The charm of the picture postcards

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My first memory with picture postcards goes way back in 1992-93. I was in early primary school then. My father would have work postings in Japan for long periods of time and would often end up missing being around for my birthdays and report card days at school. And whenever he missed any of these special occasions, he would send me a picture postcard from Japan. A beautiful scene of a village, or school, or mountain or flower gardens or Pagoda on one side, and a hand written message from my father on the other side. In the corner there would sometimes be a colourful stamp, which found it’s way into my brother’s stamp collection. It would feel superb. In a time when there was no internet, this postcard was my only way of seeing what Baba was seeing at that time in a foreign land. Now the message or the letter could have as well been sent as a regular letter or post card. But when it came as a picture postcard, it was more special and more fun. Because through that photo on the card, we were getting to picture what my father was seeing and experiencing at that time. It was by far my first experience of ‘sharing’ photos; which we so easily do over the internet these days.

My next set of picture postcard fun experiences came when I had penfriends in secondary school. I don’t think kids these days would even know the concept of a penfriend. Simply put, it was someone living in a different city or country from yours and would connect with you through letters. I had made 3 penfriends through registration in a forum in a magazine and one of them had an interesting way of writing her letters. She would send me picture postcards from the places that they visited as a part of their family trips and I remember the first picture of the Grand Canyon National Park that I saw was on a postcard that she had sent! I remember imagining streets and places in USA as I received her letters and being really fascinated thinking of the different country that my penfriend was living in.

Picture postcards were like the old day Snapchat or Instagram-like sharing mechanisms. Except that they came about 15 days to a month later 😀 We would send them to relatives and friends while traveling to different places; and like-wise would receive some when they visited a new place.

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Examples of typical picture postcards (http://pcard10.adtddns.asia/postcard-photos)

Whenever I think of picture postcards, there is a beautiful warmth and happiness that the memories bring to me. Receiving a picture postcard meant that your friends or family members were thinking about you at that time and that always made me feel very secure and special. Not only did they convey the safety and general state of the person sending it, the sharing of the pictures also made us feel like being a part of the travel experience itself. Admittedly photo quality those days may not have been as great as what today’s age photography is; but I always feel those depictions were very ‘real’. In the absence of major photo editing tools, they made a very realistic depiction of places. It really didn’t matter if there were imperfections of shadows or slightly tilted frames for capturing the buildings. No; all that mattered was that it was a tulip garden in Netherlands, or that it was the Niagara Falls, or even our own Taj Mahal in the picture. Of course in those days, sending a lot of picture postcards was also not affordable for most families like mine. So we would often receive/send a single handpicked card depicting a particular part of the trip. And that one card would leave a long lingering and tickling curiosity about how the rest of that place could be. It invoked a long imagination filled trail of thoughts in me, and is probably the earliest of my travel motivations that I can remember.

I was almost starting to believe that these picture postcards were on the verge of being non existent now. Till my visit to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh last month, where we visited the world’s highest post office at a small village called Hikkim. And there, inside the dimly lit, weird smelling, really old post office room I saw a stack of picture postcards from Spiti that tourists send back home. Holding the little glossy finish card in my hand brought back all these memories, and needless to say, after about 15 years, I sent a picture postcard home!

For those of us who (are old!) and have seen the transitions in photo sharing from these methods to the more recent extensive sharing over Apps that use the internet, the difference in charm between the two is quite pronounced. Secretly, I am hoping the older methods continue; at least in some parts of the world. In my future travels I am attempting to resume this tradition again; and send picture postcards back home whenever possible. These are one of the things in my mind that simply cannot be replaced; just like in literature the phrase ‘picture postcard’ cannot yet be replaced while describing a picturesque village!

 

 

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The New York Maple syrup

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I had a chance to visit the beautiful New York city during a conference last year in summer. It was the first time that I was visiting the US. For an Indian generation where most of us have either been to the US for work, or studied there, or are living there, or are married to people who live there; my first visit actually happened quite late in life since I don’t fall into any of the above categories. I had somehow heard a lot more stories about the West coast from relatives and friends and my better half, making the eastern side slightly elusive for me. And when I asked my father what I should get from there, his answer was to try to get something that’s original and uniquely made in that region. Indeed for me a bigger element of interest in any city is its traditional practices more than what urbanized modern day routines have done to it. And thus began my quest to look for something ‘Made in USA’ and representative enough of the east coast and New York. A few suggestions by friends led me to the Maple syrup. Over generations it’s made through tapping of Maple trees. The cold and warm weather cycles in this region enable its production. Though originally from Canada I guess, this syrup in made extensively in different parts of this region; and a couple of locals told me about region-wise compositions from different parts of north east America and Canada. The maple syrup is a smooth sweet unique accompaniment to food. It is rich, it is full of substance, and it has a very unique taste that’s unmatched with any other. Mind you it’s loaded with calories and so consuming it definitely comes with a fair share of deposit to your pre (or non) existing fat. Simply put, it has a unique awesomeness that comes with a maintenance price. And that is why this food item completely represents NYC in my mind.

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The World Trade Center

The uniqueness of the Maple syrup parallels that of New York. Tall skyscrapers in Manhattan bearing the hundreds and thousands of offices. The busy New York Penn station. The equally busy but more charming Grand Central station. Thousands of ambitious working people thronging to these stations. A fashionable working class in definition. Lots of passionate street artists. The elegantly marked streets and avenues. It is GRAND!  There’s an age independent representation of glamour, fashion and ambition to the working people here. Whether it’s the people or the architecture, the message with NY is clear – You better be awesome enough to fit in here!! Take the efforts to be awesome and full of quality, and the city will shower you with success. And that’s what the Maple syrup also conveys. This syrup adds a beautiful taste to toasts, waffles, desserts, fruits, even salads! But only if you add it to the right kind of ingredients. Do not expect the maple syrup to rectify and beautify any messed up combination of foods – it demands a check on the composition and quality of ingredients before contributing to addition of taste. And just like that you should not expect NY to accept anything less than the most grand and classy!!

We use the Maple syrup often in the kitchen. And every drop of it makes me think of NYC. Among the many souvenirs that I got from there, this is the only one that gives me a feeling of bringing back a part of NYC with me 🙂 In a slightly unconventional use of the phrase, may I say NYC has surely made a way to my heart through the stomach 🙂

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View from the Empire State Building