You will have a comfortable day ahead,” said my daily forecast. I smiled, sipping my coffee thinking about the day ahead and the meetings that were scheduled. My addiction to the newspaper is a common one but the uncommon fascination is to read the daily forecast that some person, unknown to me or my existence writes about me.
Anyway, the sentence lingered in my mind. I had to reach the postmaster’s office to sign a document to close my account. My plan was to complete that work and head to my workplace. My kith and kin in the government sector told me that offices would open only at 10 am and never before and it was very unhealthy to walk into a government office before that time. I wondered why my workplace did not pay heed to such advice.
I stood at the red building right on the dot. The doors were open and all the chairs empty. Some minutes later, the post office staff slowly started trickling in. I was first in the counter. My eyes darted to each staff member walking into the room, waiting for someone to occupy the chair at the counter. Finally, a man sat and I beamed a flash of a smile. It was 10.30 am now. He looked impassively at me without a flicker of emotion on his face. I pushed the papers through the counter; he shook his head without raising his head. I, who is not good at understanding non-articulated language, could not fathom his reply. I waited another 10 minutes as the man behind the counter was still fidgeting with the system and the keys. Slowly, the line behind me started filling up. I could smell another man who was peering over my shoulders and watching the clerk. I was tempted to move but my position would be taken away. I continued to wait patiently.
Some started humming while some started cursing. I remembered Nirad Chaudari when he said Indians cannot be silent and noise is as essential to us as is the Sun. Someone behind me was narrating a new horror movie to another person. I overheard a conversation of two brothers and the money that has to be shared. I was the silent one. A female staff wandered toward the counter I was standing at and asked me what I would do with the money I received? I was aghast. I wanted to tell her that it was none of her business but controlled and remembered that Ekta Kapoor’s stories came from all these people. I smiled and said I am going to give it free to whoever asks me. She swooned.
There was a rustle and all fell silent. Even the chaiwala stopped. I stood up and waited for the man to take my papers. He put up a board already pasted with a note, “all systems down, we apologise for the inconvenience.” The time was 11.30 am. Time anyway for a tea break. The clerk stretched his lazy bones and walked out with a smile on his face. All of us sighed. By this time, we were tired too. Someone said why do we not sit. All of us agreed. But how do we seal our places? I put my book, the man behind his handkerchief, another a teacup, a comb followed it, a shoe of one leg and the list went on. We all sat down waiting for the 15-minung tea break to break.
“Chai chai,” said the chaiwala. We took hot sips from the small 25 ml cups. No Indian sits quietly. So, conversations continued from household dramas to Modiji’s election strategies to Trump’s mistresses and finally the Indian cricket team members and the money they stashed in Swiss banks. Someone was busy telling us how to open a Swiss account when the clerk came back. All combs and teacups disappeared as the human train took its stand again.
The clerk finally took my papers. He peered at my face comparing it to the face in the photo pasted on the form 13 years ago. I was scared, as 13 years ago, there were no wrinkles, I did not wear glasses and I was slightly better looking than what I am now. Yet I kept my doubts to myself and faced him confidently. After peering at the photo and me for a staunch five minutes, he said the signature does not tally. I was worried. I remember to have retained the same signature. Gathering all my courage, I asked him to show me a sample of my signature I had signed 13 years ago. From the glass window, I peered to find an image of my signature. Except for a ‘P’ which was not very long the rest of my signature was in sync. I remembered what my brother told me about arguing with a government clerk. I took a pen, practised the long P, and then signed the forms again. He told me to wait and then the forms were sent to another table where a woman sat. She had the grumpiest face I have ever seen. She sat staring at the table and I stood staring at her. Five silent minutes passed. She did not move an inch of her hand, neither did she show any interest in doing her work. I asked my nonverbal friend as to when would she complete my work. He told me that the woman was in protest and she would not do any work today as her boss told her to shift her place and she refused. It is between the boss and the lady. Who would win? My half day was long gone. I had no other option so I went to the boss and put forth my agony. He said no way; I ran to the lady and begged her to bow down from her high handedness. She said no way. I was caught between the devil and the blue black sea. It was 12.30 pm – time for lunch.
A child waiting with his mother in the line started wailing. It was a low pitch whine, which turned into a high-pitched wail as the hunger increased. The mother unable to control him looked around for help. Finally, the boss relented and told Mrs. Grumpy to have her way and get the work started for the day. She flashed a victory smile, flourished a pen from her bag, looked at the clock, dropped the pen and walked out for lunch. I started texting my boss for an extension of leave.
The shoe, the teacup, the purse and the book returned. We are Indians and we enjoy food. Money was collected and food of varieties came in packets into the post office. We all sat down unmindful of the place and gave our way to the aroma wafting from the packets. Some men ventured out for a puff while the women took up the matinee show of serials. I never knew that we could contribute so much to drama and that our lives are so interestingly woven that intrigue, mystery, affection, love, bonding and romance are all in abundance in all our homes.
It is 1.30 pm and this time Mrs. Grumpy was the first to arrive. She smiled as she looked at the child, as he was the instrument of her victory. She opened the page, crosschecked the papers given, closed one ledger, opened another, took out a green sheet, finally cross checked with a yellow one and closed all. My heart was equally dancing with the pages. She finally drew two long lines signed the documents and said, “NEXT.” This word was indeed music to my ears. I hurriedly moved out only to be told to wait a few minutes for the boss to sign. The ledgers, the books and the coloured sheets went to another table. I stood again waiting for a pen to appear and a sign made. The boss definitely was not in a good mood owing to his defeat at the hands of a subordinate. I knew it would be teatime soon; I had spent an entire day at the post office.
My mind started working overtime. I quietly went to the mother and the child and stood behind them. With innocence writ on my face, I slowly inched my hands up and pinched the child not so hard, but not so soft either. The whine and the wail returned. I slipped quietly back to my place in the corner. As the wail intensified, the boss was seen squirming. The wail reached decibels unbearable to the human ear and everybody was upset. The boss quickly took all the sheets and signed twenty forms in less than 20 seconds. All of us heaved a sigh. I took out a twin large Perk from my bag and gave it to the child. The wailing stopped and the mother thanked me. I was guilty but accomplished a task. As the postmaster finally told me the work was done and my account was closed, I smiled as I remembered my daily forecast. I did have a restful day with no work done. I waved good byes to my new-found friends and decided next time I visit a government office, to be prepared with my armoury of chocolates, pens, teacups, books and not to forget a day to be remembered.