Sunday, December 20, 2009

At the Post Office

- by Deepa Krishnan
I have not been to the Post Office in the last 12 years. But last week, I went with mom and dad . They had invested a little money a while ago, in some postal savings scheme, and my signature was needed in order to redeem it.

My first impression of the interior.

At first I thought nothing had changed at the Post Office - but then I realised the red colour was new. The place was brighter than I remembered. And there were now chairs that you could sit on, while you waited for the files to move. That's Dad, seated, waiting for his cheque.

Mom in the rust colour saree. She's helping the lady in green fill a form in English.

A Tamil-speaking lady in green was having trouble with forms. Mom as usual, volunteered to help. I wandered off with the camera, clicking photos. The first thing I noticed was this couple.

They were at the Monthly Income Scheme counter.

This is a scheme where you deposit a certain amount, and then you withdraw on a monthly basis. It is popular with retired people - perhaps there was a family elder on whose behalf they were withdrawing.

I sneaked a peek at the man behind another counter. I wondered what his job was. I found out easily enough. His job was to write things in big fat ledgers.

The babu and his numbered ledgers

It seemed to me like the dullest job in the world, scribbling little numbers on page after page, book after book. And yet, this is a sought-after job, bringing with it a certain social standing. A man with a steady "go-ment job" has no trouble finding a bride.

I saw the usual board, asking people not to bribe officials.

A little further away was the mail dropbox. If memory serves me right, the red slot below is where I used to drop letters to my German pen-pal. I wonder if anyone has-penpals these days!

The green is for inside the country, and the red is for international.

I wandered outside the post office gate, and found a little blue office. The board on the office said, "Harris Michael Koli, Investment Consultant. Please phone on mobile before comming" (His spelling, not mine!).

Exterior of Sion Post Office.

On the building you can see the new logo of the Indian Post Office, launched in 2008. It is meant to represent a new dynamic and modern postal system, in tune with the twenty first century. Frankly, in a country this size, that is not an easy achievement. I looked up the India Post website and found that we have a staggering 155,035 post offices in the country, of which 90% are in rural areas.

By the way, I found some other interesting tidbits as well:
  • The average distance you have to walk anywhere in India, to find the nearest Post Office is 2.59 kms.
  • In Maharashtra, a typical rural post office serves 5,127 people and an urban post office 35,324 people
  • Of the 155,035 post offices, 2,500 have completed what the India Post calls "Modernisation (Improving Ergonomics)". I wonder what they did as part of this exercise!
  • An impressive 10,000 post offices have been computerised (my post office is one of them, so there are fewer babus writing in files in Sion, he he.)
  • There are 30,000 female employees of India Post. This is 10% of the total staff.
Another interesting thing about the Indian Post is that it provides employment for more than just it's staff. Like Michael Harris Koli above, or this gentleman with the moustache below.

Mr. Moustache - the grand old man outside Post Office!

Mr. Moustache has been a fixture outside the Sion Post Office for the last 20 years. What does he do? He is a typist, and he types out legal agreements on stamped paper. It has nothing to do with India Post, this is just a very good place to set up shop.

The Parcel Service Guy

Next to Mr. Moustache is another counter - this is a Registered Parcel service. You tell the man the address, and give him your parcel. He wraps it in the right sized envelope or packet, seals the package with wax, and fills in the post office Registered Parcel form. All you have to do is take it inside the Post Office and send it off. It's a handy service if you can't read or write, or don't have the right packing material at home.

When I wandered back inside, I found that our cheque was ready. Dad was pleased as punch. We didn't have to wait too long, or fill lengthy forms. The records were computerised, it was easy to check the file and see what was due. It was all very pleasant. And while it isn't as fast or easy as say, a private sector bank, I suppose things *have* changed, after all, at the Post Office.

(Article quoted on CNN Go Jan 7


Varun said...

Loved the post. Thanks.

