Indians have a strange affinity to vegetables. We have to have our share of okra and methi every week or we will turn lunatic. This is why there is always a certain sense of urgency and a lot of pushing and shoving in Indian Stores. In any other outlet, the same bunch of folks would appear well mannered, gracious and disciplined. But being under the roof of a certain grocery store brings an amazing transformations within them. The smiles disappear, the congeniality vanishes and they appear like F1 race car drivers on a mission.
In the city I live in, there are two Indian grocery stores. One is a little crammed for space but there is a strict weekly schedule announcing the arrival of fresh vegetables. The other store is spacious but their stock is not always fresh. No points on guessing which one would be more crowded. This crammed store is the host of many queer personalities.
As soon as you enter, there is a place reserved for carts. You will always find this place empty because the carts are discarded at will. Nobody has the patience or graciousness to return the carts to the designated spots because frankly, their shopping is done. So the carts are littered along the aisles and near the cash counters. If you do not watch out, you would be freewheeling in one of them and end up crash landing in the frozen section. To be fair, even in some of the other grocery stores, where there are designated spots to return your carts, most of them are either parked gingerly to the sides of the car or left dangerously near the medians. Where is the joy in returning the carts to the spots anyway?
Indians buy okra by testing its tenderness. We break the ends to see if the vegetable is fresh. This takes time. So forget the okra, even as you pull a cover to bag the coriander, a hand would creep up from behind and beat you to the bunch. You think it is rude, but then you are naïve. Who has the patience to stand behind you in line for two seconds until you pick the fresh bunch? Besides this is an accepted shopping practice in India. Just because we live abroad and learn to stand in line to use the restroom we will not adhere to this under the roof of our own Indian Store. We are here and hence we are entitled to interrupt your shopping trance by barging and shoving you to bag the fresh stalk of vegetables.
If you want to get a taste of how New Jersey and California are densely populated with Indians, visit the Indian store on weekends. Here you will find a separate breed of Indians. They will park the cart in the long winding queue and then go around shopping for essentials. Even if it is not explicitly stated, you are responsible for moving your cart and theirs as per Indian queue principles. Sometimes you will find yourself in charge of a toddler seated and staring at you. Duh? You are supposed to keep them entertained. Even in a city like ours where the queue is not as winding like a snake, people will still place their carts in line and go around shopping. If you sidestep them, you will be abused in certain dialects you did not even know existed in the Indian sub-continent.
Also I have learnt to pay close attention to what the cashier is billing me for. The cashier himself is a sweet old man, but he is constantly interrupted with questions about a packet of kawan’s rotis or fresh paneer. Instead of charging me $0.90 for a bunch of green chillies, he will charge me $5.00 for a packet of paneer. If I do not watch closely, I could very well be paying for the paneer that I will not relish later in the week. While we are busy teaching our kids not to interrupt us when we talk, we will not extend this to the rest of the world because we are in a hurry. Amidst all this, the sinister looking lady, who has paid her bill before me, will stealthily slip the $1.00 curry leaf packet in her shopping bag. If the cashier is further distracted, she will have the guts to quietly snuggle the bag of onions. Sometimes I wonder if they are a gang of thieves aiming to con the cashier but I would never know.
Finally after all the melodrama, you tuck away the bags in your trunk and pull out of the parking lot. The tamasha doesn’t end yet. You will be stuck between a car backing up and another which has landed itself squarely in front refusing to move. While in malls, we indicate the designated spot for parking and wait patiently for the car to ease out. In Indian stores, we will blatantly shun all conventional traffic rules and prod forward aggressively. It is indeed quite fair for everybody else to make way for you. (This is true even in the parking spaces of Indian restaurants.)
While it is amusing to see the aggressive Indian emerge in his natural and accustomed habitat, it is sometimes annoying and frustrating. We move to foreign lands not just to improve our lifestyle but to augment our perspectives as well. Travel is supposed to strengthen our etiquette and make us more cognizant of our surroundings. But if we refuse to shed our uncouth behavior, we also bring down the image of our country. Because when you live outside of India, you represent the nation and India has much more to offer than just the aggressive Indian.
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