The Indian Postal Service – a bloody miracle

Reading Shalini’s comment on my previous post on letter writing and her reminiscences about missing the feel and texture of good quality stationary [A weakness I confess to, it was my first splurge at Muji over 13 years ago] – particularly fine onion paper for air mail letters – brought it all back to mind for me.

During the 30 days of November 1983, I have somewhere in my mother’s attic, 22 letters exchanged between the girl’s hostel at Miranda House, Delhi University Campus [I lasted 5 months before dropping out] and the boy’s hostel at IIT Kharagpur just outside of Calcutta.

Posted in prepaid Rs 2 envelopes, these letters crossed the breadth of India within three days – often, if you posted it on Sunday evening or early Monday it would arrive at its destination on Wednesday the same week. Remember the Inland letter card for 50 paise each? I would buy them in sets of 10 and few of the Aerogrammes.

This was [and probably is, would anyone have a clue what it’s like in India right now?] the level of performance demonstrated by the Indian Postal Service – one of the few services in India that I do not recall ever being reviled for bureaucracy, corruption or lack of performance.

The Indian postman – ever immortalized by R.K. Narayan – and the BBC, shares a unique story here – is often the only link to the outside world for much of India.

Having travelled on trains, buses, the back of a fishing village’s community truck, mopeds, bicycles [as a passenger up front ] et al in India, its mind boggling how India Post manages to meet these schedules and times. Agreed, this is service between the major metros of Calcutta and New Delhi, not some remote village in Himachal but still this was the level of performance 24 years ago before the "IT"fication of the nation’s services.

When I first moved to the US, I was surprised that the postal service was considered unreliable and untimely. Today I know better… having lost "checks in the mail" – yes, they were sent, not promised.

Another bloody miracle like the dabbawallas of Mumbai or the ubiquitious dhobi and his hieroglyphic marks on your clothing?

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6 Responses to The Indian Postal Service – a bloody miracle

  1. Allan Tear says:

    Niti, you are right, the Indian Postal service has always amazed me as well. I was especially fascinated with their new e-post service, which allows the wired and the unwired to communicate, with IPS doing the printing|typing|delivering in-between. What a boon for village kids who have headed to university or the cities, but want to keep in touch with family back in their native place !
    There’s an article about it in the most recent Fast Company, but their site is down right now.

  2. niti bhan says:

    Nice! The Beeb had a similar story that I’d linked above [the service started in 2004], about this system being used in the remote mountainous regions – letters are scanned in, emailed then printed out at the location for delivery!

  3. Shalini says:

    Well, I can say that I was one who wrote lots of letters to a “remote village in Himachal” and they were always personally delivered. The trick was to send letters without the required amount of stamps, so that the postman would come to collect the balance amount from the adressee. It worked out quite well for us as kids, since we saved our money to buy tuck and our parents got our letters with great regularity.

  4. ramakant says:

    you are living in a dream world; most parcels sent thru post in india are lost en route. you would be crazy to send anything to anywhere using the postal service…moreover the postman would ask you money if he came to your house to deliver anything. Stay away from india post…private courier companies are much better.

  5. niti bhan says:

    have you then ever taken the trouble to analyze why the systems used by private couriers work better than the governments? Or where the roadblocks are to the IPS providing such a service? Or done anything about it? Or just sat there and killed it with your allknowing answer that it is crap?

  6. niti bhan says:

    btw, my dreamworld is much nicer than your reality… what would you choose?

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