Meet Mumbai’s postwomen

Chandraprabha Talpe, 59, delivers the mail for India Post and is a year away from retirement. Among the first women to take up the challenging job, she officially became a government ‘postwoman’ in 1987, at the age of 28, and has just one grievance at the end of her career.

“They don’t seem to learn the word ‘postwoman’ in schools these days. Children often call us courierwalis,” Talpe said.

A timely observation given that in August, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology had asked that the Department of Posts replace the term ‘postman’ with the gender-neutral and politically correct ‘post person’.

However, sources said that although a decision in the matter was pending, the department had been using the unofficial term ‘postwoman’ for at least a decade.

Talpe is one of 11 postwomen who work at the General Post Office, Mumbai. In fact, her postal journey began 11 years before 1987 (when she officially joined), when she began working as a stamp vendor at Mulund Post Office. She said the job proved to be a godsend.

The organisation had hired her despite the fact that she had only studied up to Class X (and failed her SSC examinations), giving her the opportunity to provide her two children with a comfortable life, even as her husband struggled to hold down jobs.

“As my mother worked as a nurse, I had to shoulder some of the domestic responsibilities and could not spend a lot of time studying. So I failed my SSC examination. My father, who was a postmaster, suggested I take up a part-time job as a stamp vendor to lift my spirits,” she said. At the time, she was paid the paltry sum of Rs 112 per month for her service.

“On my first day on the field, I cried. I had just delivered my son, and so much movement – especially climbing stairs (there were hardly any lifts then) – over 12 hours caused me excruciating pain,” she said.

Moved by her plight, some colleagues helped her bag a ‘lighter’ beat at IIT, Powai. Currently, Talpe works the Bhandup circle of Indian Post. She has developed pain in her legs over the years – a complaint also cited by other postwomen who joined the department at the same time as Talpe. In fact, this is the only problem Shobha Chogale, 57, has with a job she has held since 1984.

Employed in the Kala Ghoda circle, Shobha said she met her future husband and the love of her life, Dinesh Chogale, 56, at work.

“When I joined, we were called ‘ladies postmen’. Now, the department recognises me as a ‘postwoman’. The job does not affect me in the day, but as I take the train home to Thane, every part of my body screams with pain. I have diabetes and have fractured my right hand,” Shobha said.
Chandraprabha Talpe handing over the post to a family (L); Chogale and Kavita Gaikwad sort the post

Her son and daughter-in-law want tell her to take voluntary retirement, but she said she wished to lead an active life till her body allows it. Manisha Sale, 58, has turned down similar requests by her children that she opt for early retirement. Sale was already a permanent employee with India Post when she got married in 1987, and said it was her government job that made her mother-inlaw choose her.

“It is the nature of the job that we had to lug heavy sacks full of letters – back in the 80s, people often wrote their loved ones. It paid better than the sewing job I worked at in a factory before. The other respectable option was to join the police force, but I was too underweight for that,” she Sale said.

She said climbing flights of stairs in old south Bombay buildings that lack lifts has taken a toll on her health. “All the women, 11 in all, who joined in the 80s, have developed bone-related issues and knee pain. I have, too,” she said.

For the younger Kanchan Sawant, 43, who works in the Tilak Nagar circle, days when she is menstruating are difficult. Other than that, she doesn’t have any complaints about the job. “After all, this job has enabled an HSC-pass village girl to gain so much confidence that I can manoeuvre Mumbai’s streets all alone. And the people we meet and deliver letters to respect the hard work we put in,” she said.

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