‘You know about a person by the company he keeps’ and you know more about him by the kind of grocery shopping he does. The stuff he buys, the amount of it, his behavior, etc shows what kind of a person he is, is single or has a family, how meticulous or nonchalant he is about these daily chores – all becomes clear if you more than notice the buyer.

This isn’t in the slightest case, anything that marks that I am observant. Sometimes I am rather unmindful of what is going around me. But it so happens that occasionally you do tend to notice something and actually pay attention to it, though it is none of your business. A ten-minute rickshaw ride, from my apartment to Six Miles, is where I generally shop for grocery. There’s one decent departmental store in the area where every maid, homemaker, office-goer, school-going kid shops on his way home. Most often than not, this store keeps all the immediate purchases that you would want. It’s the kind that you can come to, rubbing your half-awake eyes from sleep, and can be possessive about when you talk to people shopping from other stores.

I like it because other than the usual, it also keeps magazines, books, t-shirts and has a quick bite corner attached on the side. Waiting in there, for my turn at the cash counter, I have often spent time looking at what other people have bought. The woman next to me the other day seemed a young mother from what I saw in her shopping cart. Unloading her cart, she stashed a pack of paper plates and glasses (which I presume was for a party at home), cereals and pulses, and about three-four packs of baby food. I checked out her mommy figure. The kid must be already crawling and posing for great pictures before its overprotective family. The rhythm with which she laid her stuff on the counter, she was a slow person. I looked at her and assumed she must have a doting family. She just fit into the picture of a content mother and wife of a family that likes to stick together, pamper each other and have a hearty laugh.

Then there are bachelors. Staying away from their families, alone or shared in an apartment, these guys mostly stick to ready-to-make stuff. Unless really necessary, they’d rather keep their shopping minimal. Milk, cereals, easy-cook pasta, use-and-throw razors and perfumes – that’d make it all, mostly. Weekends can be special of course, because that means party all night and hence good food. But then they’d rather shop around tackier places to get the best meat and beverages, than waste time in a grocery shop. After all, rice and pork/mutton with a good supply for smokes and booze, is enough to take Northeast Indian men to heaven!

Coming back to where I had started, there are hours in a day when the grocery traffic is high. You start calling up distant relatives because you have around ten people queuing before the counter. And there are days when the footfall is really mighty. Festivals, wedding seasons etc are times when the cash counter guys probably have to double shift to keep up with the demand. I have seen the rush and the busy faces of the cash chaps. In such days, I try to keep the changes handy so he doesn’t have to make me wait for another hour just for a few rupees.

Sometimes you don’t even have to look at who has shopped what, to know about them. Departmental stores are most often, meeting points. You make appointments of meeting someone there before you make a plan elsewhere. You enter and notice there’s someone familiar, go and greet them, ask silly questions like – ‘Come for shopping?’, and call them over to your place ‘sometime’. You wouldn’t believe if I tell you that many marriages have been arranged right on such spots. India is interesting!

There’s a certain charm that I associate with departmental stores. I call it a ‘no-bargain, easy shopping’. Everything is handy, you don’t have to haggle with the prices because it’s anyway not the style, and cards can be used. Ever since I moved out of home, I have felt safe in the confines of such stores compared to others because it helps me remain in my domain. I don’t have to keep yelling at someone to get me something nor do I have to push around people to make my calls heard first. Besides, it is sort of a hangout where you can spend time without coming in anyone’s way… and look at the pace of life.