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My German penpal and I have been sending each other picture postcards for decades, although he is much more particular about doing so whenever he and his partner go on holiday, which is several times a year. I, on the other hand, had not travelled as much when I lived in Dubai as holidays usually meant coming home to family.

In the early days, letters or postcards used to take around a week to reach and we used to marvel at the efficiency of the postal systems of our respective countries. But, of late, we have noticed a major change in the time it takes for snail mail to reach its destination. Yes, we still send each other birthday cards although I must admit that I would prefer the instant digital greetings. However, I have to concede defeat in trying to convince my friend who refuses to entertain the idea. And I thought I was outdated!

Well, now snail mail is living up to its name as our cards take over a month to reach. The other day I went to the post office to mail a postcard which I had bought during a recent visit to Russia. When I handed it over to the person at the counter, she looked at it in surprise and seemed lost in thought for quite a while as if figuring out what to do with it. Then she turned to another employee and was told that stamps needed to be affixed to it. I could have told her that! I do not have much hope of this missive reaching any time soon but I console myself with the saying that it’s the thought that counts.

I still have my collection of postcards received from friends holidaying in exotic locations and I had even made a collage of these which drew the attention of anyone entering my room. Even now, the first thing I think of when I go abroad is picking up postcards of the places I visit to send on. Sometimes, I forget to post them as finding a post office while travelling can be difficult. So, they come home with me, and I have every intention of sending them to friends or family. But time has a way of getting away with you and they lie forgotten in a drawer or shelf, only to be discovered months or even years later!

Once upon a time the post office was a place I visited often to post rambling missives as well as birthday, Christmas and Diwali cards. The money spent on postage burnt a hole in my pocket as finances were limited in those days. But the joy of wishing people on special occasions made one overlook what could be viewed as extravagance by those who did not believe in sending cards to mark special occasions.

The best part about postcards was that the space provided to write a message was severely limited. So, it was an exercise in precis-writing, which I loved while in school. The picture was self-explanatory and all you had to add was little details such as how much you were enjoying yourself and what your next stop was. Of course, there were some who were determined to get their money’s worth and tried to cram as much as they could into that little space by scrunching their handwriting until it was almost illegible. Luckily for me I have a bold handwriting which helps to fill the space in a jiffy.

I just remembered that I still have a booklet of postcards bought during my visit to Yellowstone National Park in the US more than a year ago! Maybe it’s a little too late to send them to friends but they can serve as reminders of yet another memorable holiday.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.