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D Sivan: The World’s Most Adventurous and Loveliest Postman?

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Ever heard of an adventure postman? Read this.

Once upon a time, before the internet dominated most other forms of communication, there was a world of letters. There was a certain charm in writing letters and maybe even more so in receiving them. There was a tingly sense of longing in waiting for a friend, or a loved one, to send you pages of warmth, enclosed in an envelope sealed with a prayer or a kiss.

Maybe love was more patient, and less instant back then. Often when people heard that familiar tinkling bell of the postman riding through the street on his bicycle, they would look with anticipation out of their windows. The ones who could not wait even for one extra moment, would run to the porch outside. He was the harbinger of fortunes, and sometimes misfortunes.

The postman wasn’t just an ordinary man doing his job, at least not in the smaller towns and villages. Often, as he came smiling in his khakis, people’s hearts were filled with hope to read the news that a loved one had sent. As they tore open the envelope, and a letter popped out, the postman would stand at a close distance, to share their joy or sadness, whatever the letter brought. Nobody considered it a breach of privacy.

Those who did not know how to read, would hand it to him with trembling, excited hands. The postman would then narrate the content of the letter to him. Back then in small towns, the postman often doubled up as a friend, sometimes even a guide or counsellor. In R K Narayan’s lovable book – Malgudi Days, there is one short story called ‘The Missing Mail’. In that the postman withholds certain bad information for a bit from a family, so that they can get their daughter married off successfully. Such was the influence postmen carried a few decades ago. In a 90s ad, when a small boy gets miffed at his family and runs a short distance away from his house, the old postman tempts him with Jalebis that the boy’s mother is making, and brings him back on his bicycle to the house.

All that was in the past. As phones and internet connected every little part of India, the postman’s bag became lighter and lighter. E-mails became the new norm.

Welcome to Coonoor, a picturesque hill station tucked in the Nilgiris mountains in Tamil Nadu. Like its elder sibling Ooty (neighbouring bigger town) Coonoor too is full of lovely tea plantations. A hamlet for British officers in pre-independence India, it has streets and red roofed guesthouses with lovely English names. Viewpoints look over massive valleys and every evening the mist plays hide and seek in these environs. There are some adorable cafes with warm lighting, flower gardens and pretty menus and many handsome retired army officers and their wives frequent them.

Two days back, D Sivan, a postman retired in Coonoor.  His story is quite remarkable. For thirty years, every day, Sivan walked the Nilgiri railway region. His day would start at the Hillgrove Post Office (such a nice sounding name!) and he would trek 15 kilometres to deliver his letters to different homes. His walk would see him treading railways bridges with the cliff falling off steeply on both sides, would see him cross gushing streams and forests, as he carried mails or pension to families and plantation workers living in and near the forested tea and pepper estates – Singara, Buriliyar and Marapallam.

Crossing the jungles and streams often would mean encounters with elephants, sloth bears, gaurs and snakes! It seems extraordinary that a man would faithfully carry letters every day for 30 years and trek 15 kilometres and often get chased by wild elephants and bears while doing so. Sivan would trek even during torrential monsoons, make his way gingerly across the slippery hillside, cross turbulent streams just so that a worker living far away from him home, a mother missing her son, could read two pages and smile.

He would cross hill tunnels frequently in these journeys, and soon he figured out when and where the wild animals usually congregated. Sivan understood the forests he walked in every day, as well as any wildlife expert could!

All this for a modest salary of Rs 12000 every month. As the years rolled by, and emails started replacing letter writing, as more and more people shifted from the Nilgiri hills to the plains – the towns of Mettupalayam and Coimbatore, Sivan’s bag became lighter and lighter every day. Many weeks he had be carrying just 3-4 letters to each village.

One day he noticed that a man whom he was supposed to deliver his pension, had shifted from Coonoor to Coimbatore (80 kilometres away). The man had fallen very sick, and was hospitalized. Sivan tracked down the hospital where the man was admitted, travelled 80 kms by bus and later auto, paid out of his own pocket and delivered the pension. Many Cunoor residents talk of how they always want to offer him tea, but how he politely declines and instead offers to buy them some himself!

Not all heroes wear a cape. Some have white hair and carry a simple satchel full of letters. Not all heroes write cool bios on Instagram, some just sit outside a door and read out a son’s letter to his mother. 

Sivan never felt a huge desire to shift from the mist laden mountains, those hillside plantations with rows and rows of tea, the narrow streets, or the people he knew all his life.

I live in Palakkad, less than four hours away from Cunoor. If not for the inter state hassles in travelling during these times of the pandemic and Covid, I would have taken my car and driven down to meet his wonderful man to know a little more about him, his likes, his childhood and the thirty years he gave to a profession that was appreciated a lot more two decades back.

We often admire adventurers of a certain mould – those who travel across countries and have vicarious experiences, those who climb high mountains or dive deep in oceans, or those who create world records.

But in a small part of the world, in the Nilgiris and Cunnoor, lives a gentleman who for thirty years selflessly delivered every letter he was given – and spread hope, happiness and warmth touching many lives. Sivan, all the elephants and sloth bears will vouch for the adventurer you are. More importantly, you have all our hearts. Thank you for everything.

If you like the story, do share it with as many people as you can. The world needs to know such people.

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Neeraj Narayanan

Neeraj Narayanan, a.k.a Captain Nero, is the founder of OHOT. In the summer of 2013, he quit his corporate job and went backpacking around the world. In a year full of (mis)adventures, he ended up being chased by a bear in a Croatian forest, being held at gunpoint by a mafia gang lord in Turkey, running with the bulls in Spain, and dancing in the clubs of Spain and Italy. A year later, he started leading group trips for people.

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