Monday, June 14, 2010

In praise of the Post Office.....

I have been forced to contemplate on communication.

Things are simple when the communication is oral. It can be embellished with a variety of looks, changing decibel levels, and aided by colorful gestures. When its a question of public messaging, we have come a long way from town criers (current record for shouting is 100 metres), guys running across miles with messages whispered into someones ears, whistling in code , smoke signals, lighting bonfires on hilltops, sometimes even messages carved on pillars.

The problems started when papyrus entered the scene. The choice was between messengers moving with messages, or the message itself moving. The Persians perfected this (522-486 BC), even inventing the Aramaic language and a Phoenician alphabet, that could be written on Papyrus and was recognized everywhere. While the 2nd - 11th century AD, saw wide use of horses being ridden by messengers in relays, it was only after this that Egyptians pioneered the use of pigeons for sending messages, based on the fact that pigeons basically tended to return home from wherever they were. This technology was used, albeit discriminately, right till the middle of the 20th century, where folks like Rothschild in London, got insider information about the war situation via pigeons originating from Europe, and made fortunes in banking.

In my lifetime, written communication has mostly been through the Post Office. We had postcards, inland letters, envelopes, express delivery, telegrams and so on, till we entered the age of Couriers. Even that was fine, till the Net happened, and courier companies jumped on the Netwagon.

Like the missed-call-in-the-cellphone-age, we in India specialize in creative misuse of stuff. This, based on the fact, that comparatively less number of folks check the status on the Net personally, and that anything, possibly , goes.

I was recently supposed to receive a package as a prize, and the company kept me informed by email till it handed over the thing to a courier company, and gave me a tracking number in the evening.

Next day , I stayed in the whole day, nothing arrived, and I checked the status on the Net. It said "Party not at home, package returned to nodal office" . While this resulted in me making angry calls, and being shunted around through sections by the courier people, it turns out, that when the delivery person, for some reason of his own, cannot make a delivery , such a entry on the company system, ensures, no questions are asked by their bosses. While fighting with folks is not a pleasurable way to spend an already busy day, they sent the package the next day, and had to call to get directions, clearly exposing their lie of having come earlier.

Waiting for an important document sent by another courier, does nothing for your stress levels.
With fancy homepages,these guys get even more creative with their lying. When nothing arrived after the mandatory wait of 3 days, the status message indicated "Address not clearly mentioned, not found".

This was not the first time we were receiving these documents. Unfortunately for them, the shipment details on the screen also showed an accurate address. But once again, it resulted in having to tell the company PRO that they were casting aspersions on an address that had existed successfully for the post-office, and bill senders for the last 20 years, and no one seemed to have a problem. Besides the post office was 200 steps away , and the courier fellow could have asked their help .

And so I still depend on the ye olde Post Office.

They have a wonderful thing called Airmail speed post, where you can send things abroad with tracking and guaranteed delivery in 4 days. It doesn't cost an arm and a leg compared to couriers, and they only request that you show them what is inside (for security reasons) before closing the package.

It so happened in the summer (Indian summer ends in June) , that I was urgently couriering through them, one kilogram of cayenne pepper/red chilly powder in packets to someone in the US.

I thought I was being very efficient arriving with my package, complete with protective waterproof, enevlopes, scissors, tape, string, waterproof pens, labels.

They asked me to open the outside large envelope. I routinely opened, and they routinely peered in, to touch and confirm that I was sending what I said I was. Ceiling fans were on full blast, and one of the larger packets must have developed a small hole, because the guy checking it went into a bunch of alarming sneezes from the pungent hot aroma .

Everybody kind of suddenly focused on me, and I focused my eyes on my purse, till I saw the guy at the counter smile, pass me the package and asked me to pack it up , with special attention to the presumed hole. There were clear Post Office rules on what you couldn't send , but chilly powder was not on the list. I did the needful paperwork, and was given a tracking number.

I kept tracking it, as it left Customs in India, entered the US in new York, entered and left US Customs uneventfully, and left on an intra country flight to its destination on the West coast, and was delivered, in all its red hot pungent glory.

