As we arrived in India just one week before Christmas, one of our first experiences of how things are done in this country was at the Post Office.
We wanted to send two parcels of presents: one to the US and one to the UK. We merrily set off for the Post Office one afternoon, blithely hoping that this seemingly simple task could be accomplished within the hour. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
After stopping at the booth outside, which we subsequently deduced only sold stamps, then waited in two different lines inside, we eventually established that there was a separate parcel desk outside the main office itself. Just to clarify, “outside” with a vaguely waved arm actually meant out the gate, around the corner and down a back alley cluttered with various boxes. By this time it was about 4.02pm, and despite the main Post Office being open until 5.30pm, the parcel office closed at 4pm. Slightly infuriatingly, we weren’t told this beforehand, but by the guy still sat behind the parcel desk, who was wittering away to the other Indians who popped in, but to us would say nothing more than “Office closed. Come back tomorrow”.
So we returned the next morning, confident that we now knew where we were going and that all would go smoothly. However, we had not learned from the day before, and still underestimated the fact that nothing is ever simple in India. My gifts to my family had already been individually wrapped, then taped up in a bag with the address stuck to the front. But no, apparently I needed to buy a box to put this package in. A box which was then taped up. Then bound with plastic cords. Then finally, get this, wrapped in cloth and stitched up by hand. By the time my family got round to opening it, they could have played pass the parcel, there were that many layers to unwrap. And the shipping process wasn’t complete yet either; we had to write both the shipping address and the sender’s address on the parcel, then again on a form, then they were printed out again on a slip we had to sign. The whole thing took so long that I was able to leave, go shopping in the surrounding streets for a while and return to find P still sitting exactly where I’d left him, waiting for the final stitches to be put in my parcel.
We had heard that the bureaucracy of India was a little excessive, but with the mere task of sending a parcel taking two days to accomplish, we were beginning to appreciate just how crazy our stay in the country would be.