Brobdingnagian vegetables


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.

Happiness isn’t complicated.


I will be labeled as a happy person by most. I greet people with a happy smile. I never forget to raise my hand to neighbors as they are driving by. The fact that I generally carry dog poop in a plastic bag in that hand and raise the dog poop in greeting is beside the point. You see, I generally see my neighbors when I walk my dog. I always wave frantically to drivers who let me go by with a casual flick of their hand. I am overwhelmed by the show of generosity in people in general.

And then there are occasional days when I am run down, cranky, hungry and tired. Then the gloom descends. Then I am a Grinch, I can literally feel my heart shrink three sizes. I don’t want to smile at the nice lady handing my provolone cheese at the super market. I smile anyway because I, too, work in customer service. Anyway, this evening was such a time when I felt I bore the weight of the world on my shoulders. I went to work, dashed back to cart my two children back and forth between swim team, football practice, confirmation meeting. In between dropping off and picking them up, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up provisions for the week. Grocery shopping, being one of my least favorite activities, did nothing to elevate my mood. The tiredness and empty stomach aggravated my grumpiness to no end.

While I tried to zip by the aisles, throwing things in my cart, a young mother tried her best to block me at every step of the way. She was having way too much fun in the grocery store with her toddler. The toddler wasn’t walking yet, she was scooting around on the dirty floor of the super market. The germophobic me shuddered at the scene and the veteran mom in me wagged a finger at the new mom. Get that baby off that floor immediately, woman! I wanted to scream. As I stood, somewhat impatiently at the deli to get my three-quarter pound of provolone, I heard a squeal. I turned around to a scene that brought the biggest smile to my face. The baby was taking her first steps – at the supermarket. And the mother was squealing her encouragement and filming the momentous event at the same time. The other grumpy shoppers like myself, stopped in our tracks to savor the moment. The woman in the deli left my cheese on the weighing scale while we all joined in aaahing and oooohing at the feat of the proud toddler. She waddled for a few moments and then went down on her bottom with a happy, two teethed grin. We all clapped! “Awww, honey, do it again!” “What a big girl!” “You are walking!!” Comments came from all sides. The mother looked at us, beaming, ‘Her first steps! She took her first steps!’

A special moment in the child’s life, and in the mother’s life, as well. We, the grumpy, Grinchy shoppers at that supermarket will always be a part of their joy and special memory. The thought made me happy. The line was long at the check out counter. I didn’t complain. I went to my car, unloaded my groceries and asked a woman who parked next to me if she needed my cart. She took it with a big smile and a grateful ‘thank you!’

Happiness isn’t really complicated, if you think about it. There are these little moments strewn around us like treasures. The moment when the big black and yellow school bus pulls up to my drive way and I see through the window a beautiful teenage girl sedately walking towards home, lost in her own thoughts; or a rambunctious seven-year old running like Usain Bolt because he is free from school. The moment when I see the back lights of Sean’s car backing into the driveway after a day’s work. The moment I feel the wet nose of Sage touch my feet in unconditional love. The lonely dove sitting on the electric wire against the back drop of a spectacularly clear, blue sky. The moment when I look out of kitchen window into my back yard to see the most fascinating sunset. I can string these moments together and wear them as a garland when my heart starts to shrink three sizes down. I simply need to look around and be mindful of the innumerable moments that I own, yet often, don’t realize.