that he discovered his love for the postman, he says, "I was introduced to this person who was vaguely related to Henri Pequet, who flew a biplane from Allahabad to Naini, India's first official air mail, carrying 6, 500 mails. I was hooked. I wanted to know more. Soon I had picked up this rather odd habit of collecting data and antiques relating to our postal service. "
Surrounded by objects from bygone eras - a walking stick made from dogfish shark spine almost 100 years old and a leather-winged fan from the 1930s that was sourced from Yercaud, among others - Borgia is a man who romances times gone by. "I find modernity overwhelming, " he says. "It was this same shock that swept the postal department when internet struck big. They (India Post) didn't know what hit them. Email caused a huge setback to the system. It was instant and revolutionary. But to assume that the postal service will be defunct in coming times won't be a very mature assessment. Almost 70 per cent of the population of India even today resides in remote villages. They are dependant on our postal service. "
And why? "I met this interesting fellow called Senthilkumar in the Kolli hills in Tamil Nadu during one of my business trips. He walked 15 kilometers every day without fail to deliver mails between Semedu and Ariyur Naadu. His monthly salary was a pittance, yet he served his job with utmost dedication. The postman has always gone beyond his call of duty. " In Borgia, they may just have found the right man to talk about them, their lives and their history.
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