No one will ever know of your pain or your plight/
Your story will be a secret of the dark black night
— from the Bengali poem ‘Runner’ by Sukanta Bhattacharya
Actually, it’s a bright sunny day on top of a hill in the rolling, forested landscape of Ayodhya Pahar in Bengal’s Purulia district, and 60-year-old Putuna Mura, a local tribal, seems only too willing to share her story with us—a runner’s story. Putuna is a surviving relic of this virtually defunct institution whose roots lie deep in the country’s postal past. In Bengal, the tribulations of these tireless messengers, traversing miles on foot, their bells jangling through the stillness of the night, delivering mail in remote regions and covering stipulated distances within strict timeframes, have for long fired the imagination of artists, writers and poets like Sukanta Bhattacharya. In Putuna’s case, the story has a special twist, not only is she one of the state’s three surviving runners—she is also the only woman known to have ever become a runner.