Half way home
Mandeep will have to go without his last name, in fact that’s not his real name at all. And for obvious reasons, I won’t name his store either. It’s generally called the Indian store, but that’s not the name.
Mandeep’s little store – it is little compared to the Giants, the Safeways, the Walmarts and the Costcos – keeps everything from freshly made piping hot pakoras to frozen palak paneer to aloo paranthas.
We found his store on the net by Googling Indian+store+Bethesda. And there he was, just a couple of miles away, ready with solicited and unsolicited advice on where to stay, how to travel and what to do.
We see him once every week, to replenish our stock of frozen food.
Mandeep is from Bihar, and from the badlands of Bihar – Dhanbad, the place of coalmines and coal mafia. He, of course, chose the correct path and is now a success story of a very different kind, from tech tycoons.
He is planning to open two more stores, one in DC – “I get a lot of customers from there – and one in Rockville, neighbouring Bethesda in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC.
Mandeep hasn’t been to India – I wanted to say here “home” but you will know soon why I didn’t – in 30 years. Just doesn’t go there at all. “I have an apartment in Hawaii and another holiday in another place,” he said simply.
The India he left had only two companies making and selling bread — “one came from Calcutta and the other …”
But he remains much the same, untouched in a strange way by his new home.
Well, past is not past it’s paaast (“a” as it figures in apple) and fast is faaast.
But Mandeep – or at least his Indian side, or whatever is left of it – seems caught in a time warp. It’s stuck there where it was 30 years ago. He smiled patronizingly when I told him India now makes more bread than it can sell.
“Some of the Delhi malls are much better than the best I have seen here,” I pressed on, determined to make him see light. “Really? Kya baat kar rahen hain,” he said genuinely puzzled, but not buying.
He has been away from India a long time, and doesn’t seem to care much for its rapidly growing economy or other worldly heights it’s pursuing – he turns on a look mastered over many years of sheer delight and pride.
But he doesn’t seem to care that much.
It’s just so strange – his store is full of everything that an Indian kitchen can hold. Some shelves are packed with CDs and DVDs of Indian films and songs, and one corner holds statues and statuettes of Hindu gods and goddesses.
He even sells Rohu fish for…. sake.