• Mohana Prabhakar

The Supermarket Code

Supermarket shopping is a science and requires serious research. Robert Langdon could have just as easily gone on a hunt for the Holy Grail in a hypermarket than in a city. Suspense shrouds the location of many objects, the choices are mind-boggling, the aisles – a cacophony of colour, shapes and textures, and the descriptions above each aisle hopelessly inadequate for what they contain.

My husband, who I will refer to as Senior, recently went to rather extreme lengths to ensure that going to the supermarket becomes my responsibility. In all these decades, it has always been on his to-do list, and I stepped back obediently as he didn’t think I would buy the right stuff when it came to fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, bread… and so on. My contributions were limited to occasional forays when I wanted something specific or just to give Senior company.

We had been away for a few weeks, so of course, the list that I ventured with was really long. I left with my son (Junior), for the heavy lifting, and detailed instructions from Senior regarding where I would find what. I nodded, listened, and nodded again, but when I entered the fluorescent world of our modern day shopping experience, I knew I hadn’t really listened.

I am sure a lot of research has gone into what products should be stocked where, but I prefer to think it’s a fiendish plot hatched by the establishment to keep us in there forever. When I used to go with Senior with the actual shopping list in his custody, it didn’t really bother me because it gave me ample time to buy all sorts of things that I didn’t need and some of which I would never use.

Now Junior and I are nowhere as supermarket- wise as Senior and we tend to get distracted rather easily. The minute we entered and I remembered that vegetables weren’t the first stop at this particular supermarket, a Maybelline eyeliner caught my eye. While I was visualizing my Cleopatra-like eyes, Junior, still on plan, decided to go get the regular cornflakes for himself and Frosties for Senior. Later at home, he realised he had forgotten the Frosties, but had bought a pack of Skittles and, for reasons that are still unclear, a stapler.

Eyeliner done, I was soon reduced to going down each aisle in increasing desperation, doubling back countless times in search of something I had left behind. It didn’t help that I kept spotting off-list items that I didn’t need but felt like buying. Do you know how difficult it is to find salt? It is not to be found where I think it should be, either where sugar is, or with the spices and condiments, and then it’s like I’m playing a game of hide and seek with it. If you also want rock salt, just start the search again. They can’t make it easy and stock it with the regular salt, can they? Just like long life milk will never be stored along with the regular milk.

Finding fabric softener, hand wash and floor cleaner took me inordinate amounts of time until an employee took pity on me and asked me what I was looking for. Junior was of little help in my hide and seek game, and spent significant time amusing himself by taking pictures of and commenting on what he said were inappropriate or silly brand names.

A pack of ‘Harees Split’ evoked a wistful expression on Junior’s face. “Shame! They seemed like such a happy couple, the Harees. If they can’t make it, who can?”, followed by hysterical laughter which then led to my uncontrollable giggling fit. All over a pack of hares (which is broken wheat, by the way).

His other contribution was making comments, beginning with, “Dad would never make a mess of the trolley like we have.” He did have a point when he asked why I had kept the fish on top of the cornflakes and, to his credit, tried to organise a bit. By then our trolley was obscenely full and rearranging it would have meant taking out everything and putting it back.

Two hours later when we finished, I was really thrilled with all the calories I had burnt in pursuit of such a virtuous task. On the way to the car, Junior made a quick stop at Coldstone Creamery to buy his favourite milkshake and was kind enough to share one with me. One deliciously cold and thick Cookies and Cream shake later, the 100 calories I may have lost was replaced by 500 more.

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