What do you do if your neighbourhood grocery store shuts down and you are left with little option but to ask the 'ladies who know' for help? There is this band of 'knowledgeable ladies' in every city who always seem to know where you get what, and the best deals the city has to offer. I have learned, over the years, to tap on these 'google ladies' for information.
When it comes to grocery stores, most homemakers/housewives (what is the politically correct term these days?) are militant about their likes and dislikes. And this is a global phenomenon.
In the U.S., women are divided into loyalties towards Safeway Vs Giant. In the UK, it's Safeway Vs Waitrose. In India, it's the Kirana (neighbourhood grocery store) Vs the Big Guys (Big Bazaar, Big Apple, Reliance, Mega Mart and more).
Have you ever been to these mega grocery stores lately? It is a daunting experience for a novice like me. I am used to a Kirana store that stocks two brands of ketchup-one with Kaddu (pumpkin pulp) and orange colour and one without Kaddu. But in a mega-store, there are over 10 varieties to choose from, some with 'mirchi' or 'imli' or 'sweet and sour'. Terrifying!
The masalas section is equally confusing. On a quick glance, there are about 15 brands of spices with all kinds of combinations. Coriander seeds, coriander powder, roasted coriander powder, coriander with cumin and so on. The number of Garam Masala and Sambar powders on the shelves is equally confusing. But I admire women who pick from the shelf with utmost confidence, knowing the brand and the combo they want.
Then, there are a hundred varieties of pickles, cereals, detergents, breads, mops, cooking oils...choices, choices, choices. Why do these choices frighten me? Didn't I want all these things just about 10 years ago? Do I really want to go back to the time when we had just two brands of talcum powder: Ponds or Cuticura-when cola meant Campa Cola, and juice meant Kissan orange squash or Rasna?
How quickly did we learn to complain about lack of choice, to revel in choice and then moan that we have so much choice! From the throes of a lack of choice in Socialist India, we are now in a stage where Consumer is King. And then, there is the uncomfortable fact that the farmer who is providing us with this choice is committing suicide because he can't pay back loans he took, to grow more food.
Stare at those shelves where there are bags and bags of rice-long grain, Japanese, Basmati, brown, organic and so on. The shelf that stocks Atta (wheat flour) offers me a mind-boggling choice. I can buy organic or ordinary, buy one-get one free etc. My mind goes rushing to the several thousands of bags of wheat that are rotting because we don't have enough storage space. Central and state agencies in Punjab have already procured 130 metric tones of wheat by mid-May. There are some well-fed rats and worms in Punjab these days.
I know I know, I can't pick up the bags of wheat from here and feed the helpless. The country can't stop making missiles to feed its hungry. The Guns versus Butter argument won't take us anywhere. In my mind, a voice tells me, you sound like an Arundhati Roy column in Outlook magazine. But somebody has to sort out this mess that we are in.
This grocery store is so big, its gaudiness scares me, the choice it offers flatters me. When I reach the check out counter and shell out the Rs.6,000 for the grocery I have bought, there is a hope that at least a couple of thousand rupees from that will somehow percolate to the farmer who grew the mangoes, and tended to the cows that provided the milk I bought. I am hoping some of the money I spent goes to the truck driver who drives at night bringing the produce to the shelves.
Will all the money be eaten up by the big, bad supermarket with its oh so buys salespersons? Hopefully, the trickle-down effect will work before the rot becomes impossible to rectify. I am hoping my Kirana shop opens soon. This big grocery store makes me worry too much. By Smita Prakash (ANI)