Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXX No. 2, May 1-15, 2020
It is a truth universally acknowledged (sorry, Miss Jane), a truth beheld to be self-evident, that when crises arrive, leaders either emerge or have leadership thrust upon them. (Okay, bit of a quote-khichdi there. Oh well, lockdown loopiness. Whatever. Deal with it.)
Now, one of the many, man-n-n-ny ‘new normals’ that have risen to the surface these last few weeks has been “combined shopping”. Which is both sensible and responsible. But there’s a catch. Shopping implies lists, and combined shopping means combined lists.
Your immediate neighbourhood, having decided that everyone takes turns pitching in, has passed on the day’s ‘leader mantle’ to you. As no one can meet, you kickstart this rollercoaster ride with a cheerful message to everyone’s cell phones, reminding them that it’s fruits and veggies day and that you will be contacting the supplier concerned, so all those on these designated roads needing anything should write in at once. In your naivety, you end your message with a smiley.
It’s the last time you will ‘smile’ today.
In the space of a few seconds, a thick mass of messages resembling a biblical swarm swoops into your phone, while a brief vision of a collage of faces, all speaking at full volume at the same time rises before your stunned eyes. You take a deep breath and start reading.
Two-Doors-Down wants big potatoes but small onions in clearly specified quantities, with everything else described as ‘a few’ and a ‘handful’. You gently message back that a list under these circumstances being fundamentally different from an actual visit, terms like ‘a few’ or ‘a handful’ are a bit too open to personal interpretation and could lead to disappointment. Two-Doors-Down sweetly agrees to course-correct and re-send.
Big-Black-Gate’s list reads like a stroll through a fruit market, with some rather strange detailing like ‘not too ripe, not too raw… something that lasts, please.” Hmmm… a touch blissfully unaware that even having a choice is a huge privilege these days? You fight the impulse to judge and merely acknowledge with a smile emoji. (Open to interpretation as well.)
You do the same with Always-Short-Changed, who demands the supplier be instructed to read each order carefully. “Last time ordered one kilo potato. Got one potato. Upset”. Soft-and-Plaintive concurs. “Yes. Asked for one kilo each of four different veggies. Got four kilos of one. Family swears brinjal will never enter our house again.” Glass-Half-Full immediately counters with a typically cheerful, “Look, they’re doing their best. Under so much pressure. We’re so lucky to get even this”. And you call blessings upon the heads of these Eternal-Sunshiners. They’re ‘essentials’ too.
Meanwhile, Opposite-House has sent a small well-detailed list, putting a smile on your face, which gradually vanishes as true colours soon stand revealed. Turns out Opposite-House is apparently a bit too prone to being easily influenced. As other messages pour in, this list, like Alice, begins to grow.
“Hi, sorry, make mine also six apples, not four”. A few seconds later, “Actually eight apples. And six bananas… those little yellow ones. Also want green.”
“No, not green-green. The pretty yellow-green. Six. Please add.”
For a second you stare at the message, then count to ten very slowly, so you don’t erupt and damn and blast all bananas, especially the pretty yellow-green ones. Seriously?!
The listers message on grimly.
“I’ll take six oranges and twelve bananas. Please add.”
“Six guavas. Please add.”
“Any sapota? Grapes? Purple or Green?”
Opposite-House is now on a roll, and shifts gears again, “Six oranges for me too.” Big-Black-Gate returns with, “Twelve bananas and only three apples for me, please correct.”
You clutch your forehead, while the now-familiar silence around crumbles before the noise in your head. Then, just as you are considering whether you should fling your phone in a dramatic gesture no one will see, or run screaming down the road, which will draw attention, but will also probably bring down the wrath of the Law upon your head, the sole Voice-of-Reason in the group pipes up with a measured message: “Guys, suggest back off for a few seconds. Let the list take shape first.”
Off group, you send a message to the saviour. “Thanks. Was drowning there.” Voice-of-Reason messages back, “Hence the lifesaver. Keep calm and use The Force… like the poster in my kid’s room says.” “Will keep calm and think of ‘Thayir Saadam’, as my kid’s T-Shirt says,” you respond. “Sure. Go desi. Very patriotic.”
Just as you think you’re done, your phone pings again. “Eight bananas and four apples. Please add.”
You dash off tersely, “You just said twelve b and three a.”
“Can’t be. First message.”
“No. Looking at your order.”
“Oh no… that is Big-Black-Gate Aparna. I’m Corner-House Aparna.”
You rest your forehead on the cool surface of your table for a second, then jerk upright at the surface contact, before remembering you are home and safe. Your phone pings again.
“300 gms Push I Kaizen”.
You shut your eyes and raise your face towards heaven. Is this any time to be funny…or cryptic? You message a tired ‘?’.
“Oops,” goes the One-Who-Speaks-in-Riddles. “Stupid auto correct. I meant poosanikai. Suddenly forgot English name. Blanking out badly these days.” That you can understand.
Finally, with even indefatigable messagers being subject to finger-tip numbness, the tumult and clamour settles and the list is dispatched.
That night you dream of a long, long road – overrun not by vehicles or people, but by fruits and vegetables, all leaping up and down, screeching in tiny voices, “Pick four of me! No, twelve! No, two! Me, me, me!” When a spiky pineapple with an evil grin springs just a bit too close, you rear up in bed, shocked into wakefulness. In a while, it will be time to ‘shop’ for a different set of essentials. Oh well, the digital mantle has moved on. You can just…er… wash your hands off this particular task… for now.