Each morning I make a conscious effort to listen to one of the Sikh prayers, the Japji Sahib, which was composed by the founder of Sikhism, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Aside from the calm I feel after listening to it, I am on the journey to understand it so that I may benefit how it can improve my personal development in life. But recently I feel while I am listening to the words being spoken, I don’t think I am actually listening to what is being said. The ability to be a good listener is a skill not everyone possess but with careful craft and dedication, it can be mastered. If you can truly listen in the purest sense then it will help process and articulate the information, and then enrol what we have learnt into our lives to better develop ourselves. From a personal perspective, there is much room for improvement on my own listening skills. I need re-engage with my listening ability and maybe I can absorb what is being said.
This is the first book I’ve read by the author Babita Sharma. My wife purchased the book online after reading a review elsewhere herself. The Cornershop is Babita’s first book.
For those who may not be familiar with the cornershop concept, it’s a reference that dates back to the early 1900’s to general stores selling all manner of products. While it may have referred to a shop literally on the corner, it soon became synonymous with the Indian community. Babita Sharma draws on her childhood literally growing up in a shop, or in a house above the shop. It’s a story that many first generation Indians can relate to. Coming over to Britain in the early 60s, having to climatise to the grey weather and bland food, getting a low paid factory job and working all hours. But for the few like Babita’s family, they saw an opportunity in owning their own business, being their own boss. What may have started as a shop selling those spices from back home materialised into successful enterprises fuelling the British economy. In her book, Babita draws on parallels with Margret Thatcher (Maggie), who was the Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. She too was the daughter of shopkeeper growing up. The book runs with three parallels; (1) Babita’s personal experience as a child of immigrant shopkeepers, watching her parents build a mini-empire which drained them of their own personal time; (2) the success, failures and transitions of cornershops in Britain in the face of an emerging invasion of Indian immigrants; (3) how Maggie relinquishes her roots in favour of the supermarket concept making its way from America to the streets of Britain.
My personal thoughts
When I was around 14years of age my cousin purchased a shop near the Docklands in London. His product line included tobacco, newspapers, magazines, videos (VHS back then), sweets, soft and alcoholic drinks, milk, bread and sugar. From time to time he’d throw in the odd greeting cards and Christmas decorations. Every Sunday he would pick me up around 5am and we would make the 30 minute drive to his shop. By 6.30am I had unloaded the newspapers (Sunday supplements were very heavy), stacked them neatly in the racks under the magazines, popped the loose change in the till and welcomed customers with a smile. All this time my cousin slept upstairs following a Saturday night of partying. I could therefore relate to some of the experiences Babita touched on in her book, the long hours her parents worked and constant trips to the cash and carry to purchase more stock. But what I enjoyed most of all was the importance of the relationship between the shopkeeper and the customer. The shopkeeper would strike a strong bond with the customer over a sustained period of time. The shopkeeper would become the customer’s voice of reason, a last minute saviour of that essential item and a holder of secrets. No large supermarket can ever replicate that relationship, that intimacy. It’s an interesting read which lightly touches on the 3 areas I spoke about earlier, which is OK as this is not supposed to be a lesson in retail history. But I think what is missing is the emotional connection between Babita and her family shop (they had 3 in total). She is proud of her parent’s achievements but it doesn’t touch on how this may have shaped Babita and her two sisters for the future. For there is something deep to be said about the children of shopkeeper owners. But nonetheless, a good first book.
A passage that stuck with me
Is setting you apart from the rest of society a sensible way to overcome racial prejudices and social inequality? The question is, should we divide the British people instead of uniting them? To the Labour Party you are a Black Person. To the Conservative Party you are a British Citizen. Vote Conservative and you vote for a more equal, prosperous Britain.