Courier service to abroad is booming as costs are affordable and packets are delivered at the destinations within days.
The answer is quite simple. In the past, one had to rigorously track and find a person who is flying from India. Casual conversations would turn out to be detective work – like marking the calendar with the travel dates of friends and neighbours. And then ask the favour, without even a hint of hesitation, to carry few kilos of the Indian specialties. This, of course, comes with a promise to return the same favour for them. There were rollercoaster rides in the relationships with friends and acquaintances because of these often embarrassing occurrences. But that would not deter one to ask for these special favours time and again considering the need to satiate the taste buds.
Those not good at maintaining relationship did not have the luxury of enjoying these favours.
For most of us, every trip back to the US from home involved stuffing the two boxes of 23 kg – the maximum allowed by the airline and Customs – with spice powders, snacks and cooking utensils. It required a lot of planning, but still remained a big ordeal during the luggage packing time on the last day of vacation.
At the airports, people walking in with excess baggage and plonking them on weighing scales was a common sight. The anxiety felt while checking the weight was akin to checking the results of a competitive exam. Which packet to remove was a million-dollar question – after all, papads were as important as homemade crunchy murukkus.
But all that has changed today, thanks to the efficient and affordable courier services that are turning out to be a booming business.
There are many operators, including small-time courier services, but the one most popular among immigrants and their parents is GarudaVega. It is the parents living back in India who are happier to use these services and send the homemade spice powders, pickles, papads, sweets and savories. “We get the products ready and call GarudaVega. They come home, pack the items and send it to my daughters living in New Jersey and Texas. It is so satisfying for us parents to ship these periodically,” says Ramalingam R, a Chennai resident.
Shipping costs are affordable and packets are delivered at the destinations in the US within five to six days. “Gifting beautiful Indian sarees during the Navaratri season was made possible due to these courier services. The airlines are consistently reducing the baggage allowance every year, so these services are extremely helpful in bringing all special things we need from India,” says Thara Skrikanth, a New Jersey resident.
“Many reliable independent courier services have started operating now, making it easy to call and get the parcel moved to the US. For my granddaughter who is learning Bharathanatyam, we sent all the dress and costumes through courier which reached safely in a week. Homoeopathy and ayurvedic medicines are being shipped to the US so easily, in no time,” adds Rajalakshmi Sivakumar, a resident of Chennai.
Another factor that is helping the kitchens of Indian families is the sprouting of desi grocery stores. Fifteen years ago, even basic Indian groceries like pulses or tamarind were difficult to find shelf space in common shops, and if they were available, they were expensive. People had to bring them in small quantities when visiting India and use sparingly, treating them like precious commodities. But not anymore. Those living in Indian-dominated states such as New Jersey, California or Texas have desi grocery stores in the neighbourhood that stock all such items.
It is the connection and bonding that is experienced through sending these seemingly small things that speak loud. For people who dream to come to the US, the process of finding the right education and employment that land them on the foreign soil itself is a long journey. But at the end of this road, little joys in life, like licking a spicy pickle that one’s mom prepared, make all the difference. A salute to the business acumen that has transformed the ways immigrants are able to enjoy, savour and rejoice the small yet bigger aspirations of life.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York