Saturday, August 13, 2011

"S." in the time of Globalization !

I've just heard from " S." :-) ; she is just back from her maiden trip to a modern supermarket.

"S." as many readers of this blog know, is my daily household help for the last 25 years and running. Lives in a joint family with 3 sons, 1 daughter , 3 daughters-in-law, 3 grandkids, all this in 1.5 rooms. I've seen her through many stages, like, as a new arrival, back at her parents after a bad marriage with a drunk, good-for-nothing husband, her struggle to send her kids to school, acquiring loans for buying a tenement, dealing with officialdom, and avaricious donation takers at educational and other institutions, her efforts at ensuring good medical care for her daughters-in-law (when in doubt) , and most important, her urge to always ask questions and learn more, and educate herself in the School of Life.

In the area where I live, ladies often form some kind of groups of 12 , and work at some kind of whole sale grocery shopping , by being members of a consumer federation thing, that looks at demand, sources the foodstuff at the source, and passes on the benefit to the consumer in lieu of the middle man. Members of these groups take turns to total the requirement of stuff by looking at everyone's orders , receive the stuff and preside over its distribution. Many ladies in whose houses "S." worked, participated in this. However, S couldn't participate , because she wouldn't have known how to write or read the stuff. She had never been to school.

Then she heard of the Agricultural Produce Wholesale market managed by the government , an hour away from our area. Someone said the prices of grains were much cheaper, and so she tried to get a bunch of ladies from her neighborhood together, and went there. They would buy sacks of stuff at very competitive prices, and share it. Hiring a vehicle to go there would negate the price advantage, and so she and her group would go by bus, and while returning, stand about with the huge sacks on their heads, running here and there to catch buses in the crowd. By and by, the rest of the ladies fizzled out , and the scheme didn't remain economical for her after that.

Then someone told her about Big Bazaar ( like an indigenous better version of , say, Target/Walmart). They keep having advertisements in the papers, special combo deals, and so on.

She and her eldest daughter in law and one grand kid went yesterday , to one that has opened quite close to where we stay. This is a three day festival weekend in India, the daughters-in-law would have visitors from parental homes, as well as some would travel, and it was a good idea to check this place, she thought.

They walked , a kilometre down the hill, to the place. Someone had told them that a purchase above a certain amount, entitled them to a free home delivery. So her daughter-in-law brought the big cart, the grandson sat in it , legs dangling, pointing out to all kinds of stuff he had seen on television, as "S" walked alongside, her head covered with her saree palloo, something she always does , when she feels she is in a strange place.

She will probably flunk any given arithmetic written test, but she can always calculate a good deal when she sees one. She purchased a months supply of all kinds of essential staple groceries , for a very good price. She thought the difference was not too much compared to the whole sale place, now that the transport costs had hit the roof due to gas prices. The daughter-in-law also purchased stuff like biscuits, some school wear stuff, and some storage items which were advertised for an amazing price.

" Do you know, the AC was just too much. My back, and legs really started going numb. But there wasn't any place without the AC, so I was kind of happy to reach the billing place..." . She told me this 10 minutes ago, while sharing a nice cup of tea with me.

The bill did exceed some given amount so "S" asked for the home delivery service.

"Fill this form, Ma'am. You will get the delivery in the next 2-3 days" The check out guy says .

"What nonsense is this ? I buy because I want it today. I buy in this quantity because you advertise free home delivery. And now you cheat ? " an angry empowered "S.".

" Sorry Ma'am. That's the rule . " a complacent counter guy.

"Take me to your Sahib " . S. rising to her full 5 ft 1" height.

The counter guy is taken aback. This is getting serious . He never thought "S" would demand to see his boss (Sahib) and crib about this. There was some glitch in the communication within their organization, and home delivery was not going to happen yet .

"How do you think I am going to carry all this stuff home ? Say, even from here to the rickshaw outside ? And who do you think will look after the material and the little boy simultaneously on a busy road, as my daughter-in-law runs hither and thither to stop and get a rickshaw to agree to take us this short distance ? Take me to your Sahib ad I will ask. an angry "S", with a "thought-as-much-all-these-posh-shops-are-all-the-same" look.

