Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The open air theatre- Vegetable shopping in India

Vegetable market in Jaipur: source-Internet

Going vegetable shopping is an experience in itself, especially in India, where vegetable buying involves a lot of bargaining and hunting for the freshest produce.  A seasoned vegetable buyer would not only, know where she would get the best bargain,but also, the time at which the vegetables are likely to be  at their freshest.
I have childhood memories of my mom, winding up her morning work, getting dressed and leaving for the vegetable market at around 11:00 am, so as to be in time for the fresh produce, which were invariably being offloaded from gigantic trucks as we entered the market

She always carried with her a small purse with a pocket for notes and another for coins, and another bag folded neatly to fit in the purse, for the groceries. (recycling years before it became fashionable). She had her own favorites among the vendors, and they in turn recognized her and gave her a special discount over the vegetables. later years my Dad started doing the vegetable shopping on the way home from office, and he too struck up a rapport with most of the vendors. so much so that, some of them to this day, give away stuff, when they see my father.
As for myself, I started vegetable shopping only after marriage. With mom, Dad and two elder siblings, there weren’t many occasions on which I was required to go. And, as we relocated to USA immediately after marriage, my first experience of shopping for vegetables for myself was in huge supermarkets, where you just pick up your veggies from rows of uniformly sized, colored and textured vegetables in gigantic freezers, knowing that they are always going to be fresh. And if you are concerned about pesticides, fertilizers etc. Just shop in the organics section.
In India, such supermarkets are springing up in the major cities. But, in most parts, the shopping for vegetables is still done in the age-old way. The vegetable market is usually comprised of a series of shopping carts wheeled in to place at a particular time of the day. A typical sale would be as follows. First you would be provided a basket in which to place the veggies you have selected. (selecting the veggies to ensure you are buying the freshest produce, is a process in itself, and I will elaborate on it in a later post). Once selected, you hand over the basket to the vendor, who then weighs it for you on the scales. weights in India follow the metric system, so you would be quoted a price of per kilo, or per dozen in case of fruits. You would then start bargaining with the vendor, by offering to pay only one fourth of what he has asked. This would seem like robbing the poor, but actually the original price has been marked up to account for this bargaining. After a lot of head wagging and walking away and walking back, and exclamations of “What shall I feed my family if I sell my vegetables at this price???” on his part, and “ why, I have to work hard to feed my family too” , and “ how can I afford these exorbitant prices? I am  not a millionaire” on your part. You would both reach a price acceptable to both. somewhere midway between the two rates and the deal would be struck, and you would go home with your loot. Highly satisfied with the bargain you made, until the next morning, when your next door neighbor, will very sweetly inform you, that she got the very vegetables at half the price you got. just a few blocks away. Vegetable shopping in India, in some ways is akin to acting a part in a short skit an open air theatre. A dose of drama in the middle of a busy day

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