Have you ever been to a Post office in Delhi? Walk with me stand in line with me as I share my experience today.
I needed to mail a few things to locations around Delhi, which is unusual. Most people here have drivers and so, more often than not, we just send our drivers off with the things we want delivered. And we sit all comfy cozy in our pjs while our driver maneuvers thru traffic and crowds and runs many of our errands for us. It’s lovely really. And yes, it is absolutely amazing that it is actually more practical to have things hand-delivered than to use the mail system. But such is life.
My driver, as fantastic as he is, does not speak great English, so today I wasn’t confident that I could properly explain what I wanted done. You might think – really – your driver wouldn’t understand the simple instructions of “take these packages to that post office and mail them”. Really? Yup, really! It does not mean Khan is not a smart guy – in fact, I think he’s pretty smart – but it does mean that I did not feel confident that I could explain exactly what I wanted done and that it would get done.
And isn’t that lucky for you – because now you will know what it is like (at least what it was like for me) to go to the post office in Delhi.
First a little background – forget what you might know about the American mail system. It’s a wee bit different here. For example, there really aren’t mail trucks. There are mail bikes. Yes, that is right – bicycles. The postman rides through the neighborhood with mail strapped on to the back of his bike. It’s not exactly the Pony Express – but it isn’t quite FedEx either. You kind of cross your fingers and wish upon a star. Sometimes it works amazingly well – sometimes, not so much.
Knowing that I wanted these packages to arrive sooner than later, I decided to go to to one of the Head Post Offices – rather than one of the smaller offices that most neighborhoods offer. I believe there are 7 of these “head” offices in Delhi. I went to the one near JorBagh. By going to the larger “central” post office, I am hoping that I could cut off about two days of transit time from the smaller branch to the central processing branch. We’ll see how well that works out.
Before I headed over to the post office, I tried to look up on-line some information about their hours, locations, processes – you know, find out when to go where and what to expect when I got there. I never found a website that showed the hours. Just a few sites that would tell me the postal codes for the post office locations. I am not sure how it is helpful to know what the zip codes for the actual post offices are, but if you need to know, you can find that on-line. Other than that, you won’t find too many other (helpful) details. At least I did not.
So, I took a chance that they would be open today (Wednesday) at 12:30ish. They were. I walked in and looked around. There was a small window in the entrance way – but that seemed too easy – so I headed further back to the larger, busier area. There were several lines but I didn’t see any signs that explained what they were for. And there were no “take a number” stations. So, I got in the shortest line thinking that at least if it was the wrong line I would waste the least amount of time waiting. I am wicked smart like that.
In the way that I am very used to, I created and then stood behind that imaginary line that westerners like to draw on the ground to politely wait their turn. Respecting the privacy of the person in front of them and all that jazz. However, four people went up to the counter in front of me. One at a time, looking at me first, completely dismissing the fact that I might be in line, and then waiting for their own turn – now ahead of me. Interesting, right?
In the U.S., I would have very quickly pointed out to them that I was in fact in line – I would have explained to them that the line starts here – behind the imaginary line – behind me – I would have asked how they didn’t know about “the line” – I would have reminded them that everything you need to know you did learn in kindergarten – and I would have reclaimed my “next in line” status.
But I am not in Kansas anymore and I really was not sure what was going on. I really, truly could not bring myself to believe that all those people just cut in front of me. I let myself assume that they were all related – that they were there together.
But the seemingly new line was a wide line with people adding out to it from both sides. It was not the line I know and love – single file, straight back behind the leader of the line. It was becoming clear that a new line was forming down the width of the counter rather than behind me and the shortest line had now become the longest widest line.
Then I heard. “Pssssssst.”
And then, “Excuse me ma’am,” and this woman is laughing a little bit – not really at me – but, okay actually, at me. She said, “If you want a turn, you are going to have to push your way thru to the front of the line. Go ahead and get up there.”
Me: So, all those people just cut in front of me?
Her: Yes, I am afraid so.
Me: You don’t think they are related? Here together.
Her: No. I really don’t.
Me: Is that really what just happened? They ALL just cut in front of me?
Her: Yes, you’ll need to get up there. What are you here to do?
Me: I want to mail these packages.
Her: Speed post or regular post?
Her: Speed post is faster.
Me: Then I want speed post.
Her: You are in the wrong line altogether – move over here.
Me: Thank you so much!
Personal space in India doesn’t mean the same thing as it means to me. Actually it doesn’t mean diddly squat. There is no such thing. The line was 6 people deep, but we were all within 3 or 4 feet of each other. It was a postal line sandwich. Smooshy. Twins aren’t that close to each other in the womb. And it’s still hot here so sometimes people still smell a little fragrant from being outside. Holy, standing on top of me, batman. But at least I am in the right line – I know what to ask for – speed post – it’s all good, right?
How did you know it was not? Did you read ahead?
Apparently that particular line closed at 1:30p. Good to know – except they never announced it – never put out a sign indicating who would be last. The guy just finished with the person two ahead of me and got up and walked way. And it was frankly 1:26p. Not yet 1:30p. There was still time to help me for stamp’s sake.
Then my little post office angel came over again, still snickering. Not at me, okay, yes, she was still laughing at me. But that is okay – you can laugh at me all you want if you are helping me with this process. Laugh away.
Her: They just closed the window. You’ll need to move to the next line over.
Me: You are kidding right? That line has a lot of people in it. Can they explain that I have been waiting?
Her: No – it closed at 1:30p. Just turn around and hand your envelopes to the man at the window behind you.
Me: There are at least 10 people in that line.
Her: Sure, sure – it’s fine – just do it. Push your way through. Hand him your envelopes.
So that is what I did. I effectively cut in front of about 10 people and handed my things to the man behind the window. No one complained. Actually I recognized most of them. They had been in my line but they moved when they realized the first window was closing. But none of them told me. No, that wasn’t very nice.
The guy in the new window was kind of laughing at me too – in a “you’re a dingbat and I feel sorry for you so I am going to help you” sort of way. Again, I am good with that.
The post man took all my envelopes and asked me if I wanted speed post. Of course, I do, I said very knowingly, – I think I was (not) very convincing that I knew what I was doing.
He stuck stickers on all the envelopes. Then he weighed them one by one and typed in a good portion of the address onto his computer as to where it was going, calculated the postage, and printed new stickers. It took about 10 minutes. The people in the line behind beside me all waited patiently, some had their mail out to be processed, but most just waited.
The total bill for about twelve 9×12 envelopes loaded down with flyers and invitaions – $3. I marvel how that entire process can only be worth $3. I am not going to question it – but I am going to wish I may, wish I might, wish upon the first star I see tonight – that the mail actually gets delivered.
As I walked out, I once again saw my little angel. She was still smiling and I thanked her profusely. Thank God for the kindness of strangers.