Soldier, you've got mail....
The location of armed forces personnel serving in forward areas is invariably classified. While mobile and internet may be the preferred means of communication for most today, this facility is not necessary available to the soldiers serving in borders of our nation. So how do family members and friends of soldiers communicate with them?
They simply write on an envelope or on an inland letter the soldier's name, his unit details and mail it "Care of" (C/O) 56 or 99 APO, depending on whether he is serving in the western or eastern sector. Whether standing vigil in a forlorn forward post or elsewhere where even eagles do not soar, Army Postal Service (APS) through their Army Post Office (APO) and subsidiary network of multitudes of Field Post Offices (FPO) ensures its timely delivery.
56 and 99 APO, incidentally are the two Central Base Post Office (CBPO) mail sorting hubs operating out of New Delhi (No. 1 CBPO) and Kolkata (No. 2 CBPO), respectively. Between them the entire postal needs of the armed forces and few other ancillary paramilitary organisations get taken care of within India.
The origins of these two famous forwarding mail hubs of APS has an interesting history. Subsequent to the victory over Japan by allied forces in August 1945, the 'Indian Army Postal Service' as it was then known, began the process of disbanding all its existing 137 FPOs.
56 FPO, which was raised in Secunderabad on June 30, 1941, was the last FPO left awaiting disbandment. Having just returned from Iwakuni, the British Commonwealth Occupation Force Air Base in Japan, it was however, left unscathed.
Redesignated on October 24, 1947, with a new coded security address "C/O 56 APO", it began as the new base sorting office in New Delhi to serve the postal needs of troops at Punjab and J&K, as a consequence of the Pakistani raiders invasion on October 20, 1947.
Today, there are more than 350 FPOs under 1 CBPO that take care of mails addressed "C/O 56 APO", encompassing operations across the entire spectrum of our country except the eastern sector.
Meanwhile, "C/O 99 APO" came into being as the coded security address for all in the eastern sector including all the eight north-eastern states, West Bengal and the Andaman group of islands with the raising of 2 CBPO on April 1, 1964. It addresses all its postal operations through its network of nearly 130 FPOs.
The APS Corps celebrated its 41st 'Corps Day' on March 1, 2013. However, its origins go back as early as 1856 when APS was first conceived as a wartime organisation integral to the expeditionary forces that headed to Bushire in the Persian Gulf, and several other such missions elsewhere, later.
Till 1947, APS was a part of the 'Indian General Service', which was then disbanded. It was then affiliated to the 'Army Service Corps' as its postal branch until establishing itself as an independent Corps from March 1, 1972 onwards with a defined role. It includes, ensuring security by use of security address and by assisting censorship, implementing postal concessions and providing postal facilities to troops in operational areas.
It also adopted the 'flying swan', the mythical carrier of messages in several Indian epics, including the Mahabharata, as its emblem with the motto "Mel Milap" (in Hindi) meaning 'union through mail'. Swan is a graceful bird known for its strength, courage, speed and ability to reach inaccessible places, an appropriate symbol of what APS stands for.
For the benefit of the troops, APS provides all the services that 'India Post' - National Postal Network - offers to its client base. These include, besides routine postal service, services such as Speed Post, Express Parcel Post, Postal Life Insurance, E-Post, Post Office Savings Bank, Public Provident Fund among others. It is set to introduce several 'core banking solutions' and 'value-added services' relieving soldiers of their anxiety while serving in forward areas.
Contrary to perceptions that cellular connectivity and internet must be denting the mail volume in present times, statistics indicate that it has, in fact, steadily risen. Brigadier (APS) at Eastern Command, B Chandrasekhar, ascribes this phenomena to the rise in the volume of official and business mail offsetting imbalances, if any.
Amplifying further, Col Akhilesh Pandey, Commandant No. 2 CBPO says, "The mails from various service providers such as financial institutions including banks, insurance and investment companies, towards their business transactions is on the rise. The services also extensively use the 'Scheduled Despatch Services' (SDS) for despatch of all their secure official mail."
But the organization that is manned by volunteer officers drawn from the Indian Postal Service on deputation, together with three-fourth of its personnel drawn from the Postal Department, does not easily sit on its laurels. They are constantly evolving newer 'value-added services' to retain their trusted clientele base, the Indian soldier, who knows that his 'flying swan' comrades will always keep him connected with his family and friends, irrespective of his remote or classified location.
Perhaps one of the best depiction of the emotions of soldiers when they receive their mail from their near and dear ones was enacted in the JP Dutta film "Border" with the iconic chartbuster song "Sandeshe aatehain, hamei tadpaate hain, to chithi aati hai.." That really is what the caring flying swans do, bring smiles and draw emotions.