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.