Bachi Karkaria's Tales from TJ Road: Of 'cooperative' societies, supply chain sociology, and social distancing

Through this fortnightly column, Tales From TJ Road, Bachi Karkaria tells the story of Mumbai's metromorphosis

Bachi Karkaria August 22, 2020 12:01:47 IST
Bachi Karkaria's Tales from TJ Road: Of 'cooperative' societies, supply chain sociology, and social distancing

When City Shweta Met Farmer Anil

I’m almost sorry that Uddhav-ji’s given us the key. Lockdown uncovered some amazing women. And, no, I’m not referring to the Dalgona Divas who posted show-off videos of every minute of their personal life — the same lot who usually scream ‘Privacy!’ till their eye-lashes came unglued. I’m talking about Helpful Housewives. They emerged across cities but the scope was greatest in the condo ‘n’ clubhouse gated communities which swagger across Mumbai’s old mill lands. ‘Scalability’ is key whether you are producing a vaccine or procuring baingans; that many more flats meant flatter the price curve.

Under Corona’s spell, ‘Cooperative Housing Society’ stopped being an oxymoron; in BC, the apt-er descriptor was ‘un-cooperative HS’. Now, all this enforced togetherness may have broken down marriages but it pucca cemented neighbourliness. Shweta and Anil aren’t examples of the former, but represent the latter.

So here we were locked in, but certainly not locked out from supplies. Shweta had grown up on a farm, so no saag dared sag in her presence. Through her old contacts she hooked up with Anil from Nasik’s veggie-bowl. Ergo, we got the Kareena-Saif duo of logistics, ‘farm to fork’ and ‘contactless’ because the bulk supply was unsorted.

Large gated communities are like cities with not only captive electric supply, but also the other brand of power, politics. Multiple managing committees (MCs) must see ‘aye to aye’ for common concerns. Our Four Horsemen of the Apex galloped to the occasion, but reined in by BMC-diktat. Jail certainly wouldn’t suit the customary white safari of our MC boss, Shri Nivgune.

The farm trucks arrived at Thane, and Anil’s city team took over. Realising that they’d travelled before dawn, our ladies — hamstrung without help themselves — supplied tea and, yes, chutney sandwiches, lunch, mid-morning chhaas, afternoon chai. Large-hearted Pratibha recharged them at 6.30 pm for the journey back — and even plied them with aam ras from her brother’s Palghar orchard.

Women manned the counters, helped out the clueless husbands who came with a list but couldn’t recognise a baingan in its un-bharta-ed state; and ensured no pick-and-choose-dawdling please. When we cribbed about queuing, Phalguni and Deepa lined up Sahyadri Farms with its pre-ordered cartons. Empties were used to pack the thousands of theplas rolled out for the home-bound migrants.

Why didn’t we reach out to our regular TJ Road hawkers? They couldn’t provide the four-ton supply the kisan cohort carted in each week. Congenital hagglers, we blushed when farmers simply shrugged off ten bucks when they didn’t have change.

But we are like that only, no? So the same-same bunch of women gamely volunteered and the rest of us aaraam-sey stayed in our comfort zone, even having to be continuously WhatsApped to ‘please come down, Sky B, it’s your slot.’ And ouff, how to zip the too-much-guvar grade of  grumblers?

We had choices, ghar baith-ke, like we never did in bad old BC. Priyanka organised a van of ITC packaged stuff, someone else Amul’s full dairy range. I lost count of the number of dosa-batter, bakery, farsan groups (also Jain) that were formed. Jyotirmayee kept us in ghee-paneer-white butter; Reena supplied avocado to zucchini; Parth fanciful fruits; Simran sinful cakes.

Oh, some guys chipped in too. Nishie negotiated with our local bania who, along with Sewri’s newfound swag, has metamorphosed from ‘Siddhivinayak Stores’ to ‘White Magic’; Dr Milind a WhatsApp group for the modak-to-Mozzarella cornucopia of Avarya. And Deven set up ‘Banyan City’ aggregating all our suppliers. The army’s having a logistical nightmare over supplies to the LAC? Sir-ji, the Sewri LOCkdown Rangers are at hand.

Did we suffer any guilt for not extending our vegetable supply line to the tenements of TJ Road? Nah! That old social distancing didn’t change, and now it’s legitimised by the new normal, ya.

Read the previous column here.

— Featured illustration courtesy Bhakti Oberoi

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