Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The post office

Though I pass Bangalore's central post office everyday on the way to work, I've never had a reason to go inside the massive building until today. After today's experience, I hope I never again have to send a letter through the mail. I’m sticking with email.

First of all, people don't form lines here. They jostle. Crowding around each service window, everyone competes for attention, posturing for position and waiving money as if trying to get a drink at a crowded bar. Imagine a shoes-optional version of the NYSE trading floor and you've got a good picture of what it's like to buy stamps here.

But before I could buy my stamp, I had to first buy an official stamped envelope. Then I had to go to another window (and another crowd) to have my envelope and letter weighed. Then it was back to the first window to buy the appropriate stamp. And the appropriate stamp, I am sad to report, is not self-adhesive. Not even a little bit. Instead, after buying my stamp I was directed to a mug-sized container of viscous brown goo. Because the post office supplies the goo but no tool for applying it, I had to try to dip the back of my stamp into it. It was like dipping into the world's nastiest maple syrup. Thick brown strands of stickiness ended up all over the countertop, my fingers, and most of the envelope. I’m fairly certain my letter will arrive with several other people’s mail stuck firmly to it.

The whole process took the better part of an hour and was frustrating and probably unsanitary. But it sure goes a long way for explaining why it was someone from Bangalore who invented Hotmail, doesn’t it? He obviously understood the need for an alternative to the postal system.