My brother wanted a book to be posted to a friend abroad. I volunteered to post the book which was in a white cloth bag with the addresses in blue pen. The last time I had been to the post office was in 2008. I had been extremely impressed by the efficiency of the service. It reminded me of the post offices in Dublin and London – disciplined customers, motivated friendly staff, neat and clean air-conditioned premises and speedy processing of queries and transactions probably supported by IT.
So I was expecting if not better then the same post office.
When I got there – I found the white building and the green plants had similar colour – yellow –one because of excessive rain water and one because of no water. The sparkling glass door was a shadow of its former self – stained and broken. The P and S of Post Office had disappeared. Instead of a security guard in uniform sat a man casually dressed in jeans and tea shirt that proclaimed DANGEROUS. He had a gun in his hand that he pointed towards everyone passing by.
The exterior dampened my enthusiastic spirit but I marched into the post office confident that the interior would match my expectations.
I stepped inside the post office. The white turned yellow coloured air-conditioners were switched off or out of order. The computers were all gone. The workstations were bare. There were loads of registers everywhere. The building was smelly and dirty.
There were three men at the counter. One of them was serving utility bill customers and the other was renewing car registrations. There was a third man – dressed in jeans and long brown kurta. I went up to him to ask him whether he dealt with parcels and letters. He looked at me disdainfully and replied he was the supervisor and only looked after administrative and finance matters. He told me to stand in one of the two queues.
The queues were long but processes need to be adhered to. So I went and stood in the queue. After ten minutes I realised the queue was not moving. Further people were being entertained out of turn. A man came from nowhere but got 20 utility bills paid in 120 seconds. There was an old man with one bill standing for 60 minutes with no hope of being served.
I decided to go to the supervisor to get his help in getting people stand in queues but he was not interested in listening to me. He was busy on the mobile. He told me to go by rules. Which rules? Agitated I went back and stood in the queue.
30 minutes later- I had only moved two places. Load shedding had slowed the staff further. People were beating the queue. People were getting upset. In sheer helplessness I wanted to cry.
But there came an angel. He was someone who had once known my father. He worked over there. He took me to the supervisor who on seeing him was a changed man. The parcel was weighed, stitched, entered into an ancient register and dispatched within five minutes. He even forgot to give me a receipt and I had to remind him about it. The receipt book was nowhere to be found but had to be found. Instead of finding it he got a new one as he did not want me to wait – so considerate.
There were few senior citizens waiting. I asked the supervisor if he could help them and he said it would be his pleasure. Why did he transform?
Was it that he respected my disciplined patience or was it the influence of the angel? I would like to think my patience paid off but I stepped out of the post office perturbed by the deterioration of public service and public property.
It was raining outside- I was crying inside-why-can anyone guess? My guess is that despite preaching rules and advocating one should stand for rules-I did not follow them nor could I make anyone else follow them – did I do the right thing?