Reuse, please. Photo courtesy: Reshma Jain, Paul Rodrigues
I am standing at the post office, second in line. I have two sets of books in hand, packed in old newspaper with a page from an outdated diary as a label. The customer ahead of me moves to fix his packaging, and I push my books through the little booking window.
On the other side, I notice a disgruntled expression with furrowed brow. ‘Repack the books in envelops. This packaging won’t work.’
‘I have used this packaging to ship books from your post office before.’
‘Impossible, we would never accept such packaging.’
‘But…there was another person at this window earlier and he accepted it.’
The disgruntlement, no longer restricted to rearranged facial muscles, finds articulation in speech—I hear the dissatisfaction that the face reflects.
‘Did we ever accept any package wrapped like this?’ Asks the voice to the woman at the adjacent window.
‘Never!’ She says emphatically.
‘She’s been here for fifteen years and she says never.’
‘Maybe she didn’t notice me or the package, and the last time I came was nearly eight months back. Perhaps she recalls my father coming with such packaging. He’s older and therefore more striking.’
‘We can’t accept this.’
‘Please understand, the book inside is made of recycled cotton waste. I did this to save trees. The point is lost if I use new packaging.’
Before I finish my sentence, I hear an impatient, ‘We can’t accept this, right?’
The question is directed at a person in the back of the room. He walks out from behind his desk to come examine my package, ‘Sorry madam, you will blame us if the contents in your package get ruined.’ Out loud for all to hear, he says ‘Once a lady sent goods worth 15,000 (Indian Rupees) and the packaging was flimsy, she insisted it was our fault that her goods were damaged in transit.’
‘They won’t get damaged. I have used this packaging to send books outside of Bombay, while these shipments are to locations within the city.’
‘From our post office?’
‘That’s not possible.’
‘Why would I lie?’
‘You must have sent it from another post office.’
‘No, from here.’
‘Packages are dumped together in a sack that is roughly handled. The packaging you have used may tear.’
‘I understand your concern, but the packaging has two layers.’
‘We will accept it this time, madam, but at your risk.’
The person behind the window shakes his head in disagreement, ‘Look how loose the sealed edges are.’
‘Seal it with more tape,’ saying so, the man who had examined my package returns to his desk.
‘Seal it,’ instructs the voice as the books are pushed back out the window.
The customer who had been ahead of me in line and had gone to fix his packaging, gently extends his hand to offer me an adhesive tape roll and a duct tape roll; no words spoken.
‘If we all reused packaging, Bombay would have more trees,’ I mumble, gratefully taking the adhesive tape and refusing the duct tape.
‘May I get a scissor please?’ I ask the person behind the window.
‘Can you give her a scissor?’ says the person to the woman who has worked at the post office for fifteen years.
I take the scissor and look at the customer who thoughtfully shared his adhesive tape roll, ‘I wish I had an extra book to give you.’
A gentle smile but no words spoken in reply.
Loose edges sealed, I hand over the books with a mental note that next time I must use gum arabic, because adhesive tapes cannot be recycled unless they are made of paper.
As I walk home, it strikes me that the person behind the window did not once look into my eyes while we spoke.
At night, a thought emerges in the mind: I must take copies of the book for the people at the post office so that they know what’s gone into it. I imagine myself at the post office, showing them the book and suggesting they gift it to a child who enjoys reading stories.
Feeling that this gesture would complete the interaction, instead of leaving it sullied by the stain of incongruence, I go to the post office with three copies of the book—for the man behind the window, the woman who never saw me once in fifteen years, and the person behind the desk—but none for the customer who had done me a kindness and whose whereabouts I knew little about, except for the knowledge that his office was across from a department store a few blocks away.
I also have with me a photograph of the packaging that I had requested one of the recipients to take and a message from the other recipient that the package had arrived intact.
Perhaps the postal trio would warm up to the idea of reused packaging as a comparable and reliable alternative to new packaging, or in the least a friendly end note would leave us all a little less ruffled.
Peeping in from the door of the post office, I find unfamiliar faces behind the window and at the desk. I leave without entering. The books sit on my coffee table, a reminder, of the relational interplay between resistance, acceptance, patience, and friendship that shape all occurrences, and of a delivery that is in our hands to make.