MUMBAI- Letter writer Shakil Ahmed is a proud keeper of secrets.
For decades he penned the missives of Mumbai's illiterate workers, whether lovers pledging devotion to faraway sweethearts or prostitutes sending home money while concealing their trade.
Today, Ahmed is lucky if he gets to write an address.
"Thousands of people used to come - we didn't have time to eat. But in the last seven years or so it's been going down," the scribe said at his weathered wooden desk, perched opposite the city's domed century-old General Post Office.
"I will stay as long as I can," he added. "But I can't say how long that will be."
There used to be 17 letter writers in this bustling corner of the city's south. Now there are eight, whose tasks are largely reduced to packing parcels and filling out forms.
The men huddle by a disused stone fountain, also home to a mini Hindu temple and a feeding pen for a constant flurry of pigeons. A bamboo-propped blue tarpaulin keeps the birds from the writers' heads.
On Ahmed's desk sit piles of muslin wrapping and an old tin of pens, next to a seal engraved with his initials and a wax candle to stamp his work.