I distinctly remember my first visit to a supermarket in United States. It was mid nineties. I had just come from Kolkata where the concept of super market was non existent. We had our fish stalls and vegetable stalls in a big market space but groceries came from the neighborhood grocery store – mudi r dokan. You went to the store and called out your list to the grocer.
“Panch kilo chal. (5 kg rice)
Du kilo ata (2 Kg wheat)
Ek kilo chini (1 Kg sugar)
Panchsho muger dal. (500 gms Mug dal)
He weighed the appropriate amount of rice, dal, wheat, sugar that you needed. He handed you your Mysore sandal soap, your Boroline, salt, battery, ghee and whatever else that you shouted out. He then added everything up on a piece of paper in lightening speed as you admired his mathematical abilities, you paid and left with your groceries. Sometimes you hired a moote (coolie) to carry your fish, meat, vegetables and your groceries if you wanted to buy things in bulk. The coolie carried your marketing (as we called it those days and my father calls it this day) to a hand pulled rickshaw, arranged the provisions to your liking and you rode the rickshaw home. It goes without saying that you haggled with both the coolie and the rickshaw puller about the price they charged. It was all part of the ritual.
Coming from that experience to a huge supermarket was indeed a culture shock. I walked behind Sean in open mouthed wonder as I saw piles of different kinds of goods. The choices that consumers had here was incredible for a new comer like me. I still remember stopping in my strides in the produce section. I remember picking up a red onion and marveling at its size. It was triple the size of what we had in India. Potatoes were monstrously big too as well as bananas.
Did I just come to the land of Brobdingnags? I wondered.
Of course, I got used to them gradually but for a very long time supermarkets were a fun venture for me.
It was the same jaw dropping wonder when my parents came to visit us for the first time. They could not get over the size of the vegetables. I remember them taking back a potato and a red onion to show friends and family back home. Every supermarket trip I made, I was accompanied by baba who just took off and wandered the aisles, putting unknown things in my cart to try.
Today, while shopping for the week at our local supermarket, I had a big grin on my face. I was in the produce section when I heard Hindi behind me. A young woman, clad in salwar kameez, bespectacled and with two braids down her back, was walking around with her phone held up in front of her. She was Skyping with her parents as she slowly walked down the produce aisle, showing them purple cauliflower and orange cauliflower.
“Haa, papa, purple and orange cauliflower. Aur yeh dekho, red radish.”
I peeked at her screen and saw an elderly couple looking at the produce in a supermarket thousands and thousands of miles away as their daughter shared a glimpse of her world with them.
I realized I had a big grin on my face when a fellow shopper smiled at me to acknowledge my smile.