Once upon a time, ‘society’ shopping on Sunday

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.

Also read: Namma Nafisa owes it all to Nanjangud hallupudi

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19 Responses to “Once upon a time, ‘society’ shopping on Sunday”

  1. satish Says:

    Ah !!! Memories re-visited .A normal scene from most of the brahmin families .Awesome .

  2. Karthik Says:

    Wonderful. It was very nostalgic.

  3. sarvagna Says:

    MR ERR,even today my father asks the shop keeper in Shivrampet Mysore for “HARUVA KUDURE AMBAL NESHYA”Two tolas and he promptly says yes gives UMBRELLA brand 25 grams,as he measures and packs my father gets Chitki Neshya to check its quality.Both the shop keeper and father enjoy this process.
    Any way “Tobacco in any form in injurious to health”.

  4. Anil Says:

    fantastic article

  5. ravi Says:

    daalchinni , shika kayi – bereke bhaashe mathadak haththeerenu

  6. Dr KRS Murthy Says:

    ಮತ್ತೆ ಮತ್ತೆ ಉಣ್ಣುವ ತಿನಿಸು
    ಡಾಕ್ಟರ್ ಕೆ. ಆರ್. ಎಸ್. ಮೂರ್ತಿ

    ಹಳೆಯ ಕನಸುಗಳಿಗೆ
    ಮೈಲಿಗೆ ಎಂದರೇನು?

    ಎಷ್ಟು ಮೆಲುಕು ಹಾಕಿದರೂ
    ರುಚಿ ಮಾತ್ರ ಹೊಸದೇ!

    ಮತ್ತೆ ಮತ್ತೆ ಜಗಿದರೂ
    ಬಾಡದ ಎಳೆ ಕೇಸರ

    ಹೀರಿದಷ್ಟೂ ಹಿರಿದಾಗುವ
    ಜೊನ್ನ ಜೇನಿನ ಅಮೃತ

    ಕಡಿವಾಣವಿಲ್ಲದ ಹಳೆಯ
    ಕನಸುಗಳು ಓಡಿದ ಎಡೆಯಲ್ಲೆಲ್ಲ
    ಕುಣಿದಾಡಿ ಅಲೆದಾಡಲಿ, ಬಿಟ್ಟು ಬಿಡು

    ಕನಸು ಮತ್ತೆ ಮತ್ತೆ ಉಣ್ಣುವ ತಿನಿಸು

  7. FirstReality Says:

    ah, it was like a bad dream.

  8. V Says:

    Enjoyed it, very well written…I hated going to ration angadi…

  9. nagaraj1954 Says:

    xllent nostalgia i can smell coffee powder/shkakai and the worn out ration card which we tried to make it presentable enclosing with card board .
    yes life was smooth and no complaints

    very nice to get back those moments and this write up takes us to the golden era

  10. Satya Says:

    Enjoyed every bit of your humour mixed nostalgic travel, Mr.ERR. I was one of those lucky ones who was a victim of all the tortures you have narrated, minus the Sunday morning show to boot.

  11. sanjeeva Says:

    Good nostalgia. The so called slick, modern malls resemble fish market during weekends and on other days, our required brand will not be available. I would even now prefer nearby kaka angadi or shetti angadi, where apart from purchasing you can chit chat with the shopkeeper about politics, cricket, mismanagement of the country etc. and know the people’s moods and opinions!

  12. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Yentha maathu, Sanjeeva. Nee ration boardu iruva bussanu hatthibandha….

  13. krishnamurthy Says:

    it really brought back my memories when i was a school student when we used to go to the Nyaya bele Angadi, to get at least Sugar and other stuff , as I was not even aware of cooperative societies which never existed in My Kugrama( Kolur -Gururayapur), I still remember My father asking us to get Snuff (neshya) kode mark from city market , and if by any chance forgotten, the punishment is to walk another 3 miles back to Ramohally from where we were staying to visit my dad’s friends place ( Madhava rao fondly called Maddurao) to borrow one dabbi of neshya so that My dad was not deprived of the chata!!! which ultimately he quit !!! indeed it brings back to those difficult yet enjoyable and glorious past time when at least I used to shop a KG of sugar for Rs 1.90 paise !!! indeed we had peace of my mind even-though we did not had enough of wealth to spend ??? regards krishnamurthy Ramohally

  14. Faldo Says:

    ERR – nice article bringing back grocery shopping memories of a bygone era. Back then a trip to the neighborhood kaka angadi or ration shop was not always an easy experience for growing up children. For starters, there would be long lines for sugar or seeme enne. Sometimes there were policemen to ensure that things did not get unruly.
    Having to deal with so many customers, would make shopkeepers irritable. They would be unsparing with kids who did not grip their bags properly while the grains were being poured or if they spilled anything – ‘Tengin marada thara beldhidya, sariyagi hidkolokke barolva’ or ‘Yaakadru barthira nammangadige’.
    One also had to keep a hawk’s eye on the measuring weights and make sure there was no hanky panky. There would be no respite at home either, as adults would feel that something or the other from the list was missing or was of lesser quantity.
    There were also small rewards when kindly shopkeepers would hand out free chocolates or when a trip to the ration shop was preferable to another backbreaking chore at home. These shopping trips would also often serve as our first practical educational experience where we learnt a little bit of economics, accounts and negotiating skills among other things.

