Hopefully our PM orders for a lockdown of entire India after today’s Janata Curfew that is already an overwhelming success. I have my reasons. I don’t think most Indians will suffer because, Indians have the habit of bulk buying for generations. Culturally also we have the stocking practice in our homes.
I heard our PM asking us citizens not to hoard in his televised address. I did in fact shop a few days ago. I did a bit of bulk buying. I don’t feel guilty because that’s how we Indians shop generally don’t we? I did nothing unusual. You just have to queue up in the grocery stores to see how much we Indians bulk buy routinely. Anyway, bulk buying now for me is reduced to a pathetic 2 kg of everything. In modern times and in urban homes, bulk buying is a cruel joke when it comes to groceries. Our lifestyle changes being the reaso.
We bulk buy by month beginning typically after we receive our pay checks. For instance, in our joint family (some 25 years back), we used to bulk order 25 kg Rice bags, 5 to 10 kg Atta or Wheat bags, 5 kg Onions, 3 kg Sugar, 5 kg Cooking oil, dozen Toilet soaps, 1 kg Detergent, etc. In north Indian families, they add a 5 to 10 kg ghee (clarified butter) tin. Still this was not even one month’s provisions. Even after mine became a nuclear family, I followed the same method for managing groceries except that now in our case, our bulk buy has considerably reduced over years given our small family size and in keeping with changes in our eating habits. So now my staple bulk buy is 5 kg Rice bag, 4 kg Idli Rice bag, 3 kg Wheat bag, 3-5 kgs of mixed Dals or lentils, 3 kg Cooking oil etc. Even the rice content is now divided between Basmati, Brown rice, Jeera rice (seeraga sambha) and Ponni plain rice so effectively I buy 1 to 3 kg of each type of rice. Except for vegetables and fruits and meat and fresh milk, most Indian families shop at one go like this. We also store for a month or two months in advance always. In our joint family, we always hoarded six months stock because we used to get a steady stream of guests then. We buy Tamarind to last us for 2-3 years, spices like Cardamom, Cinnamon etc., to keep for years. We pickle mango, lemon etc to use for years. We make papads and masala powders and fryums for winters. A chief reason is that, the older the foodgrains like rice get, the older the tamarind gets, very much like vine, they taste better and improve in volume.
So I am confused about this Covid 19 advice against hoarding. At least as far as India is concerned. We don’t do panic buying and hoard. Let me make it clear here. We Indians generally buy our provisions in bulk. That is it. Even if sec 144 is announced without a warning, most Indian homes can still manage. Just look into our refrigerators! Bursting at seams!
Even in government-run fair price shops (PDS), provisions are issued on bulk basis only. My maid uses my card, therefore I know. At any one time, Tamil Nadu govt issues 20 kg free rice apart from other foodgrains and pulses. Minimum/Maximum quantum is fixed for pulses and cereals of course. This is on monthly basis.
Indian shopping habits are very much unlike the western habits. We always save for a rainy day. That is why, even our savings and investments ratio is far higher than you may find in advanced nations.
Masks and hand sanitizers started selling out from even a month before. We Indians hardly use tissues or sanitizers because, instead we use water faucets in our toilets. When we are in the habit of washing our hands everytime before and after we eat anything, where is the need for sanitizer. We don’t use forks and spoons to eat. We eat with our hands. So that means, we wash our hands always. Of course we have the rudimentary handwash liquid soap these days at home, nothing more. Hand sanitizers and tissues are in production and available in India mainly for the sake of visiting foreigners and for those Indians who live western life within India. And of course for restaurants. I am not ashamed to admit, i have no use for them sorry! Now that there is a demand for masks and hand sanitizers, the government has ordered for increased production locally.
Since tomatoes started selling cheap, I have been bulk buying tomatoes as well for more than a month now. I buy 2 kgs minimum for our small family! I buy kilos of fresh unpeeled green peas, double beans, soya beans, rajma, etc, shell them and freeze them for off-season. I buy kilos of mangoes for pickles. There are atleast a dozen coconuts shelled and stored in my freezer as well all the time. Idli batter, I grind every week once and refrigerate to last for a week. I dry grind wheat locally and store atta in kilos at home. I pound even dhania (coriander seeds) and red chili with a dash of black pepper, lentils etc., locally in a mill. Minimum 2 to 3 kgs because this is a basic spicy ingredient in our south Indian cooking. I grind my Masala/curry powder as well to last me an year. I buy coffee and tea in bulk and hoard always two months stock in advance.
