Mango Thieves

Six large mangoes were stripped from our tree overnight!! And I have a prime suspect, too... but I only used that post-title because it sounded so good: what I really want to talk about is saffron.

When I became a poor imitation of a Gujarati housewife, one of my first tasks was to phone in the monthly provisions order, something which my mother-in-law had been doing before my arrival. The provision store owners were also Gujaratis, so they had all the special things we need, like kokum, methi kuria and so on. Once a month their van would pull up, and the kitchen floor would be heaped with bags of rice, dals, oil, sugar, spices and so on. It was a big event. Now we have stores which somewhat resemble American supermarkets, and I prefer to go and buy the stuff myself; but they did not exist at that time.

So I carefully made a list and phoned the store. They always recognised my voice, and put me on to the best English speaker among them. I began working my way down the list. We ordered most spices in 100 gm. packets – cumin, anise and black mustard seeds, turmeric powder, asafoetida, etc. On that particular day, I also had saffron on my list. We didn’t use it very often, but it had run out. So, along with everything else I said, “Saffron, 100 gm.” There was a silence on the other end of the line, and the man who was taking my order said, “Sister, do you know what 100 gm. of saffron costs?” I didn’t, and he named an astronomical sum. It was my turn to be silent, then I said very meekly, “So, how much do you think I should order?” He said, “One gram should be fine,” and I quickly agreed.

I remembered this in the grocery store yesterday, because another foreigner was similarly taken by surprise – she was confronted with 4 or 5 grams for Rs. 315 (about US$7). I’ve been grinning ever since.

(update: I've gotten some good comments on this post:
Ravi said, "I encountered a similar case in a grocery store in Chennai many years back; but the ingredient then was cardamom. I think the customer lady ordered for about 100 gms and the guy in the grocery store immediately quipped 'Are you having a wedding at home?'"

Kumar said, "... I was sent by mother to get 1Kg milagai (red chillies) for avakai from our mango trees. I shortened it to "milagu" (pepper), ... I was laughed off and asked to check with my mother again."

Subramanian said, "Immediately on introduction of metric sytems ... I had been to a nearby grocery and I ordered 5 grams of Butter without any idea how much it would be. Then the grocery man ... said he is not even having such an accurate balance to weigh 5 grams ..."

It seems that looking silly at the grocery store is a common experience.)

12 comments:

Ravi said...

That was a good one Nancy. I encountered a similar case in a grocery store in Chennai many years back; but the ingredient then was cardamom. I think the customer lady ordered for about 100 gms and the guy in the grocery store immediately quipped "Are you having a wedding at home?"

Anonymous said...

The title and the story brings back memories : of when I was sent by mother to get 1Kg milagai (red chillies) for avakai from our mango trees.
I shortened it to "milagu" (pepper),
and had the same response.. well not quite, I was laughed off and asked to check with my mother again :)
- Kumar

Nancy said...

I love stories like these - thanks to both of you. (Wow! 1 kg. of milagu! Your mother would have loved that!)

Subramanian said...

Immediately on intrucing of metric sytems of weightment I had been to nearby grocery and I orderred 5 grams of Butter without any idea how much it would be. Then the grocery man explainned me how much it is and said he is not even having such an accurate balance to weigh 5 grams and told me that I may need 500 grams of butter.

Articles by Abraham Tharakan said...

Your post and the response stories are all interesting.
AT.

Joel said...

I think if you'd ever been made to pick saffron, you'd not have made the mistake.

If ever invited to do so, bring a set of tweezers.

Peter said...

Dear Nancy -

You have no idea how much I relish your posts... they give me an insight to a world that I will never quite know, and will always fascinate me.

Peter

Nancy said...

Thank you!

Jana Bouc said...

What an interesting post! From the search words to the weights of spices and back to mangoes. Wonderful reading! I'd be lost in the metric system I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

The other thing is the changing face of grocery shops in Mds.

The neighborhood "nadar" grocer is now being replaced by foodworld/reliance like shops.

Our nadar was quite a character; ill clad, oily hair which was perpetually oiled (by his action of swiping off the excess cooking oil he would sell in micro quantities.)
He was extremely good with mental math though; we used to buy on credit and pay it off over the 1st week of the month.
We had an old dairy (so chosen for missing pages can be detected) where he would enter the daily purchases and when a page became full, he would add up the number columns in a split sec and carry over the total.

He later moved on to finance (chit funds etc) built micro valut like apts that he rented out, provided employment to several nadars from his native village ... in short he a micro ambani.

Someday when my writing skills improve, I should write up his story.
- Kumar

Nancy said...

Kumar - yes, you should write it. You've described him vividly already. I read a book in college, a case study on the Nadars - how they organised to raise the status of their caste - in the 19th c., I think - and succeeded to an extent. I didn't know that traditionally grocers were Nadars. Thanks for an interesting comment.

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