Some anecdotes to remember the good old days: The PR counter at GPO | Sunday Observer

Some anecdotes to remember the good old days: The PR counter at GPO

10 November, 2019

The old General Post Office (GPO) on Queen Street, the present Janadhipathi Mawatha had a special service known as PR...’Poste’ Restonte’ in French, Resting Inquiries Counter. It provided a unique service then, not available in all countries of the world.

PR was open 24 hours of the day while other counters at the GPO were closed by 21 hours or 9 p.m. During this time the counter was manned by an officer, assisted by two minor staff until morning, the following day.

I served the Postal Department for some time and my favourite place of work was the PR counter. The strange incidents and adventures were many during this time.

I started work as far back as the 1960s. This was the era when Hippies and Back packers were many in the country. Every night at least four or five would come to collect their mail (Resting at the post). Their appreciation was shown by offering us a few cigarettes. Even Ministers would come to post letters sans bodyguards or drivers. Mr. Felix Dias was a regular in sarong, pyjama coat and peace pipe, who would come to post letters.

The ghosts at GPO

The GPO ghosts! Yes, it is true as I too have experienced the unseen. The Sinhala term Holman, can only disturb your mind, but nothing physical. One day, I related my story to my colleague Selvarajah at midnight and he was screaming on the road Pichase, Pichase, Ghost, Ghost. The hall porter calmed him down and stayed with him till morning. He never worked at PR thereafter.

Then, one night I was sleeping as usual on the desk of the Post Master (PM) in charge of the counters. None could reach me as I had all the keys. About two in the morning, two fellows in singlets and tucked up sarongs put me up saying they had brought us a new table. I chased them away and asked them to come at 6.30 in the morning. Then after 6.30, someone banged on the door. Normally by 6.30 a.m. I am dressed and at the counter; but still in my sarong, I ran and opened the door. It was the S.O. Mr. Emmanuel shouting at me, “you fool, what, not up yet?” Then I asked him where the chaps with the table are. “Table? What Table?” He knew I was a victim of the unseen and calmed me down.

PM the cleaner

At the GPO, the night officer from 6 to 6.30 a.m. the following day is assisted by two minor employees. One is a cleaner and the other, the hall porter. The hall porter directs and assists latecomer customers, while the cleaner does a thorough cleaning job. No one is clad in trousers but a piece of sarong tucked up and bare bodied. The cleaner does the mopping, sweeping and generally keeping the place as neat as possible. This particular night two gents and a lady came to the counter and asked whether Postmaster, J.P. was on duty. Hidden from the counter’s sight, I could see JP donned in a piece of sarong, bare bodied and carrying a broom. He put his fingers to his lips cautioning me to keep quiet and vanished. I then responded saying that he was not on duty that night and sent them away. Many a minor employee has got married over the years posing as PM, Class II, and when the truth is out, it’s too late. JP was on this track but never succeeded.

The curfew

In a more recent incident, if one could recall the JVP times, my colleague and I, with four minor employees were caught in the four hour curfew. Although we had private lockers there weren’t any food or drinks. Hence, we spent the night with only a cup of tea. We tried our best to get help through an Assistant Post Master General and other high ups, who responded but were helpless.

The next morning I told my colleague, that I was calling the Minister. His response was Yako Pissu Kelinna Epa! Nevertheless, I called the Minister Mr. Kumarasuriar. By 8.30 in the morning a jeep arrives bringing everything to last a whole day and more, including a packet of cigarettes.

At 10 in the morning the Minister arrives with his bodyguards. He requested me to call him anytime and appreciated my contacting him. He addressed me as Putha and said do not hesitate to call him, if we had any problem. He also said that people should appreciate our being on duty despite the curfew.