Did you know in the early days of the postal system, a “dak harkara” (runner/postman) -- attired in bright uniform with badges, satchel full of mail on his back, armed with a spear for self-defense, a lantern in hand to show the path and jingling bells or bugle to announce his arrival ahead of time -- was the protagonist in mail delivery?
Enduring great discomfort and perils, especially if the route required him to navigate difficult terrains such as jungles or deserts, he used to deliver mail -- earning the well-deserved accolade of “service before self”.
Also, there used to be a floating post office in the country, which opened on December 8, 1950 in Khulna’s Chalna area. The post office conducted all sorts of transaction on a boat. It was, however, shut down and shifted to a permanent building in 1952.
These and many other interesting facts about the country’s postal system can be found at the Postal Museum. But finding the museum, located at a distant corner of the third-floor of the GPO building, is quite a challenging task in itself.
The only hint to its existence is not any banner or sign but the security guards or postal workers inside the building, who may or may not want to help one find the museum, depending on their mood.
But if you are adamant, then be ready to make quite a few bends and turns through the gloomy and labyrinthine corridors with sacks of who knows what lying on the ground, climb a few flights of stairs without proper wall support and do some walking.
Rest assured, once you enter, you will surely be amazed by its rich history and collection.
The country’s lone Postal Museum was established in 1966 in Dhaka and was situated beside the main facade of the General Post Office counter. In 1985, it was shifted to the third floor of the Dhaka GPO. It consists two rooms -- 2,160 square feet each, said an official of the postal directorate.
From centuries-old post office memorabilia to life-size statue of a runner, letterboxes of various shapes and sizes, armaments, old documents and other objects including many of the finest surviving examples of postal artefacts from as far back as the 18th century are sure to enthrall not just any philatelist but all.
Among the spectacles, a scarlet letterbox from the Victorian era is placed in a corner next to exquisite-looking letterboxes from the subsequent years. One of them (dates back to 1890) weighs around nine maunds (over 335kg).
Also on display are curved long swords and spears used for security in post offices during the early British era. There are also rows of balances of all shapes and sizes used in post offices. One such Birmingham-made scale can measure up to seven maunds (261kg).
There are also dioramas of offices of postmaster generals and portraits of various noted personalities who contributed to the development of postal system. The museum also exhibits an assortment of around 3,000 postal stamps from around 191 countries.
Despite having such a rich collection, hardly five people visit the museum in a day for lack of visibility and bad planning. The displays need attention as many have become worn-out. The infrastructure also needs maintenance.
These correspondents visited the museum thrice. Once on a Monday around 2pm, when it was closed. During other visits -- on a Tuesday and Thursday morning -- the museum was open but there were no visitors, only a genial security guard.
A man stepped inside while looking for an official and was genuinely surprised to learn that there is a museum inside GPO.
NOT ALL IS LOST
Contacted, Sudhangshu Shekhar Bhadra, director general of Postal Directorate, Bangladesh Post Office, said, “We have already undertaken a project to spruce up the museum. As part of the plan, we have started shifting it to the Postal Directorate in Agargaon.”
He admitted that the museum was not organised, but assured it will be once it is shifted.
“The space will be doubled there. Once the relocation is complete, we’ll add more exhibits and work on popularising the museum,” he added.
Except for Fridays, Postal Museum is open six days a week, from 9am to 4pm. It’s also free to visit.
By the time these correspondents left the museum, it was almost closing time. As there were no other visitors, the old guard locked the door and bade farewell. “When you visit us next time, it will be at the new place and you’ll enjoy it more,” he said in a hopeful tone.
That optimism also lingered with these correspondents as we started climbing down the uneven stairs and started whistling the lines from Sukanta’s immortal poem elegantly rendered by Hemanta -- “Runner chutechhe tai jhum jhum ghonta bajchhe raat e/ runner cholechhe khoborer bojha haat e…”
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