"Why do you go to the grocery stores so often?" messaged a friend when I wrote to her that I had to get going. "And that too this late in the night?"
It was past ten. The unseasonably hot day had cooled down enough for me to drive with the sunroof and window open. My inability to deal with hot temperature often makes my growing up years in Neyveli and Madras seem like it was a previous life. Was it the same me then? Will there be a different me in a few years? Yet another reason why a fundamental Hindu philosophical question "who am I?" makes a lot of sense.
The grocery store being close by means I don't ever have to stock up on anything. If I need anything, it is only five minutes away. Above and beyond that, I wonder if this is an old world habit that has been carried over.
When I was young--yes, young and not merely younger--my mother wrote down the grocery list and I then took that to the store. If it was only a few items, I carried them back home. The store delivered them if it was a weighty purchase.
It was a similar one when I visited Sengottai too. The advantage with grandma's town was that I didn't even have to pay the store. Instead, all I had to say was my grandma's name, and the shopkeeper added it to the tab that, I assume, was settled every month.
There was, thus, a relationship with the people at the store. These were not some faceless robots in some grand commercial scheme. But, real people. With real lives.
That old country in me is evident when I go to the grocery store that I frequent. Rare is an occasion when I don't recognize the clerk at the checkout counter or when that clerk doesn't recognize me. Often I have wondered whether I should invite them over for a meal. But then, I worry that I will freak them out!
It was Rodney at the counter. He always has a warm smile for me, and we engage in substantive conversations within the couple of minutes that it takes for him to scan and bag my groceries.
"I haven't seen you for the longest time, Rodney" I said.
And, of course, small talk is often accompanied by humor. Well, I think I am being funny.
"You tried to change your hours to avoid me, but I tracked you down."
Rodney laughed. "I am on reduced hours now."
He is a decade and a half older than me and is transitioning into semi-retirement.
"Life is short, Sriram" Rodney said. "Well, it is long, and yet short. You might lose your mind as you get old. Like my father."
A very strange coincidence that Rodney mentioned dementia. Surely, he didn't read my blog post, did he? Yes, life can be long, but is a very short one in so many ways even within those number of years. We could lose our minds. The sight could be gone. Or the hearing. Or mobility. The world then rapidly shrinks. As my dog's vet once remarked many years ago, getting old is not for wimps. And I am one big wuss!
"How old is he?"
"Lives in town?"
"Yes. Here in Eugene."
By then he was done with bagging too, and I had done my part to pay. I didn't want to annoy the next person in line, especially that late in the day. I bid Rodney a good night.
The days are short. Life is short.