There is one word in Hindi that has the capability to make people turn their heads, or stop and stare, and give their undying attention to the person or the text where it makes an appearance. This word makes people curious, hopeful, and excited. This excitement can lead to levels so high as to be termed as craziness or frenzy. This three letter word with two syllables is catchy and deliciously lip-smacking to pronounce.
The other day I was coming back from college in the metro. At one point, the word ‘sasta’ fell onto my ears. I looked up from my book to see a guy telling his friend about the jeans he bought at half price from a shop in Lajpat Nagar, because it must have been reject material from the factory and had not been exported because it did not meet up to quality standards, after which the shopkeeper had approached the factory and offered to dispose of them. Half the compartment within earshot of them was listening intently, eager to go home and tell friends and family about the discovery they made that day. In our country, a person who knows where to buy cheap and good quality merchandise is very well respected.
This word is the mantra that the entire marketing of Big Bazaar is based upon. “Isse sasta aur achha kahin nahi…” so goes their tagline. Not just this, they also have the “Sabse Saste X Din” campaigns. Also is the Wednesday bazaar, which is advertised to be the weekly oppurtunity of a lifetime.
A couple of weeks ago, my mother and I went to the Wednesday Bazaar to see what it was all about. After all, my mother had listened to the neighbouring auntyjis go on and on about the rates of the vegetables, a tale which inspires one to explore the magical land that promises happiness in the form of savings.
When we reached the place, however, we were greeted by a sight that can chill the bones of even the most seasoned shopper. The crowd in there was immense, the lines of people who waited at the checkout counter trailed around beyond where the eye could see. Steeling my mind against the boredom that awaited, I quietly followed my mother into the dark realms, which fed upon people’s greed and made them pass through endless pain before they reached their goal. But not before I had armed myself with a shopping cart.
The battle at the vegetable section was probably the hardest and costliest of them all. I guarded the cart, as my mother forayed through the baskets, looking for an opening through which she could lean in and start selecting the vegetables. People around were digging deep into the huge tub of potatoes, looking for the treasured non spoilt pieces. The scurry for plastic bags also was hard, with someone or the other tugging away the roll. Mothers forgot their children, who sat in their special seat of their carts, looking at each other, some crying. The line for getting the produce weighed, sealed and tagged was longer that the checkout counters, the men behind the weighing machines expertly weighing the vegetables, punching in the codes and applying the barcode stickers swiftly. I waited in the line as mother went around grabbing whatever she could. A man and a woman in the line beside me got into an argument over who got into the line first. The woman accused the man heatedly of pushing her aside to get in line first. The man, in turn, started demonstrating to the crowd how the woman was misusing her gender to scream for help. Nobody listened. The argument subsided and the two stayed put, muttering under their breath amidst vicious glances at each other.
I’m the person for whom shopping is limited to following around his mother in the hyper market, only because he still hasn’t got over the childish thrill of pushing around a shopping cart. But in here, there was barely enough space for moving without knocking over a stack of juice boxes, let alone go zooming down an aisle.
Waiting in the checkout line was more entertaining than the vegetables section. In the 45 minutes that we waited in line, we heard a lot of dry comments which started to get meaner, sarcastic and funnier by the minute. We also witnessed what was almost a fistfight, but remained to be a clash of egos between a harassed person who had been waiting in line and a person who cut into it. Pretty soon everybody’s attention was directed towards the exchange of extremely foul (in my mother’s opinion) insults between the two. The checkout clerks too started getting distracted due to the commotion and started mixing people’s shopping.
As we walked towards the car, completely drained by the events of the day which had turned out to be longer than usual, we discussed whether it is actually worth coming all the way here to get physically and emotionally tortured just to save money on stuff that is readily available near home with the reassuring smile of a shopkeeper who recognises you. Then we scanned the invoice. Down at the bottom of the long list was a statement that summarised our purchases for the day. Also was written the total savings that we made that day. Even though quite a few items that we had bought that day were because of a whim, or saw offers that were too good to resist, or simply because it was something new, the total amount of savings as compared to MRP was an amount that made me blink. It was actually worth the trip. Looking at the satisfied expression on my mother’s face, I knew that it wasn’t long before we were back on another fateful Wednesday, on a fresh quest for fresh produce.
Damn you, Big Bazaar.