In the past 4.5 years, I have not had the chance to visit a post office in India.
My memory from my earlier visits was that of a dinghy, dusty and crowded room in a very congested road, wherever I had lived. So, I was expecting something similar during my search for the post office near my place of living today.
Was I surprised ? Yes, indeed I was. The surroundings were of course, congested, with lots of vehicular and human traffic. That was to be expected in any metro in India today. My driver stopped the car in front of what appeared to be a “college in a single building”, and gestured me to the name board which mentioned “Sub Post Office”. I got down and could not find the entrance to the building, which was shielded by young college students crowding around the place. Somehow I waded my way through and entered the compound.
It was a college, no doubt. But the post office was also there on the first floor. So I walked up, and entered a vast room with bright lights and proper counters for customer handling. The rates and instructions were displayed on the wall, and there was the usual sorting place where there were a dozen guys sorting out letters and putting them into pigeon holes. There were even chairs for customers to sit, so I was really taken aback. Post offices and government offices in India are mostly unwelcoming operations, where there was never any question of providing customer service of any kind. They would not even respond to your questions. So, where is the possibility of doing any kind of business for the common citizen ? There used to be long queues and to resolve the issues of one customer it used to take a long time. That is the kind of experience one is used to in India.
However, apparently, things have changed or are in the process of changing. At this fairly decent post office, there was hardly any customer probably because it was about 12:30 PM on a Saturday. They were winding down the operations, hopefully not expecting customers after the lunch time ! Out of the 4 counters, 3 were closed with a “closed” board displayed. At the one which was open, there was a lady looking very busy and operating – I was shocked – a flat panel computer screen. So, post offices now have computers in India ?!!! I was totally unaware of this fact. This means that the government has introduced automated processing in post offices, but I don’t know since when.
Not only that, the lady looked at me and smiled ! Wow !! I thought they would never smile in government offices. Nevertheless she was pleasant, and directed me to the post master at the other end of the office, because she was not the right person to trace an undelivered letter (which was the reason why I was there in the first place). I approached the serious-looking man and showed him the card which stated that I had to collect the undelivered letter addressed to me within 5 days. He asked me to see a letter sorter, and then I realised nothing much has changed. They were all doing physical work only and had far too many postal workers doing the same mechanical things. He made me wait for a few minutes as he was in the middle of something, but eventually got around to studying the card I had.
Then there came the next big surprise. Within 30 seconds, he found my letter in what was a maze of pigeon holes and thousands of letters. I don’t yet understand how he did that in what was a 100% non-automated environment of letter sorting. But he did, asked me to sign in a register and handed over the letter. This was amazing.
Well, it would still take a few years for the post offices here to match what is available abroad, and deliver a better customer service and newer products like greeting cards and packing materials. However, I agreed with myself that this is a vast improvement from what I had seen a decade ago.
Indian Post Offices – very surprising experience !
23rd October 2010