A stroll to the post office…

My first few days in India, I told Kate and Tom that one of the top things on my list of things to do was to buy picture postcards to mail back home to my old-fashioned friends. Wait — it’s not just the old-fashioned who like that, but even people who themselves never resort to paper correspondence or postage stamps are normally more than glad to discover a postcard from a faraway place in their mailboxes.

Neither of them had noticed postcards for sale anywhere during the many months they’ve been in India, but we read online that the huge General Post Office has them; you might have read in a previous post about my failure to find any there. But Tom did buy stamps that day.

Last week a visitor to our new baby suggested The Bombay Store closer to home, so a few days ago Kate and I took the baby in the car and spent a long while shopping there, but they didn’t sell postcards, either. They told us to go to the local post office, which we actually tried to do immediately after, but couldn’t locate it where the driver remembered it had been….

So Friday Kate suggested we go and check out the post office on foot; Tom had the car and driver on business. She had found a different such office on her phone and it looked like a short walk. Since it would be such a brief outing we left fed-and-sleeping Raj with Kareena. It was the hottest time of day, and temperate winter weather for these parts, i.e. about 90 degrees. We felt it.

We maneuvered in traffic and squeezed between parked motorcycles. We picked our way over broken sidewalks and walked alongside the moving rickshaws and buses in places where the sidewalk was missing. Early afternoon, the sidewalks were crowded with people, including schoolchildren like these in pink uniforms who were about to enter the gate of the convent school down the block.

The post office was pretty easy to find. We walked up to the window that said Stamps and Stationary [sic]. The woman behind the grille said, No, they did not have postcards. She asked another patron nearby whose English was better to help us, and he gave us vague directions, waving with his arm, to a bookstore down the street “on this side,” where he assured us we would find what we were searching for.

I decided to buy stamps while we were there, on faith that I would eventually have something to stick them on. I laid rupees enough for ten stamps on the green marble counter, and was handed three bills in change. Then we waited. The postal lady was eating her lunch.

When she had eaten the last bite, she cleaned up her desk and had one more swig from her pink water bottle. After another few minutes she passed my stamps through, with instructions to put “one of these, and four of these, on each postcard.”

 

On we went to look for the bookshop. Kate was also on the lookout for a chemist to see if they had diapers. We did find a chemist on the way, where the packages contained too few diapers, but I bought four shrink-wrapped pills for 12 rupees. A rupee is worth about one and a half American cents.

Oh, and the ATM: we stopped by the little room off the main bank building, staffed by two attendants/guards, and used our U.S. debit cards to pull out rupees, a limit of 5,000 rupees per transaction. Along every sidewalk I saw sights that made me glad I had my camera ready.

Now, where was that bookshop? Crossing back and forth through busy intersections — there were some helpful traffic lights on this street! — and with Kate following her Google map, we finally found it, and entered. Why of course, the bookseller had postcards; a new supply had just arrived in the shop the morning before. His business is to make his customers happy, he emphasized, as he took a few packets from a small stack behind the counter.

Kate deliberated with me over which collections to choose, based on the subjects listed on the back of the package, and not able to see any of the actual cards. I wanted pictures of everyday scenes such as I have actually experienced, and not the big tourist spots, most of which I won’t see.

It seemed clear from the brief text and the covers that these were the sort of postcards I was looking for, and I bought two packs of 20 each, Wallahs (merchants) and Mumbai Buzz, just to be sure that I would find a few that I actually wanted to send, once I saw them.  I noticed then that the name of the shop printed on the bag was The Happy Book Stall.

When at home we all examined all the cards, we were amazed at the “vintage” quality. The photos appear to have been taken about 25 years ago, and the print quality is worse than that. The word art would not be associated with most of the pictures in any way, except of the sort of interesting framing that can randomly happen when you give a camera to a five-year-old.

But I’m very pleased! I’d still like to see if any others exist in town, so I will keep my eyes open, but now I’m ready to start my picture postcard correspondence. And I saw so many sights on this short outing; if I had my printer and my card stock paper, etc. I would make my own postcards. But then I would be missing something I can’t put my finger or my words on — because there’s no doubt this collection I have acquired is accidentally telling a story about India.

 

 

13 thoughts on “A stroll to the post office…

  1. Your post office saga reminds me of banking in Liberia. When I was there, any trip to the bank meant a different line for every transaction. So, if you had a check you wanted to deposit, but wanted some cash back, you would stand in line to show identification and endorse the check in front of a teller. Then,you would stand in another line to deposit the check. Then, it was off to a third line to withdraw some cash from your account, since you couldn’t deposit and get cash back in the same transaction.

    I can laugh about it now. At the time? Not always so much!

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    1. Each of the windows in the post office also has specific and different hours that they are open. One of the windows was the place to pay your phone bill, Kate told me. If I go back for more stamps, which I expect will be necessary, I’ll have to investigate further as to all the theoretical possibilities of this little office 🙂

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  2. I love seeing all the pictures of India and hearing about all of your adventures while there. Seems a bit scary though, some of the time. Enjoy your visit with your family.

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  3. I sure hope you bought post cards for your own collection–they look like wonderful. Enjoyed the little tale of you having to wait for your stamps while the clerk finished her lunch. We had to wait in a small town in Germany once many years ago while the family finished their lunch. It seemed so foreign to a North American, everything around here was open in those days at all hours. But I’m glad people still take time for their own nourishment and self-care.

    What a lovely adventure. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  4. I think the postcards are very “funky” and interesting! It’s fun to hear about the challenges of finding the simplest things in a different cultural setting. I think the poor lady behind the counter probably only gets a short time each day to be off of her feet. I don’t blame her for stubbornly holding on to her “lunchtime”, lol. I know you agree. I imagine in these poorer countries people work much longer days than we do? And for very little pay. Do you have to carry around zillions of rupees, or is there a larger denomination you can use? Is that paper note above a rupee? So curious about it all!

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    1. That 10-rupee note is the smallest denomination of paper money, worth about 15 cents! So I find I have collected a big wad of them in change through just a few transactions. There are many other denominations of bills – the 500 rupee note is easy to use, at about $7.50 in U.S. value… and I have a 2,000-rupee note in my purse, worth — you probably did the math already! — about $30. Personally I haven’t got any larger, but I’m sure they exist.

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  5. What an adventure! You have so much patience! I’m tired after just reading about it! I’m glad you found some postcards. I was worried that you were going to come up empty after all of that. That woman eating ALL of her lunch before serving you. Oh, my! lol

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  6. What an adventure! It makes me nervous to think of you and your daughter dashing around those busy, chaotic streets, but I’m glad you found your postcards safely. Other cultures are so fascinating, and require patience and flexibility, but the pay-off is well worth it. Now I’m wondering how long you are staying. It seems like a more leisurely trip, not just for the birth, but to get a good look at where they are living. It sounds like you are enjoying it! Your photos — they are as good as postcards. I see a theme of children, and of the color and exuberance of India.

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