Every time a packet of washing soap powder came home in my shopping, my maid of many years who bossed over me with impunity, would shake it and listen to the soap flakes moving inside the cardboard box. Then she would turn a disapproving eye on me and shake her head.
You keep buying this she would say, not for the first time; don't you see they are cheating you, the box is not even full.
There was no way I could convince her that the vacuum packing and space was necessary to keep the contents inside dry.
She is dead now, and gone to a heaven where soap packets come filled to the brim, but were she alive I wonder what she would have said of my shopping bag today.
Everything looks so bright and colourful. Open our shelf at home where the shopping is stored and colours wink at me invitingly: the red of the tomato sauce packet that I can squeeze to pour and don't have to knock at like I did the bottles of old, only to have the ketchup pour out in a rush when I least expected it to.
The bright orange and green tops of the 'pet' bottles in which juices come now, so light and easy to store. The bright packages that the cereals come rattling in, the foil packed crunchies, …. It's a veritable treasure chest of packaging ideas that stares at me.
Every one of them must have been the result of R and D. And so far removed from the packaging of old… if you discount the pioneers like the soap flakes package of course.
Those days we had scratchy gunny bags that rice and wheat came in and things like rawa and flour came in thick brown paper bags. And those days we made our own pickles, or at least our mothers made them, and there were big stoneware jars that were brought out as part of a yearly ritual, cleaned and sunned and filled with mouth watering concoctions that we ate through the year.
Today the pickles come from the corner shop in plastic pouches or from the super store in plastic bottles; and when we occasionally are lucky enough to get home made ones, the messiness of the bottle and the ring of oil that it leaves behind makes us wonder if the taste does indeed make up for the trouble.
Everything from the water for the pani puri to coconut milk is deftly packed in plastic pouches; the fruit is cocooned in its little knitted vest, individually pampered from bruising… the list goes on.
And the more expensive ' necessities; like the mobile phone or the computer come in acres of bubble wrap and kilos of weightless thermacol closed into a laminated , four colour package made of cardboard.
But even as I marvel at the ease that good packaging brings in, I miss the old scratchy gunny bags. Because if you did not cut them up to make into foot mats near the garden tap, you could use them for sack races and laugh over the stumbles that resulted.
And when the brown paper bags were emptied of their contents, and were being folded away for another day, we would blow into them and burst them with a bang near an unsuspecting ear… another occasion for giggles.
And even the fight with the ketchup bottle, and the suspense over which plate would end up finally getting some…
All of it was not just environmentally responsible packaging, but in some strange way bonding.
And even though the colours are bright and the bottles light…they do not make up for losing out on that!