Ok, I have now officially passed the 6 month mark in Delhi. One day as the cycle rickshaw I was in strolled onto my street, I nearly fell out in surprise. There, bang in the middle of the old street stained with oil and grease from the car repair shops, was a spanking new grocery store…well truth be told, it was a mini-supermarket.
I held out for three days and then went in (it wouldn’t do to be the first customer in the shop now would it?). The first thing that caught my eye was tetra pack milk in two different brands! Finally, I would not have to migrate to the south of Delhi or buy a cow to ensure my daily supply of milk! In the season of winter, buying three/four packets of milk is not a problem. But in the famed 42 degree heat of Delhi, anymore than one packet is going to get spoilt if the casing doesn’t melt first! (So that was score one) Then comes the veggie section – not extensive, but it has some interesting stuff (and fresh; although for how long I don’t know) along with other stuff like grains, oils, other cosmetic stuff, cleaning products, and two-minute food! Score Two! Finally, and this is the best part, its open from 6:30 in the morning to 11:30 at night! At last, a bit of the Bombay-business sense in the heart of village Delhi – a store that understood that I would remember to buy milk and veggies only at 9 at night or that I cooked at 10pm and would only then realise that I had no rice. (PS the rice is 16 bucks and tastes amazing!). Score Three!
Of course, I was not the only curious one down the road. It was an event to be celebrated. And in true Delhi style, aunties and uncles with their (more often than not) irritating 10 year olds, came out in strength to inaugurate the new “big apple” (yes, thats what the store is called, complete with a huge red apple as its logo). They wore their finest silks (the last of the season) and proudly pushed around near empty carts to check out the merchandise. The poor clerks were unsure how to handle the influx…those in training had no idea what Pak Choi was, and went all around the store till someone said “its Chinese cabbage idiot! how can you make such a noise about this in front of everyone else?” Even the doorman of the “big apple” is quite enamoured by the whole concept. One day while my bill was being prepared, he walked in and wanted to know how I would prepare some sprouted beans in a packet (apparently veggies in a sealed packet were unknown to this part of the world)! So there I was giving out recipes to the doorman! Result? I can now walk in with as big or small a bag as I like and he’ll never stop me. If any of the other guards stop me and ask me to put my bag outside, he’ll immediately instruct them to leave me alone period!
But all were not happy; Especially unhappy was my old grocer – Mr. Gupta. Mr. Gupta runs a small shop out of which he sources almost everything (except tetra pack milk of course). Actually he has two shops, but he keeps the Pepsi and other cold drinks locked up in that shop along with some seedy looking beer. The next time I went to Mr. Gupta’s shop after going to the “big apple” he saw my packages and asked what I had bought. I felt bad, obviously he was loosing business to the new store. So I told him that I had bought milk; its the one thing he doesn’t stock. He was slightly satisfied, but it was obvious my bags had more than two tetra pack’s of milk and he was not fooled. The next time I went, I made sure it was not with any “big apple” bags! I felt liked a child caught with candy from another shop!
Mr. Gupta sometimes allows his wife, son and mother to run the shop when he does his deliveries. Mrs. Gupta (the mother) is the one to watch out for. She’s an old bent woman with a mind as sharp as the best mathematician in demand today. The prices vary according to customer – e.g. the price of rice increases or decreases by a factor of 2% depending on the person doing the purchasing. One day, she looked at me and said, “so, how much rent are you paying?!!!” I was shocked and politely declined to say. Then by way of conversation she said, “so, you’re friend is staying with you….isin’t she from Bombay?” I was even more shocked! I took my purchases and ran home! I haven’t mustered up courage to go back yet.