Unusual surprise when trying to mail a parcel.
|And then we visited a post office in New Delhi.
Many of you know that I worked 33 years at Canada Post. Those were not always boring times, like the time a man lost consciousness at my counter or the day we were held-up at gun point in our lobby or the time the bank across the street blew up during business hours. I’ve had to deal with employees who were attacked by dogs, attacked by people and those who attacked dogs or attacked people. I even had an employee who would not deliver the mail to a certain address because of a loose goat eating grass in a yard since goats were not mentioned in his contract. I had such a special relationship with both the union and management that I happily ripped my postal clothes to shreds the day I retired. So… when I travel, I look at post offices from the outside and check them out. It is a kind of professional curiosity. But nothing in my experience could have prepared me for a little event I witnessed inside a large post office in India.
We were traveling with friends who had bought a carpet and wanted to send it in a parcel to their home in the U.S.A. Here was my chance to get inside a post office in the center of New Delhi in India. The parcel was well packed in a tight cardboard box but in India this is not good enough to send internationally. Parcels also need to be wrapped in cotton cloth and sewn tightly closed. Some think it is for security but after what I saw on the streets, I believe it is because cows eat cardboard. Our friend walks into the large lobby, carries the parcel towards an old fashioned teacher’s desk where a man sits with his paperwork. I look at the small sign on the desk and it reads: GUIDE. I start to wonder why anyone would need a guide to send a parcel, but this is India. So when the man spoke to tell us that there were two other customers ahead of us, we made a mental note of the persons ahead of us and we stood back a little to wait and watch.
Beside the desk, close to the window, we see a small man working with a needle and a thread, sewing a cotton cloth around a parcel. He is affectionately called a ‘packing-walla’, a term meaning expert packer and with his thick scarf, he looks like he had been there for a long time. He held this job because of one very important qualification: ‘seniority’.
A few customers with parcels arrive after us, two for Brazil, then two for China, then one for France. Soon we are 12 people waiting for this virtuoso of the needle to finish his first parcel. He has an audience and we watch and we start thinking about time. We estimate the service time in minutes then in hours and wonder if there is any help nearby. We start to talk with each other and then to our amazement, someone brings tea and cookies on a plate for the ‘packing-walla’. The master needs a tea break. The sewing stops, the union break starts, he sits facing us but without seeing and he sips his tea with great satisfaction and slowly starts eating his cookies. We all look at each other in complete disbelief and then we somehow almost completely understand. Maybe we’ve been in India too long.
After what seems like a long time, the packing-walla picks up the long needle again and continues his work. There is but one small hitch. We the tourists want to see the rest of the country. Some of us are getting more and more uncomfortable and finally the Chinese lady (who had to wait for five parcels to be sewn before hers could even start to be sewn up) walks up to the packing-walla, grabs the needle out of his hands and with a firm hand of her own, starts sewing. Surprised by this bold move, he is powerless and reduced to watching as the lady gracefully speed sews and shows him what a needle and thread can do when in good hands. The packing-walla watches in amazement as we become even more interested. His work contract probably does not cover this. He tries a few times to get his tools back but she blocks him with her body and won’t let go. She can sew faster than he can move.
She sternly signals him to start cutting cotton cloth for the next parcel and to our complete surprise, he does, and as she finishes one parcel and starts on ours, I want to stay there till the end but she soon finishes our parcel and starts on the Brazilian ones. Our friend picks up her finished parcel goes to the mailing counter, pays for the parcel and after having to wait so long to leave I suddenly want to stay and watch but we have to leave. I should have taken more pictures!
Time to mail a parcel in India: 63 minutes.
Cost for the parcel: 1,200 Rupees. ($30.00)
The imprint left on my memory: Impossible to erase.
The reputation of the Post Office: Intact.
This was an India I never expected to experience.
From a vantage point we will never forget,