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The small kirana shops, or also called the roadside general stores are a ubiquitous sight on Indian streets. The never aging bhaiyya that sits and runs his shop is a pro at knowing and remembering all his products on display. As a child, I would love to visit the general store for some or the other errand that my mother would have in mind. Honestly, I did not mind at all because visiting the kirana shop was like getting full view access to the Santa Clause’s red sack. Flying from the top would be colorful chips packets, chewy gums, cakes, twisted and turned shaped munchies, triangle shaped munchies, flower shaped munchies, circular shaped munchies, spicy, sweet, salty or all of the above munchies. Phew! I can get tired just mentioning them, so trust me when I say that visiting the shop was never different from finding a present under the bed on Christmas day. With an extra five bucks to spare, I could buy a whole sleigh load of stuff for myself.

Today too I thoroughly enjoy visiting the shop for much of my mature needs. These include rice, dal, papads, bread, eggs, sugar, salt and so on. Phew! Again! It still amazes me to date, on how the still ever young looking bhaiyya manages to squeeze in every essential and non-essential need of an entire neighborhood into one single shop of his. Of course, some kirana shops are lucky and are large and divided into two sections. Yet, they find themselves located centrally on a street that is close to many residential apartments. Surrounding schools also add to the things included on sale and the clamber of children in mornings and afternoons ensures the fluttering confetti of goodies and stationary is never short than excess.

The introduction of large shopping malls, which are a norm in most western countries, where touted as being a doom for these small general stores that thrive locally but at a much smaller scale. There was a lot of debate some time back on how and how much of an effect would large retail stores have on the smaller shops in India. However, that is a thing of the past, because today in any city both the large retail outlets are running along with these smaller general shops.

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The two have found a way to coexist and though there is a definite cut in revenue for each because of the other, they are still managing to hold on their own.

The thing with the local general stores is that they are very much woven into the social fabric of our Indian way of life. Me and many others like me would still prefer to drop into the nearby shop and make some quick purchases rather than stall the transaction and wait for the weekend to go to the nearest retail store. Besides the convenience factor, the kirana shops are much more than mere daily need shopping outlets. The very popular bhaiyya of the store, who probably knows more about your favorite brand of coffee than your childhood friends, will always welcome you and greet you. Will throw in an extra toffee to make up for the deficit in change and will make sure to wave a hello to your little one who is busy deciding on what he needs to carry home as a souvenir of sorts.

And how can we ever repay the kirana man for the innumerable times he has acted as the map man and given directions to endless people who get lost in the maze of lanes and by-lanes. Not to forget, he is the only person I ever go to when I am in dire need of five hundred rupees change.

There are some things that never change and let’s thank God for them. In this case, it is also the government and the sheer will, warmth and hard work of the people to be thanked. The local flavored general stores are an age old outlet in almost all Indian cities and it is a warm sight to find them around till date. Here is hoping that they hang about no matter how big and centralized the retail world ultimately becomes. In this way, we also subtly hope to be connected with those who make our lives easy and never lose touch with the small ways in which life can enlighten us with a much more than only  ration(al) perspective.

The Friendly Neighborhood “‘kirana’ Bhaiyya”

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