Last Updated on August 29, 2018 by Soumya
India Post is the postal system owned and operated by the Government of India and is apparently the most widely distributed postal system in the world (Source: Wikipedia). I, recently, had an opportunity to spend some time with India Post at one of their offices in suburban Mumbai. The reason: I had to post my son’s letter to his pen friend in the US of A. I did that, eventually, but what transpired between when I arrived at the post office and left there was interesting.
I hate having to deal with government offices or officials in India and I know many Indians share this sentiment of mine. Going to a government office is not only a chore but also a punishment, sometimes! This is usually because not many of us have had good experiences there. Starting with being frowned upon for encroaching upon the official’s precious time to having my passport thrown at me, I have experienced it all. So you can well imagine the reasons behind my trying to stall this very important event from happening: a visit to a nearby post office. However, there came a time when I could stall no more. I was sick of lying to my son about how busy I was, so I decided to just go one day!
I arrived at my destination around 11 am on a Friday. The place seemed wonderfully abuzz with the myriad sounds that I can only associate with a government run office in India: the sound of a noisy dot matrix printer, the uneventful din of ceiling fans and the occasional thud of rubber stamps. The post office also felt surprisingly cooler than other shops/offices close by. These offices have always had a strange, soporific power on me because of their low temperatures and calming white noises. I could almost smell a piece of my childhood, those days when I would spend hours in my dad’s office pretending to learn about computers while actually snoring away silently in a corner.
I went and stood in the only queue at the post office, trying hard not to fall asleep. There was a postman nearby running some odd errands and I took the opportunity to ask him if my request would be handled there. Unfortunately, it would not be. I was in the deposits queue. The person responsible for the postage queue was on vacation and nothing could be done until he was back. I was horrified and was about to embark on a verbal war when an elderly man intervened. He thought that my problem could be solved even in the wrong queue and hence, I decided to stay mum and stay put.
There were four people ahead of me and it took me about 30 minutes to get to the window. The lady at the counter informed me that I was in the wrong queue, which was, of course, a revelation. I was astonished at the crew’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong queues when there was just one queue in all. I was then instructed to move to the other queue where there was no one i.e. the ghost queue. The vacationing employee was probably going to spring up from below and take care of me. I was not sure what to do when another customer was ushered behind me with great speed. And then more arrived until the ghost queue was ghost no more. The window was still ghostly though. I stared, in front of me, into an empty chair hoping that it would creak up an occupant in sometime. All the ghost queue members waited patiently for the savior to arrive. We, as Indians, have been schooled to display exquisite patience in matters relating to the government so there we were, flaunting away our fortitude. The savior appeared, finally, with a brimming cup of cutting chai and a gait so slow it could shame a tortoise! She looked at me as though I would disappear, in sometime, between the cracks of a wall. However, I was too visible to just go away. I gave her my envelope and after a long scrutiny she told me that it would cost me 40 rupees. I extended a 100 rupee note and was informed that there was no change! This was certainly very hard for me to believe. The very fact that an Indian post office, dealing with sale of postage and revenue stamps every day, did not have 60 rupees was difficult to digest. I did not budge. And somehow after a hushed conversation between some of the crew, two notes surfaced: a 50 and a 10! I was finally getting somewhere.
I got the stamps, stuck them to my envelope and handed it to the savior. She acknowledged it with a curt nod and I understood that I would not get any receipt or tracking number. I moved out quickly to make space for others when I realized that she had given me stamps for only 20 rupees instead of 40. Oh Dear God! Did I have to go back in again?? Was this ordeal ever going to end??? Well it did, after ten long minutes of questions and explanations and handing over of more stamps. I was happy, read relieved, to have pasted 20 stamps on my very small envelope and put it in the box with other letters to be delivered to its destination. I don’t know when it will get there but I hope, some day, it will.
In the meantime, I have whatsapped an image of my son’s letter to his pen friend’s mom. We, as Indians, have also been schooled on hedging our risks. 😉