Thursday, November 08, 2007

Man on the move

Postman O.P. Premnath delivers letters with gusto and efficiency

By Shevlin Sebastian

At precisely 3 p.m. O.P. Premnath, 43, the speed post postman, rides down Salim Ali Road, near Marine Drive, and enters the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute. He parks his bicycle near the entrance, checks the letters and rushes towards the elevator. On the second floor, Dr. Sunil Kumar Mohammed, head of the Molluscun Fisheries Department, enters the elevator and says, “Hi, Premnath, how are you?” The postman replies, “I am fine, Sir.”

Premnath gets off at the third floor and rushes into an office. A young woman, P. Vinitha, is having coffee and banana fries. As she signs for the letter, Premnath asks, “Chechi, why are you having kattan kaapi?” She smiles and says, “Just for a change.”

On the fourth floor, as he is walking briskly, a man hails him. He is Dr. A. Jayaprakash, a principal scientist of the Pelagic Fisheries Department. “Today is my last day,” he tells Premnath. “I am retiring after 38 years and 3 months on the job.” The postman shakes his hand and wishes him all the best for the future. Jayaprakash tells a visitor, “Premnath is much appreciated here. He is a pleasant person and has a smile on his face all the time.”

He steps into an office and gives a letter to P.K. Harikumar, a technical officer, who says, “Premnath is prompt, sincere and efficient.”

Apart from giving letters, Premnath is also collecting letters from various departments under the Book Now Pay Later scheme. After 25 minutes, Premnath walks out, and cycles next door to the National Institute of Oceanography where he parks the cycle in the porch. “I am the only one who is allowed to do this,” he says, with a smile. Inside, in an air conditioned office, K.R.G. Nair, 52, the PA to the Scientist-In-Charge, signs for the letter and gives two Honeyfab sweets to the postman.

Thereafter, the postman is off to the Advocate General’s office, then to Tarangini apartments (Navy Quarters), on to the Broadway branches of the Oriental Bank of Commerce and the State Bank of India, then to the Federal Bank on Marine Drive, to the GCDA complex, where he delivers letters at the NRI branch of the South Indian Bank, the office of the Small Scale Industries, and the Swiss Time house.

The most amazing thing about Premnath is how well liked he is. What really tilted the popularity scales in his favour was when, during one Christmas, he came up with the idea of wearing a Santa Claus suit. His rationale: “I noticed that whenever I went to any office, people looked very serious all the time. I wanted to make them smile.” So, he donned the suit and set out.

And in the offices, people took a while to realise it was Premnath the postman in the Santa suit. Soon, smiles burst out everywhere. “The next day, all of them complimented me, and said, ‘This is a very good idea. You must do this more often,’” says Premnath. “So, now, every year, when Christmas approaches, they ask, ‘Are you going to come as Papa?’ When Onam comes, they will ask whether I will come as Maveli, because once I had also dressed as Mahabali also.” Says Nair of the Oceanography Institute: “Who can forget Premnath as Mahabali and Santa Claus? He is a wonderful person.” But in the last three years, because of an increased work load, the postman has been unable to find the time to wear the costumes.

Premnath’s duty hours are from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. When he comes in, from his home in Puthu Vypeen, the Group D staff will be putting the delivery stamp on the 1,200 letters which would have arrived the previous night. “My four colleagues and I will help the Group 4 staff in sorting out the letters,” says Premnath. “It will be put in different cubbyholes.” This takes about an hour. Then the clerical staff has to give out a computer printout of the letters that Premnath has to deliver. If they are busy, Premnath takes the printout himself.

He sets out at 9.30 a.m. and will be back by 12.30 p.m. by which time he would have delivered 90 letters. In his second shift, starting at 1.30 p.m., he delivers around 50 letters. “In a straight line, my beat is 4 kms, but since I am going in circles most of the time, I cycle about 45 kms a day,” says Premnath, who has a monthly salary of Rs 7000.

Undoubtedly, in this era of the widespread use of e-mail, the number of letters that have to be delivered has gone down. But in the speed post section, the letters are steadily going up, because of the ‘One India One Rate’ plan: Rs 25 for packets weighing less than 50 grams. So how strong is the challenge from private courier companies?

“Undoubtedly, they are cheaper, but they are a threat only in the cities,” says P.C. Paulose, senior superintendent of post offices. “There are 1,55,516 post offices all over India, so no courier agency can match our infrastructure.”

And no agency can have a remarkable postman like Premnath, the winner of the 1996-97 'Dak Seva Award' (The Best Postman in the State).

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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