There is no reason why grocery shopping should be seen as an ordeal. As a matter of fact, many among us take pleasure in walking through the busy, dirty and smelly passageways in search of fresh vegetables, fish and meat.
It's a 'dirty' pleasure handed down across generations, with the art of haggling, the smartness for evading numerous deceptions and an eye for recognising fresh or good quality food being of paramount importance.
These are skills that I have apparently not gained. But there I was, with one hand inside my pocket, crumpling the grocery list, thinking nervously on how to pull off doing grocery for Ramadan.
Many of us finish off grocery shopping for an entire month in one go, and this pattern is even more evident in Ramadan. “I go to the groceries every week; but in Ramadan, I do not feel like going through this strenuous and time consuming activity often,” Nilufar Parveen, a housewife and children of two, said. “Hence, especially for Ramadan, I will always do most of the grocery shopping in one go.”
And she is not the only one. Therefore, from about the time of Shab-e-Barat, the kitchen markets bustle with people. Sellers spend a busy time to get their share of the hype. Buyers haggle around in the aim of not going home without a good deal.
Vegetables are splashed with water every now and then; fish are kept dipped in buckets of melting ice; chickens are set aside cooped together in staggering numbers. And then there is the 'daripalla' (beam balance).
Among all that there are the buyers trying to get your attention. “Ei je bhaiya edike,” one called out. “Ashen boss ki lagbe,” said another.
These sights and sounds are quite common all throughout the year. But pre-Ramadan and during Ramadan, the activities increase manifold
Chicken, green chillies, cucumber, eggplants are some of the many commodities that usually see a price hike during Ramadan. “Inflation and Ramadan go hand in hand,” Mohsin Emdad, a buyer hailing from Rampura opined.
Price stability has a tendency to go out the window just before and during this month. 'Bazaar e Agun', a common newspaper line we have read many times, translate to 'market on fire', metaphorically referring to the rise in prices of commodities in the kitchen markets.
So, how much fire did the market catch this time? “Prices of many items that are heavily used for iftar, have gone up,” informed Sattar Reajat, a service holder. “However, the rise in prices is relatively less compared to that of some years gone by. We have seen worse”, he said with a grin.
Prices of vegetables had gone up because of inadequate supply due to rainfall, many traders have argued.
The government has been breaking sweat trying to keep prices sane. Export of some vegetables have been banned.
Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) has assured supply of essential commodities to keep prices affordable for common people.
The economics of Ramadan is an interesting one. It can be debated that the very fear of inflation itself can cause inflation. Around a month before Ramadan, many people start to buy grocery items beforehand and in bulk, so that they do not have to face the price hike. But this activity itself provides a hike in the overall demand, resulting in increasing prices.
But when you are talking about Ramadan, it is obvious that sooner or later the demand for many food items will surge. The capitalist in me tries to perceive it casually. Leave it to the 'invisible hand' (the natural force that guides a free market through competition for scarce resources), the demand-supply dynamics and the self-interest of different parties trying to maximise their own benefit.
However, we must also think of the common people and their affordability. Hence the government intervenes. Without government intervention, things might have been worse.
What do you say about the unscrupulous businessmen, who apply formalin and other harmful chemicals to fish, fruits, etc? This is a Ramadan that has overlapped with the season of some of the favourite fruits, such as mango. But illegal usage of preservatives has made many people avoid these foods to a certain extent.
Syed Mamun, another service holder said, “Like many in our country, mango is my favourite fruit. Due to the malpractices of adding formalin, I have decided to forego eating mangoes in iftar, a meal which otherwise would have seen a lot of dishes featuring mangoes, given its refreshing taste.”
A kitchen market is a tricky and a confusing place. It is one where you have to actively be aware of not getting deceived in terms of price and hygiene and health. It is also a place where you feel happy and excited, with all the good, natural and delicious things you can pick.
Supermarkets on the other hand, provide another set of benefits. Nusrat Jahan, a medical student, always prefers a superstore over traditional kitchen markets. “I do not have time for haggling, and the dirty pathways and the lack of trust towards the sellers are big turn-offs,” she said.
Nowadays, you pull carts through neat passages and check things off your grocery list in the comfort of air conditioner and background music.
Not me; I like to 'get my hands dirty'. The charm of traditional wet markets – especially in Ramadan when the market becomes much glorified -- is unparalleled.
After a few hours of intense grocery shopping, I finally dragged my heavy grocery bags out of the bazaar, happy and content.