Since I have lived abroad a considerable time, I know the difference between the shopping habits of my fellow Indians and other nationalities. Others hoard things that normally we Indians don’t pick up much – like now the tissues for instance. Indians buy fresh vegetables and fruits in kilos as well. Alongside you can see Arabs bulk buy frozen meat. We buy ‘agarbathis’ for our Puja while other nationalities buy scented candles. Cannot catch a single Indian citizen paying for a scented candle. It is okay for us to receive these as gifts though 😀
Most Indians also use only cloth hand-made nappies for babies. 99% don’t go for Huggies or such diapers. You can see other nationalities even in general times bulk buy and hoard diaper packs in dozens. I used to smile looking at this because I never once bought a single diaper for my baby all those years ago 😀 We Indians have lived the natural way all along. Now the diaper companies are trying to capture Indian market at any cost trying to change us. The upper middle class is already falling for it. Sanitary napkins – we women can’t do without. But why can’t babies be weaned out of the disposable napkins. Major pollutant environmentally.
So our Prime Minister need not have to worry. We Indians bulk buy always. This is nothing new or extraordinary. This is not panic buying at all. We Indians have no use for tissue boxes either – we use cloth handkerchiefs mostly. I use tissues only to soak extra oil from the fried food in my kitchen. If you are an American guest in my home, you will have to learn to use the water faucet as I don’t buy toilet rolls at all! Only five star hotels in India and resorts stock the paper rolls!
As for bulk buying of prescribed medication, i take mine overseas so I buy everything in bulk again. I am presently in India on long haul. Otherwise, I used to be here once in 3 to 6 months. So my medical supplies have to be prompt and regular. Most NRIs like me bulk buy their medical needs in India because our dosage is light, never strong like in foreign countries.
So what conditions apply to others, need not have to apply necessarily to India. India is not locked down. At least as yet. We are unofficially 1.4 billion. We have 370 covid-19 infected cases out of which 7 are dead. Stage 2. As of today, this figure includes 39 foreign nationals mostly Italian tourists. 370 on 1.4 billion is not bad, touchwood. India is doing good without imposition of section 144, so far. Let us see. I am keeping my fingers crossed. I am pretty optimistic that we Indians will break the corona chain. We will!
Still, the cautiously optimistic me would like more and extended isolation and social distancing in the nation so that we flatten the corona curve from rising to stage 3. Last evening I was shocked to notice people queuing up to buy milk from a booth in my street because the milk van arrived late. I buy my fresh milk by morning always. Milk has to be fresh for us Indians. No UHT longlife milk. Not even our groceries sell it. Today in tv news I saw that most of India ., i.e, some 99% of the country is deserted and on self imposed isolation/lockdown. Yet there were people outside the Central Railway station in Chennai, obviously migrant labourers from other states wanting to go back home.
From today, all the incoming and outgoing international flights to and fro India stand cancelled. Train services cancelled until the month end for the entire nation. Now this definitely means hardship because India moves on its rails. Major ferrying of goods and services across the country is through our extensive railway network. Which means, the local economy is to take a hit, as expected. But this is something we have to grin and bear for our own sake.
Off to have a glass of buttermilk now. Waiting for the clock to strike 5 so that I can rush to my balcony and start clapping hands to applaud the services of our medical fraternity. Hats off to our dear doctors, nursing staff, lab techs, paremedics, police force, janitors, security detail etc., etc on this most important day in contemporary Indian history.
Learning now that 75 districts in India have announced lockdown. Chennai figures in the list along with Erode and Kanchipuram districts from Tamil Nadu. Pharmacies, groceries and bank ATMs and other essential services will still function. Milk supply will be uninterrupted! This is extremely important for coffee and tea crazy Indians!
I never dreamed that such a day would dawn in my life. I was talking to my aunt who is 75 and my mother-in-law who is 83. They both said, things were like this during the India-Pakistan war times in 1965 and 1971. My MIL is 1937 born so she remembers the World war II times even if it did not involve India. She was sent to a village to live for months as safety measure. The Japanese did bomb Chennai, then called Madras and there was some casualty. Considering what was going on in rest of the world, this never made to world headlines. India was also on the verge of winning independence from the British.
I also remember my father telling me of how his family rushed back to Madras by ship from Burma by 1942 or 42. My grandfather, my father’s father, was a matriculate and he worked as postmaster in Rangoon. He also was running a very prosperous side-business selling leather footware. The affluent family could earn their berth in a ship therefore. Some of my relatives who also worked for the British govt in Burma, returned to Madras by foot walking for months through jungles. An elderly woman relative was born as a baby in the jungle near Assam and named ‘Janaki’ promptly. I inherited my grandparents’ teakwood cot, rosewood dresser and a teakwook bureau. I gifted the cot to my maid who eventually sold it not realising its value. I regret gifting it. I still have the other two. Strong and solid like steel. War reminders. Now we do have a war like emergency in the world. Only this time, the entire world is fighting a novel enemy, the Corona virus.