You will find them in Poet Sukanto’s writing. ‘digonto theke digonte chote runner..kaj nieche se notun khobor aanar’ entitled ‘runner’ which was sung by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay. Beyond all obstacles this hard worker runner used to walk all the way alone to deliver the mail bags they carried on their back. WE all read the poem in the Bengali book in everyone’s childhood.
But they all aren’t vanished yet; at least two of them are still carrying forward these job. Bhandu Gope, 45 and Kalipada Mura, 58 are still on it. They have been working since 90’s with the Indian Postal Department. They still walk to deliver mails and retails consignments of various e-commerce portals across 25 remote tribal villages on the top of the hills of Ajodhya, Purulia. Bhandu lives in a small village of Baghmundi. He carries three mailbags everyday till Turga Falls in Ajodhya Hills, Kalipada takes over from there and deliver them to local post offices at Ranga, Sarjhuri ans Ajodhya.
“I leave home around six in the morning and try to reach Turga as early as possible. It takes a bit longer to get there when it rains. The going gets really tough during monsoon. You see, up there in the hills, the roads are steep and dangerous. Rains turn them into slippery, flash flood prone death traps. I have escaped accidents by a few minutes several times. I walk and run till Turga, from where Kalipada takes over, “ Bhandu said to TOI. Kalipada told TOI, “Hilly roads are not traveler friendly. I often come across wild elephants on my way back from Turga to the branch office. You see, you don’t realise they are close till they make some kind of noise. Once I got too close -the herd was just 10 feet away when I saw it! I stood still for 10 minutes, and moved only after the herd had crossed the road. But it has been at least 2-3 years since I last saw elephants. I am ageing and it’s growing difficult for me to walk on inclined roads. On days, when I don’t feel well, my younger son Shambhu gives me a lift to the hills on his cycle.“
They hardly earn Rs. 10000 a month. Bhandu collects firewood from the jungle and Kalipada grows vegetables. They sell them to the market to run the cost of their family. They themselves run their days eating ‘Panta vaat, basi ruti, basi chawal’ and sometimes they have to work with empty stomach as they have nothing stored to eat. They says, “With four daughters and one son, it is difficult to run the family with so little money, I join my wife to collect firewood from the forest after coming back from duty in the evening and we return home together. Each stack of wood earns us `100-120,“ Bhandu said to TOI.
Gobardhan, Kalipada’s eldest son is a BA and Shambhu is a MA in Bengali and their younger sister is doing her BA. But still they are fighting for survival because of unemployment. Shambhu says, “Dada also wanted to do MA, but we didn’t not have the money . He fought for me and let me achieve my dreams. Whatever money he earned from farming, he spent on my studies, but the net result is zero. What do I do with this degree? Not a single job is available for unemployed youths in this district. I had even stayed in Purulia town for three months to look for jobs, but in the end, I realised I was just wasting money and came back, My youngest sister Tumpa is doing her graduation, and we want her to find a job and have a better life. Nothing is possible in the hills. I wanted to teach kids here, but all of them are now being sent to town to study. Now, I just spend my days with father, accompanying him till Turga and coming back together. “
There may be disagreement but first time the runners are believed to deliver a mail was on the Mughal period. Earliest the runner were used to gather intelligence for the rulers but later they were used to convey messages and also began to be used by merchants for trade-related work. Moderately, runners were used to carry private mail.
In the British era, the designation ‘Runner’ was formed. They were paid according to the distance travelled and the weight of the letters carried. The relay system of the runner also started at that time, the first runner will carry over until a specific place and the second runner will carry forward to the destination.
They had to walk to reach because the places they served were inaccessible areas. But in these days the roads and the transport systems are so developed that you will just find the runners in remotest regions of the country.
YouTube link of the ‘Runner’ song by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay