The Dreaded Indian Grocery Store

Photo Credit: Jerry A. Coyne

Photo Credit: Jerry A. Coyne

There are many types of survival skills in the world. Living in the wild is one type, living in the city is another, and some students would argue that middle school and high school require know-how to survive. However, I would say that navigating an Indian store, whether it is in India or America, needs an odd but useful combination of tips to survive.

An Indian store is a surging mass of elbows, purses, various trampled packets of cookies, and screaming children. When you first walk into the store, one of the first things you notice is the crowd, people jostling each other as they shove through the aisles towards boxes of loose vegetables with their carts, or pushing through a line that barely constitutes as the loosest definition of a queue.

After that, you’ll notice the mess. Unfortunately, no one in an Indian grocery store will care if they drop a handful of okra or a packet of coriander, and eventually these poor deserted vegetables get crushed by many pairs of trampling feet. Therefore, the nasty mess on the floor is perfectly normal. Seeing it clean is a surprise, at any time of the day or week.

The commotion in an Indian store gets even worse at rush hour at the end of the working day, when half the working moms in town flock to the Indian grocery store to buy food for dinner. It’s at times like these that you learn what it means to be patient. The reason for this is that there are many little old ladies (not you, Grandma) who choose each green bean (or any vegetable, for that matter) individually and take their time going over it for the slightest imperfection.

Now, this wouldn’t be so annoying if you could still finish buying vegetables and go home. But the little ladies plant themselves in the aisle so you can’t squeeze past them or you can’t reach whatever vegetable they’ve stationed themselves at without knocking several people over. If that’s not the ultimate test of patience, I don’t know what is.

A necessary skill for shopping in an Indian store is alertness. You need-yes, need-to be able to dodge all potentially hostile sharp objects, such as elbows, heels, or the corners of purses. I have had bad experiences myself with these, so I can tell you how much it hurts to get hit with one.

When I was younger (maybe second or third grade), I was standing with my family in the checkout line in a large store in India. The lady in front of me had a large purse with sharp corners, probably an all-in-one survival kit for her children. At any rate, I was eye level with a nasty-looking corner, which soon swung back and nailed me in the eye. It hurt, and she didn’t even apologize.

Finally, an important skill in an Indian store is just general care. One needs to be careful to avoid stepping on all manner of disgusting squished veggies, to dodge screaming children or various toys and games lying around listlessly on the floor, and watching out for every miserable sort of mishap known to mankind. Survival in the city may be difficult, but just walking through an Indian grocery store requires a whole new level of toughness and resilience-believe me, I know. I’ve been there.

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