A grocer's life

Russia and India are very different countries in every which way: territory, climate, population, religion and popular culture… And yet, are these differences really so important for people of the same profession? We are continuing our series of “Double Portraits” to investigate, and here are the next two characters: Irina and Arun Arora.

Name: Irina

Age: 36

Marital Status: Married

Education: Secondary

Name: Arun Arora

Age: 33

Marital Status: Married

Education: Graduate

The little shop where Irina works is two hundred metres away from the Belorusskiy railway station in Moscow. One of Moscow’s main streets, Tverskaya Street goes through a crossroads here. Nevertheless Irina’s shop is not exactly lively in terms of trade. One reason for this is the abundance of other shops competing for customers. The other factor is the type of people who generally live and work here; they prefer to shop at supermarkets, which are also seen in huge numbers in this part of town.  Irina tried working in supermarkets but she says it is not as good as being a shopkeeper in private shops, it is less well-paid, she says.  She first worked behind a shop counter 12 years ago, selling ice-cream. Now she is working at a grocery store, but, as soon as her daughter finishes her studies at a private college, Irina wants to go back to the small town where she was born. Work is generally hard to find there. But this is where her home is, her parents live in this town, and this is where she wants to live.  

Managing a grocery shop in the heart of Lajpat Nagar, the sprawling market in South Delhi that caters to every taste, is not an easy thing. Be it blistering hot or freezing cold, this is one market in Delhi that is forever buzzing with excited shoppers. The 33-year-old Arun Arora owns New Vijay Store, a grocery shop started by his father, which he is now managing with a lot of dedication and flair. He does not seem to be too happy with his present business as he feels there are bigger opportunities in more lucrative businesses like real estate and construction. However, he believes in doing his business as best as he can. A second-generation businessman, one can spot Arora in his shop tapping his laptop, handling internet orders when there are not enough customers in the shop. He is curious about the kind of life grocers lead in countries like Russia, but feels it can’t be fundamentally different.


When you were a kid, what did you want to be? Are you doing what you thought you would be doing?

To be honest with you I don’t remember what I wanted to be when I was a child. Or perhaps I didn’t even think about it. My first ever job was not one I chose, my husband arranged for me to work behind an ice-cream counter owned by his friend. So I became a seller. After I divorced from my husband I had to find a new job. 

I always wanted to be a businessman or an architect. My passion was for buildings. I wanted to create buildings and residential apartments. I am a grocer. It’s a good business to be, but it’s not what I wanted to do when I was a kid.


Is it your own business or are you an employee? How did you start this business?

I started working in this shop just six weeks ago. The shop I worked in previously was going to be taken down. And I just walked down the street near the station asking whether anyone was taking on staff. The owner of this grocery was looking for a someone to serve customers.

I inherited the business from my father. I was barely 20 when I started running the shop, with guidance and help from my father. Now I own this shop. I employ around 10-12 people.


Where do you procure goods/merchandise from?

Every morning my boss goes to a wholesale market, buys the goods and brings them back to our shop in his small pick-up truck. Where we are there’s no high demand for a particular product, everyone buys just a little, and so we need to get small quantities of supplies every day.

I buy them directly from companies who make these goods like cooking oil, rice, wheat, spices et cetera. There are hundreds of companies making these grocery items. I choose them with care as I like to give my customers variety as well as reasonable price.


What’s your daily schedule like?

The shop is open from eight in the morning until ten at night, so my working day is 14 hours long. Sunday is a day off, but then I still have to work on public holidays. I am given half an hour off for lunch, but I basically never shut the shop over my lunch break; I don’t want to miss any potential customers, because my earnings are on commission. I try to eat in the gaps when there is no one in the shop. I bring my lunch with me from home; my husband makes it, as I don’t have time – I come home after 11 at night, and then I have to get up at seven to go and open shop. 

