The charm of the picture postcards


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.

postcards image

Examples of typical picture postcards (

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!