  15. babuds Says:

    Dear ERR, thanks for the article, which was a trip down the memory lane. I remembered going to the dingy ration shop for getting the sugar and rice. The Sunday Castor oil dose was replaced by ‘Fargolax’ in my case. We used to see ‘Dhara sing’ and King-kong movies in morning shows on some Sundays, with occasional English ones like ‘perils of Nayoka’ or “13 Ghosts” with so called 3-D spects, made of paper and rubber band, handed along with the ticket. I also remembered bringing ‘Passing Show’ and National cigarettes for my dad in the corner shop. I also remembered our group of boys collecting old articles for making bonfire for kamanna Habba, chanting “Aa saari Kaamanna angayito…” etc, and the accompanying rivalry with boys from other streets in celebrating Kamanna Habba. The Ganesh pandals is a recent phenomenon unseen in those days, for us it was the kaamanna. I dont see the Kaamanna habba anywhere now.

  16. Vandana Says:

    Very well written. Those were the days, like they say!!

    Everythingw as rationed and hence people never over spent and stayed within their means unlike today where EMI nightmares happen if your steady income were to go kaput!!

    Anyway, everytime I pass by Sahakari or whatever form it is in, the nostalgia creeps in. Great article.


  17. M Says:

    The story brings ‘fond’ memories for many because this system thought inefficient kept people frugal. Once a month shopping as opposed to twice a week. Today you go down to fetch a kilo of ‘bele’ and comeback with a packs of pastries, biscuits, chocolate bars etc……….. Rs25/- for the ‘bele’ and Rs200 for the unplanned stuff.

    One main problem with this system and a punishment for the children was the regular visit to the shop to enquire if the ‘stock’ had arrived. These unscrupulous shopkeepers ensured that commodities like sugar and kerosene were always out of stock. The local kerosene que would be longer than the one at Tirupathi. All our lives revolved around checking for ‘stock’ arrival and standing in the que to ensure that our ‘quota’ was pilfered with.

    Today things have changed so much that we are now into’ dieting’, pedaling bicycles that goes no where, running on tracks that leads to no where, climbing on stairs that opens into nothing. By the way since last 2 days I’ve struggling to jog earlier in the morning . My mother arrived 3 days ago for a month long visit and the first thing she commented was on my girth. Looks like the age mothers sending their children on a ‘run’ hasn’t stopped but has only changed form.

  18. Dinakar Says:

    Nostalgic. Good. More – other than shopping:

    Castor oil purgative – no two persons to be administered the same day – one toilet per home!

    Packing of provisions – sometimes, the paper cone tore and spilled the contents into the bag.

    Barber visiting home – males would get a haircut outside the house.

    Kitchen – Items stored in rusty tin cans with lids – they would tap the lid to close it securely. Dalda Tins were common, Ovaltine….

    Uppinkai Jaadi – mass storage – small jaadi for daily serving.

    If bought items were more, a tonga gaadi would be hired.

    Kerosene oil – They were supplied on the streets also – bullock cart carrying two horizontally placed barrels with tap fitted at the back – the seller would go along tapping the barrel with the spanner which he used as the handle for the tap -the price of kerosene painted on the barrel.

    Small provision stores served the urgent needs – youngsters would be sent on an errand esp. when there was sudden shortage of an item.

    Believe me, there was no word ‘shopping’ in that era!!

    Soudhe – I can’t remember it being supplied in the ‘society’, but we bought it from a nearby ‘soudhe depot’ and it was weighed in ‘maNa’. I did not know how much it was.

    Biscuits – Only glucos was popular (1960s) and it came in wax coated paper. We had to shake out or blow out pieces of wax from the biscuits before we ate.

    Peppermints – They also were wrapped in paper and not ‘plastic’. If the batch was old, the paper would stick to the item and it was impossible to remove it! Curse! Nimbe HuLi was so ‘flavoursome’! ShunTi peppermint was so pungent! Shops kept them in glass bottles to attract children. Coloured confectionery also were on display. Chewing gums had not made its way (1960s) much.

    Usually, peppermints or some kharada kaLLekai or some avalakki puri would be bought along with the monthly provisions and this attracted us youngsters and so it was a great day for us.

  19. Suma Manae Says:

    Reminds me of good old days in Rajajinagar Bangalore

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