E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Today, shopping on a Sunday is synonymous with going to a slick mall or a supermarket where you can buy anything from shampoos to cellphones, from laptops to mobile phones, and any brand you want, all under one roof by flashing your card.
Years ago, of course, you could buy none of these as they were yet to be invented. And, in any case, there were no malls and supermarkets of the kind we see today.
Then, how did we shop and what did we shop anyway?
And where, please?
There were neighbourhood angadis of course, but the metaphorical mall of the time was the “Cooperative Society”, which sold anything from Ambal nashya (snuff powder) to “Passing Show” cigarettes, and where everything you bought was cheaper than the corner store but rationed, as life itself was run on a steady economy scale.
But choosing, buying or paying was not as easy as it is today.
First, you had to make an application which entitled you to become a member of a “Society”. The head of the family had to fill out the details—number of dependents, salary etc—get it attested by a gazetted officer and give to the “Society” secretary, who after due verification would ask you to come the following week.
Meanwhile, you would visit Dodda Ganesha or Ishwara temple in the locality, give your name and gothra to the priest, have an archane done, and pray for the success of your application.
The following week the ration card would be collected by your father on his way back from office, and Amma would light up a lamp in pure ghee and make paayasa for dinner in celebration.
The newly secured “ration card” would then find pride of place in the pooja room.
From then on, at least one Sunday in a month would never be a holiday for anybody at home.
That Sunday, while still groggy, you would be dragged out of bed at dawn and sent off with your elder sister, who herself would be still in high school studying in Samaja (Mahila Seva Samaja) or Marathi school (Maharashtra Mahila Vidyalaya) or ‘Tinny’s’ school (also called Basavanagudi girls school), along with the ration card to buy the monthly ration.
After placing your card in the pile at the counter as others before you, your job was to keep a hawk eye on it so that there was no hanky-panky while the cards were piling up by the minute.
When the Society doors opened, the busy and gruff clerk, looking ever so important, would ask everybody to maintain silence. The entire heap of ration cards would be turned upside down under the watchful eyes of hundreds.
The whole place would suddenly come to life the with clerk writing the bill of fare and entering the price in rupee, anna and pie. After writing with one plus three carbons, he would quickly add up the amount on a rough paper using his fingers sometimes.
When your turn came, your elder sister would read from the list the rations needed for the month including soudhe (firewood) for cooking, since there was no LPG in those days. The list itself would be written on buff paper with a Perumal Chetty pencil as dictated by mother at home.
The clerk would then relay the items to the storekeeper within earshot of other consumers:
Bangarada Sanna – 5 seru
Ratna chudi – 3 seer
Groundnut oil- ½ seer
Kerosene oil – ½ seer
Cuticura powder -1 tin
Raja Snow – 1 bottle
Dharapurada thuppa – ¼ seer
Nanjanagud hallupudi – 1pkt
Coffee pudi – 1 paavu
Kattige – 3 Rs
Saasuve, daalchinni, jeerige – 1 chataku
Yaalakki, kesari – 1 tola
This would be repeated aloud again by the staff as each item was measured, poured into a buff paper that was folded into a cone and tied with a strand of gunny bag thread that hung from a hook attached to the roof of the “Society”.
The payment was in rupees, anna and pies. The clerk would have small steel cups for annas and pies, the notes going into the drawer of the table.
The firewood would be split into smaller pieces with an axe and put into a delivery cart and the youngest in the family would accompany the “Society” delivery boy to ensure there was no pilferage along the way.
Your brother or sister would accompany the store boy carrying the goods whose arrival was anxiously awaited by mother at the gate to the house.
Thus, one Sunday would go into the business of getting monthly rations.
The second Sunday would be for taking an oil bath. Castor oil applied liberally on the head and allowed to soak would cross the boundary of the eyebrows, and seep into your eyes, giving you a burning feeling.
When one of your elders poured boiling water on your head and applied shika kayi suds stored in an inverted coconut shell acting as a container on to your head, the froth from soap would freely mix with the oil, giving your eyes the equivalent of third-degree torture.
By the time you finished your oil bath you had a mop of freshly washed hair with sore red eyes and scalding all over your body!
The ladies on the other hand, fresh after an oil bath, dried their long tresses under a small fire sprinkled with sambhrani crystals under a cane basket, the aroma wafting from the basket to the entire house, holding everyone in a trance.
If you had your Ajji with you, she would use up your third Sunday to de-worm your entire digestive system.
She would wake you up early morning and make you gulp half a tumbler of homemade castor oil in one go, holding the edges of your nose making sure not a drop spills. When you threatened to throw up and with that all her efforts into the drain, she would give you a piece of lemon pickle to thwart the vomiting.
If the worms stayed put, another of Ajji’s extra strong dose would go down your throat.
Only after you got rid of the worms by repeated visits to the toilet, you would get the first food of the day, some rice with saaru and sandige late in the afternoon.
The last Sunday , if nothing else came in between, was used sometimes to go to a morning show either in Minerva for Satyajit Ray’s Bengali movies or to Vijayalakshmi for English movies, after a brief stopover at Modern Hotel or Udupi Krishna Bhavan.
Once upon a time, everything was rationed in moderation—provisions, movies, fun—but we were quite happy and contented.