Grocery Shopping and Fish Markets: Weekly Rituals With My Father

I moved to Delhi in 2016. This essay describes a time before that when I lived in Mumbai and my father used to work long weekdays. A quiet, unassuming man, he has a narrow range of interests that he pursues passionately – so our conversations have always been more often than not about cricket, music and food, among other things.

Weekends were when I spent long hours with him, and going to the market was a valued aspect of our shared experiences – something that was not dulled by routine, but in fact anticipated because of it.

The first Saturday of every month, my father and I would go to the local supermarket in Hiranandani, Powai. Like clockwork, we left the house at 10 am with our designated cloth bags. We entered the air-conditioned consumer haven with a familiar, honed sense of purpose.

My father and I both favour practicality and efficiency and our navigation through the supermarket was always like a choreographed dance duet perfected with practice. We disagreed with the way the aisles were arranged and so did not follow the obvious zig-zag route – the seasoned shoppers that we were.

There were two variables, however, that threatened to undermine our mode of operation. First, there was the queue at the cash counter – which is a true test of man’s patience and resolve, known to bring even the mightiest of warriors to their knees. The second problem arose when my brother, on rare occasions, decided to join us. His chaotic, borderline anarchic shopping style disrupted our harmonious jugalbandi, but one must make sacrifices for familial love.

Also read: The New Norm for Buying Groceries

Sundays, quite characteristically, were more relaxed. Every week, without fail, my father and I went to the IIT Powai fish market. Unlike the calculated, war-like tactics we used to negotiate the supermarket, we had a more free-flowing, intuitive approach with the fish market.

Even now, despite being several hundred kilometres away, my memories associated with the fish market are synaesthetic. The noises, smells, sights and tactile sensations are entirely overwhelming, no matter how familiar, but it is the kind of overwhelming experience you welcome. We bought prawns, surmai, and pomfret as a matter of rule, occasionally adding squid, clams and crab to the menu on particularly special days.

The fish market allowed me a sense of freedom that is characteristic of a place like Mumbai. I don’t mean to get emotional about fish, but I felt safe in that market surrounded by people who loved seafood and routine as much as my father and I did. None of the vendors knew me, and I didn’t know them, but they were known strangers whom I trusted to properly devein my prawns – and that was a relationship as valuable as any.

My father and I perused the market in silence, a silence that was comfortably permitted by the commotion of our surroundings, punctured only occasionally to slip in an anecdote or two from my father’s childhood spent in rural Maharashtra.

My father and I have not been to the market in four years. We found someone to deliver fresh seafood to our doorstep, my mother took over grocery shopping on her way back from work as a matter of convenience, and my moving to Delhi sealed the deal.

It’s funny (read: sad) to think about how something so small can be as significant as it was, since I’m still thinking about it all these years later. My relationship with my father, for better or for worse, has remained unchanged, but times are different now and I know that I can revisit the market with him only in my daydreams.

Ananya Redkar is a student of Sociology.

Featured image credit: Duangphorn Wiriya/Unsplash