The General Post Office (GPO) of Kolkata, with its high-domed Corinthian design, is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. Situated in central Kolkata at the site of the first Fort William which was attacked by Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah in 1756, the GPO is steeped in history. With the recent establishment of a café within its premises, visitors can now have a feel of the place from inside and appreciate the colonial architecture designed in 1864 by Walter B. Grenville. The café, christened Parcel Café, is the first of its kind in the postal history of India.
Niraj Kumar, Post Master General (PMG) of the Kolkata region, told Frontline: “This was the result of a national-level brain-storming session. The idea is for people to soak in the atmosphere of postal history, enjoy the architecture, and at the same time send parcels. Earlier people would admire the building from outside, now they can see it from inside.”
The café itself is quaintly set up with the traditional furniture of the post office–including benches and tables nearly a hundred years old–and decorated with items and articles related to postal history. The decorations, ranging from replicas of the spears that used to be carried by “runners” in the early days of post to blown-up posters of different kinds of Indian stamps, are a delight for philatelists and those interested in the history of Indian post. “Our aim is to get people to appreciate the beauty of our postage stamps, enjoy the ambience and at the same time relax while sending their parcels,” said Kumar.
The parceling activity too seems to have increased perceptibly from the time the café opened on March 8. According to postal authorities, two months ago, the GPO was booking parcels at an average of 5.8 tonnes a day; last month the average was 6.2 tonnes a day; and as per the trend shown in the first week of June, parceling activities in the Kolkata region stands at 7.3 tonnes per day. “The graph as far as parceling is concerned is definitely upward and people are using the facility more,” said Kumar.
The GPO authorities are delighted with the response the café has received. In the three months since it came into being, it has been attracting visitors from all walks of life. “Kolkata has loved it and for that we are thankful and grateful. From office-going people to students, various people come here and we can see them enjoying themselves. The very notion that a GPO is welcoming people is something very pleasant to them. The GPO is a living monument, and so when people come here and are happy, the GPO is also happy,” said Niraj Kumar.
Mita Das and her daughter Upasana Das had come to the office-para (business centre of Kolkata) for some work when they decided to try out the Parcel Café. “It is a very unique place. We had read about in newspapers and were dying to come here,” said Mita Das. Upasana, a psychologist and a dancer agreed and said she could see the place becoming a regular haunt for her and her friends. “My visit to the GPO will certainly be increasing in the days to come,” she said.