Postman, Mailman, hand me that mail

The postman in Noida was a rare visitor.  Like a migratory bird, he would only arrive on certain days of the year.  You could spot him on Diwali and Rakshabandan and around the New Year.   If you wanted to see him at any other time, you could visit him at the post office, where, between sips of hot tea and pulls from a cigarette, he would hand you your mail.

When he did condescend to come to your doorstep, he would charge appearance fees, like any other celebrity.  The rates varied, depending on what goodies he had on offer.  Plain inland letters and postcards could go for as little as Rs 10 per mail, while parcels were usually Rs. 25.  My brother’s CAT study material, though, was much more expensive – I think he wanted a Rs 50 ransom for it.  (This was a decade ago, when inflation hadn’t diminished the value of a fifty rupee note from the price of a multiplex movie ticket to the cost of popcorn. I am sure his rates are much higher now.)

Sometimes, if we weren’t at home, he would throw mail, like my friend’s wedding invitation, into the storm water drain that ran in front of the house.  Thankfully, my friend chose to get married in May, when the storm water drains ran dry and even the dead leaves that usually lined it had fluttered away in the hot winds.

I had always thought that Noida postman was a rare species, but it turns out he was not.  Slate has a fascinating article about postmen – in the US, UK and elsewhere, who do not deliver the mail.

In 2006, the last year the U.S. Postal Service released figures, there were 515 arrests and 466 convictions for “internal theft.” That figure includes abandonment and hoarding cases, where the motive has remained constant since the days of penny postage: A worker gets overwhelmed or simply disinclined to finish his route. “It’s not a huge issue,” Agapi Doulaveris of the U.S. Office of the Inspector General told me. “We work on referrals.”

I admire the  Postal Service’s nonchalance.  Not a huge issue?  Well, certainly, not any more  – because, after all, most of the mail we receive is junk mail.   Who uses ordinary post, or “first class mail” to send anything much anymore?  Even our greeting cards are mostly electronic.

Can you hear that clunking sound? Yes, it’s the sound of the post office digging its own grave.

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12 thoughts on “Postman, Mailman, hand me that mail

  1. Oh my god! Noida postmen are worse than those in my city! Atleast they deliver letters and packages to our homes without any money. But of course packages are always in torn condition. However international letters are dealt in a different way. Check out my experience with the postal services
    http://opinionsandexpressions.wordpress.com/2008/07/09/the-postal-scam/

    I read your post – stamp swiping? That’s a new one 😦 I can also never understand how they manage to tear packages so badly..

  2. I once was standing behind the postamans as hi diligently stuffed my mailbox. the moment he clsed it i took everything out scanned them quickly and trashed every bit of them in the adjacent trashbin. He was watching all this while without alighting his van.

    The look on his face when I turned, was what we call a ‘mastercard’ moment!

    I feel sorry for that postman 😦 How much job satisfaction do you get when you know you spend your entire workday delivering mail to people that is really just fit for the trash can?

  3. Oh, were you a Noida -wasi too?
    Our postmen would come, and would deliver mail too, but used to save up the festive season’s incoming mail for Diwali!

    Oh yes, I forgot – he did that too! Sometimes we would get weeks worth of mail at one time. God help you if you were expecting any admission letters or dividend checks 😦

  4. Never had a postman charging for post in my home town in Kerala, but it became a bit different when I came to Chennai. Here, though we never received a post outside couriers, we were greeted by three postmen on the day of Diwali asking for “contribution” . We very nicely told them to get lost 🙂 .

    It’s amazing how many people “remember” to greet us on festivals 😉 Telephone linemen, for instance..

  5. Lekhni

    Could it have varied by sector? I lived in Sector 37 about 12 years ago but I never had any issues with the postman demanding any bribes or losing my mail. I also had a lot of subscriptions and they all came on time.

    As for the death of the post office, I see a different trend emerging. E-commerce has ensured its long life. Nearly always things have to be signed for so they do not go missing. Most of the important stuff – bank statements, bills etc – are all online so they are safe from ‘stealing’ or being dumped. If I got any less junk mail, I wouldn’t be upset. So I think all in all, new business models and new consumer behaviour all around.

    Perhaps it did vary by sector, or even by postman! Having to have almost every mail signed for, of course, means there has to be someone at home, so it’s very hard on working people. You’re right that e-commerce is a great boon, and while I am not sure how much it has taken off in India, it’s just a matter of time..

  6. Interestingly, I havent had any problems with the postmen in Madurai, knock on wood. They were friendly people, atleast when the time I was there permanently, which was when I born till the mid 90’s. Postal dept. losing the shine means a lot of folks without jobs and will have to get themselves somewhere else. But anyways, I mostly use UPS as they are very reliable and get a lot of things done online like you said. So the reality of your last statement is inevitable.

    Noida is unique in so many ways 😉
    UPS and Fedex are cutting into USPS with their Ground service, and if USPS is seen as unreliable, then it bodes even worse for them..

  7. Snail mails of course are digging their own grave. After all, not all postmen can be like Thanappa of Missing Mail (Malgudi Days).

    I doubt there are any Thanappas even in small towns any more. The friendly neighborhood postman probably exists only in films and books 😦

  8. I once saw a mailman dump the entire contents of his bag by the side of the road. Maybe he was being very prescient because email had only been invented then 🙂

  9. Sheesh!
    No wonder most people have started couriering goodies. Better expensive than lost!

    Makes sense, right, with even couriering within the same city being faster and inexpensive. I remember, some years ago, the Indian govt. even considered banning couriers (purely because the postal dept. was losing out, of course). Thankfully, the consumer won finally.

  10. Its funny. I wrote a letter (as in wrote with pen and paper) after really long to a friend, and she sent me an email telling me that she got the letter and that she’d write back…

    A handwritten letter is considered a big treat now 🙂 Or maybe that was a veiled hint about your handwriting 😉 She is probably saying – I will take a few days to decipher your writing, and a few more to write!

  11. Lekhni

    In the last 10 years, better delivery models than 9-5 have also emerged. So I see it as positive.

    Re India and e-commerce, it probably won’t surprise you that travel (e-tickets etc) is the largest e-commerce category in India. Logistics is a management nightmare still, as is the process efficiency required in the whole supply chain. 😦

    And to think that e-tickets are a relatively new phenomenon in India 🙂 With so many new airlines, I suppose there is much more potential for air cargo..perhaps it’s just a matter of time before it gains acceptability.

    Years ago, there used to be an online grocer in India (Bangalore and Chennai) called Fabmall (you could buy everything from rice to sugar onlne). They would deliver in your preference of time/ day, and the stuff used to be wonderfully packed. I loved them. Then they changed their business model to selling books and CDs alone – the logistics became unmanageable 😦

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