"Else" . The counter guy looks up in anticipation.

"Come outside with us with the cart . Stop a rickshaw and help us load it up. Otherwise I talk to your sahib. " .

And so the fellow, escorted them out, spent some time getting them a rickshaw . (None come in a queue, you have to sort of dart here and there on the road, with eyes at the back of your head too, to get a rickshaw here. ). Helped the ladies in, loaded their stuff in, and passed the young child in to sit on top of the stuff, supported by his Mom.

S returned , mightily pleased with the shopping expedition . You needed to keep track of the various deals, she told me. Then this place was worth it. The next time she would go was a couple of months away. And she was sure to try and meet the Sahib then and question him about the assurance of free home delivery , before she would buy stuff.

She shook her head.

" These children ! My little grandson can name every chocolate and biscuit brand , because he sees it in TV. Even that egg shaped thing with a little game and chocolate piece inside ."

She shook her head further. Bent a bit towards me. Not that anyone else was listening. But she had something shocking to tell.

" Three egg-shaped chocolates for 90 rupees. So outrageous. But our first time here. And the kids have been wanting it ever since they saw it in television. So their mother decided to buy it. Just this once. ....."

Welcome to a globalized "S" !


  1. Ha!! Oh, that reminded me so much of my post on Spencer's in Calcutta!! I loved funny. I think I need to repost that....xo

  2. Wonderfully narrated as usual, Ugich!

  3. LOL :)

    I am so glad that S has found a better alternative closer to home to do grocery shopping from. Frankly speaking, for me, the whole crazy crowd at Big Bazaar is in itself a great put off...

  4. Wonder how S would write it if she had her own blog as well! Thanks for bringing these experiences to us!

  5. We do need ppl like her who cn go to the sahibs! I am still not done with fighting with a sahib for one such home delivery today he he ;)

  6. checking to see if my comment goes through - hopefully - so I can continue to stay in touch as I read your words of pleasure and wisdom....

  7. It went through - now one more person I love to read about this young woman's life.
    Thank you.

  8. Amazing! Very nicely written that I just went on and on. Practical realities ...

  9. Interesting read .Enjoyed it .I could imagine S charging the guy .Oh this sweet thing is called Kinderjoy .I bought these for my kids twice or thrice and found it overpriced.

  10. I can't believe she lives with her whole extended family in a 1.5 room home. How do they manage to live in peace and tranquility? It puts me to shame when I realize how lucky I am...

  11. Good to read that S argued with them for the home delivery.These super markets promise something,do something else.

    Yesterday for the first time i went to big bazar here and promised myself that i wont go there again,it is so crowded and looked like a fish market,horrible place to go with the kids.....

  12. The success of a narrative is when it pulls you in and makes you a part of the experience. I felt as if I was next to 'S' as she walked down the shopping aisle,spoke to the counter guy and successfully got into the auto.A piece truly well written and may 'S' keep us engaged by sharing her experiences.

  13. Braja Thank you !

    Sandhya Thank you !

    Aathira Thank you. What I admire is the fact that S doesnt get all overcome by the bigness of it all, and keeps her attitude intact.

    magic eye Thank you..

    Aativas I think S would be a wonderful blogger and we would enjoy her writings a lot. The best part, is that she knows I write about her, and enjoys that. And she has a knack for telling me about her experiences, which could be eminently bloggable....

    Swaram Yes, we certainly do ...

    Barbara Conveyed your message to S. She sends her thanks !

    Ernestine Thank you.

    nsiyer Thank you.

    Kavita Thank you.

    gigi hawaii I often wonder about that too. But I have visited her place her grandson celebrated a birthday, and actually saw the 1.5 rooms. She has brought up her kids very well.

    Varunavi Sometimes I feel the Big Bazaar is a good compromise choice between very crowded unorganized markets, and excessively posh over the top places , where you pay for their decor and watchman. But each to his own...

    Sunshine yes. I am always enthralled when she describes all these things to me.