“Please give me your kaapdi pishvi (cloth bag) and some sutte paise (loose change).” These are usually the first words out of my mouth on the first morning every time I land in India. Without fail. Every single time. After the first few times, like my many other ‘stunts’, my mother got over the initial shock, and champ that she is, now even keeps these two things ready for me at seven in the morning, knowing I’ll be up and ready to step out by then.
What do I do with these, you wonder? Why, I go ‘marketing’ of course! Marketing is Marathi short-cut slang for ‘going to the market to buy groceries, especially fresh vegetables.’ Armed with the pishvi and sutte paise, I step out of the house, and make my way to the now not-too-usual mandai (vegetable market). It is a delight just to be able to walk walk WALK to the market, instead of having to drive there, like we do while not living in India. Anyway, back to the mandai. I take my time, walking amidst the many stalls of bhaaji (vegetables) there. It is a treat to see such a huge display, and as always, I feel sad that I cannot buy one of each.
My first stop is usually the paale-bhaaji (greens) waali mavshi (aunty, a term for every Indian lady who might be older than you). The greens have an aroma of their own, and I greedily sniff them, well aware that I am looking exactly like Cutey, my dog, who loves sniffing everything that is brought into the house. I digress, thoughts of Cutey do that to me. “Lai disaanni aali por. Kashi haay tu baala?” (“The girl has come after a long time. How are you, child?”) asks the mavshi. Smiling gleefully now that my senses are full with the smell of the paale-bhaaji and my heart is full with the mavshi’s kind words, I reply, “tooch saang me kashi aahe?” (You see for yourself and tell me how I am?” She narrows her eyes, “gori gori zaali tu tithe pardeshi raahoon, pann lai sukliyes bagh. Aata maaheri aaliyes na, masta khaun-peeun bharoon magg ja.” (Life abroad has made your complexion fair, but you look thin. Now that you are at your mother’s, eat and drink a lot so that you’ll fill up a bit.) ‘Fill up a bit’ brings to mind the image of a stuffed turkey. The words sound funny, especially coming from the frail, bony, old mavshi, but that’s her way of expressing love.
I buy two lush bunches of ambaadi (Gongura), and smile when she adds a tiny bunch of ambat chuka (Green Sorrel). She only accepts money for the ambaadi. Accepting her gift of love, I thank her, and hand her the tiny bottle of sprakly perfume I had brought with me for her daughter. She hurriedly puts it in her tiny satchel as if it is a precious treasure.
Moving on, I head over to my next favorite stop, the gajrewaali (flower garland lady). The fragrance of Jaie (Asiatic Jasmine) is heady and intoxicating, and I unashamedly buy 5 garlands, each the length of my palm. Seeing my childlike eagerness, the lady offers to pin one in my hair. I thank her, but refuse. The first one is always offered to the Gods in the temple in my parents’ kitchen, not as a rule, but as my custom of telling them that I’ve missed them. (I know God is everywhere, and all that, but God at one’s parents’ place is always that much more present and is listening to you, isn’t it?)
Next stop, the grocer. Ever since I was in school, I used to save paise (pennies) to buy a veg puff pastry – we call them patties. As soon as he spots me, uncle (every man older than us is uncle or grandfather in the Indian custom) raises his hand to wave at me. His smile widens when he realises I am headed his way. “Ek veg patties leke aa apni bacchi keliye!” (“Get a veg patties for our child”) Uncle orders his hired help. Almost instantly, the patties arrives on a paper plate, complete with a bottle of ketchup. Putting Jughead (of Archie’s fame) to shame, I dig into the hot, spicy patties, uncaring of the steam emanating from my ears and nose thanks to impossibly high spice level. Done eating, Uncle and I walk to the tapri (stall), where I buy two ‘cutting’ (shot) of chai (tea). The chaiwalla (tea vendor) hands us a shot glass of tea each, and Uncle and I start talking, catching up. He brings me up to date about all my school friends and their families. A lot of us have moved away from the place we grew up in, which means we visit home at different times of the year. Uncle has taken it upon himself to be our newskeeper. Over time, he has also become our confidant. It is a true pleasure to hear updates about everyone, be it those living away, or those blessed enough to still live in the same city.