I open my shop around 10 a.m. I perform prayers at my shop after opening it. I work for almost 12 hours. Of course, I have assistants to help me out. It’s now summer, burning hot. However, I get customers almost the entire day. I sometimes go home for lunch. Otherwise, if there are many customers in the shop, I order lunch from a nearby restaurant. I am a vegetarian. It’s a simple meal I have for lunch: Dal, chapatti, curd and vegetables. I normally close the shop at 10 pm.


Do you have family? How do you spend your free time?

Before the marrige Shekar's passion to travel has taken him to different parts of the country like Srisailam, Bider, Nanded, Tirupati and Kerala. He hesitantly admits that once his responsibilities increased his explorations have reduced. The young hidden Shekar comes out for a split second when he sheepishly admits that his only indulgence is a small drink otherwise its just the TV or watching a movie with his daughter and wife. With hope in his eyes he immediately shares that he would soon want to go for a pilgrimage to visit the Golden Temple and the Vaishnavi Devi Mandir. 

Yes, of course. There are five of us: myself, my wife and three kids. The oldest is 24 and the youngest is 9. I like to go to the country with my family. I like being invited by friends to visit their dachas with their families. We sit and eat barbecues, relax, drink wine and talk in the fresh air… That’s how I spend my free time. I don’t like going to night clubs: I am past the age and my finances wouldn’t allow me to. In general I think it’s a waste of time.


What are the busiest days/hrs.?

Customers mostly come from morning to 2 p.m., and then in the evening between 6 and 9 p.m. 

For me, the busiest hours are 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

What do you do when there are no customers around?

When I’m not serving customers I tidy up the shop, and stock the shelves. Sometimes I have time to read the paper, I like “Zhizn’”. And I also like to read romantic novels. But books are a bit harder to read at work – you’ve just got into the story, then a customer comes in.Booking orders from the internet. Or, organise home delivery of rations. I get lots of orders over the phone, and I employ many delivery boys to ensure prompt and smooth service. If I have time, I also read up on the latest news. 


Do you take home food you are selling?

I can get things from here at the purchase price, i.e. with a 40% discount. But I don’t do this, as it’s too difficult to lug it all home on the metro. Moreover my husband loves doing the shopping. He buys everything in the shop next to where we live. 

Yes. Like everybody else, my family, too, needs daily grocery. If you have your own shop, there is really no need to go anywhere else to buy. 

Do you have a family? How do you spend your free time?

I have a daughter from my first marriage. She is studying at college in Tver. I work in Moscow to pay for her education. My family are from a town near Tver, so when I have time off I go home to visit my parents and on the way I’ll stop of in Tver to see my daughter. And on Sundays I don’t do anything apart from odd jobs round the house, I just don’t have the energy for anything after a week at work.

Yes, I have a small family. I have two children. My parents also stay with us. I like to spend time with my family. There are times when I go and visit some friends. Since my business involves long hours, I also try to get some sleep whenever I can.


Are you satisfied with your life? Given a chance, what would you do change?

Well I’d probably stay in my role as a shopkeeper, but I might just change the hours a bit to give myself more free time, but I’d earn the same wage. I once thought about studying to become a shop manager, but it never worked out. And my daughter started studying marketing management, but then she changed her mind and now she’s studying tourism management.

I would love to join the construction business. This is something I always wanted to do ever since I was a small boy. I don’t think anyone is really satisfied 100 per cent with his life. It’s not bad though. I make decent money, and my family is very supportive.


What do you know about India? Have you ever been to India?

About India?? I don’t know anything! Have you been there?  Tell me about it! What’s life like there? Is life in India better or worse? Are they poorer or richer than us? I used to watch old black and white Indian films, and they always showed a lot of poor people. But I don’t think there’s more poverty in India than there is in Russia. 

No, I have not been to Russia. But I have some friends who have been there. They tell me it’s a beautiful place. The weather is very cold there. Russians are warm and friendly people. The cost of living in Russia is quite high. Medicine and grocery items, I’m told, are quite expensive.


What’s your most cherished dream?

I want to go back home! I’ve had enough of it here in Moscow… 

To be happy in life! What more can one want from life?

Double Portraits: Earning money for meals on wheels

Double Portraits: Dental care 

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