Today, Nilgiris, the 105-year-old chain of supermarkets, inaugurated its 100th store right next to my office. Needless to say, many people at work were seen walking in with Nilgiris carry bags. Not to be outdone, I took a 10-minute break and visited the store. The great thing about shopping in supermarkets and malls is that you walk in without being in the need of buying anything, and yet you walk out with purchases that make you feel extremely good. Some people call it retail therapy, I would call it a disease.
This evening, when I walked into Nilgiris, I knew I won't come out empty-handed. The question was, what to buy? Vegetables would have been a great option. Imagine, wife waking up in the morning and finding the fridge stocked: what pleasure! But it would be embarrassing to carry back to work a bag that has various gourds sticking out of it. Eventually, I found myself standing in front of the all-too-familiar shelf: the one that stocks grooming products.
The thing with grooming products is, they make you see a brighter tomorrow. Their very touch fill you with positive energy, and you secretly imagine yourself to be one of the male models who graces the advertisements in GQ or Esquire. You find telling yourself: "Fuck man, no more drinking from tonight. I am going to use these products from tomorrow and look good and get all the women."
Tomorrow, alas, never comes. It is always tonight.
So, I picked up a large bottle of Dove shampoo, a bottle of Neutrogena facewash, one Brut deodorant and a bottle of Yardley cologne (the original, not Indian-made). On the way out, I was handed a loaf of bread and a packet of atta -- they were gifts I was entitled to for having made the purchases.
"But I don't want atta," I told the attendant handing out the free items, "I saw people getting pieces of cake."
"But that's for minimum purchase, sir. Your bill is high."
"But I don't want atta."
"Can I give you another packet of bread?"
Back in office, I called up wife to announce the gifts: two packets of bread. After all, she is the breakfast person, while I wake up only around lunchtime. I thought she would be happy.
"But what all did you buy to get those gifts?" she asked me.
I told her.
"But aren't there so many bottles of shampoos and aftershaves already rotting at home?" she asked.
I told her they were all bound to get empty, sooner than later.
"If at all you were itching to spend money, you could have bought something for me."
"Well, I almost bought something for you."
"What?" she asked.
After she hung up, I pondered over my purchases. I had just spent Rs 1,500 on things I did not need at all. Fifteen hundred bucks is peanuts all right -- even though that was my take-home salary when I entered journalism 18 years ago -- but to spend it mindlessly was criminal. With that money, I could have bought five Wality fountain pens fitted with Sheaffer nibs, or three good books, or one Calvin Klein T-shirt, and so on. The list is endless, and yet I fucking spent the money on shampoo and facewash and cologne.
That's what the supermarket does to you. It plays on your greed, not need.
One Sunday morning when you wake up, your wife announces that there is no turmeric powder at home. So you wear your clothes and head to the nearest supermarket to buy a packet of turmeric powder. But once at the store, thoughts such as these cross your mind and rapidly translate into action:
-- I just saw only three eggs left in the fridge. Shouldn't I pick up a dozen more?;
-- The wife did not ask for it, but no harm picking up a couple of packets of puffed rice. Maybe she forgot to mention it;
-- Oh yes, Maggi. Let me grab a few packets of noodles. Saves a lot of trouble when the cook or the maid doesn't turn up;
-- Hey, this new Nivea facewash, it says it lightens the skin. It would be criminal not to try it out;
-- Ah, a nice pair of toothbrush! One is supposed to change toothbrush every few weeks;
-- Olive oil? Awesome! It is good for the heart, zero cholestrol and all that;
-- Wait a minute, let me pick up a pack of Real juice. Why one, let me pick up two. Who the hell is going to come to the store again and again;
-- Hey, wait, wait. Ages since I had lime pickle;
-- Wait, wait, wait, how about some appalam! They go so well with sambhar and rasam;
-- Wait a minute, did I see them selling water bottles? I need one to take to the gym, and another to keep in the office;
-- Ok, let me check out of the store now. But wait, why not pick up that Gillette aftershave?;
-- Oh, before I forget, a few packs of Gold Flake Kings. There they are!
And so, there you are! You come to buy a packet of turmeric powder, but you exit the store carrying two heavy bags. They contain stuff you don't need at all, but you convince yourself into believing that you need them all badly. Reality hits you when the bank, at the end of the month, sends you the credit card statement, but even then you refuse to learn.
Oh how much I miss the olden days when, armed with a ten-rupee note, you could run to the neighbourhood grocer and buy a dozen eggs, a packet of Modern bread, a hundred grams of turmeric and other stuff, and still be handed back a few coins in return. Now what to do with those coins? With those measly coins you bought kampat -- each kampat cost five paise back then -- and the kampat was the commission you charged from your parents for every trip to the grocer. Does anyone even remember what a kampat means, leave alone its taste?
Those were the days when the shopkeeper asked you, "Kya chaahiye?" Today, standing inside a supermarket, you ask yourself, "Aur kya chaahiye?"