Thursday, February 25, 2010

Supermarkets in Delhi. Do they Exist?

As far as I have checked, there are no proper supermarkets in this city. They are mostly kirana shops and markets, where you buy packaged goods at one shop, lentils and rice at another, fresh vegetables at another and meat at yet another.

I walked into a shop in Khan Market (read - expat oriented) the other week to pick
up some shampoo and I picked up a bottle to check the price (normally printed
under or behind the bottle in India). The shopkeeper called to me and said "Madamji please mat chuiyega, kuch chahiye tho batao, hum denge" (Madam, please don't touch! If you need something, tell me, I will give it to you!)

After 10+ years of picking up products comparing price, weight, brand, manufacturer, fragrance, freshness etc, etc, this was a rude shock.

Then a Delhi veteran, told me that a couple of supermarket chains like Spencers had opened, slightly away from the main markets. I went into one today to stock some basics - bread, milk, eggs, rice, onions, potatoes, oil. It did have trolleys and reasonable space to walk around without bumping into anyone else, so I did my shopping, deciding I would not go back here for either meat or vegetables which did not look fresh enough.

At the check out counter, the cashier asked me for my bags. I asked him "what bags?"
He said - the Delhi Government has prohibited us from using plastic bags, so customers have to bring their own bags! They did not even have an option for me to buy cloth/resuable bags from them (like Carrefour/Spinneys do).

Fortunately my Indian brain was working, I told him to get me one of the packing cartons which manufacturers send their products in. Otherwise I wonder what I would have dropped first if I had attempted to carry it all in my arms.... The eggs, the milk, the bread, the oil?

Then I carefully put everything occupying my hands into my purse, my cell phone, the bill, tissue etc. So as to have both hands free to carry the box. As I took a few steps from the counter to the exit door, the security man at the door who had been observing the entire bagging/boxing issue from the door as I was the only customer in-store, demanded to see my bill!

The ground was definitely not clean, there was no table nearby where I could keep the box, while I freed my hands to search inside my purse for that elusive slip of paper which must have already found its way into the recesses, so I gave him the box and told HIM to hold it while I searched for the bill. Know what? With the box in his hands, he wasn't that interested to look at the bill once I'd found it!

I used to love grocery shopping, but this is bordering on ridiculous! Any other tips from anyone in Delhi are welcome. But, I refuse to shop at Big Bazaar though. Every person on the staff treats you as though you are a shoplifter from the moment you even approach their store!

Looks like my only solution to avoid this madness is to do a weekly run to Gurgaon which is about an hour away from our current location. Tips on your favorite Gurgaon supermarket and address are also very welcome.

Househunting in Delhi

Delhi has been the toughest city for us so far, where house hunting is concerned. (I have moved 13 cities across 4 countries in the last 12 years, and many more residences)

The problem stems from the fact that Delhi does not have any apartment complexes or even apartments. Residential buildings are given permission to build upto a maximum of 3-4 floors and are on small plot sizes. Hence the choices are narrowed to living above or below your landlord in his house or opting for a builder flat.

A builder flat (in Delhi) is where the building has something like a single apartment on each floor and independent entry to each floor via a staircase.

Land prices in South Delhi (we had to stay in this part, because of the location of hubby's office in Okhla) are absolutely crazy. A 300square yard plot costs upwards of 9 crore rupees (that's about 2 million dollars) just for the land. So rentals too are extremely high. Oh, by the way electricity is erratic. Water supply is for 2 hours in the morning (daily if you are lucky, alternate days otherwise), roads are riddled with craters of every size and shape.

Half the roads that do exist are currently shut ostensibly because of construction of the Metro line and beautification of the city in preparation for the Commonwealth games. Robberies are pretty common - which reminds me that we should get insurance against theft for our household belongings.

Before I digress, too far off the point... Yes, finding a house is difficult. We had limited requirements. It had to fit within the company provided budget. It had to be within a 30 minute drive to the husbands office, it had to be reasonably safe (grills on the windows, relatively safer locality), 3 bedrooms, at least 2000sq feet built up area and good sunlight and ventilation. Does not seem too tough does it? But in Delhi, it was.

Problem One: Finding a Relatively Safe Location.
Residential Delhi (other than the parts earmarked for politicians in power) at one time may have been planned, but its pretty haphazard in the current day and age. Unlicensed temples and shops coming up on properties where the land owners have lived away for a couple of years, broken down ramshackle houses under legal dispute turned into dumping grounds, construction debris dumped all over the place, shanties of migrant workers involved in the re-construction of a building a few doors away. In a city like Bombay, these factors did not make me as apprehensive as they do in Delhi.

Problem Two: Something within Budget within 30 mins drive to his Office.
When we first heard the budget we were allotted, we had dreams of Lutyens style bungalows. When we arrived in Delhi, we found it could barely get us a Lutyens designed Chowkidhars kamra (gatekeepers both) Land prices in South Delhi are criminally expensive and hence so are the rents.

Problem Three: At least 2000sq feet.
Most houses within our budget seemed to be falling in properties less than 250 square yards and then the demarcated space in front etc. The houses were tiny. We would have had to rent a separate storage unit for the duration to stock our books and furniture.

Problem Four: Sunlight!
Yes, sunlight is a huge issue in Delhi. Because of the price of land (or whatever other reason) encroachment is seen as a right by property owners. So although there is a government decree which specifies how much space has to exist between buildings, this is flouted most of the time and buildings are constructed right upto the neighbours wall. This results in a house having windows only in the front which faces the approach road and shut in from the other 3 sides.
Encroachment is spoken of extremely matter of factly, like its the weather being discussed. We saw a couple of newly built flats and had owners/estate agents tell us. "Don't worry about storage space. As soon as the inspection is over, we shall enclose this area. It can be a store room. This shaft, we will put a wire mesh, you can use it to dry your clothes" etc etc.

Hence, we ended up surveying over a 100 (yes hundred) houses. We did find a few that we liked, but the owners were not willing to put in security grills at their expense or wanted more money, because someone else had made an offer that was slightly higher than what the owner himself had originally quoted. One house we really liked had damp patches on the wall, that we found at the last moment was seepage from the underground septic tank. Ewwww!

The last 2 months have been an experience!

Now that this phase is over, I hope to have pleasanter experiences in Delhi.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cylinder Blast in New Friends Colony Market

We were eating a late dinner at a restaurant on the 2nd floor - Yum Yum tree - in NFC market, when suddenly around 11pm, there was a loud noise and the glass windows in the restaurant all rattled and there was screaming from below. We were just about done with dinner, so we went down after the initial hulla blew over.

Checked with the paanwala. It was a cylinder blast (not a bomb) at Al Bake on the Ground Floor, at least 4 guys were really badly injured. The entire market was quickly closing down as it was past 11 and the cops who were yet to arrive on the scene would have hassled them for being open.

A lot of crowd had assembled in front of Al Bake, but we avoided that exit and took another one to get to our car and drive back to the guest house.

Its been ages since I've jumped at a loud noise, but yes, the news these days makes you extra fearful.
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