This is going to sound obvious, but there’s a lot to get used to about living in India. More than I expected. There’s the relentless noise, men sleeping in neat rows on the street, and soul-crushing traffic.
I can get used to these things. Maybe. But other, more surprising aspects of Mumbai will be harder to incorporate into my life.
Take the delivery man, for example. Having lived most of my life in the US, I’m used to doing things for myself. Here, in India, I’ve tried to do the same.
I run my own errands, which consist of walking 15 minutes to the nearest pet store for cat litter, picking up milk, searching out fresh eggs (Hindu vegetarians don’t eat eggs, so many corner shops don’t sell them), peanut butter and bottled water.
At the pet store, they see me load big bags of food and cat litter into a cab and the owner tells me, “Take this card. Call me, I’ll send my boy.”
But I like to see what I’m purchasing. To touch the packaging, read the list of ingredients.
My expat friends who’ve spent more than a year here all shake their heads. “You’ll go crazy if you spend your time on that. Take advantage of what India has to offer.”
There are many things that living in a low-wage economy “offers”: Drivers, nannies, cooks, house cleaners, night nurses for newborns.
And the ubiquitous delivery man.Many people I’ve met (Indians and expats alike) don’t go to grocery stores themselves. They call the neighborhood kirana, tell them what they want, and like magic, the food arrives at their door. If they don’t like the look of a certain item, they tell them to return it.
It’s not just the corner stores that want to accommodate customers.
For a minimum order of $3, McDonalds will deliver. (A Chicken Maharaja Mac, with double chicken patties costs roughly $2. ) Some ice cream shops will deliver a single scoop to your house. 24-hour pharmacies will bring Valium or Viagra any time of day (you still need a prescription.) Video stores (they still exist here) will read you reviews over the phone, make recommendations, deliver and retrieve the film when you’re done.
Then there are the at-home services. I’ve wanted to join a gym, but multiple people have suggested I hire a personal trainer and yoga instructor to come to my house. And let’s say I want to know my cholesterol levels or X-ray my foot, I could make a call and a technician would come to my house and courier the results back to me when they’re ready.
Economists in the US have argued that India needs Wal-Mart to drive prices down and bring efficiency to the market. (The American discount chain plans to open its first retail stores here in two years.) Activists took to the streets in some cities worried the American giant would displace mom-and-pop stores.
My Mumbaikar friends laugh at this. Unless Wal-Mart is willing to deliver, they can’t see the American chain making headway in this city. I can see their point. Even if I can’t get used to ordering in, the thought of driving to the outskirts of a mega-city like Mumbai just to save some rupees on lentils and rice doesn’t make sense.