Saturday, January 13, 2007

Palaver at the Post Office

The other day I wrote a circular letter to my family and friends, ran off 25 copies, added a handwritten paragraph at the end of each one, popped them all in envelopes, addressed them and got them ready to send off in the mail. Narissima Rao, the man who manages the guest house, took me to the Post Office on his motorbike (always an exciting experience) and helped me take care of business.

Outside the post office is a bright red cylindrical mailbox, just like the ones we have in England. Nice reminder of an English past, I thought to myself. Inside, we were immediately attended to by one of the clerks. Narissima spelled out the various mailing options open to me, and I chose regular airmail, at a cost of R30 (30 rupees) per—that’s about 80 cents American, much the same as it would cost in the States.

I was asked to take a seat while Narissima and the clerk stuck the stamps on each envelope. This was a messy job since it seems the stamps don’t come with adhesive already on them. There must be a good reason for this, though I didn’t ask. I’ve learned from too often drawing silly conclusions in the past that it’s always best to give others the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they have good reasons for what they do. So Narissima and the clerk dipped their fingers into a small bowl of glue and spread it on the back of the stamps themselves before sticking the stamps on the envelopes.

As you might expect, some of the glue flowed beyond the edges of the stamps, which would have been OK if they’d allowed the envelopes to lie somewhere separate from each other till the glue dried. But no, the envelopes were immediately stacked one on top of the other and, en bloc, passed across to another clerk. Her job was to enter the names and addresses into a computer so as to produce a sticky label for each envelope (yes, these labels did have glue on the back, just like regular mailing labels—and regular stamps, for that matter).

I had to stand at the counter now to help the lady read my handwriting as she typed the data into the computer. It was mildly alarming to see that she had to kind of unglue each envelope as she worked her way down the pile of 24. As she processed each one, she placed it, still sticky, right on top of the ones she’d already completed, till the stack was reassembled.

I noticed that the letter I’d addressed to my mom was now on the top of the stack. So I have this vision of her eventually receiving a solid block of envelopes in her mailbox in Stone, England. She’ll have a wonderful time separating them all and sending them on their merry way.

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