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Book traces story of Indias postal system

New Delhi: In the early 17th century, long before the times of email and mobile phones, pigeons, barefoot runners and bullock carts were used to carry messages between one part of India to another.

The postman cycle of the early 1800s, with its large front tyre, post boxes in all sizes and shapes collected from all over the country as well as the antique stamp printing presses can now be seen in photographs in a new book.

The coffee table book "Pigeons to Post" by Steve Borgia, released at the ongoing world philatelic exhibition `Indipex 2011` in the national capital traces the story of the origin and the evolution India`s postal history over a period of nearly two thousand years.

Borgia travelled across India and the world to gather every bit of collectibles that would piece together the history of the country`s postal history. Photographs of old post offices, dilapidated post boxes dating back several hundred years, stamp printing presses that are now antiquated, he has it all.

"Initially I wanted to display all the items I collected in a museum but the postal department stressed on the need for a book. The research and sourcing for the book has been going on for the past 15 years," Borgia told PTI during the inauguration of Indipex.

Since there was very less material available on the mail-runners, Borgia had to take help from British archives, retired post masters and the books written by post master generals before 1947.

"The mail-runner in earlier times not only carried people`s messages but they also carried their emotions and hopes. The used to write and read out letters for people. They had a simple lifestyles compared to their British bosses and were the real backbone of the postal system," says Borgia.

Clippings from the repositories of the London Mail, illustrations from the Global Post and etchings from the French and English artists as well as data and pictures sourced from the British and Delhi postal archives and museum of the colonial days helped piece the book together.

One of the highlights of the book according to the author is the section on line drawings on the mail runners fighting natural calamities like wild animals and flooded rivers for delivering the mails in time.

Borgia feels the postal department is facing competition from new technology in the times of Internet and it is trying hard to stay in the hunt.

"Postal department is doing a lot of things other than just delivering letters. In fact, they have to do more than what they can to stay relevant today. It is a big challenge for them," he says.

The 51-year-old author,who also runs a chain of hotels in South India, has created small museums inside his hotels to display his various collections.

"I acquired an antique stamp printing press from Sri Lanka and plan to display it in my museum," he says.

Borgia says he plans to tie up with school libraries so that children can know about the history of mail runners.

After the book, he says he plans to set up a postal museum.

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