The decor is almost anachronistic. The flex poster of the Ajanta apsara in defiant contrast to the pop colours of the cafe. But there is something strangely comforting about India’s first post office cafe. Siuli, the parcel cafe, housed in the spectacular General Post Office of Kolkata, doesn’t need much to charm its patrons. It’s a success simply because it exists. Outside, the cobbled streets of Kolkata’s made-for-instagram-reels Dalhousie Square is buzzing with activity. This was once the white town of British Calcutta, where us natives had restricted access.
Who wouldn’t want to sit here, sipping coffee, pretending to study an important spreadsheet while actually watching viral reels on Instagram?
“It is important for us that people come to the post office. Which is why we thought a place dedicated to parcel-booking, packaging, gift–packing, booking for same–day delivery in selected locations and also have a café there, so that the younger generation feels like coming to the post office,” says Niraj Kumar, Postmaster-General of Kolkata Region.
Indeed, Siuli the parcel cafe, has a well-appointed panel counter that customers can make use of which also houses a gift and curio shop. “We have everything from philately (stamp collecting) albums to silver trinkets. We also sell packaged Ganga water from Gangotri here. They sell like hot cakes,” says an attendant of the cafe named Kumar.
Interestingly, all the furniture used in the cafe have been repurposed. “We repainted old tables and chairs for the cafe,” informs Kumar.
So, an old sorting table with attached shelves from the 1850s finds a pride-place in the cafe. It is paired with a high chair where the sorter would sit while dividing the letters into zones. Old spears used by runners are mounted on the walls. During the British era, dad runners would deliver letters. The runners would literally run from town to town, village-to-village carrying bags full of letters and parcels. “Since they also carried coin bags with them and valuables, they would often be targeted by thugs and robbers. That’s why they would carry these spears to protect themselves,” says an attendant of the cafe.
According to the India Post official website, India has the largest postal network in the world with 154,965 Post Offices (as on 31.03.2017) of which 139,067 are in the rural areas. On an average, a post office serves an area of 21.56 Sq. Km and population of 7753 people. However, even the annual report of the India Post shows that there has been a decline in the mail volume in the past few years.
Is this cafe one of the ways forward? “If India Post has to maintain its hold in not only the market but also in conversation, in people’s mindscapes, then something more has to be done — that’s why this café,” says Kumar.
Will there be more such cafes around the country? “This cafe is like a roadmap. We will have to see how it fares,” sums up Kumar.
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