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|Volume 10 |Issue 43 | November 18, 2011 ||
The Super Market Experience
Aasha Mehreen Amin
One of the ways to be sure that you belong to the upwardly mobile, urbanite class in Dhaka, is to do all your shopping from the fancy supermarkets that have sprung all over town. With their aisles full of products arranged according to genre - grains and noodles, spices, biscuits and chocolates, hair and skin – the illusion of being in a modern, western city is created. Plus, nothing beats the allure and convenience of getting everything under one roof instead of the hop, skip and jump routine in the smelly, grimy, wet bazaars, trying to find each item.
Grocery shopping at these supermarkets, however, brings with it hidden challenges. It is not just about the dilemma of trying to choose whether to spend a ridiculous amount of cash for the raspberry preserve from the South of France or the less sophisticated version from the Czech Republic.
It is about how to negotiate traffic of a different kind. You may fantasise you have left behind the madness of a Dhaka traffic jam when you enter the air-conditioned supermarket scene and plan to have a blast breezing from aisle to aisle while making brief contact with attractive fellow shoppers and salespeople - just like in those Hollywood flicks. The reality in this city, at least, is a little different. It means being sucked into a strange and often embarrassing gridlock of humans and four-wheeled trolleys.
It is not clear whether it's because the aisles are too narrow or we the customers are too big for congenial overtaking. Perhaps it is a bit of both.
Whatever the reason, the truth is that one requires certain skills to be able to survive this war zone. You must, first of all, be a good contortionist. You must sway and curve your body like those people in the movie The Matrix, to allow that burly man with the humungous trolley to pass by while at the same time make room for the little devils running around the store dragging a miniature trolley. You must also know how to put the breaks on your own trolley before it collides head on with another one, or worse, the burly man's ample belly.
Choosing the right contraption to carry your goods is another important skill. Do you take the big trolley, the baby trolley or the basket? You may think you are being very clever when you glide by with a basket while the big trolleys get jammed together in the narrow aisle, their temporary owners fuming and fretting to get their vehicles unlocked. But don't get too cocky; soon that basket will start weighing a ton with all those extra items that the cult of consumerism makes you crave for and the ligaments in your arm will threaten to tear. Then it's the 'big trolley' people who will be the ones laughing.
Some people think they are so chic when they pick the kiddy trolley meant for child shopaholics; it takes very little space and avoids ligament damage. Dragging around that little thing can actually be quite a pain though. You have to bend forward in an unbecoming position to push it, or drag it along awkwardly not knowing what havoc it is wreaking at the back. In no time the trolley will be spilling over and getting sidelined by the big bully trolleys.
The supermarket is also a great place for socialising, or so they say. It is where you will meet your ex and his stunning wife when you have no make up on and have half a litre of coconut oil in your hair.
It goes without saying, some people take great pains to avoid each other at grocery stores even if they are on amicable terms and then end up bumping into them at every alternate aisle or when they are scrutinising the contents of some imported itch cream. It's funny but people in general do not enjoy meeting acquaintances while at the supermarket. It is an invasion of privacy, like a random neighbour dropping in when you are lolling about at home in your torn T-shirt and crumpled shorts.
The biggest challenge, however, is to pick out the items that will not cause a near death experience. Expired food items, rotten fruits and bread embedded with cockroaches have been found in the most well known grocery stores. In such cases, perhaps it is better to just go to the grimy bazaar, along with the rest of humanity.
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