John Samuel outside the floating post office on the Dal Lake.
Kashmir has a new brand ambassador. Its well-connected and recently modernised postal service, which besides delivering letters and parcels, has also been marketing the state as a land of unparalleled beauty.
At Delhi’s Dak Bhawan, John Samuel, 57, who recently returned after a two-and-a-half-years stint as Jammu and Kashmir’s chief postmaster general, explains the good the postal department has done for tourism in the picturesque state.
“A post office is more than just stamps and letters,” quips Samuel, who is from Tamil Nadu. “No place in the world matches the beauty of Gulmarg and Pahalgam,” he tells you in a matter-of-fact tone. And the tourist post offices in these predominantly touristy hot spots make good use of nature’s bounty.
“These tourist post offices sell not just postage and postal stationery, including special postal covers and picture postcards, but also Kashmiri saffron, walnuts, apples, handicrafts and coffee table books on Kashmir that can also be parceled to friends and family,” he says. “They also provide information to the tourists,” he adds.
Marketing the local produce and products at post offices helps develop the local economy, Samuel explains. A popular tourist icon in the state is its floating post office on the beautiful Dal Lake, which also has a postal museum.
The process of modernising post offices has been undertaken across the state, says Samuel, and as of now more than 40 of the state’s 1600-plus post offices have been upgraded. “Each modernized post office has the Post Shop facility,” says Samuel. What is the Post Shop? “A one-stop post office facility offering stamps, special covers, first day covers, packaging boxes for parcels, as also services of photocopy and fax. Besides, the ‘My Stamp’ facility is available here as well,” he says.
My Stamp is the personalised stamp facility that was introduced by India Post during Indipex-2011, the World Philatelic Exhibition held in Delhi, under which one can have one’s own picture inserted on part of the stamp and the entire stamp with the regular stamp and denomination can then be used as regular postage.
Samuel has also conducted philatelic exhibitions for the public and in schools with a view to promoting philately among children, an educative and fun hobby that can last a lifetime. October 9 is World Post Day and India observes October 9 to 15 as the Postal Week every year.
The very first state-level philatelic exhibition that was held in September 2011 was after a long hiatus of 32 years, Samuel says. Special postal covers in the last couple of years on themes such as ‘International Day of the Girl Child’ and ‘No Smoking Day’ have served to communicate social messages of import. “The post office can act as a catalyst to bring change in society,” Samuel points out. Sports events such as an athletics meet and a football tournament have also been hosted by the J&K postal circle. These activities are not post office-centric, rather they involve the entire community.
Its stockpile of positive initiatives includes gender parity as well. “An all-women post office has also been opened at Jammu Market,” beams Samuel. The post office was also involved in the ‘Clean Srinagar, Green Srinagar’ initiative working with the municipal corporation.
Samuel’s most memorable special cover has been the one that was released in 2011 at Siachen Glacier, at a height of 20,000 feet. It could perhaps be included in the Guinness World Records, he says, as no special cover has ever been released at such a height. The special postal cover was released jointly by Samuel and Lieutenant General K T Parnaik, the then chief of the Northern Command (now retired). “It was both to encourage our army jawans posted there and to publicise the place,” says Samuel. Clearly, postal activity in this region is set to scale greater heights.