In general, I like to focus on the positive things about India rather than the negative ones as I really do love this country. However, there are some things about India that I have a hard time with, and I came up against one of them today. It makes me furious because there really is no excuse for it. Anyway, I’m focussing on avoiding future problems like this.

Someone sent a package to me through the post office that had a number of food items in it. The package was quite well-packed, with bubble wrap and everything. However, on the way, some creep of a postal worker opened it up and pilfered about a third of the items (the most expensive ones, of course). As it that wasn’t enough, the glass bottles were not returned to their bubble wrap after being ‘inspected’, so they broke and spoiled much of what wasn’t taken. The rest was an incredible mess. In the end I salvaged hardly more than a third of what was sent.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in India. Many postal workers consider the opportunity to pilfer as one of the perks of their job. In fact, I dare say that’s why many people want to work for the post office. Every department in the Indian government has more than it’s fair share of corruption, but this is the one that even casual visitors come in contact with most.

So what to do about it? Well, I filed a complaint, of course, but the odds that I’ll get anything out of it or that anyone will trouble to look for the thief are nil. You never hear of postal workers being arrested for theft, so I suppose that even if someone figures out who the culprit is (do they even try?), they will probably get nothing more than a little reprimand from their boss, if they get anything. Actually, I don’t think it could happen without cooperation from the postmaster, and it could even be that the postmaster at one of the stops along the way is the culprit. So really the only thing is to take preventative measures for future shipments.

If you are sending something within India by post, SpeedPost is the best. There is less opportunity for unscrupulous postal workers to steal because the packages don’t sit around for so long. Next best is insured. Registered is only OK if the package isn’t valuable.

Parcels that are sent by post have to be stitched up in cloth. (Most tailors will do this for a modest charge.) They should also be sealed with sealing wax, which you can pick up at any stationery shop. If you don’t have a proper seal, use a foreign coin or something to make an imprint. An additional measure that I strongly recommend is to drip glue along all the seams. Since pilferage is usually done by unpicking the stitching, taking some items out, and then carefully restitching the parcel, this is really pretty effective. They don’t want it to be obvious. Even better, if there is a box or an inner wrapper, is to use a bit more glue here and there so there is no way to open the package without tearing it apart and making it really obvious.

A better solution, if it’s available where you live—and unfortunately it isn’t here where I am—is courier. Usually. However, some couriers are better than others. To find a reliable one, it’s best to ask locally at both the origin and destination. They don’t all deliver everywhere, and they will sometimes accept a package only to return it several days later with a notice that they don’t deliver to that place. Or they may wait until you call to find out why it didn’t get where it was going. Couriers are really cheap within India, and even international courier service is much cheaper than in most other countries.

When you are sending by courier, you are supposed to let the agent examine the contents and then pack it in right there. If you are sending something pretty valuable, make sure there is enough insurance to cover it.

Getting stuff sent to you is trickier than sending it, of course, because you don’t have much control over how it’s packed and sent. Incidentally, packages sent overseas are generally safer than ones sent within India or sent to India.

Indian post offices are not secure in any sense of the word. I have often been back in the mail sorting area; and once I was allowed to stay there while everyone took lunch. I was horrified to notice that packages were piled up on the loading dock outside with no security whatsoever. Anyone could easily take one and no one would even know. Not very reassuring. On a more encouraging note, sometimes the most surprising things make it through intact. I recently received a debit card from my American bank.




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