August 5: Karrappan walks through dark forests and lively villages, covering more than 20 km on foot everyday. And he carries a heavy bag on his head.

Karrappan is a mail carrier. He works with the postal department of Pulpully, a small, remote village in Kerala. He has been working there for 40 years now.

Karrappan is a most unusual employee. Take his appearance, for instance. Karrappan wears only a dhoti. And nothing else. The dhoti may be just a long piece of cloth which Indian men wear, tied around their waist, but it is probably the most suitable attire when you have a gruelling walk ahead of you, under the glaring sun.

The Mail Carrier
The Mail Carrier [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Karrappan does not know how to read or write. Still, he provides the only link that scores of villagers have with the outside world — through the letters he brings.

Karrappan joined the Pulpully postal department in 1960. He was a young, unemployed man then who wandered about his village, doing nothing. Until Madhavan, the man in charge of running the temple in his village, forced him to take the job. This was his first job. And his only one. Karappan has been engrossed in his job all these years to such an extent that it has become a part of him. Only when his employers told him recently that it was time for him to retire did he realise that he had been doing a job all these years.

What did he do all these years? He would pick the post bag full of mail, hoist it on to his head and walk. The only protection was an umbrella given by the postal department. No doubt about it, it was a hard job. It required him to walk for at least 20 km every day.

Then, there was the time when he had to cross a dark forest to reach one post office from another. And all he had for protection was a pole with a sharp edge. The pole had little bells fastened to it, announcing Karrappan’s presence, so as to scare away mischief-mongers and animals.

Karrappan earned a very small salary for the job he did. Hardly enough to support himself, his wife and eight children. But that did not stop this enthusiastic worker from putting his entire heart into his job.