“Money order.” I looked at the man from the post office. “Excuse me?” I exclaimed in disbelief. Who, in this day and age, sends money by post any more? Cheques, demand drafts or electronic transfer being the norm of the day, it was sort of shocking that this mode was still in use. Clearly, my metropolitan lifestyle had removed me a step from the ground realities that non-urban India faced. It was a sobering thought.
I knew of none who would send me cash this way. The postman showed me a sheet of paper with the sender’s name. It was a small organization that had once asked me to write for its magazine. Back with a bang! This money order had been sent from Delhi itself, so all was well with my world again.
I signed at two places, and the postman gave me a currency note. (Things have changed, I noted, for this man was not dressed in the khaki uniform of yore.) The sum was very small, but it set off some memories.
From college onwards, I had been put in charge of attending to all post office-related transactions on behalf of our household. So hail or storm, rain or sunshine, I walked some 2 kilometres whenever we needed to deposit or withdraw cash; to get the passbook updated; send a money order; get postal orders (those days, all application money for entrance exams had to be sent through postal orders); buy stamps; or mail a rakhi by registered post and the like.
One incident invariably comes to mind each time I fill in a cheque or a deposit/withdrawal slip in a bank now. I had to put Rs 1,200 into an account. On the deposit slip I spelt out the amount: “Rupees twelve hundred only”. The elderly man behind the counter rebuked me gently: “Child, this time I will accept it, but next time write ‘one thousand and one hundred’ or you will have to fill up another form.”
He was an exception. Most of the staff at the post office was snappy, irritable.
Technology has drastically changed the face of communication and financial exchange. There was a time when, to avoid the expense of registered mail, you could mail letters ‘Under Postal Certificate’ (UPC) to ensure that your application was delivered at the right office and not left at the doorstep or dropped into a letter box fallen into disuse. Today, even that vital appointment letter comes right into your virtual mailbox on your laptop screen, and voila! You’ve got a new job.
Post offices now offer a host of tech-based services never possible just a decade back. Unfortunately, they are still not uniformly equipped across the country; some even in Delhi took a long, long time to update. A few years back, the local post office had been supplied with the hardware but the computers lay unused for nearly a year, tied by red tape. It took me many wasted trips before my account could be closed.
For the ‘government servants’ in post offices, service with a smile is still not the motto. I discovered that on a trip to the swanky post office on Parliament Street last year. Eventually, one hopes, that too will change.