Till last decade, any Provision store or petty shop in our area would've some or other kids doing all odd jobs. Over a few years time, by the time they are in their late teens, they would've formed their own network of clientèle amongst the regulars and would soon branch out with a store of their own. Those kids, who won over their clients, with their cheerful attitude and going the extra mile in providing service, especially during odd hours and inclement weather, for elderly people, were often known by their name and i've seen in person, many of them grow into big time shop keepers in my area. There was a sense of trust which was easy to build and maintain, the reason for which could well be attributed to the character set of people on either side of the relationship. But at the base of all lay the familiarity factor. Even though those kids were totally unknown to the customers of the shop, with the shop being the only visible, viable link, they spoke the language of the native customers. They looked like their customers and knew when and how to help them and provide service that really added value. It was only natural that they were able to quickly form a bond with them and with support, confidence and courage they soon branched off on their own. It was a thriving environment of positivity that boosted entrepreneurship, without killing of local businesses. When a Mohan stores cropped up on the street next to Perumal stores, it didnt end up wiping off each other. Rather both the stores grew in patronage. They didn't see each other as competitors outwardly at least, as both sold the same goods at almost the same price, give or take a few rupees. Their customer service, their base, their approach, almost were similar. For past few years at least, i rarely see a familiar face in any of the shops i visit.
When i say familiar, i mean in terms of regional and language. For that matter, the so called annachi/naadaar maligai stores have all either vanished or became departmental stores promoting "self service" or have been replaced by "supermarkets". Even though i frequent MORE supermarket in my locality, even though i appreciate the fact that i don't have to wait amongst unruly ladies who never follow queue discipline, always cribbing for more and quick attention to get their things done first, irrespective of where thy stand and when they came, even though i've a more hygienic way of taking the things i would want on my own rather than waiting for some sweat bathed lean teen, slogging since dawn on a cramped area, juggling to pack all and sundry, even though i could enjoy the benefit of switching between multiple cash counters rather than getting mobbed near one kalla petti where the owner would be sitting and would count cash in no hurry, chatting away to glory, some how the supermarket-self service mode feels all monotonous and artificial, devoid of any charm. There is hardly any connect with the owner for there is no single person who owns the store. There is no annachi or naadaar who sits on the kalla petti and provide information on the happenings of the locality, right from which house will become vacant when to who is getting married to whom. Some how they had the pulse, not just the grains, on what's happening on the locality, sitting at the same place, all the time.
As a kid i was always fascinated by that thread bundle, hanging from the shop's ceiling, which would spin like a top when they tie up the parcels and the mastery with which any provisional item would be packed neatly into a conical paper cup. Probably the Annachi stores ensured environmental safety as well in this manner of packaging effectively and efficiently without any involvement of plastic. At times, I even found many rare coins on the rice mootais that would form the wall in front of the store while playing fort in them, that form part of my coin collection. And my dad used to tell me, as a kid when he used to carry me to the store, annachi would give dry fruits in small pottalams for me to munch for free. Needless to say, he would've factored in the cost in some other form on the items we bought. But the goodwill it sowed was priceless. With the advent of supermarket and hypermarkets the shops have grown bigger in size but lost are those precious person to person interaction. End of the day, we all want a convenient way to shop, yet wouldn't mind the occasional chat with a friendly owner. Subconsciously it gave a sense of confidence to start business on own and probably none of those kadai owners were MBA grads either. They were role models and idols for those who were not so keen on studies yet were industrious and street smart. Blame it on big corps or bigger profits, we've made extinct what was uniquely our own way to encourage entrepreneurship. No point in spending crores on studies and starve for a start up idea when it was dying right under your nose.