Delhiwale: Meanwhile, in his little Kerala...
Unlike most other businesses, neighbourhood groceries have been spared of the collateral toll of the pandemic, Mr Nair observes. The kinds of things such modest establishments sell are used for daily consumption, which are needed in good times and bad.Updated: Aug 05, 2020 03:28 IST
How lovely it would be to meet someone whose life hasn’t been altered by the coronavirus! A life that is still going on unhindered, as always, more or less.
Well, then meet Suresh S Nair of Ambadi grocery store, in Gurugram’s Old Railway Road.
“Yes, the business is the same as before,” he confirms, speaking on phone from his grocery shop. “No, I haven’t got the infection, nor any member of my family, nor anyone among my relatives.... coronavirus hasn’t touched me.”
In spite of this happy fact, Mr Nair is being as careful as a grocer can be. “I’m nearing 60... I fear it would be dangerous for me to catch the corona.” His voice betrays no fear, as when one talks of calamities that only seem to happen in the news media, not in real life. The soft-spoken man reveals that he has abandoned his habit of taking a break in the afternoon and heading home in nearby Lakshmi Vihar for lunch. “Now, I tend to stay in one place for a long time rather than exposing myself to too many places and situations.” He gets the food from home.
Unlike most other businesses, neighbourhood groceries have been spared of the collateral toll of the pandemic, Mr Nair observes. The kinds of things such modest establishments sell are used for daily consumption, which are needed in good times and bad. So, “shops like ours” were allowed to function during those many weeks when the city, as well as the country, were in a shutdown mode. Mr Nair played cautious even then. “I would open the shop for limited hours only.”
But initially the little store did suffer from a hiccup, because of the nature of the business. The shop isn’t just any random grocery giving you yellow dal and brown dal. Mr Nair’s is a South Indian store specialising in food from Kerala as well as other southern states—he is himself from Pathanamthitta, the district in southern Kerala famous for the Sabarimala temple. Indeed, entering his shop is like stepping inside one of the most intimate aspects of a Kerala home, its kitchen pantry. There’s guruvayur pappadam, sacks of red rice, putt kadala lentils, garlic pickles and sachets of ginger coffee—he shows all of these on WhatsApp video. While the counter has at least one cluster of bananas hanging from the rope, just the way they are put up in roadside shacks throughout Kerala.
The supply of these ingredients was briefly affected in the early days of the lockdown “and I couldn’t keep all stuff available at all time for my long-time customers.” Eventually, the goods trains started moving, Mr Nair says, and his shop was back to running smoothly on the tracks. As soon as he would get the stock replenished from Kerala, the gentleman would inform his customers, many of them fellow Malayalis, on WhatsApp. They would message him back with their shopping list and he would get the packages ready before summoning them to the grocery. “That way, nobody had to wait and gather in my shop and increase the risk of spreading the infection.”
Now Mr Nair excuses himself—a customer has just turned up. He sells to him a good quantity of kappa, or tapioca, which he describes as “Kerala ki arbi.”
Mr Nair speaks fluent Hindi. He has been living in the Delhi region since 1985 and initially resided in west Delhi’s Janakpuri “which is home to a lot many people from our Kerala.” A retired X-ray technician in a hospital, he opened the shop in 2011 and operates it all by himself. His wife is a technician in a veterinary lab and his daughter, a school teacher, is currently working from home.
These days, Mr Nair feels that life is again becoming “normal for everyone.” He shuts down his store by 7pm (it was 9pm in the pre-corona era) and heads home on his scooty. Today, though, he will reach a bit later because “I’m delivering a stock of ponni chawal to a friend whose house falls on the way.” He, however, insists he doesn’t do home-delivery, fearing that on reading this dispatch, his customers might start badgering him into delivering stuff to their home, too.
Later, on reaching his house, Mr Nair is photographed through the phone screen that connects him to this reporter. His wife and daughter are too shy to appear in front of the camera. Anyhow, soon enough the family sits down to dinner. Tonight’s menu: red rice, aviyal, mambazha pulissery (mango curry!), neembu achar and uzhunnu pappad. All these dishes are cooked with Kerala spices—sourced from Mr Nair’s shop, naturally.