Shop Around The Corner

Author: Prashant Parikh ( Prashant likes introducing himself as a “Sanatani Dharmi”. Read below his memoir on his trip to Mumbai. It thoughtfully covers the disappearance of old business ways of small grocery stores that existed in every lane due to fast changing business models of the modern world. With the change, we somewhere are losing the precious personal human contact needed in our daily lives )

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It is 4:30 PM. A nine year old boy makes his way to the local General Store:

BOY: “Uncle, rubber ball joiye chhe, malse?”
(Uncle, could you give me a rubber ball?)

SHOPKEEPER: Aa lo. 6 rupaya thayaa  ( Take this. It costs Six Rupees)

BOY: Mammi aapse. Haan, ek Thumbs-Up aapso?
(Mother will reimburse (when groceries are delivered home). Can I also have a Thumbs-Up [a popular brand of cold drink ] ?)

*Slurp slurp slurp* Thank you uncle! 
(leaves bottle on counter and goes off to play cricket)

SKIP FORWARD 23 YEARS: 
I am returning home from the Doctor’s Clinic with my father, after testing positive for Dengue. Was feeling rather drained and dehydrated by then, so dad pulls over on the curb to buy some Electral powder sachets for me. I look at the Storefront Facade with nostalgia and follow him in. The Shop-owners immediately recognize me and shake my hand with vigor and enthusiasm for a full ten seconds. Weakened as I was, I couldn’t help beaming with delight from ear to ear.

The store changed significantly over the decades. They purchased the adjacent garage and turned it into a Pharmacy. I was happy to see his Small Business still prosper, in spite of the onset of the Cannibalistic Super-Market Era we exist in. The second change was functional- earlier it used to be an ‘Over-the-counter’ shop where you would ask for an item and someone would fetch it for you. Now it was converted into a ‘Walk-in’ store, and the layout became more efficient in terms of Labor Costs (by outsourcing the Product Pick-cycle to the Customer) and Inventory (through Product Arrangement).

One of the owners indulged us in an extended conversation. He stated with some hint of child-like pride that he found the secret to happiness 10 years go. He said-

“koi bhi vastu maate dukhi nahi thavanu, je bhi karo khushi thi karo. Savthi vadhaarnu dukh mann maa j utpan thaay chhe”
“Never become unhappy/upset over anything. Whatever you do, do it happily. The majority of one’s sorrow are a product of the mind alone”.

Doesn’t he make it sound simple? The truth is, most things in life ARE simple. We complicate things by allowing them to grow, ferment, and ultimately decay in our minds. If we viewed life objectively- for what it IS- not for what we THINK it is, or for what we WANT it to be- then the vast majority of our problems would fall over like a pack of flicked dominos.

When I look at the alarming pace with which the Corporate Retail sector is growing in India, and how it decimates such small businesses, sometimes I wonder why we choose PRICE over VALUE?

Sure, items purchased at big Retails will ‘Cost’ less, (due to Economies of Scale supporting them), but for that slight discount, we are missing out on ‘Valuable’ human relationships- familiar faces forgotten, friendships lost- the Shopkeeper ‘uncle’ replaced with the nameless, uniformed hourly employee who is as expendable as we – the customers are. What matters isn’t the earnest look on our face, but the credit cards and wad of cash in our wallet. And that- that is the real Cost we have incurred, irrespective of the Price.

I may expand upon this theme concerning Small Businesses (kiraayaa dukaans i.e grocery stores) at another time 

Shri Gurubhyo Namaha

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