I had half expected to see an update on the Postal tracking page saying "rejected and destroyed by US customs due to dangerous smell and potential for harm" or something similar. But the entire trip was uneventful , of course, beyond the local Mumbai Post Office.

These days, they sometimes just ask me what I am sending, and gingerly feel the package from outside. The lady at the counter understands the place of red chilly powder in cooking, and importance of the home-made variety. They completely understand why I end up sending packages of wedding clothes, tiny silver God figurines which are worshiped, various prayer books , and sometimes even some specially made dry chutneys.

They must have decided I am a safe person to transact business with....

Why, I even got invited to an Annual Maha Satyanarayan Puja of the Post Office employees, and even partook of the wonderful prasaad....

Jai ho !


  1. I sneezed while reading this! Gesundheit our dear beloved India Post!

  2. Loved your account. My dad [retd senior supdt of post offices]would be elated to read this!

  3. Very interesting! I have switched over to Speedpost after similar encounters with various courier firms.

  4. Jai Ho indeed. I had a problem with a monthly magazine repeatedly not being delivered on time and my having to take up with them on the phone or by email. They blamed the post office and I took strong objection saying that the two postmen who deliver at my residence have been doing so for over two decades and have never let me down. It eventually turned out to be the magazines data bank being corrupted and with much apologies, they corrected the record at their end. Since then, the magazine arrives regularly on time via the Indian Post Office. Jai Ho indeed.

  5. I can just picture the person catching a whiff of the red chilly powder and the smiles of those watching on. It's good to be known by the Post Office!

  6. I often think that the India Post is grossly under valued ! I didnt think much of them, until somedays back some package arrived at my doorstep. That would have costed an arm and a leg through any other courier company.

    That day i changed my mind.

    But then, i never ever imagined that they have functions with customers that could get invited as chief guests !

    Well, i am going to try sending some chilli powder too !


  7. Aww!! Loved how you ended the post with prasad with the post office people. :)

    I have faced this Suranga!! The courier guy gave himself away when he asked for directions the next day.

    And I too have learnt that post office is way more reliable (and costs less) here.

    The chilli powder incident is so funny and so easy to picture!!!!

  8. That goes on to prove that old (post-office) is gold. :)

    Never knew of this service...its been ages since i went to a postoffice - there are no needs now a days..sigh...

  9. That chilli pdr thing took the cake ;-) LOL! Overall a very interesting read :-) I must be more regular at your blog from now :-) so I don't miss out anymore.

  10. I wonder if someday we will be able to send packages using the internet.

  11. Good old post office:-) Lovely post Suranga - my mom swears by it! And kind of reminded me of the Cadbury Postman Ad - They have a real good heart- they really do:-)

  12. I can remember when a first class stamp cost 3 cents and the letter took 12 days to get there. Now the cost is 47 cents (Unless it has gone up again since I last sent anything snail mail) and it sometimes doesn't get there at all. In defense of the P.O. it usually just takes a day to arrive at it's destination)

    Now it costs more to send a package than the contents are worth. I do my shopping on line and have it sent direct to the recipient.

    As usual, your story is so funny and well written that it's a joy to read.

  13. Starry Bless you. Atishoo! and Thank you...

    softypinkngloriousred Thank you and my respectful regards to your dad !

    lotusleaf Thank you

    Ramana Rajgopaul Thank you.

    Aleta Thank you. What I didnt say is that I sneezed too ...:-)

    kavi I did NOT get invited as chief guest. They invite many folks here for a very public Satyanarayan Puja. I go whenever possible because I think it is the last of the old childhood public institutions, still going strong and doing good work, and amazingly, not cribbing ...

    IHM Thank you. And yes, the Puja is a BIG deal. They have lights on the building and loud songs playing....

    UmaS You said it ! Old IS Gold....

    writerzblock Welcome back. And excuse me while I sneeze :-)

    Joe Todd That would be so convenient !

    Minal Thank you !

    Darlene Thank you, and hope you had a great visit in california !