Repost on the post
A friend emailed across a scanned image of a Christmas card the other day and made it clear that a printed version would not follow this year. At the risk of offending those who believe in faithfully sending out greeting cards in the festive season, I thought this was an idea whose time had come.
The only ones who are not likely to appreciate this idea might be the post offices, who would lose out on their earnings from this form of greeting. But, after encountering their abysmal service so often, I wonder if they might even be bothered. On festive occasions like Christmas, we sometimes encounter an institution which once was a part of our life, but which is now hardly noticed by most: the post office.
In our younger days, like the only newspaper available in the State, and the radio which everyone depended on, the post office was our window to the outside world. I recall times when pen friends would write in from half-way around the globe, and each word would be read with such delight. Or, when we would write in to radio stations, and receive in return postcards (and QSL cards, or report acknowledgment cards), records to learn Dutch and cassettes to learn Russian, tourist brochures from apartheid South Africa, and anti-neutron bomb badges from East Germany. All through the post office.
At one stage, my elder brother and I managed to buy a set of ten International Reply Coupons (IRCs, then costing a little over two rupees each), send them all the way to Sweden, and get a lovely blue-and-yellow tee-shirt in return which we both shared over such a long time. Again, all through the post office.
In the late 1980s, the then Times of India solitary correspondent in Goa, Debashish Munshi, and some of us, would send out half-a-dozen postal items each day. This included the humble post-card which then cost just 15 paise (it’s still only 50 paise to use it, including the cost of the card.) We got to know some of the postal staff quite well, and they became friends.
Some years before the internet got popular, in the early 1990s, I would trim out some media reports on Goa, and send them to friends, including academics and those who had migrated recently and who were interested in keeping in touch with the news from here. There were few other ways to keep in touch in those times. The UK-based Goan photographer Lui Godinho half-joked recently that this postal-delivered service of ‘News Clips From Goa’ was like an early paper-based internet alternative!
Against this background, it is quite sad to see the postal network being dismantled and damaged in Goa, thanks to its poor management and unconcern over the service quality. I still believe that their services are useful, and have a role to play. Many of us might have forgotten how effective the India Post can be; but the Russian and other tourists along the North Goa coastal belt do use local post offices rather intensely to send out large parcels back home. They seem to be quite satisfied with the deal they get for the price. Except perhaps for the long queues everyone faces to get a registered mail out.
Of course, some parts of the India Post service have become redundant. In an email-fuelled world, few bother to ever post letters these days. There are many options (like NEFT) now to the good, old-fashioned money order. VPP, or value payee post, is seldom used. The telegram (once part of the Posts & Telegraphs) officially died a few years ago. Still, there are some useful services available.
But even those parts of the India Post which are popular are treated with disdain. There are long queues on most days to book items of registered post. In bigger centres, like Panaji or Mapusa, the office gets flooded with customers on certain days when bank functions are accessed.
There are some major problems here. The first is of mismanagement by the officers in charge. When they face complaints, they argue that vacant staff posts have not been filled, and say that the postal network in Goa has many vacant posts. Yet, while most staff are clearly whiling away their time, the few on the busy counters are overworked.
Some years back, the counters of the Indian Post were declared to be ‘multipurpose’. This service was inaugurated with much fanfare. Today, multipurpose services are not offered. So much of the staff sit twiddling their thumbs, while long queues wait on some counters.
The second is that the staff makes up its own rules. Closing timings are arbitrary cut. An RTI query brought to light how various post offices were sending customers home although it was not yet officially closing time.
Even the RMS service, which is supposed to work for 24 hours at Alto Porvorim, has its clerks deciding their own rules. One day, they refuse to accept parcels over a certain weight, on another day they decline to accept printed matter, and most of the time they go in for long dinner breaks when they are expected to take turns for a 24-hour service.
Such a waste of time, and such a ruining of useful services. I told some counter clerks the other day that their service (once they accepted the booking) was actually very good. They were themselves surprised to hear this. Yet, India Post can and does compete with the private couriers, has a vast network across the country, and is very reliable (at least with registered mail). But if the staff, and the people managing the service, are intent on ruining it, who can stop them? Goa deserves better.