Friday, March 23, 2012

Of souks, supermarkets and mandis

The past one year in Muscat has changed my shopping experience. Though we have malls and super markets such as Big Bazaar, Reliance and Nilgiris back home, I have never been so spoilt for choice. Of course that always lands one in a dilemma. Which brand to buy, which is cheaper, which gives you value for money and how much to buy.
The seasonal bargain offers too lands one in a quandary. At LuLu and Safeer I always have to argue with my wife and daughter about what to buy and how much. Back in India this was no big deal. There were seldom real bargain deals. And we had limited options too to choose from. If Big Bazaar stocked a certain brand then it would be missing in the shelves of Spencer’s Daily or Reliance or More never.
I am fell in love with bargaining for clothes and sundry at first in New Delhi’s Janpath Lane, just off Parliament Street and Connaught Circus (They have renamed it to Rajiv Chowk now. Erasing all traces of British Raj, I guess).
Back in the 1990s the shopkeepers in the lane used to call out: ‘Das ka Das ka, koyi bhi, le lo’ (Only 10 rupees, take anyone) in a sort of chant that I was mesmerised by it. Today they must be chanting in the range of 100s as in ‘Sau ka Sau ka, koyi bhi, le lo’.
Janpath remained my favourite place for bargain hunting be it a T-Shirt, a shirt or bags or for just hanging out and have soda from DePauls during my life in Delhi. Even the Chandini Chowk area in Old Delhi was a paradise for bargain hunters. Come Sunday I used to head out to Darya Ganj, also in Old Delhi to look for second hand books, which again could be had for a couple of tens. And books could be given away which saved me the trouble of carting it around
Today the favourite haunts of Delhiites are the numerous shopping malls that have sprung up all over the capital of India. The malls in Gurgaon are the favourite what with a couple of cinemas thrown in. Nowadays, shopping has become an all day experience where one shop, see a film and eat out too.

The art of haggling is slowly disappearing and my skills too have become rusted. True, with groceries coming at such bargain prices as in Muscat, there is seldom any need for bargaining. The shopping cart has become a de rigueur, into which we haul in stuff and then at the counter we pay with our debit card. No questions asked. And we find that we always end up buying more stuff even after taking a huge list when we go for our monthly shopping. The monthly shopping budget in Muscat is much lower than it ever was back home, my wife vouches.
As for me give me a local shop or market any day. I love haggling over the price for the sheer pleasure of it. The local mom and pop shop (or should I say the son and pop shop as is the case in India) gives me much more. We gather the local gossip and other important happenings in the locality we live. Alas they are slowly disappearing in my town too.
The local mandi or market  gives me much more in life that a super market or mall can never give in its airconditioned comforts. I love the bustle and hustle of a market even the smells which the sanitised atmosphere of a mall or super market can never beat.