Express press service
TIRUNELVELI: For A Fathima Rani, walking long distances through the forest is a daily routine. The 58-year-old postmaster of the Kodayar Melthangal branch post office travels nearly 10 km to deliver mail to workers at a Hydel power station deep in the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.
His journey is not a walk in the park. “It often rains here and is almost always covered in fog. This makes it difficult to see wildlife in the woods,” Fathima explains. She crosses paths with leopards, bison and wild boars, sometimes even running away from them too dressed in a sari.
Electricity employees living in the camp and forestry officers often give him advice on how to detect if an elephant is in the area. As the road is narrow in the mountainous area, one cannot run left or right in the forest because it is a steep hill. “So most of the time I either wait patiently for the animals to pass or walk past them in silence.”
With a smile on her face, she remembers that a sleeping snake across the road didn’t stop her from going to work. Another day, she saw a baby tiger prancing in front of her and expected an angry mother to show up. She hid in the woods for almost half an hour so as not to rattle the unsuspecting family before resuming her trek.
The Nalumukku Estate, located next to the Kodayar Dam in the Tiger Reserve, is nearly 1,200 meters above sea level.
For the past 25 years, Fathima has walked in rain and wind and trained to handle encounters with tigers, leopards, elephants, wild boar, bison and snakes. She is the link to the outside world for forestry officers, police personnel and eight families of employees living near the dam.
She walks 5 km to the branch and then returns every day because there is no mobile network in the area and the records must be updated in the rural information and communication technology device (RICT) issued by the postal service.
“I was very shy when I went into labor almost 25 years ago. My husband accompanied me on the walk to the upper dam the first week. But then I taught myself to be courageous and going it alone,” she said.
A resident of Nalumukku tea estate, she previously worked in a tea factory for four years and also picked tea leaves. She overcame considerable obstacles to get to where she is today. In 1997, when she was 33, she was appointed branch postmaster.
“When it rains a lot, the forest or EB employees help me to go back to Nalumukku or they pick up the deliveries at the sub-office,” she adds. P Haridasan, an assistant engineer at the Kodayar factory, says Fathima never hesitated to walk to the factory every day. “We sometimes take her back to Nalumukku. Otherwise, she walks,” he says.
The deputy director of Ambasamudram post office, RP Balaji, said he was surprised to see Fathima walking alone in the wild. All she wants to do is send a message that women of all ages could support in any job with a little perseverance and confidence.