Thursday, June 2, 2011

Of Gandhiji and life in the check-out lane...

I was out shopping for groceries yesterday, deliberately chose a weekday morning as weekends are a downright bedlam in stores like Reliance and Big Bazaar. Then, I realized I had forgotten to count in the stay at homers...the stay at home, home-maker and mommy brigade was out in full force....oooooops!! I am a stay at homer too, aren't I??? Dang Dang!! Anyways...

The store was choke full of women, some with their houseboys (young male, jack of all trades live in servant) in tow piling their carts with enough fruit, vegetables and dry goods to outlast a famine but the ultimate joke was one such lady at the check out counter. Her cart looked as though she was planning on feeding a houseful of wedding guests, the amount of cash in her hand and the bored looking houseboy beside her did not by any means scream that she lacked for money...but she held up the line for a full half hour after her stuff had been priced and packed, haggling over the total, a couple coupons in hand and a bag of sugar going back and forth between her and the cashier. The coupons were worth a hundred rupees by the way, but her total bill was undoubtedly somewhere in the thousands. 

The lines were serpentine in every counter and the others and I in this line just kept waiting, thinking at least her stuff has been checked out, so there's no point in moving to the end of another long line - and ended up irritated and tired. At one point, I wondered if I should step in and ask her to stop haggling and leave, I mean, if she is that fond of saving every penny and bargaining for her rights, she shouldn't be shopping in a busy supermarket...she would be better off going to one of those veggie vendors whose prices go down dramatically the more you buy from them and the the local kirana stores where she can quibble and haggle to her heart's content while the shop fellow engages with her and serves ten other customers at the same time. He doesn't have to worry about fancy cashier machines, that won't let the cashier in a supermarket multi-task but accepts only one payment at a time!

But of course I did not do any such thing, can you imagine the fracas that would have resulted if I had done so? In a minute there would be a mob, two parties and for lack of stones to pelt( stone pelting is very hot on the hot streets here this summer) we would start pelting packets of potato chips and bottles of juice, both being the handiest items near the check out counter!

More and more, as the days go by in this hot hot summer, I tire of city life and look for ways to simplify. It is ironic that I should live in the city that houses Gandhi Ashram and dream of a simple life but remain absolutely clueless on how to make it happen here. But then again, the only simple spot in this city is the Gandhi Ashram. If you go in there and walk around the large open grounds, stand by the banks of river Sabarmati and take in the cool simplicity of the buildings standing under the shade of beautiful old trees it's hard to believe that life can or should be anything but simple living and high thinking like Gandhiji advocated. Then, you come out of the ashram gates to be stared at by the glaring face of  21st century, urban India and thoughts of simplicity simply flee like frightened rabbits...

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  1. I love reading about your life in such a different vista and culture than I have! I have a picture in my mind's eye of what the serpentine waiting line looked like -- but how close to reality, who knows? I hope you'll find your simpler life, a goal I definitely share with you!

  2. Thanks are probably not far wrong in your imagination...but to give you a picture, it's like black Friday with ten times more people! And yes, I seriously, seriously feel the need for a simpler life!

  3. I loved the way you described a simple trip to the grocery store in India! Reminded me of the last time I was there.


  4. Thanks Suchi...most times it is madness, right?!

  5. Madness. Yes. That's the word that comes to mind when I read about your experience buying groceries. But you make it so fun to read!

    I loved hearing about the Gandhi Ashram. I can feel both sides of what you're saying - the calm and simplicity and the rude shock of reentering "civilization."

    I had a similar experience once when I stayed at an activist's retreat up in the mountains off-season so there were only three of us, plus some horses and wild moose. Even though I lived in Taos, New Mexico at the time (a relatively small town), the shock of coming back to town after the quiet of the wildnerness was extremely jarring.

  6. Artists Retreat in the mountains of New Mexico....mmmm sounds delicious Milli. Can imagine how coming down to town can feel jarring on the senses. Seriously, why do we humans make so much noise everywhere the numbers increase even a little bit!!

  7. They should be selling Gandhiji's books at the mall Roona!

  8. Actually, it was an activist's retreat, so not your average thing at all.

    I was an office worker for the non-profit that ran the retreats not an activist (I'm not an artist, either ;~) but I sometimes got the perk of getting to stay up there for free. We slept in yurts or small cabins and cooked and ate in the big lodge (which was the original lodge from when it used to a ranch decades ago - complete with big fireplace as the only heat).