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Air Warrior, You’ve Got Mail !

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They were irritated by the high-pitched sound of a long whistle that emitted a clear signal across the lines of barracks. A busy schedule led to their activities full of sleep-deprived in so doing they fall in love with sleep. A large numbers of trainees succumbed to sleep-mode even during health run.  Duranta & co managed to scrounge while waiting inside the ground for the last round of the flight to join finally.  They had made their escape by the help of low visibility situations. The bygone days have taken on new meaning for health of their life later. From schoolboy to soldier, Ah well, nothing bloody changes to my memories after two decades of a true life of relentless adventure. Many weren’t enjoying that but military still soldiered on. The recent proposal by the army for game changing 3 year tenure for civilians inspired me to write today this article.

There were non-stop adventures and exciting activities all day long. After heavy lunch they finally reached at once with mug with spoon and plate. A crowd of fascinated onlookers were lazily gathered and eagerly waiting with impatience in front of MWO’s office at Basic Squadron where under trainee Keralite Dileep as a proxy for i/c Verki spoke with gently teasing mimicry. Only fouji can realise the value of a petite envelope that has carried a strong attraction and interest. There were bunch of letters arriving daily which Mail Orderly (MO) GSS Sarma from AP had the responsibility for delivery. MO named out the last three digits as they were invariably marked by the service number. Their names hadn’t got any importance but even today we could easily remember our friends by service number. They were fascinated by writing letters on colourful Inland Letter Card issuing commemorative catalogue to honour IAF “Touching the sky with glory”. The art of writing from me, with love etc. those humblest form communications had inspired their life to move on a sheet of blue paper with prescribed size and three flaps.

There were a bunch of yellow post cards from Kolkata region. Most of them receive at least one letter a week. But few are lucky to have a good number of letters than others as they used it extensively too. We wondered how Delhi-walla Praveen and avid fish lovers Ghosal, Mitra and others used to receive a couple of letters every day and there was a big round of applause at the end. Trainees were happy by a meagre cost of 10 paisa for open communication through Post Card. The other day my Haryanvi friend Saini fondly remembers those prime modes of communication. After so long now Cards and Letters were rarely finding us. Digital revolution is putting a full stop to postal communication introduced in 1879 at quarter anna (6 paisa made one anna). The use of Post Card has been rapidly falling; it is still available at 50 paisa and Rs 2.50 for an Inland Letter. We shouted for joy at Mail Parade.

While Squadron Senior Man (SSM) forced us to leave from cosy charpoy in the wee hours, MO relieved us for a short afternoon nap that quickly revitalize our energy. All we wanted to get back quickly towards billet so we could read letter from our near and dear ones. Today I realised why SSM Raghav felt a twinge of envy for fall in signal all the time but simultaneously GSS was our most beloved MO. We learned the art of time management and by doing so we walked the eat breakfast to cover up time of reaching parade ground on time. One hour rest in the afternoon was special as letters were handed us over our charpoy that travelled over thousands of kilometers only to carry a few lines but they were precious moments in our days. Not anymore. We could now tweet in Instagram that connect the world in an instant. Ironically letters took even a fortnight from my home North East India but those special lines were our shadows and our MO never missed a single post and my clear recollection is still vivid while they read mail in Billet.

Gone are those days of writing letters as technology threatens to stamp out India Post. But friend like Trivedi – the only Gujju of our entry is still continuing the collection and study of postage stamps. The enormous growth of telecommunication has made obsolete the traditional Post. Cellphones with messenger apps changed our habit of writing. Satellite phones are being used in forward areas now. The trend has been blamed as E-mail and texting replace telephonic conversation too. The inexpensive post card to the Indian soldier no longer exist. The nostalgic industry of C/O 56 APO (Punjab and J&K) and 99 APO (coded address in NE states, WB and Andaman) that makes Army Postal Service proud now found short-lived. We had the privilege of postage fee mails under FPO (field post office).

Communication is one of the top challenges for a soldier’s life while standing vigil in a forlorn forward post where even eagles do not soar, APO ensures its timely delivery. They wrote letters every night prior to compulsory light off at 10. As soldiers felt a surge of anxiety at night on military installation, writing letter helped them to deal with that. Those were the best depictions of the emotions of soldiers when they receive mail. After all those struggles now as an air veteran, I could try to cheer up my entry RT-152 by reminiscing of our good old days of “desh pukare jab sab ko” (when the nation calls) that everything seemed possible in late eighties. Irrespective of caste, creed or religion from Tamil Nadu to Punjab and Assam to Saurashtra, we were trained up at Jalahalli West. So they say, Hey dudes, what’s up, you’ve got mail.






Kamal Baruah

The writer is a Soldier, Banker and Columnist to North East Newspapers and Magazines

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