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Millennium Post

A South African in Indian capital

So this is the space, could be regal, reminds me of a domestic airport I once had the pleasure of enduring. Which one of these sulky underemployed, unhelpful, middle-aged civil servants holds the key to me getting my task done and getting this package down to Mumbai.

Hard to tell really, there is no clue to what function each  of these counters may actually be serving, the dissatisfied angry drones inhabiting the window on the other side seem to be providing me with the same precise disinterested direction giving flare as a late night rickshaw slave disturbed from his fantasy of a harem full of virgins by a six foot three seemingly over-sized sasquatch from another world. Am I actually just wasting my time, a number would be novel, perhaps a number for each of these counters, E26 would be mine, speed mail, G38 the giant mustache sitting next to me reading the paper needing to transfer money to his daughter in Dehradun. I could pass my time patiently reading about all that The Indian Postal services have to offer, whilst working out if all these grease stains and hand marks on the walls are meaningful corporate art or an  installation of sort.

Alas fantasy, no instead, I am in yet another line pushing and bumming, we have 300 almost square metres and every man has congregated into my space. Is this some sort of cruiser situation, did that man just push in, he did, well clearly I am mistaken, this is not a line, this is a battle of wills, of blanking the man who you have just pushed past. This reminds me of trying to pay my Internet service provider in Nigeria, the digital savvy mob there was a far rowdier contender, however there is no security man wielding a shambockattempting to whip the crowd into some order.

Perhaps this is order, did that man just push past me, right that’s it I can play this game too and when I do you will take notice out of shear fear for the longer term operation of your  ligaments.  I step to the side of the mob, wait for that old sound of the empire inking a document with the authority that only a postal worker can, I make my move.

Step to the front, give every man a Johannesburg street brawlers look of excitement for the kill if you question my authority, simultaneously moving the previous customer along with a series of light pats, handing myparcel photo finish first ahead of a torrent of hands to the orchestras percussionist.

I must be a spectacle, perhaps I have broken an unwritten law of pushing in or is the zoo-keeper plain impressed that I am next. This package is going to Mumbai, my heart is filled with African crime victim paranoia, will my cargo leave this building, has he broken a smile cause he knows not only will he take my money but he will be evaluating the contents of  my envelope over his chai break.

No this is the Indian Postal Service I remind myself, a legacy of an empire now bankrupt island. I pass over filthy bills with blurred pictures of a Gujarati activist who once turned my country upside down. Should I feel a connect there? It was so long ago, Nelson Mandela was on his long walk to freedom. Its taken all this time to see his face recently appear on a ZAR bill finally replacing a cheetah. Judging on the state of the bill handed back to me, Gandhi seemed to have got his image printed a long time back.

I am shocked, the cashier has changed, a commodity rarely admitted to. Usually I am told no change, with the slant, that it is me who is responsible for providing this fundamental courtesy in a financial transaction from seller to buyer.  Stamps are applied, barcodes glued, scanners employed, a receipt with an untraceable tracking number is handed to me with a contagiously friendly head wobble.

Perhaps I was wrong, seeing a brief glimpse of this mans humanity lifts my optimism, there is an elbow in my ribs, four envelopes pass my face, the crowds patience is depleted. I make for the exit. The roar of the traffic blasts my ears, juice wallah, paan wallah, shoe wallah, chaat wallah, horn wallah, chai wallah, wallah wallah.

This is the city I now call home. I attempt to block out this cacophony turning up the decibels way above safety guidelines. Sting fills my inner ear.

I sing along, I don’t drink chai I drink Rooibos my dear, postal mission accomplished, next a meeting in HauzKhas village. I’m an alien soon to become illegal. I’m a South African in New Delhi.
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