Thursday, December 17, 2015

A trip to the post office ... and down memory lane!

Things have been settling down to a routine in my new surroundings enough for me to design and print my Christmas card. Vistaprint's Indian website had attractive rates and superfast delivery. Today, I took the first bunch to the central Post Office in Baroda in Raopura, figuring this would give the mail a little bit of a heads up on its trek back to the US.

Selling postage stamps is only a tiny part of what goes on at an Indian post-office. Minuscule part, actually. None of the windows actually said anything resembling "stamps." It turns out that these are sold at the "Information and Facilitation" window. The rest are for customers of the Post Office Savings Bank, Life Insurance and other such products.

"We Committed to Quality Services"
(Once. It didn't work out though ... Heh) 

This brought back memories of my teenage stamp-collecting days, and the dingy neighborhood post office, with its red-clay tiled roof, opposite the main bus stop on Malabar Hill in Bombay. I still recall buying the stamp issued for the 300th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach (1985) from there! Wikipedia tells me it was a 500p (five rupee) denomination, and also commemorated George Frideric Handel. The interwebs also inform me that five rupees in 1985 were worth about 61 cents, which is about $1.36 in today's dollars. (I'm such a nerd :)). Eventually I discovered the Philatelic Bureau at the stately General Post Office in Bombay, right next to that exuberant architectural marvel of the Raj, Victoria Terminus. Its colonial name has long since been changed, now honoring the 16h century Maratha warlord Shivaji, and not the first Queen Empress of India. The deal was that the day exams at school were over, I could go to the GPO and buy some stamps with my pocket money.

Much to my amazement, one of my old stamp albums is sitting at my folks' house, gathering dust. And yup, there is the five rupee Bach & Handel stamp that I purchased in 1985! (At some point, I think I took a couple of my other albums to the US, for what purpose, I have no idea. Nor do I know where they might have ended up! Yikes!)

Bach and Handel on an India Post stamp!
And, yes Google even has an image of that old Malabar Hill post office -- though the tiles look more brown/black than the clay-red of my memory. It's a heritage structure, and made the news in 2013 because the PO wanted to build a bungalow for the Chief Postmaster General behind it.

Back to today: an ordinary airmail letter to the US now costs ₹29 (about 30¢. It's $1.20 from the US to India!). I spied a sheet with the ₹20 Mother Teresa stamp, issued in 2009, and asked for it. "But you'll have to add two more to get to 29. I have a ₹25 one ..." "Oh I don't mind. And, I need 50 of each."

So, I ended up with the Mother Teresa stamp, a ₹5 one featuring Indira Gandhi, and a ₹4 one featuring Homi Bhabha, all issued in 2009 as part of the "Builders of Modern India" definitive series of India Post. Of course, pretty much everything has a political overtone in India -- the new government just modified this series, and Indira and her son Rajiv (both former Prime Ministers, and members of the party that lost the recent general elections) have been dropped. Mother Teresa retains her place of philatelic honor, as does Homi Bhabha!

Indian postage stamps have been printed at the India Security Press in Nashik since 1926
Sitting down on one the many rather uncomfortable metal chairs, I proceeded to attach the stamps to the cards, well, the old fashioned way! Self-adhesive stamps haven't arrived here yet. There were 21 envelopes. You do the math ... :) I got a few stares ... I guess it's not that common to actually mail so much physical mail anymore?

Ready to go!
Quite an interesting juxtaposition of personalities: the third Prime Minister, the Iron Lady of India, Indira Gandhi; an eminent nuclear physicist, knowns as the "father of India's nuclear program," and the founder of the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research as well as the nuclear plant at Trombay; and an Albanian born Catholic religious sister, whose name is the very icon of God's mercy, who worked tirelessly for the Kingdom of Christ. 


Ollllddude said...

That was a fun read, but I am idly curious about thing: you refer to Bombay, but it's officially been Mumbai for about the last 20 years. I guess either will be understood, but why is that your choice of term?

Fr. Gaurav Shroff said...

There's a tale there. It was always "Bombay" in English, and "Mumbai" in the local vernaculars (Marathi and Gujarati) -- and "Bambai" in the national language, Hindi. I disagreed with the politics behind the name change, and generally, continue to refer to that amazing city where I spent so many formative years as "Bombay" when I am speaking English. Similar name changes have been carried out in other major metropolises: Calcutta is now Kolkata, Bangalore is now Bengaluru and Madras is now Chennai. It's the kind of thing Indian politicians like to do instead of governing. While I hear "Calcutta" now and then, "Chennai" is near universal. I've yet to hear any move at all to officially change the name of the capital from Delhi to Dilli, however! (Or for that matter, no one in Russia is insisting that it be called "Moskva" in English too!)

This blog post has more than you ever wanted to know about the name change. It's actually quite accurate, and I agree with the writer's views as well. Even Newsweek weighed in! In a public forum, using "Bombay" can (like so many other darn things) be controversial, as this musician found out.

However, in addressing mail, I will always write Mumbai. It might not reach otherwise ... :)