As soon as I entered through the gate of Masterda Surja Sen Hall of Dhaka University (DU), I saw an old red postbox. As I got closer, I found the box open – the door was ajar, the inside dirty and there was no letter.
"The box has been lying empty like this for seven or eight years. Nobody writes letters these days. The one or two letters that do come are hand delivered by the postman himself," said Mojibur Rahman, a guard at the hall.
Four postmen are in charge of distributing letters in the DU area. One of them, Zahidul Islam, has been distributing letters to Surya Sen Hall, the administrative building and surrounding areas for four years.
"Since the beginning of my service, I have been in charge of distributing letters in the DU area. I give the letters directly to whom they are addressed to. So, the mailboxes are no longer needed," he said.
Postman Zahidul carries a black bag in his hand. It holds all the letters. He is not the bicycle-riding postman from the olden days; he comes in a rickshaw.
The fare allocated for him to come to the campus from the postal department is Tk40. It is not enough, of course, and he has to contribute a little from his own pocket.
"I hand deliver the letters to all the students in the hall. Sometimes it is an appointment letter, sometimes a money order or some other important document. But personal letters don't really come," he said.
Many mailboxes can be seen in the DU area, including different halls. However, the university post office does not have specific information about the exact number of mailboxes and whether they are opened.
On their advice, I contacted the Bangladesh Post Department, but it was of no avail. I understood that in this age of modernity, the mailbox is not very important; emptiness and neglect are their destiny.
But the postboxes are still opened from time to time. Abdullah Hill Kafi is responsible for doing it. He has been doing this work for the last four decades and although he retired recently, he is still working.
Kafi said, "DU has five mailboxes. One is in front of Sir A F Rahman Hall, one in Shamsunnahar Hall, one at the gate of Haji Muhammad Mohsin Hall, and the other two are in the university area."
There are other boxes beyond these, but all five are still somewhat active — not yet lost to time. Kafi opens the boxes regularly, but there are hardly any letters. "No one writes letters like they used to, "he said, adding, "I still open them. Sometimes I find a letter or two. Sometimes there's nothing."
"I opened them last week as well. I opened the boxes in Shamsunnahar Hall, Mohsin Hall and did not find a single letter. But found one letter from the Sir A F Rahman Hall box."
Perhaps the person who wrote the letter is a young woman. Maybe she likes a guy from the hall but I can't say it. Everyone writes on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger these days — but she probably wrote the letter with great care to convey the depth of her love.
In the 1950s, postmen would walk from house to house to deliver letters. From the 1960s onwards, they began delivering letters by bicycle. For a loved one's letter, everyone would wait anxiously. Even in the age of courier service, sometimes people sent letters. Just the 'ding-ding' of the postman's bicycle was missing.
In those letters, feelings and emotions were woven into words. But that era is gone, preserved only in memories. In the age of mobile phones and the internet, there is hardly any room for writing letters.
Has the word 'letter' become solely a part of administrative work, or do some people still take the time to write personal letters? And do these letters still find their way to the sender, or do they end up being lost in some box?
Sheikh Nazmul Islam, the postmaster at Dhaka University, said, "Letters don't arrive the same way anymore. Some letters do come, but they are mostly for administrative purposes. Personal letters hardly come anymore. You won't find any letters even if you open the university's mailboxes."
Obaidul Haque, the Deputy Postmaster at the Delivery Branch of Bangladesh Post, states, "The letters that arrive nowadays are mostly related to various administrative or government matters; personal letters are rare."
However, it's not just letters; postal services such as money orders, postal order services, express mail service (international), registered newspapers, and speed post services continue to operate.
Mojibur Rahman spent his entire 52 years of life in this university. He was born and raised here as his father was also a guard at Surja Sen Hall. He has no shortage of stories about letters.
"Once upon a time, letters were the primary mode of communication. During those days, it was not uncommon to witness young students shedding tears of joy upon receiving letters. Sometimes, after a long gap, the arrival of a letter from their family would elicit shouts of happiness," he recalled.
"They used to eagerly open the letters right at the gate. But now, people express their emotions through mobile phones," reminisced Mojibur, adding, "back then we used to write letters too and received them as well," he added.
But do letters evoke any emotions among the youth of this generation? Do they ever eagerly look forward to receiving or sending letters even now?
Tamjid, a student of the Department of Linguistics at Dhaka University, said, "the emotions expressed in a letter cannot be conveyed through any other medium. It feels as if it's a part of ourselves. We all long for someone to send us letters because receiving a letter is more fun."
Perhaps Obaidul Haque is right when he says that having the internet makes letters seem unnecessary. That's natural, but the emotions left behind in those letters, the feel of the yellow envelopes, and the red mailboxes still resonate with us.