On a cold winter evening, I snuggled in the blissful comforts of a warm bed with an interesting book for company. But bliss can only be complete with a steaming cup of filter kaapi. The intoxicating aroma of the ground beans clouded my caffeine-deprived mind nudging me to drag myself out of the warm comforts of my bed and pay tribute to the beans. As I pour hot water into the traditional Indian filter and the gentle drip of thick coffee decoction become music to my ears, I remember that the last of what was left of the milk was used up that very morning.

Do you go to the supermarket to pick up just that one thing and end up with an overloaded shopping cart and guilt?

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Now, I had two options before me – a phone call and an extra buck can bring the precious bottle of milk right by my doorstep in about the time that I can chide and regret my unorganised ways or I can save the buck and get some exercise with a quick walk to the nearest supermarket where I can pick up a fresh bottle of my choice of milk – from among the low-fat, full-fat, double-cream, half-cream and a dozen other options. A quick browse of the counter beside it and then gradually every counter after and before it will soon stack the cart with everything that I would and would not require on another rainy day. Realisation and regret on my impromptu shopping spree strike only after the bill have been handed over and when I take note of the marginal increase of every item that had, until now, seemed like a good bargain but has actually shot up since my last visit. I force myself to see the bright side of the situation, thanking the lucky stars that I had remembered to pick up the debit card instead of digging deep into my pocket.

Back during the golden days of my childhood, a visit to the market was one I looked forward to for I was well aware that the vendors who occupied every corner of the sidewalks with their wares tackled haggling customers tactfully but acknowledged a little child wholeheartedly. Father and I made our way through the narrow market with a cloth bag in hand. I watched father making his choices – sometimes sticking a bargain and at other times giving into their demands. The coconut vendor was my favourite who was ever ready with a smile and a tiny piece of white coconut meat for the children that earned him many customers and hungry children in tow. There was the old lady who sold bundles of fresh herbs that had taken all day for her to pick and bundle that father bought without a second thought and almost always paid a few ‘paisa’ extra earning him a blessing in return. There was the fruit vendor with his precious and juiciest collection of the day who usually began the ‘haggling’ session with an exorbitant price but came down to a reasonable one at the end with the tiniest and juiciest piece for the happy and very hungry child.

This was a time when the terms ‘organic’ and goodwill was yet to become a marketing strategy.  I must confess that the free tutelage on haggling from the experts during the many visits to the market has been wasted by the supermarket revolution where the cost of all the goods that come in shiny packets most of which have been exorbitantly priced with fancy price tags in the name of the its organic source, extensive, complicated and super-hygienic means of production, packaging, transportation and branding; and overheads due to its availability in a hypermarket or supermarket that is a part of a bigger chain under the umbrella of a mall giant. I, like the rest of its loyal customers, will queue up with a cart full of what I think are the choicest picks from the zillion brands and another zillion options available with a card in hand ready to part with a big chunk of my bank balance and jump in joy and shed tears of joy when they surprise me with a gift voucher that will ensure that I am back on yet another shopping spree but will render a paltry discount in return for more than a decade of loyalty.

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As for my caffeine-deprived, cold evening – my choice has been made and so has the phone call. I am sure the delivery person will be at my doorstep even as I dig deep into my wallet to fish out the extra buck and the music of the dripping decoction has gradually come to a halt.

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