On most weekends, I scan the refrigerator and make a mental note of the vegetables and fruits needed. Then I open one of the delivery apps on my phone, tap away at the screen, fill up my ‘cart,’ choose a delivery time, place the order, and make the payment. Within 10 minutes, all done.
Earlier this week, a fruit seller caught my attention during my evening walk. He wore a white dhoti and carried a large basket on his head, elegantly balanced on a curled up piece of cotton cloth. He also carried an iron balance on his right arm. I stopped him, bought half a dozen mangoes, and had a brief conversation. He told me when and where he did his daily rounds.
As I resumed my walk, I realised that I hadn’t bought fruits from a local seller in quite some time.
Over the next few days, I noticed that many sellers came with their carts laden with seasonal greens right outside the residential complex we live in. The sight took me down the memory lane, dating not too long back. I recollected how I had always purchased vegetables from the sabji mandi (the local vegetable market) and vegetable sellers. Just by the distinct tune of their rhythmic high-pitched shout outs, I recognised which seller approached my neighbourhood.
On most days, I’d step out of our home, touch the vegetables on the cart, savour their freshness, some moist some dry, learn how their shades and colours depicted health and longevity, and also learn which ones were harvested at what time of the year. It was a fun on-ground learning experience. While a nip in the air marked the onset of fresh green peas, pumpkins and bottle gourds were best enjoyed during the summers. A musk melon was ready to eat as soon as the end opposite to its stem felt tender, whereas apples and bananas didn’t share this peculiarity.
I found the water melon particularly tricky. Unable to make out which one was ready to eat, I relied on the seller’s judgment. He’d pick one, craftily cut out a crescent-like slice, and offer it to me for my satisfaction. I had the opportunity to taste the fruit before being expected to buy it. As I sunk my teeth into the melon’s pulp, somewhere between my slurps and trails of red juice trickling down my palm, the seller’s beaming smile couldn’t be missed.
This engagement with the vegetables and the vegetable seller was always garnished with lively conversations. Sometimes I’d listen to stories of the sellers’ native village, their home and family, and at others, enjoy watching their negotiation skills. It was mighty entertaining to watch how they convinced their customers on charging the right rates and bringing to their doorstep the freshest crop in the country! It was a sweet experience that I enjoyed. When a seller had his way, few urged him, sometimes kindly, and sometimes boisterously, to duck in freebies such as a tomato or two. He obliged with a laugh.
And how can I miss the bundle of ginger, coriander, chillies and curry leaves strung together with a coir thread, tossed in, free of cost. It signified a flourishing relationship between a generous seller and his loyal customer.
Coming back to my present, I understood that something was amiss in my current relationship with food. While cooking and consumption of food is sensorial, my method of acquiring the raw source wasn’t. I decided to take the first step towards plugging the gap.
So this weekend, I did not stock up my kitchen ‘digitally.’ I walked to a lady vegetable seller who lays out vegetables on a jute mat under a tree, close to our society complex. Petite, glasses resting on her nose, and paan in her mouth, she looked crisp in a parrot green sari. I bought the seasonal vegetables, and in my friendly banter, asked her if it was a special occasion considering her turnout.
She said, “No no…this sari was lying around for a long time. Today morning I thought why not wear it while doing my work?”
How lovely was that? A self-respecting woman who took pride in her job.
I cannot imagine missing out such little gems hidden in ordinary conversations…the arguments, the laughs, the sweat on the brow, the wrinkled smile on a face, the life lessons, the greetings, the opportunity to contribute to the local economy, the experience of the real deal.
As we tap away on our screens and place ‘orders’ of raw food, the plastic ease of a transactional method surely comes at a price. No surprise the mobile phone is also called the ‘disconnection device.’
Next time you sit with the phone in your hand, ready to order vegetables via applications or a call, hold it there. I say, get out of your couch, walk down to the nearest vegetable seller (not hard to find) and choose your greens. I’m sure you’ll relive and relish the irreplaceable dynamics of human interaction.
This column was published at Thrive Global.