Mail that

Trip Start Sep 08, 2007
1
8
22
Trip End Dec 30, 2008


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Flag of India  ,
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Name: V. Nijalingappa (Nija)
Age: 40
Family status: Married, 2 kids
Job: Postman
Religion: Hinduism
 
 
I am about to discover that mailing a package from India is a half a day affair. The post office is only a minute away from the imposing Hindu temple that soars over the three story houses of the old town and dominates the view from every rooftop restaurant in town. There is a short line at the only counter at the post office. When my turn comes, I'm told that my packages need a proper wrapping. I give the guy a startled look - where do I find that?! No problem- he says before I even open my mouth- please follow me. He leaves his seat at the tiny post office and starts walking on the street waiving me to come along. I follow him without protests at first, but ask him agitated a few minutes later - excuse me, where are we going? Just over there, to the postman's house - he replies. He will wrap these for you.   
The postman Nija (I can't pronounce his full name to save my life) meets us at the door. I take off my shoes at the doorsteps and follow him through a shady corridor that opens to the left in an internal courtyard. The temperature in the house is noticeably cooler that the burning 30+ degrees outside. Walking barefoot on the cracked plastered floor is actually quite pleasant - not too cold, not too warm. Nija's wife meets us at the end of the corridor. I show them my two packages and they start calculating - it will have to be wrapped in cardboard furs, then with fabric, and for that size and for the two of them...it will be 200 rupees. I think of it for a few seconds. 200 rupees is about $5. It's a bit too much, I can probably knock off a couple of dollars. Then again, it sounded like a lot of work and they both are looking at me with a quiet hope that I would not find their price too steep. Okay - I say - sounds fair. Please, please take a seat - they point - to a plastic chair at the end of the corridor and rush to get all the wrapping props from inside.
As I watch the making of my packages, I am glad I didn't bargain. It is a whole production. First, the cardboard is cut out the right size and wrapped around my little gifts. Then, a piece of fabric is cut out and sawed over. Finally, a red wax is melted and placed at the corners of the package, so the thread that keeps it together can not be undone. I make a small talk with Nija, while enjoying the show. His wife is very quiet, perhaps because her English is not as good as her husband's. English language skills usually improve with the education level. I'm actually quite surprised by Nija's good English and compliment him on it. He says - oh, I like to talk to the tourist, that's how I learn.
While his wife is placing the final touches on my packages, Nija decides to have a cigarette. Are these biddy cigarettes - I ask quite excited. Biddys are about half the size of a regular cigarette, shredded tobacco tightly wrapped in a tobacco leaf - no filter, just a thin cotton thread that keeps it together. Yes, Nija says, these are biddy cigarettes. Can I have one, I ask, knowing that he wouldn't offer. No well-behaved Indian woman would either smoke or drink. Oh, you smoke? - he is slightly surprised but not necessarily disappointed. Western women are known for being more relaxed about their behavior. Just out of curiosity - I say - just about every character in the Indian book that I'm currently reading is smoking biddy cigarettes.  He hands me over a small plastic bag that contains about 15 cigarettes and we sit outside the house to have a smoke.
Nija tells me that he is a well-off man - he owns the house and the little ice-cream shop in front of which we are sitting. When his father came to this town, he had nothing. He was selling Vibutti at the market, so people started calling him that. Vibutti is the white, chalk like powder that people bring to the Hindu temple. That's why the letter in front of Nija's name, which traditionally represents the father's first name, is V. Nija has two children - a 12 year girl and a 7 year old boy. He talks very proudly about his daughter. She is very smart and knows about computers - he tells me. She takes the bus every day to go to school in Hospet, a larger town about half an hour away. It is a private school, but Nija gladly pays for it. I am pleased to hear that someone in India is excited to have a daughter. My personal observations are that India is still very male dominated society where women are seen as subservient and a financial burden. Most women don't work outside of their homes and significant dowry must be paid to marry off your daughter well. Local newspapers all too often report about abuse, sometimes even physical molest  young brides, whose families failed to deliver the promised dowry. Obviously, Nija doesn't think of his daughter this way. She is clearly his pride and joy. He tells me that she is a very good student and a talented dancer too.
We finish our biddys and continue our conversation inside, where Nija gives me a grand tour of his house. It consists of two small shady rooms with window openings on the roof. The kitchen is in the corner of one of the rooms. There is a special place in the other room for something like a home shrine with pictures of Shiva and Nija's guru.  Nija spent most of his childhood days in the Ashram and even now goes there whenever he can. He goes to the Hindu temple every day. The red mark on his forehead indicates that he has already made his visit to the temple today.
The packages are ready. After I stick some foreign stamps and scribble the address on the fabric, these will look like a very exotic mail from far, far away. I head back to the post office checking my watch - it is lunch time already. I didn't realize I'd spent the whole morning chatting with  the postman. 
***
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