Long, long ago, back in the good old days, when the future was bright and terrorists weren’t blowing things up whenever they felt like it, Ye Olde Aunties and Uncles would regally alight from their much-delayed Air India plane and spread their capitalist bounty amongst their poor, socialist brethren. Their grateful family members would take anything that was offered – cooking chocolate might well have been the finest Godiva, nth-tier whisky was truly the water of life, and t-shirts made in Bangladesh but bought with dollars were a fashion statement.
Alas, those days are long gone. Now when the other half of your family comes on their annual visit Home on one of the multiple daily flights that zoom in and out of your city, they have no idea what to get you.
A Mars bar? Daddy is so sick of it, beta. The local supermarket is overflowing with it. A bottle of fine champagne? But Didi gets better stuff than that for half the price these days. You just have to know where to go. Look, Calvin Klein jeans! Except Munna says Diesel or die. Appearances are so important these days. Liquid handwash, sale bought lingerie, drugstore make up, dollar store chocolate – where’s the love these days?
When the Auntie from Abroad asks “What would you like?” these days, she’s more likely to hear her formerly grateful relative dismiss her kind offer to lug a trunk full of everyday goodies with an airy “Oh, we get everything here these days.”
But is that true? Here are five things I still can’t get in India:
5. Bacon – You can get it in India. I just wouldn’t eat it. Well, there was this one place in Delhi from which I’d trust it, but my mother wouldn’t let me cook it at home anyway. Someday I’ll be able to buy bacon in India that wasn’t imported from some swish European deli that sells it at the price of gold… and my mother will actually let me cook it and eat it in peace.
4. Mac and cheese – I will never understand this. A nation full of mothers who see no harm at all in bringing up the apples of their eye on a steady diet of Maggi noodles… and not a single box of mac and cheese to be found anywhere? Where is the Kraft Tasty Tamatar Mac n Cheese? Annie’s Organic Maa ka Masala Mac n Cheese? Why must I make it from scratch every time and be forced to listen to my mother hiss: “That much cheese? With that much milk? And butter too? Hmmmmmmm.” You sent me to school with parathas smeared with Kissan mixed fruit jam!* What did you think would happen to me?
3. Loofahs – Yes you can get a loofah in India – substandard ones made with what feels like recycled plastic. China’s just next door, cheapos! Import the good stuff! Here’s an actual conversation I once had with a saleslady at a large supermarket (granted this was several years ago, but still):
Me: Hi, I’m looking for the loofahs. I can’t find them.
Me: Loofahs? Things to scrub your body with?
Me: Sometimes they come free with shower gels but I can’t seem to find those either.
SL: *blink* Shower gel?
Me: Bodywash? I want the funny plastic wire thing that comes free with them.
SL: *blink* We don’t have that bodywash.
Me: I know. That’s what I said. But I don’t want shower gel. Bodywash. I want a loofah. That scrub for your body. (Make scrubbing motions)
SL: Oh, we don’t have those.
Me: At all?
SL: We have the Ayurvedic one.
Me: There’s an Ayurvedic one?
SL: It’s a fast moving item.
Me: Great! Where is it?
She rummages somewhere in the dust at the back and comes out with a PVC pipe with a coconut husk wrapped on one end. Ladies and Gentlemen: the Ayurvedic Loofah! It won’t just take off your dirt, it’ll take off your skin with it. Problem solved at the root!
2. V-necked t-shirt – I guess only sluts wear outrageous designs like V-necks. Nice, decent Indian women wear round necked Ts that hit them halfway up the windpipe, fitting snugly against your throat like a noose. Not even men are allowed to wear them apparently. India is a round neck nation. With pinheads going by the teeny tiny opening of those ts. And giant shoulders.
1. Cheeseburger – Holy mother of God. Not one that’s made with lamb or chicken or potatoes or the cow that was grazing in the rubbish heap outside the kitchen five minutes ago. And not served heaped with a variety of useless condiments designed to cleverly disguise the original taste of benighted thing. The day I find such a thing… well, I’ll make sure not to tell my mother, first thing. It’d probably be my favorite joint and I wouldn’t want her to spit in its direction every time she passed by.
* Highly recommended. Especially when hot, with just a dab of butter. Yum. Also works with puris but you can skip the butter in that case.