Much has been written about organised retail and how it has been a game-changer. Or not. Depending on which stakeholder the writer is focusing on. As I did my shopping the other day I realised that for me it has been a BIGG stress-buster. Not in the sense of retail therapy but simply how easy it has made things for me.
Say I am out to buy vegetables. Earlier, I would go to the street which has a high concentration of sabzi-wallahs. I would walk down the entire length of stalls noting who had what from my purchase list. Then I would run a little linear programming process in my mind to arrive at the minimum number of vendors such that the list was completed, quality was maximised and price was, hopefully, minimised.
Having arrived at what to buy and from who, I would then join the meleé around that vendor and try to catch his/her eye and ask for the price of the chosen vegetable; then I would pretend to be shocked and try to push the price down with statements like “अरे पिछले हफ्ते तोह ….” or “वहाँ तोह इससे काम में मिल रहा है ” or “यह तोह fresh नहीं लग रहा फिर भी इतनी कींमत!” ..which is always a slippery slope for me because I never, ever, remember prices. Nor do I know what the fresh version of the vegetable really looks like.
Running the risk of being ridiculed I would choose one of the statements that seemed best and make a weak attempt at appearing the knowledgeable purchaser. All this while I would keep an eye out for an opportune moment to snatch one of the plastic baskets that are always in short supply. Those ones you put your veggies into and give for weighing.
Then the process of bending/reaching/almost falling over the spread out baskets of produce to reach for the desired vegetable and once again, battling with other customers, to catch the vendors eye for getting it weighed and bagged.
Process repeated for as many veggies as I needed.
But the biggest, the mother of all challenges,is yet to come – arriving at the total bill. I have a fairly easy-going relationship with numbers, especially the single-digit ones and am happy to do what is called `mental math’ with them. But the typical Indian vegetable vendor math that involves two digit numbers called out in the local language, weights in multiples of quarter and half-quarter kilos and ten-twelve such line items? My head swims. I usually pretend I have it all figured out and the final amount she demands is exactly the sum I had arrived at myself :p
Then comes his छुट्टा नहीं है , let me add some chilliies/ curry leaves / ginger etc to round it up etc etc . Who knows if I am getting my money’s worth. “ठीक है ना ?” he asks. I have given up long ago. I nod dumbly. ठीक ही होगा .
Now to repeat the cycle with another vendor for the stuff that remains. Gr..o.oo..aan!
At the end of the trip I always feel like I have emerged from a battle – scarred and not sure if I had won or lost or even done okay. I clutch my emotionally high-cost veggie bag and unsure-if-correct-balance in it purse and head home.
Contrast this with the modern-day, organised retail outlet. No jangled nerves, no feeling of being a loser for not bargaining well. Just row upon row of items you can peacefully pick to the sound of music. And for the math-challenged like me, the bar coding, weighing and price-labeling machine are supreme inventions that deserve Nobel nominations. For that alone I am willing to live with the less-than-perfect quality of the produce and the abominable selection of songs that play in the background.
And no more handling cash and trying to figure out the right change! Plastic saves the day! All I need to exert to remember is the PIN for the card!!!!
The modern retail environment has made shopping a breeze for the likes of me. As a child I remember learning addition and subtraction and how to handle money on visits to the market with my mother. I remember repeating the process with my kid.
Soon we will have a whole generation that has no need to do mental arithmetic for simple daily tasks. Perhaps technology will slowly make sure they never need to do it. Perhaps that is not a bad thing. Perhaps.
We will slowly forget how to do 13 x 15 and we won’t have to remember what we have run out of because the fridge would have already made that list along with stuff that’s past its expiry date and still sitting inside it. And soon we may not need to even go to the modern retail store because the fridge would have already sent in the order for replenishment to the store. We won’t need to talk to humans at all. The machines would do all the talking .. to us and to each other.
I think I’ll go to the sabzi mandi this week.