Apart from Indian post-offices I have been to only US post-offices. They are a different ballgame altogether. There are just 3-4 employees manning the front desks and maybe 1-2 more behind the scenes. The post-office itself is quite self-contained. They will have all the relevant packaging material, adhesive, markers etc. that you can buy then and there. All the relevant information on services, prices, DOs and DON'Ts is displayed in a nice, easy to understand manner thus reducing inquiries at the counter. The emphasis as you can imagine is on self-reliance. Another thing I loved about the US postal system was that you could pay postage , fill out the relevant forms, labels etc. online. All you have to do is then drop off your package at the post-office or leave it in a designated area at your residence or office where your post-man (post-person?) will pick it up.

Deepa Krishnan said...

I have never been a fan of DIY, actually. I like personal service by a real human being, I like having someone listen to me, and do what I want, like that Parcel guy above. Not everything is best done in the DIY mode popular in the West. In a country that has so many people, it is easier to strike a balance where you get a nice mix of "human" and "machine".

mayseek life said...

found this an entertaining and informational piece on a necessary government usual your take allowed me an insight into the culture. love your observations!

Ravi Ramakantan said...

People usually talk disparagingly of our postal services and I vehemently disagree with them. Like Dabbawallas, they too have sense of pride in what they do and I do not recall ever missing a single "Known" mail in post. And if you or someone in your family receives mail regularly; try sending a test mail with the skimpiest of addresses and I bet you 10 to 1 it will reach you as long as the pincode is correct. Like the BEST Transporst guys, I have great respect for postwalls.. no matter what anyone else may say.

Spiderguy252 said...

Our post offices sure look ancient!

Pandi said...

Funny take on "goment" job and writing on fat-ledgers..:)The last I remember going to the PO was when I was in school and bought inland letters and stamps for Mom.I remember the one near my home in chennai,that had massive amounts of Glue(or pasai) spread all over the "gluing" table..What a mess!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Having gone to Podar College more than 25 years ago and having spent a lot of time in Sion (my mothers family is from Sion), I enjoyed your blogs and pictures very much.

I live in Toronto now and going through your pictures have made me very homesick.

Having said that, thanks for the wonderful posts - they are very enjoyable.

Saras said...

One can't help feeling nostalgic when they read your blog on Sion! Beautiful post keep it up.

UKPeteros said...

Hi Deepa, i came across your blog via and enjoyed your positive attitude and love of your country and people. My husband and I have lived in London for the last 9 years and originally from NZ and now are in the final stages of confirming a new contract in Mumbai which means we will be moving in the next 2 - 3 months, it's very exciting and I want to learn as much as I can before we arrive. My husband is an engineer and we are lucky to be coming over with a relocation package etc...I will be looking for work in Recruitment as I am a UK Resourcing Manager with broad experience. If you can suggest some good websites for me to research I would really appreciate it - work, lifestyle the meantime I will keep following your blogs as they are enlightening and engaging! I also like your strong opinions and family values that come across in your blogs around accepting of cultures, change etc...happy new year to you and your family x

Haddock said...

Oh yes the Indian Post office ..... there are still some which look exactly like from the Malgudi days. The only change you will see in these POs is the Speed post.
Yes the Ledger is a part of the post and its well maintained.
I abhor to think of what would happen to those hard earned money saved in some NSC if those ledgers are lost.

Sita, CNNGo said...

anbohs said...

The PO is the most reliable - especially when mailing an old relative in an obscure lane of Payyanur. Despite email and overnite service, this system has retained its validity.

Read it once again - very well written

Anonymous said...

i used to live three buildings to the left of the post office , the corner one, long time ago, there is a new building over there now,but i did spend a lot of time in that post office and the playground across from it. i was going thru your blog and said hey that looks like the one near our house, and then the next picture looked familiar but the one with the red and green drop box i saw and said wait its the same one.

Roshan said...

Nice helping by your mom..!!!