By now, it has been almost half an hour since I stepped out of home. Hurriedly, I buy the ‘Funny Bunny’ as I call it, a sweet bun with tooti-frooti (Indian term for gummies) embedded inside it, and rush home with my treasures of the morning. I enter the gates, but cannot walk straight home. I must circle the entire society (housing community which holds memories of my childhood). As I walk around, I notice the grass on the main ground. Grinning like a fool, uncaring that a lot of residents here are new and have no idea who I am, I walk into the grass and pluck the durva (Bermuda grass).
A uniformed watchman runs up to me, telling me that outsiders not allowed in the society without permission. With a smile, I let him know that I am not an outsider, that my parents live here. He stares at me, “aap Kulkarni saab kee beti ho?” (“Are you the daughter of Mr. Kulkarni?”) I nod. I can see he is confused, so I ask him what the matter is. “Aap toh aaj subah aane waali thi na?” (“Weren’t you supposed to arrive early morning today?”) I nod, and explain that I did, indeed, arrive sometime around three in the morning. He wants to ask more, but the rules of class system in the Indian society are far stricter, and he will not dare to question the NRI daughter of his employers. So he bows slightly and walks away. He salutes my parents, and even my friends who still live there, but will only bow his head slightly for me, because, in his eyes, I am not exactly his employer even though I am not an outsider either. To him, I am just a guest. He has to have that one up for his own ego. That’s the way it is.
All my self-desired tasks dutifully fulfilled, I finally reach home, and ring the doorbell, smiling with my battishi (showing all thirty-two teeth). I am smiling because I am excited to ring the doorbell, another rare treat for me now, as doorbells are not that common (or loud) anywhere else. My son, who must share the same excitement, runs up to the door. I feel a surge of pride when, standing behind the safety of the closed door, he shouts, “kon?” (“Who is it?”) I announce myself, and he happily opens the door to let me in. He is jumping up and down with joy, because his aaji (grandmother) allowed him to drink milk from a saucer! “Me kap-basheetoon doodh pyaayla!” I don’t bother correcting the tiny grammatical mistake, because, one, he is trying his best to speak his mother tongue, and two, well, little joys of childhood.
Equally crazy, I keep my shopping where it belongs, and return the pishvi to my mother, feeling a wicked joy as I sneak the remaining sutte paise into my personal stash. This stash starts the first day of my trip and on the last day, it is emptied in the istri chi pishvi, known world over as the laundry bag. For the record, many homes in India have a dhobi (laundry man) who comes every day and is handed clothes for ironing. He ties them in a pile, adding to the huge bunch on his back, and takes them to his shop/home. When he comes around the next time, he will hand you the ironed clothes, while you hand him another round of washed clothes that need ironing, along with money for services rendered. Ooh! I feel another blog post coming up, this one, about the dhobi!
Now that I have had my ‘marketing’ run, I run to the bathroom to wash my hands, feet, and face with soap. Meanwhile, aai has made chaha (Marathi for tea), baba is busy at his computer, and sonny boy is slathering loni (home-made butter) over the ‘Funny Bunny’, though going by the amount of loni he is using per piece, I’d say he’s applying bread to the butter. The breakfast tastes divine, actually, everything tastes amazing when it is had at maaher (mom’s place), and after helping with the clean-up, I am now free to go back to ‘marketing’, this time, to shop for desi (Indian) clothes and other knick knacks that I’ll be taking back to my other home abroad, when my trip gets over.
My parents, champions that they are, stop buying groceries a few days before I arrive in India just so that I get an excuse to go ‘marketing’ daily throughout the duration of my India trip. You see, I love ‘Marketing’.