1. Get to know your local grocers.
In most Indian cities, there’s at least two mom-and-pop kind of kirana stores within a 10-minute walk away. I don’t necessarily mean your deepest-fears-and-guiltiest-pleasures kind of get to know (though that’s okay); I mean, chat, spend a few pleasant moments, ask how they’re doing, ask after their families. Basically, do not treat them like a transaction.
2. This means, of course, that you must physically visit these shops.
Yes, even if you are a Busy, Important Person. A 20-minute walk is good for you. (Masked, natch.) Plus a little weight-training on the way back. (If you’d rather not carry it all back, most of these places will send a lad with a cycle after you.) This takes care of most of your regular groceries needs.
3. You have their phone numbers now. And even if you’re reasonably organised, you’ll sometimes use up some things a bit faster between grocery runs. But you will know you’re running out of rice a couple of days before you actually do. Call them. They will deliver. Mostly fairly quickly, unless you’re in a very congested area, certainly before the rice runs out.
4. But if you’re like my level organised — and I am to planning what certain governments are to, well, Planning — you will forget something sometime and need it quickly. Or like maybe you have unexpected guests — hahahahah remember guests? sob — or the people you share your home express cravings for out-of-syllabus items. Call your friend, the grocer.
At 9:45 p.m, I boiled milk. It split. I had no more milk. My corner store had closed for the night. I called my kirana shop, a bigger place, which is 10 minutes’ walk away and which usually begins shutting around 9:30. Explained I needed milk. After a cursory ‘anything else’ kind of query — but with not a trace of insistence on a minimum order size — the shop-keeper put the phone down, and five minutes later, a lad who had cycled here rang my doorbell bearing 1 (one) 500 ml milk packet and wearing a smile peeping out from the sides of his mask.
I should say that this is not unusual. And no, I’m not one of those gregarious life-of-the-party types who can — gasp — just talk to anyone. Also, I’m not one of those people who has lived in one place all my life and now on the way to becoming a venerable local landmark. I’ve lived in five cities, 12 houses. In the last 25-odd years, my family lived in several nearby neighbourhoods and we got to know all the local shop people on at least a smile-and-nod-happy-diwali kind of basis. (That’s me, with my poor memory for names; Mum and Dad knew them by their names, and often knew their family members’ names as well.) When I pass through those areas now, I often stop by and say hello. They remember me. They remember my folks. I always get a smile.
Support local businesses, folks. If for nothing else, just because it makes life nicer.