After a month in Hyderabad, where the average temperature was around 30-34 degrees celcius, I found Kolkata quite chilly! The temperatures in Kolkata were in their mid 20s and in the night they would drop down to the high teens, but the skies were always blue. They still are! For this, although our flat at the time, didn’t offer much of a view, we were very grateful. Leaving behind the grey of Coventry was not a sacrifice.
We were put up in a block of flats called Eastern High, just off the EM Bypass. From the outside they were clearly distinguishable from their multicoloured patches of colour lighting up the skyline like a festival of flags. On the inside they were spacious and well planned. The decor, however, was not to my taste. As I stepped into the living room, after sighing with relief that I had made it, I smiled wryly to myself. This is what I would have to get used to! Everywhere was dark mahogany stained furnishings; The dining table and four chairs, the sofas and the armchairs all had the same sombre varnish. The upholstery reminded me of Bangladeshi curry houses in the UK, still stuck in the 70s, claret and cream with walls of contrasting hues of orange and green. I despaired! But it was OK, we’d be out of here in a month or so and I just had to get by until then.
I landed on a Saturday, which gave me enough time to find the local shop(s) and get my bearings. My husband had already been here a week and knew of all the local places to eat, as he refused to cook! He had also found a local supermarket, within walking distance.
On Saturday evening, after I recovered from my traumatic journey and the colours of the living room had stopped spinning, we took a walk. We arrived at the relatively small but well stocked ‘Reliance Fresh’ Store and I took in my surroundings. The shelves bore the weight of plastic toys, cooking oil, shampoos and hair serums, clothes, bathmats, spices, cooking utenstils and cutlery (but no butter knives). There was everything and although it was a squash and a squeeze we made it to the check-out with most of what we needed. The bill came to a reasonable Rs2543 and I thought that if we handed the cashier a Rs2600 in notes then we’d be able to get out and get on with the rest of the evening. What I did not know, and I am still unclear as to why, is that when you travel to the supermarket you must, (Now, I’m being really serious about this!) always, always carry change! The cashier instantly, without even opening the till, demanded Rs3. My husband complied without hesitation and I was confused. But this was not the exception, every single trip to the supermarket, without exception has resulted in someone asking for change and it turns out there’s a real shortage of the small silver rupee in tills, despite every single customer having to shell out the changle of change in their wallet or purse!
At one point, I refused. It happened to be the in the well known supermarket chain called ‘Big Bazaar’. In my opinion it is very aptly named. It is very big and has, like the ‘Reliance Fresh’ Store, everything you could possibly need except meat and umbrellas. It is set out with cardboard boxes, trolleys and stacks of goods, piled precariously at dangerous angles, ready to topple if knocked by a hurried handbag; a cross between a warehouse and a supermarket. It is not a sophisticated shopping experience.
Anyway, I made my way through the maze of isles to the checkout where the young cashier, who had slightly two slightly older and more moustachioed cashiers behind him, chatting away merrily. One scanned, one chatted and another packed. Eventually, after quite a leisurely pace, the cashier told me the total, I handed him the notes and predictably he asked me for some change. I just couldn’t be bothered, so I point blank refused. I don’t think it’s the done thing here, because he looked quite shocked. “Ek tuk dekhun na, Madam..” “Please check, Madam”. I replied with a curt, “No.” The cashiers looked at each other, not quite sure what to do next. We had reached somewhat of an impasse. Neither of us willing to back down. However I gave him my best teacher look, raised an eyebrow and folded my arms. “Are you trying to tell me, there is no change anywhere in such a big store?”
Reluctantly the cashier sent one of his friends to get me some change from the till opposite. I had won that round but how long could I keep this up?
I have come to the conclusion that someone needs to stand up to these big chains and corporates. Surely it’s time for some change!