“Praise people when they are alive,” said Annappa Chougule. “What’s the point of praising them after they die? Then, just garland the photo.”

A watchman and a retired sugar factory labourer from Kabnur town in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, 66-year-old Chougule believes in celebrating people’s achievements by sending them encouraging postcards. In the past seven years, he has sent 900 postcards marking birthdays, wedding anniversaries and various achievements to people in villages and towns across Kolhapur and Sangli districts.

“I write to people who have received awards in music, sports, education, social service, art [and more],” Chougule said. “My day starts with finding stories of hope and courage in the local Marathi newspapers. For this, I’ve subscribed to three Marathi dailies.” After identifying inspirational stories in Mahasatta, Lokneta and Lokmat, he notes them down in a book and sets out to find the address of the achiever from friends and acquaintances.

Chougule writes out the postcards in Marathi using refills that he tucks into a piece of paper in his old diary. For birthday and anniversary wishes, he has a standard text but for achievers, he personalises each message, writing about their work and congratulating them. If the address is less than 6 km away, he cycles over to deliver the postcard personally.

“I read about the achievement of a girl named Trupti Mane from Ichalkaranji town who created a new [youth] national record in weightlifting,” he said. “Immediately, I cycled to Ichalkaranji town and gave Trupti a postcard wishing her.”

His postcards have made their way to acquaintances and friends in Sajani, Kumbhoj, Rui, Chandur, Shirdhon, Mangaon and Ichalkaranji, as well as Satara, Sangli and Pune districts and also a few villages in Karnataka’s Belgaum district. Chougule’s records of birthdays and anniversaries now fill 40 annual pocket diaries – “A lot of people [from his hometown and nearby villages] invite me to their wedding, and that’s when I started noting down their marriage anniversary as well.”

Ambition and passion

Chougule, who was always passionate about studying, couldn’t complete his education beyond class IX because he had to support his family. His father died when Chougule was two or three and his mother used to work in other people’s fields as an agricultural labourer. He started working in a sugar factory in 1976 and retired in 2010, after which he worked in the water supply department of Kabnur town. For the past two years, Chougule has been working as a watchman in a power loom unit in Ichalkaranji and gets a modest Rs 5,000 every month for eight hours of daily work.

The idea of sending personalised postcards was seeded when Chougule observed a former employer following the practice. “The owner of the sugar factory [where I worked] used to send printed postcards to people on their birthdays and this inspired me to do something on the similar lines,” he said.

It was in 2011 when Chougule realised that he wanted to leave behind a mark and decided to start writing these notes. Why did he choose to send postcards, though? “A postcard has its own importance,” he said. “Nobody keeps a handwritten [letter] safely. Also, the written word has a certain kind of affection.” As his database has grown over seven years, there are days now when he writes three postcards and spends close to 30 minutes looking at his collection of diaries.

Chougule is extremely organised in his approach to the exercise. He has a file named Patra Vyavhar (correspondence) with various subsections titled awards, selection, birthdays and others in which he has maintained an archive of the letters and postcards sent till date. When asked about the first postcard he sent, he opens his 100-page notebook in which he has written down the details of every postcard sent: “In 2011, I sent it to Vijay Patil, a school teacher in Shirdhon village [Kolhapur district], for his dedication to teaching.”

When he personally delivers a postcard, he also takes a photograph with the person archives this image. The journal, on which he has spent Rs 8,000 of his savings, is very important to Chougule, who says that it serves as a record in case someone says he forgot to send them a greeting – “People have become used to the habit of receiving my postcards now.”

Right from the start, Chougule has also been writing to elected representatives both at the local and the national level, congratulating them on occasions. He has written to Pranab Mukherjee, congratulating him for assuming the role of president; wished Sonia Gandhi on her birthday; and congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for winning the 2014 general election. While a couple of people, including a few local politicians, have replied to his postcards, most of them go unanswered. The 70 replies that he has received are filed separately.

What hold a special place for Chougule, however, are heartwarming stories of achievement. “Last year, twin girls from Sajani village scored 98% in the class X board examination,” he said. “Their father works as a labourer in the spinning mill and they come from a poor family. I had to cycle thrice to meet the girls and congratulate them.”

Against all odds

It was not easy for Chougule to start this ritual of writing postcards. “People would always ask me the reason behind it,” he said. “Some people even ask if I do this for money. I laugh at them and say I don’t expect any money from people, nor do I want it. It’s my hobby and passion. Eventually people took notice of the same and today they ask him not to stop this activity.”

His family is also not supportive of Chougule’s passion. His wife, Sonabai Chougule, 50, said she don’t understand the reason behind it. “Earlier…I never paid attention to his postcards and…I asked him to stop but he never listened to me,” she said. “Now, I don’t stop him because he likes writing them.”

Though his sons have asked him to discontinue the project as they believe he will get nothing out of it, Chougule refuses to bow down. To date, he carries postcards, newspapers and his diary to work and starts writing postcards whenever he finds some time.

“My dream is to keep sending postcards,” he said. “A couple of people from the town said that they will felicitate me after I complete 1,000. But I will continue this until the day I die.”

All photographs by Sanket Jain.