Economy and the bar-coded fish

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January 6th, 2009 Bijoy Kumar Y

There was a time not so long ago when, as a single ‘not so large’ income family, we had to account for every penny that came our way. That meant we maintained a monthly budget card with ‘in’ and ‘out’ sections and a ‘balance’ column that normally read on the negative. Lion’s share of the money went to EMIs for the house in any case. But when we saved say, Rs 2000 a month, we ensured that the money was put to good use – no, no recurrent deposits for us, but we spent happily on a nice dinner or even a small party for friends from office.

Every month I stood in a queue to ‘take’ some money from the bank, which we would systematically spend over the month.

Malls were not a suburban phenomenon yet and that meant my wife shopped from a wholesale store and hauled stuff home. She used to buy vegetables for the week and never ordered stuff over the phone. Every Sunday I rode my motorcycle to the market and enjoyed buying fresh fish or visited the poultry shop to buy fresh chicken. And as a rule we never kept a ‘credit’ account with the local kirana store. And the maximum I would spend at a time at a fuel station was Rs 500 (Rs 200 if I was filling diesel).  And I drove carefully and braked well before the signal turned red to save fuel.

When we wanted to travel to our home town, I stood in a queue and booked a train ticket. Flights, you see, were meant for emergencies only. And we shopped for clothes twice a year – for festive occasions.  But then things got a bit relaxed.

It has been ages since I visited my bank to ‘take’ money. To begin with it was the convenience of ATMs which dispensed crisp notes and later the culprit was the debit card that was wielded with a vengeance. The economic downfall of the average Indian middleclass family and the beginning of the global meltdown was er…beginning.

Three, I repeat, three super stores around our house meant that we were not buying things for the month any more. We succumbed to temptation and paid Rs 120 for bar-coded chicken from the rather nice ‘chiller’ room at the mall. The said ‘chiller’ room also had fish ‘cleaned and cubed’ for double the money and we could do with that too. What the heck, we even bought bar-coded pumpkin slices and bananas too. While at it, the guilty parents that we are (who hardly found time to spend time with children) bought creamy, sinful pastries for them as well as us. Needless to say, we grew sideways and children learnt the primary steps of blackmailing.

 I drove into fuel stations and started spending Rs 1000 at a time, because with my debit card, I could, and I stopped keeping an account of fuel consumption in my car. And our children got so used to air travel (it was cheap in the interim, mind you), now they wonder why any other mode of transport exist. And we shopped as and when Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Westside announced sales.  Mind you, ‘as and when’ as against ‘when we needed’.

Alright I woke up last Sunday determined to fight the meltdown – at least get ready for it before it struck us hard. I woke up my wife and daughter and we drove to the ‘big market’ next to the railway station. ‘Do they have a toy section?’, asked my seven year old which made me realise that she has seen one mall too many. There it was, in all its glory – Food land, Reliance Fresh, True Mart and D-Mart all combined to one. So what it was not air-conditioned. My wife screamed as she discovered that tomatoes were Rs 10 a Kilo and half while we were paying Rs 20 at Food land. Ditto ladies fingers and whole pumpkins. We bought a car load of veggies and headed for the fish market. Kingfish which retailed at Rs 250 per kg with a barcode was almost alive at half the price and in our bag. We ate local sweets and drove back and easily saved Rs 500 in the process. We would have saved more if we were not greedy at the sight of so much good stuff for so little money. Meltdown? What meltdown?

Next in the agenda is fighting the withdrawal symptoms – as in avoiding ATMs as if they don’t exist and not attending sales. And we are booking train tickets two months in advance for summer holidays – second class, where children can peep out of the windows and see the beautiful world out there. A world without malls, ATMs and bar-coded fish.


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6 Responses to “Economy and the bar-coded fish”

  1. Jayshree Says:

    Enjoyed reading this!Well times have changed and we are so used to the modern ways that sometimes considering the old ways even as an option doesen’t strike us!

  2. sanjay Says:

    All true as said in terms of buy more than you need, the convenience, environment and “sales” coaxing you into buying at higher prices … alas, modern retail comes with marketing to create footfalls and push product. But, remember the times when modern retail was not there and the neighborhood kirana guy would not let you select the packet that you wanted or the subziwala giving you whatever he wanted to give instead of you selecting what you liked … competition was much needed and has come. And don’t forget the employment generated by modern retail and the backend supply chains and ancillary businesses it has created. The people who can control their buying behavior and cut through all the hysteria have the best of both worlds, while those that don’t …. hmmm … what can i say! Happy shopping, modern retail or otherwise :-) .

  3. Lakshmi Says:

    Bijoy, I agree with every word of yours. I loved this line: “Kingfish which retailed at Rs 250 per kg with a barcode was almost alive at half the price and in our bag.” Having got used to the Reliance Fresh, More and numerous other retail options in Chennai, I have actually forgotten how a typical subzi mandi looks like. In fact, in Chennai, you would barely see roadside vegetable vendors except for a couple of them in the mornings. Starting from green chillies to grated coconut, everything is bar coded … :-)

  4. Mathai Says:

    The retail hysteria has taken hold in the small towns too. I was shocked to see govt employed, middle class people who were the paradigm of careful spending lavishing money on ‘luxuries’. Obviously, the definition of luxury has changed - whatever is sold on TV has become a necessity. People with rs 10,000 as their monthly salary buy microwaves that cost Rs 5,000; purchase Hyundai 10 Kappa instead of a very adequate i10 even when big discounts are offered; have celebrations where they gift apparel to the extended family… Scary to see people living on the edge.

  5. prem Says:

    When there are long-winding queues even in ATMs, which is presumably an India-specific phenomenon, this poor soul would not dare go to a bank to fill up a slip and wait endlessly – unless there’s nothing better to do. If this is urban hysteria, who is being stopped from taking shelter in the lucid din of the jungles? And withdrawal symptoms – it is better not to withdraw from your core habbits. It bites. Trains – definitely a welcome option if it’s a month-long leave. Convenience — or what suits you best at some point of time, which could be easily disowned later — matters . Nothing else does.

  6. Priyanka Joshi Says:

    I nodded my head all the way till the end of the post…we all suffer from this urban retail hysteria created by Biyani’s and the likes


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