"How are you today, Sriram?" greeted the checkout cashier, "R."
I have known R for a few years now. All I know about him, and all he knows about me, are from the one-minute chat we engage in as he scans and bags the items. It is not that R is there every single time I go to the store either. Perhaps once a fortnight on an average, over the past five or so years. But, those minutes add up to something, I suppose.
"I am always delighted you remember my name, R" I said.
R explained that he developed a mnemonic to remember my name, which is so common in India but so unusual on the other side of this planet.
"I tell you" I said, "this will make it difficult for me to ditch the store and go elsewhere. I mean, there is no other store in Eugene where I will be welcomed by name."
R knows that I am a college faculty and that I have a daughter in LA. I know he has two daughters, and one of them is a med school resident as well. In a strange way, we have a lot in common in terms of our daughters. Once, from this checkout conversation, I came to know that he and his wife visited with their daughter and her husband, who live across the continent on the other coast.
And then there is "K."
R is quiet, while K can be heard for miles around. One experience with her at the counter and you walk away convinced that she doesn't care a shit about what you think about her. A confident "I have seen it all" attitude, with fun and laughter and not with arrogance.
K has good reasons. For instance, a few months ago, when she was scanning the items, K noticed I had picked up curry powder. It triggered some memories in her, I think, and she said, "I love curry. I had a lot of it in Pakistan."
Surreal it was to hear about a country that was so near when I lived in India but had never visited and to listen to this woman who had been to Pakistan all the way from here.
"They always called me memsaab because of my white American skin" she chuckled. Turned out that K had been to quite a few countries. I suspect that she was with the US military, but why ask questions!
Another middle-aged cashier from the adjacent counter walked over to her and with quite a "I had no idea" look on her face asked K about Pakistan and Iran. I picked up my bag of groceries and kept going. Their voices slowly faded away in the background.
Sometimes I wonder if my genuine interest in small talk at the neighborhood grocery store is a reflection of the village past within me. Or even in my DNA? Or both. In Sengottai, grandma would send me on grocery errands and all I had to do at the store was to identify myself as the grandson of Narayani Ammal. The irony though is that grandma herself rarely went to any store in town, primarily because of her widowhood. But the store folks knew her and her family--including this grandson.
Even in Madras, the grocery store guy seemed to know all about us, and dad and mom knew about his family too. Which is why it didn't surprise me one bit that the store owner, too, was invited to my sister's wedding!
Either way, whether it is the literal DNA or the environment that nurtured me, this is one behavioral quirk that I am glad is within me.