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.