Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Supermarket

I don't know how I got there. I'm not at all sure what I was doing there. A loud beep woke me out of my pondering.

"Staff announcement.. Request clothing department team to report to sales head immediately.. I repeat! Staff announcement..."

The bored voice that was speaking was fading into the background as I noticed my surroundings. I was in a supermarket. A loud red and green sign caught my eye.


I was in a 'Hypermarket'. In the dry fruits section. I was also suddenly aware that I was holding the cold handle of a grimy shopping cart with one hand and a packet of cashews in my other. Looking around I noticed that everyone was busy bustling around picking up items, debating prices, talking on their respective mobile phones. I let my eyes wander around, following a toddler enjoying a ride in his dad's shopping cart.A teen was staring out of zombie eyes, pretending to listen to his mom through the loud blaring of black metal on his earphones and consumerism at its best, in general, was in action all around me. It occurs to me that everyone around me is buying stuff. Ergo, I must be here to buy something. D'uh. If only I could figure out what it was.

I might as well get the cashews, I thought and plopped them into my cart. Probably moving through the store would jog my memory. The next aisle had chips, eateries, canned juices, juices in tetrapacks - the whole snacking deal. A couple with a baby was here, comparing prices between two juice brands. I moved on to the next aisle just struggling to steer my cart around theirs.

Two minutes of oh-so-exciting suspense and voila! I'm at the breakfast aisle. Cereal, bran flakes, oatmeal, idly mixes, instant dosa mixes, dehydrated fruits? Ok, we get it. The WHOLE deal. But do I need any of that? I decided a little cereal couldn't hurt.The next minute I'm having a staring contest with the 20 something brands of cereal that were gathering dust a good few metres into the aisle. Spending 15 minutes in the breakfast aisle, I have narrowed down to 2 cereal boxes. I grab them both thinking I'll filter it down later and row my cart further down.

Half an hour down the line, I realise, the breakfast cereal drill was repeating all around me. Move. Stop. Look. Compare. Get Confused. Buy or chuck a couple of options into the cart to decide on later. Move again. Its like the whole crowd is enchanted by the same spell. The same expressions flitting on each and every face over and over again, aisle after aisle.

My companion, the shopping cart, which was getting quite full by now was creaking ahead of me. Clearing my path, bumping into obstacles now and then and making me stop to think I need another item I suddenly spot near my right hand or my left leg that I had not thought of a moment ago. Waiting in the line for the weighing scale, I had a sudden unexpected moment of clarity and I wondered for a second, who or what was I shopping for? The thought suddenly depressed me and made me feel sad, lonely and tired. Exhausted. The whole dance of walking through never ending aisles of items from a kazillion brands that seem all to be the best of their kind, not knowing which one to choose, not knowing which one is going to be a blunder, comparing confusedly and finally squinting at the products blank minded, and hoping badly that humans were able to see the future or make decisions in a split second was -well - exhausting. I was drained, lost, and not at all sure whether I had made all the right decisions. Sure, there was that sweet girl who helped me pick out the *perfect* curtains. But doesn't she get a commission for that work? Its her job to make you pick something out. How do you know which ones to really pick, which ones are really good and even if they are all the best, whether you really need them or not?

"That would be about 1.6 Kg, ma'am. Would you like me to make it 2 Kgs?"

A handsome man at the weighing scale was pointing to the set of oranges I had picked out. Oh, it was my turn already. He seemed so friendly, with his crinkly eyes and the simplest smile I have seen in the whole place. I refuse his offer, though, thanks to my recent reconsideration.

Creaking on forward, I find the travellator. There was a small line forming to get on to it. An old lady was having trouble absorbing the fact that this here was a piece of sloping floor that moved by itself. "What if I slip? What if it swallows up the end of my dress??" She demanded answers from an exasperated attendant. Finally, people started moving around her as she gripped the handle of her shopping cart as if holding onto dear life. Murmurings, laughter and  looks of pity went out her way. I'm not sure what the expression was on my face.

At the end of the travellator, and at the end of a long series of advertisements pasted all along the two walls, a man was helping everyone get off safely with their shopping carts. How strange. I wondered if this was his job all day along. I could envision someone arranging the various items on the aisles, ordering them, billing them, cleaning everyone else's messes, but just standing around helping..? That's very rare and unbelievable!

On the way to the billing counter, I found so many products on display it was almost painful. It was as if there were 'strategically positioned' to attract consumers on their way out to being tricked into feeling like they needed one of those. I think I my brainwaves caught an echo from one of the marketing meetings held in some unseen conference room in there. Or its that glaringly obvious. Maybe a little of both.

At the billing counter I see the couple with the baby from the juice aisle, a cute looking guy I bumped shopping carts with at the fruit section and a really bored sales executive. The cute guy was just collecting his purchases and looked at me, a one last look before leaving. Why'd I meet him, never to talk, just to exchange a couple of meaningless looks and wonder forever as to what that was?

My eyes follow his back to the exit. A man sat by the exit, recently billed, he was looking intently at the bill. It occurred to me that he was counting the items he had purchased and trying to figure out whether he had been billed for something he had not carted. He was now counting on his wrinkled fingers and squinting through his thick reading glasses trying to figure out whether the total was correct or not. A sudden wave of sympathy went out to him in my mind. Did I even think before I carted even the most expensive item on my cart? Would I one day be sitting there in that seat, wrinkly eyed, shaking hands, trying to save an insignificant penny?

Beep. Beep. Beep. My billing had begun. The items I had carted were being fished out and passed through a laser. Tags read and entered into the bill. Accounted for. Next the items were all collected into a polythene cover and handed to me with a smile. I walked a few steps and looked down at my bundle. My collection. My bulging shopping bag full of stuff I did not know whether I fully needed. It was slowing me down as I hauled it to the exit and handed my bill out to a sinister looking security guard who punched it through ominously like passing a sentence. I looked back at the hypermarket before I walked out into the bright daylight. Shiny marble floors, full of choices, befuddled and lost people that you met randomly, who took away a lot of things that they really did not need and some others who couldn't even afford what the needed and, bored attendants who could not care less, an ever increasing sense of burden, a vision of the future and finally an exit sign glowing bright green ahead of you. Every SMS joke I had ever read about life being compared to ice creams, potatoes, tomatoes and what's nots came to mind.

The best joke ever? Life's a supermarket.



-me ;)

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