Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Let's start with the shopping...

It’s fitting that we arrived at Costco the morning after we watched “Supersize Me,” the documentary about a guy who eats McDonald’s for 30 days and could never, ever refuse an offer for a larger Coke, fries or burger.

Such offers silently haunt the wide aisles at warehouse-style stores as Sam’s Club and Costco - and we always overdo it when we go. But somehow the idea of not having access to such a place in India turned us into maniac shoppers in search of big boxes, tubs and 12-packs of Americana. Like the protagonist of the movie, we could not even feign experiment.

Let me not bury the lede: We filled three shopping baskets and our bill came to more than $700.

When you first ask, everyone tells you that post-liberalized India is no longer lacking. “Eyah amar notun India, Mitra,” a cousin told me. “Sap bostu pai.>” (Translation: This is our new India, Mitra. You can get everything.)

And then you probe and the list of luxury trickles out: Ziploc bags, Splenda, Tampons, fat-free puddings, salad dressings, stain remover, instant foods like mac and cheese and Hamburger Helper. We stopped eating beef, though, so that one never made it on the list. Not like we really care for any of the other stuff but there's just something about being told you can't have something... It makes you horde it by the dozen.

Our friends and family already in India, a combination of native Indians and expatriate Americans, also mentioned items you can find in India but that are poorer quality: pancake mix, bras, underwear, gym socks, flannel pajamas, fleecewear for kids, diaper wipes. "Buy Naya's clothes for a few seasons," one sister-in-law told me. Another: "Don't buy Naya's clothes there. You can get them cheaper in India." A friend who lived in Delhi last year: "Jeans, just get a bunch of pairs of jeans."

After lifetimes spent lugging items to India from Tang packets to 220-volt microwaves purchased in Queens, Nitin and I racked our brains to figure out what we would need. We made lists, lots of them, in anticipation of our shopping spree. The weeks before Costco, every time I cooked a dish, I’d wonder if the ingredients could be found in India: olive oil, worcestire sauce, lasagna noodles, oregano, vanilla extract, tofu. And I confess, I wondered if I would even be cooking.

The doubts got worse as we wheeled our carts, even their storage shelves underneath stacked, through the aisles and we just kept piling atop the wobbly assortment. We nearly cried when the bill came to $700 and when the cashier raised her eyebrows, Nitin spoke up, "Overseas," he said. "We're moving overseas."

Once home, we put Naya to bed before we brought the stuff in and stacked it in the dining room. Is this what we would miss about America most? Is this what we wanted to be reminded of on the nights that curry wouldn't cut it? Why did we spend $60 on plastic sandwich bags -- ahem, Ziploc -- when I usually buy our year's supply at the dollar store for less than $5? Was moving to India already making us more brand-conscious? More (gasp) bourgeois? Nitin and I looked at each other. "Are we moving to India to eat barbecue sauce and mac and cheese?" We laughed. "I'm getting the video camera out," I said. "This is where our story has to begin."

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