When the Beatles sang the song ‘Please Mister Postman’ it was in 1965 and if we go through the lyrics, we can imagination the frustration of not getting a letter or even a card from our loved ones. This world famous group that hailed from England expressed their mental suffering for not hearing any news from the people they loved and longed for, and if England could not satisfy the communication needs of these Beatles, the situation for some youth in Muar town was even worse.
The Postman was a celebrity during my younger days and the most sought. He was our only hope of communication to the outside world. We had no telephones, only the rich installed telephones which were hardly used. Even though they had telephones, they need to contact one with a phone and as a result their telephones became a part of their interior decoration and the ringing sound could be heard even by the neighbours. When their phones rang, it was like a thunderbolt and someone in the house may get a heart attack.
We read all the news from the daily newspapaer and through the radio. Although televison was already introduced in Muar town, only a handful could afford and they had to fix the aerial taller than the coconut tree in order to get a good reception. There was only one channel of black and white that began transmission from 6pm till 11.30pm. Some had their aerial fixed much taller to get two more channels from the Singapore broadcasting. The most famous TV series was Peyton Place and Perry Mason and once a week that was a show aired in the evening called The Shindig. For communication with third parties we used the Post Office and so we wrote letters and had them sealed in an envelope with a ten cents stamp and had them posted. At the other end the service of the Postman was the only source for delivery. It would take a day for the other end to receive it if locally and two to three days outside Muar town. For a much faster service, the Post Office offered the service of the telegram and because it was more costly charging ten cents per word, we used as fewer words as possible. In most cases, telegrams were used only for informing the death of a family member or those extremely sick. Companies used the service to inform new recruits to report for duty urgently. However, the telegram still need the service of a Postman for delivery.
So communication with third parties could only be conducted through two channels; the Postman and through words of mouth but of course if both parties stayed in the same town. The Postman was the most reliable while the latter could create many undesirable results. In this case we used an ‘informer’, one who would extend our message to the other party. Those males in love had better not use his service because the end result could be fatal, like loosing your sweetheart to the ‘informer’.
Those looking forward for the arrival of the Postman were normally lovers deeply in love, wives whose husbands away working outstations or overseas, parents looking forward for some news of their children studying in the university or other learning institutions, corresponding pen pals and others waiting for some important news like waiting for job appointments but the worse must surely be the lovebirds.
The Postman would be doing his daily routine around 9.30am and in his bags contained numerous news of various nature. Later in the evening, you would notice some of your family members and friends smiling alone, some sombre looking, few grimmed face and all these because of the Postman but we never blamed him, he was just that most sought messenger of the sixties.
When his bicycle bell rang at your doorsteps, many would scramble towards him even by those having no business getting a letter. The maid-servant would stop her routine, those washing clothes wouldn’t mind getting out of the bathroom half soaked just to have a glimpse who the recipient was, the one on the rambutan tree nearly fell down, heads of your neighbours would suddenly appear in every windows and even your pet cat would stare at the Postman. The most frustrated would be the one in the toilet heeding the call of nature.
The recipient would not be given any space for privacy. Everyone would keep on asking who the sender was especially the one who had just finished his call of nature. The rambutan tree climber wouldn’t mind sharing his harvest if you could just give a hint. Some close neighbours would find ways to pass by with a cheeky smile and would keep on passing by until some clue came into light. If you had received a registered letter and silent about its contents, your immediate neighbours would be having sleepless nights and letting them know was the only antidote to their insomnia.
Falling in love in the early sixties was so thrilling. Unlike these days when you can just press some buttons and there you are the picture of your sweetheart, you can even converse with her even if she is at the other end of the globe. And you can do this at any time of the day and night and so there’s no more thrill. Boys and girls of my time fell in love even during their schooling days and some of them ended up getting married living happily ever after. My very close classmate Zainal Abidin Jaafar can testify as he is happily married to his childhood sweetheart Kamariah. I did not have that experience simply because I think I am a boring fellow but I do have close friends who fell in love quite often and from their experiences I wish to share with you.
The boys from the Muar High School somehow prefer girls from the Sekolah Sultan Abu Bakar in spite of Muar town having two more schools for girls, and those from the St. Andrew School would look for the Convent girls and the St.Teresa Girls School. Although racial mixing among Muarians of my time was extremely good, they would somehow looked for steady female partners of their own race when falling in love. It was such a lovely scene seeing a couple cycling together to school and later cycling to Tanjung for an evening stroll. However, mixing among different sexes of my time had its limit and we could not possibly be together everyday and so we wrote letters and when we did, we would be expecting a reply and so everyday we’d be looking for the Postman. That was the thrill.
When the Postman just passed by without even looking at your house, you began to smell a rat. Your mind began to speculate many unnecessary things. Did the Postman overlook or maybe the Post Office misplaced your letter? You felt like chasing him and looked for yourself whether there was indeed a letter for you.
Today’s Postmen are not like the Postmen of the sixties. Now they only deliver bills, bills and bills and the registered letter surely must be from the Inland Revenue Department informing you of late payment. The Postman of my days was a celebrity, very lovable and his bags was full of love letters ready to cheer many lovebirds.
John Lennon of the Beatles felt the same about the Postman of the sixties, read the lyrics he wrote and you will surely agree with me.