Helloji!! smiled the man at the counter of our local Indian grocers. “Been a while since I saw you here” he said in Gujarati accented Hindi. Saathi and I smiled, paused at bit by the counter and inquired after him and his family. “I have been wanting to reach you the past week” he emphatically said. “Price of rice has shot through the roof. If only I could have reached you before” he wistfully added. Turned out a 20 lb bag of rice now sold for 22$ up almost 11$ from the last time we purchased a similar bag. Reassuring him that we were not to run out of rice for the foreseeable future we walked down the aisles of neatly packed masala into the cavernous inner chamber that housed the vegetables and lentils. Examining what was available, we quickly filled our shopping bag with a few vegetables and snacks from the snack aisle before heading back to the counter.
The shop was empty save us and the elderly gentleman. As he rang up the rather meager pile of things in our basket he noticed we had a 20 lb bag of whole wheat flour with us. Scanning the price we realized that had gone up too by over 5$. As we remarked rather wryly that we should perhaps look at alternatives to wheat or rice, he shook his head rather sadly and said he would ring it up for a dollar less than what was on the sticker. We protested loudly and insisted he take the full amount. As we left and settled in the car, Saathi scanned the bill and noticed he had not charged us for a couple of items. It was the grocer’s way of making us feel we had a bargain.
The ride home was filled with conversation on how this particular guy was going to make a success out of his business if he insisted on giving away something free each time we visited him. Thoughts meandered back to the annachi kadai back in Kovai where irrespective of my age, I would always be addressed akka. The guy would point out the new brands of shampoo in the market and even give me suggestions on what was best for my hair. Occasionally he would throw in a caramel candy as I left the store. Then there was the hand cart vendor who stopped by our house in Chennai each morn trading witticisms in exchange for 100 Rs worth of vegetables. He would cite planetary alignments for the rising price of onions or suggest that perhaps luck might come our way by purchasing apples from him. As much as we cribbed about his rates, his visit would sometimes make us smile all through the day.
What is life without interaction with these pillars of society? The differing sales pitch and the incredible warmness in their welcome. I wonder if these are signs that we are putting down roots wherever we are.