Bajrang D’Souza: Supermarket Sorrows

On what seemed like just another day at PS-1, I woke up to a new email on my BITS Mail. The CSA had decided to bring in Vishal Mega Mart to our campus as a replacement for Borkars? Hmm… okay? Convincing myself there was possibly some public demand I was unaware of, I thought about it a little. Wait, what happened to Subway? Was this another hoax? To partially confirm my suspicions, the store that was finally on campus was not Vishal, but something else named ‘Malakars’. Seeing as I’d have to go there sometime, whatever the name of the store, I decided that I might as well take a look once I returned to college.

I arrived at the store soon after reaching campus this semester. It took me a whole minute to find it really, for the only places which actually say “Malakars” are cashew-nut and camphor packets inside, rather than a signboard like any other reasonable departmental store. Before I can judge, though, I’m hit by a gust of cool wind, a rather modified store layout, and some cool items on display. Mini Oreos, Skittles, Icebreakers? Check. Imported Doritos? Check. I’d heard they sell condoms, so that’s what took up fifty-five minutes of unsuccessful rummaging out of my one-hour-long first visit. So far, so good then.

On the very next visit, I was craving for some of the chocolates that lined the aisle. I picked up one to check the price. Wait, what? Imported Oreo for ₹70, identical flavour, yet more than twice the price of Cadbury Oreo? The same kind of story was with other products as well. With time, my faith in the price scribbled in dubious black marker began to waver. I entertained myself, rather, in watching the Supposedly Above Average Intellect BITSian stare at the price tag, make a calculation, then somehow content himself about the rationale involved in buying the item. Some imported products specifically bore the text “not to be sold in Asia”. Ah yes, the smell of globalism and free trade. I guess they didn’t bother to check that at all. Or is this indeed what following the MIT model entails?

My visits to Malakars have often been enlightening ones. I had no idea that I’d need rat traps to deal with a snake problem or that handbags and overpriced ‘dusting cloths’ would prove to be of more use than a can of deo or a bar of soap. Also, being able to afford to pay my fees post the hike doesn’t imply I’m fair game for nearly stale, refrigerated fruits that are several days old. I finally realised; Malakars isn’t Borkars for rich people, it’s just bizarre. When one fruit costs 37 rupees and the one next to it costs 50, or when there are shelves full of whole wheat, I know that my belief in humans as rational beings has died a violent death.

My subsequent visits to this little oasis of AC on the A-side grew increasingly unsatisfactory, for I rarely got what I was looking for. Besides seeing rows of pointless products, I saw rows of…well, nothing, as the restocking problems of Borkars crept in here as well. Essentials like rubber bands, earbuds and instant foods were somehow well below handbags and hair-bands in the daily-needs-of-BITSians pecking order.

You know something’s wrong with a store when the thing you walk out of it with most often is disappointment. Considering that my shopping list is driven by the need to survive, empty shelves and overpriced items don’t exactly help my cause and defeat the purpose of an on-campus supermarket. I sincerely hope the next thing the CSA delivers is an improvement over the last. Till then, I have got to rely on the vending machines set up around campus.

Well, about those…


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