“Some have too much, yet still do crave;
I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
And I am rich with little store.”
– Edward Dyer
The grocery store near the old neem tree that I used to visit as a child always had enough for our need and our greed. I was always overwhelmed by the collection of things the store contained. I remember the friendly face of the grocer who never failed to give a discount or hand over a colourful toffee out of one of those unreachable jars. We called him Uncle. He would disappear with my mother’s list in that wonderful assortment of things and come out, as if by magic, with all that we’d asked for. He neatly arranged all our things into the basket we carried from home. Uncle still remains in his small grocery shop, which once seemed so big to us. The jars are now reachable and the collection of things no longer overwhelming. But the smiling face has remained the same; except the cluster of wrinkles that compete with the cluster of things in the shop.
I’ve long left my hometown and that street where everyone knew me. But even when I return to that grocery store after gaps of years, Uncle still smiles at me and hands me a toffee like he did when I was a little girl.
I often shop in supermarkets now and complain how devoid of space they are. Supermarket, a one stop shop, a place where I get everything under one roof, where I go in to buy one thing and come out with five and where I have abundance of choice but still at times do not find what I’m looking for. When life seems to travel with the speed of light and hours seem more packed with work than a Mumbai local, it is an efficient way to manage our daily requirements.
But somewhere within I’m glad that the multitudes of India in cities and villages still shop from the neighbourhood grocery stores. Everyone has a fixed shop from where they buy. The relation with that shop commonly dates back years, or even a generation or two. The supermarkets can’t compete with the free home delivery and credit to the customers. More than that, how do the supermarkets compensate for “How is your little daughter?”, “Would you like a cup of tea? It’s cold outside”, “That’s okay, you can pay later.” That grocery shop perhaps doesn’t give one a better price, but a better value to what one buys.
Makes me wonder, when the final moments come, would I remember the book launches, feats and triumphs in life or would I remember the old falsa tree in the compound, the funny names by which Adu calls me, Uncle handing me an orange toffee and all other Gods of small things…