About a month ago, I ordered a beautiful quilt and some pillow cases from an arts&crafts collective called Dastkar Ranthambore, located in Rajahstan. The Ranthambore Foundation was established to support villagers who had to leave their old lands because of the establishment of the Ranthambore National Park, which aims to protect the tigers in the area. While the National Park itself was an important move to provide needed protection for the nature and the animals there, it also displaced many people who lost access to their old lands and natural resources. The Ranthambore Foundation sought to support these people and utilize local craft skills and materials to generate employment and income. The collective makes absolutely beautiful items, and while they unfortunately don’t have a website yet, their products are presented on their Facebook page.
I saw their products at a crafts fair here in Bangalore last year, and bought a couple of pillow cases – but this big, beautiful quilt haunted me for months after, and I finally contacted the organization to order it to Bangalore.
A couple of weeks ago, a day before I was heading to Goa for a trip with friends, a courier had tried to deliver the package when no one was home. He had left a note, which was mostly illegible – but I was able to make out “parcel” and a phone number from it, and from that deducted that it must have been the courier trying to deliver my long awaited quilt. I promptly called the number – only to find out he did not speak a word of English, only Kannada, the local language of Karnataka. I tried my best to repeat words “out of station” (used in India to describe being away), and “Tuesday”, to try to convey to him that I will be gone for a while, and ask him to come back on Tuesday. At the end of the call, I was convinced that we had reached an understanding, and felt very proud of my communication skills.
I was wrong – and apparently my communication skills suck. He had tried to deliver the package again while we were at Goa, and left another note which I could not decipher. The next day, I asked a colleague who speaks both Kannada and English if she wouldn’t ming calling the courier for me. She kindly called him, talked with him for quite a while – and then informed me that he does not want to try to deliver the package again, and I will have to go and get it from his office. Apparently, because it is very common for couriers to have to try and deliver a package multiple times, they usually try twice and after that they won’t come again – you have to go and get your package yourself. His office location was very close to where I live, so I didn’t mind – I just wanted to get my package, before he would send it back to Rajasthan as undeliverable!
I got directions, though slightly vague in nature, and after work ventured out to the area where his office was supposed to be. After roaming around for about 30 minutes with no luck, I decided I needed clearer instructions. I entered a coffee shop, and asked a man working there whether he spoke English and Kannada, and if he wouldn’t mind calling this guy for me and try to figure out where he was located. The man at the coffee shop was extremely kind and helpful, made the call for me and spend a good 10 minutes trying to find out the location of this courier. Apparently it was some sort of a holiday somewhere in India (it always is), and he had decided to leave his “office” early. He also didn’t seem to really have an actual office in this part of town, but basically would hang around for the day when he had deliveries to make in the area, so that he would be available to meet with people who wanted to pick up their packages. According to my new friend at the coffee shop, the courier had actually left my package in a nearby store for “safe keeping”, and I was told I could pick it up from there. I was instructed to find a certain mattress store nearby, then call the courier again and have him talk to the mattress store owner, so that the courier could give him permission to give me the package.
Slightly confused, I ventured out again, this time looking for this mysterious mattress store – which I found fairly easily. I entered the store, approached a man behind the counter and asked whether they possibly had a package for someone. I was met with a very confused stare, and a slightly amused response: “No madam, maybe you are confused – we don’t sell packages, we sell mattresses! Sound same same, but are different!” Then he walked up to a mattress, pointed at it, and very slowly repeated: “MATTRESS – no PACKAGE. Madam needs a new mattress?”
Frustrated and slightly embarrassed, I shook my head and stumbled out of the mattress store. I was convinced that I was in the right place – but maybe the guy at the coffee shop had either understood the directions wrong, or maybe translated them wrong to me. I entered a music store nearby, and found another very helpful man who called the delivery guy again, and explained to him that I had gone to the mattress store as instructed, but that they didn’t seem to know anything about a package. At this point, the instructions changed a bit: when I go into the mattress store, I should ask for Mr. Suresh – he would know what package I am referring to. Even more confused and sceptical, I returned to the mattress store, only to encounter a very amused look on the face of that same man I talked with in the store just 10 minutes earlier. This time, I went up to him and asked whether there was a Mr. Suresh in the store. To my big surprise, the guy at the counter stepped to the back room for a second – and returned with another man, who promptly introduced himself as Mr. Suresh. Preparing to be humiliated again, I asked him whether they had a package here for someone. He seemed to be measuring me up and down for a minute, as if he could somehow tell by looking at me whether the name on that package was actually my name or not – and then disappeared into the back room again – and resurfaced with a package that had my name and address on it in big, clear letters! I have to admit, at this point I was feeling an extreme sense of accomplishment, and reached my hands towards the package – only to have Mr. Suresh pull it away from me. “Madam, how do I know it is you? I need some proof. Otherwise I can be in trouble.” Fine, makes sense – I guess it’s a good thing he wouldn’t just hand my package over to anyone who came asking for it. I dug out my Finnish driver’s license from my wallet, and handed it to him pointing to the name on the license and the package. “See, that is my good name – same same! That is my package!” He looked at my driver’s license, then my face – and then my driver’s license again.. and my face. At this point, I’d like to point out that the picture on my license is from about 10 years ago – so while I don’t think my face has changed that much from those times, I definitely don’t look exactly the same today. I had an eye brown piercing back then, for crying out loud. “Madam, this is you? This does not look like you – in the picture, face is much smaller. Your face big.” Yep. Thanks for that. Not only are you holding my package hostage, but now you’re telling me my face is fat. Frustrated (and embarrassed) I called the courier from my phone, and handed it over to the charming Mr. Suresh. He discussed with the courier guy for a few minutes, and I could hear words like “outstanding fee”, “responsibility”, and a lot of Kannada in between. After a few minutes, he handed the phone back to me, and – finally, gave me the package! At this point he had a big smile on his face, and he cheerfully stated: “Your package, madam! Now you can buy a new mattress too, no? Do this thing for me, madam – support my business!” I did my very best to convey to him how grateful I was for his help with taking care of my package, and that I really did not need a new mattress right now but would certainly come to his store if I ever did, and made it out of this shop with my package, my apparently big face glowing from the feeling of accomplishment and content after finally managing to successfully locate the mysterious Mr. Suresh and my package.
This may not seem like such a big deal in the end – I mean, how hard is it to find one package, and how big of a deal would it really have been if I didn’t find it? Well, not that big – though I really really love my beautiful quilt and pillow cases, and can’t wait to spread some colour into our home with them. But the thing is that, when living abroad in a new and foreign culture, sometimes even the smallest, most mundane things can seem insurmountable and extremely challenging, starting from going to the grocery store to opening a bank account or figuring out how to buy and register a SIM card. Similarly, the smallest victories and accomplishments can also feel extremely rewarding, and that was the case here. I have felt slightly jaded with India lately, but being able to figure my way around this situation, ask and receive help from so many total strangers as I was trying to find this package of mine, and eventually succeeding and locating it, was one of those tiny and yet so big victories that make living abroad such an exciting experience. Mundane situations like this teach you resourcefulness, patience, adaptability, tolerance – and force you to realize that asking for help is not only often the smart thing to do, but sometimes absolutely necessary. Letting people help, and admitting that there are so many things you actually need help with – and then realizing that it really isn’t a weakness, but just part of life, whether you live abroad or at home – brings other people closer to you and helps to bridge the gaps between cultures, customs, communication and beliefs. And that, I think, is always a good thing.