A very young Amin once saw a postcard staring at him from under a glass table at his aunt's house. With piqued interest, he moved closer to the Donaldson International Airways emblem and the newfound article.
He asked his aunt for permission to hold it. "I was met with a very stern no," said Muhammad Nurul Amin Bhuiyan, now a retired major, chuckling as he revisited his memory lanes, "the year was probably 1968 or 1969, I cannot quite pinpoint."
He vowed to collect postcards until he found a copy of the one from under that glass table. However, Amin's love for postcards was never entirely sidelined.
He continued collecting as many postcards (and stamps) as possible even after he got his hands on the Donaldson postcard.
In 2013, things took a turn. He got to know, through an article, about the Postcrossing community - an international online platform for postcard enthusiasts founded in 2005 by then university student Paulo Magalhães from Portugal.
Fast forward to 31 July 2022, Amin was speaking at Bangladesh's first postcrossing workshop held at Dhaka University's Philosophy and Arts department.
A stack of postcards with vibrant pictures of Bangladesh's monuments and heritage sites lay on a table as Amin spoke to approximately 40 young university students.
These students belong to the social media and instant messaging generation. But still they are eager and curious enough to step away from their digitised world and come learn about postcrossing.
Bangladesh already had about 74 postcrossers on the online platform. And on that Sunday, 32 new accounts got registered. They joined the online platform which now has over 802,000 members from across 207 countries.
"I never imagined that there were so many people interested in the same idea as me and that it would ever reach these many members!" said Paulo Magalhães, over email.
"Turns out, there are still a lot of people who appreciate postcards as a medium for communication: the meaningfulness of a handwritten message on a postcard can not be fully replaced by a digital experience," he also mentioned.
Magalhães started the platform from his love of receiving mail. And now at 40, "I never imagined that I would be working [full time] to develop this worldwide community of people who can appreciate the serendipity of connecting with random people across the world," he said.
"It is not easy to keep everything running, but it is also a very rewarding experience to know that at any moment there is a postcard making someone smile and that we have helped with that somehow," he added.
How does it work?
It is a safe system (www.postcrossing.com) built for postcard enthusiasts, where anyone can sign up and create an account for free (they remain anonymous via postcrosser account IDs).
Follow some simple steps (you can make a profile even) and receive an address to send a postcard. The only piece of information that is shared with the community at large is one's home address.
Once someone receives a postcard, they 'register' it, so the numbers of exchanges are recorded.
And just like the yesteryears, the postcard relationships remain private between the two individuals. So much so that the Bangladeshi postcrossers spoken to opted not to disclose the full names of their friends.
There are community guidelines to follow such as no hate speech or inappropriate messages. But the exchanges are not monitored. "I have been doing this for nearly 10 years, and not once did I receive a problematic postcard," said Amin.
Postcards are available for purchase at Azad Products (north of Dhaka GPO) for Tk5 each, the National Museum at Shahbagh for Tk10 each while architectural sites sell 20 pieces for Tk30. There are some Aarong branches that also sell postcards for over Tk30 per piece. And postage costs, on average, Tk30.
Postcrossers usually pick a mutual topic of interest listed on a member's profile. "And then we just start a conversation or send greetings from Bangladesh to initiate a conversation," said Swaad Amin Roza, Amin's daughter.
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"I remember walking into our living room one day and just seeing postcards after postcards on the floor. "Not an inch to walk really," said Roza, adding, "I remember asking my father 'what do you want to get out of this, what is the point in this?"
He replied, "I am not looking for returns or to get something out of it [in the conventional sense], it is a hobby, a passion of mine."
And so, Roza thought of giving it a try as well.
She sent her first postcard through the postcrossing community in 2015 for the first time. "My recipient was in Germany. I forgot about it altogether. But after one whole month, I got something in my mailbox. That unexpected rush of joy is quite extraordinary," she said.
And by now, Roza is the fifth most active Bangladeshi postcrosser on the platform with around 290 postcards sent and about 280 postcards received. While her father comes in at the top in Bangladesh with 894 sent and 876 received.
A lost art, postcards have been swept away by the waves of technological advancements and obliterated, particularly, by our addiction to social media platforms.
"I came across a post for the workshop on social media on one of our campus groups," said Sanzida Emu, a final year DU student of philosophy. She likes to write and this seemed interesting to her.
Did you become a member? "Oh yes. I sent my first postcard by the end of the workshop. My recipient is someone in England," she replied, adding, "in fact, on my way out, I took six more postcards and intend to send them out to six postcrossers soon."
Tariqul Islam was among the students too but not among the uninitiated. He came across the postcrossing community through his search online to learn about outlets for pen friendships. "And I came across a blog mentioning this community," said Tariqul, a student of Siddheswari College.
A self-proclaimed introvert, he vouches for the value of postcrossing through which he has made friends.
He said, "My postcrosser friend from Gujrat [in India], never fails to send me a birthday wish and even though she has stopped postcrossing in general, she takes out the time to write to me."
Human connections, the thrill and joy
"There is an effort that goes into this. That is what makes it more special [than our instant messaging]," Tariqul added.
He has sent and received about 71 postcards through the platform, so far. "And it is more thrilling to receive from lesser known places," he said.
Some of his favourite sender locations include Brunei, Seychelles, Guam and Iraq, among many others. He said, "It is like an addiction for me now. I do not think I will be able to stop. I have an older cousin who is also hooked."
The postcrossers take their hobby seriously. "But why do you think I still do it after all this time? It is because of the joy it brings me," said Amin.
"And also, at the end of the day, we will have this archive of stacks of postcards - this vintage, beautiful collection from around the world. Something tangible to look at even after many years," said Roza.
Amin also believes that this is an outlet for exchanging cultural information and even spreading Bangladesh's brand image across the world.
"I spent about Tk2,000 monthly on this hobby of mine," Amin said, adding, "it is true that now I have the luxury of time to do so too, but this is something I have invested in for decades now."
And when Amin visited his aunt in 2017, who now resides in Queens, New York, he told her about how it was that Donaldson Airline postcard that started this journey for him. And she replied, "What? You held a grudge for that long?!"