Today was definitely not a normal day. Because on normal days I usually don’t get up before 8am and am usually out of the house by 9. Because I usually don’t help my mom out with anything in the mornings and its been a while since I was sent out to run an errand for the house. So, it was not a normal day when I woke up rather early today to find my mom ordering me to get some vegetables for my breakfast.
Finding no place open, I found myself heading to the Rythu Bazaar in my locality which was buzzing with activity. Fresh vegetables that were yet to be unpacked and made into pyramids, freshly watered soil for the vendor’s to set up places to settle for the long day, hot tea being passed around that was being appreciated rather than being dismissed over wagers and conversations that had minimal usage of profanities. This was the scene before the serious business began when peace and harmony still prevailed.
In this burst of enthusiasm I went around picking up all that I could and was surprised to find that my skills at bargaining were finally bearing fruits. I got discounted rates for a couple of fruits, an occurrence that I thought was never going to be associated with me. Adhering to basic common sense, I waited till the last possible moment before I picked up tomato’s so as to not get them squished. Now if there is one vegetable that I am fussy about, its tomato’s as I love them in all forms and varieties and usually like to pick up the best one’s even at a slightly higher price.
The concept of Rythu Bazaar’s is that the common farmer would be benefited as this was a place where any farmer could come and he would get the market price for his goods. He could either hand it over to the official’s at the wholesale rate or if he had the time, he could settle there for a day, sell everything that he had and go on his way with whatever he made. But as it is with our country where middle men are the real bosses, most of the vendor’s were chamcha’s of these middle men who make their living by selling these wares. And these people over the years have mastered the art of selling by prominently displaying the vegetables as fresh and by indulging in aggressive salesmanship to finish the day’s quota.
It is in this clamor that I found a really sedate and subdued fellow who just had a couple of baskets in front of him, one still unopened and the other’s contents barely visible. The stuff in those baskets were tomato’s and the quality of them was quite something. They were fresh, not artificially watered to make them look fresh, but farm fresh, juicy and ripe. They were a class apart from all that was available in the market with absolutely no decorations what-so-ever. When I asked him for the price he very coolly looked at me and quoted a price that was more than Rs. 2 less than what the other fellows were selling.
Surprised I asked him the reason for his pricing. He looked at me with such arrogance that it was hard for me to imagine what cardinal sin I had committed in just inquiring about the cause of his low pricing. The goods were excellent, there was business everywhere, so why was he so glum and selling it off reluctantly for a lesser price.
At that point, I decided that I would pursue him till he told me the reason and after some prodding he came out with his reasons.
The person who was selling those tomato’s was actually a farmer who hails from a neighboring district and who himself had grown those vegetables. As he usually does not get the market rate at his village he makes it a point to come to the town whenever his crop comes to hand and sells a part to the wholesaler’s and tries to sell some for a higher price at these Rythu Bazaar’s. Now on this trip he apparently came to this bazaar with 15 baskets’ of tomato’s and he priced them at Rs. 11 a kilo, the existing market price. As he is an outsider and that the regular vendor’s of the bazaar are the kings, he was allotted a spot away from all the hustle bustle and where people rarely came to.
If ever anybody has been to a vegetable bazaar, there is a kind of organized allotment of places to the various categories of vendor’s. All the leafy vegetable guys sit together, all the perishable vegetable vendor’s collect at an area and all the regular aloo, onion guys huddle together. Now this poor farmer was allotted a spot behind the leafy vegetable guys, a spot relatively damp and dark. From that point, he could not get the attention of the customers anyway and on top of that, he had no skills selling them either. All he did was to passively sit around all day and wait for people to come to him.
To the time I reached him, he had only managed to sell 8 of his baskets (the others were lying at a distance from him, covered with a cloth) and by now he had significantly lowered his price. The reason being he could not afford to take them back with him and he could not stay for any longer in the city as he had his field to take care of. When I asked him why he would not sell them to the officials at the market price, he replied that they had made an offer to him when he arrived and that as he refused them then, the officials who are on the roll’s of the local middle men, would not touch his good’s again. When asked why he did not want to sell them to the other vendor’s, he replied that he would never consider doing such a thing.
Here was a man, a poor man – he apparently makes Rs 12,000 an year after taking into account all the calamities and causalities that he has to face every year – with a family consisting of 8 member’s, all of them dependent on his ½ acre of land situated in the arid region of telangana where the land makes no promises to those who depend on it and where the schemes of the government to provide water and electricity have never crossed the inaugural slab-stones and white papers.
And this proud man would never consider selling his precious vegetables to those vendor’s who buy from farmers at dirt cheap prices and sell them to posh super-markets where they are kept under neon lights and A/c’s to be sold to the neo-rich at sky high prices.
And this man is so proud that he would never consider leaving his trade even if promised with a better job and a better salary because of the only fact that at the end of the day his hard work means sumptuous and tasty dinner to a few hundred people. And this feeling, he says, is what keeps him going irrespective of all the odds that he faces.
I really don’t have much to add to this experience and have no interest to do so either. But once again I can’t help but raise the whole set of questions on the functioning of the government machinery in our country.
Its not as if they don’t know (the bureaucrats, I mean). Its not like the ministers and the people in power don’t know of the facts on the ground. But what really amazes me is their total lack of any care towards the plight of these poor men and women in our nation.
We have food everyday, amazing rice, vegetables, wheat and pulses. If undercooked, we tend to get cranky and loose sleep over it and end up with our asses being tortured. Then why aren’t those hard-working farmers being given any privileges at all. I don’t think they are asking for the moon. I guess all they want is water, electricity, correct guidance on the climatic system and honest prices for their crops. Is that so difficult for a country that is building 9 new fast breeder fission reactors? Is it so difficult to have a system in place where the real man of India gets a fair deal? Is it not the reason for which we all need to strive for so that the end-man, the little common man gets thanked for his days of toil?
Think about it. It’s questions like these that will need to be answered some day and I hope that day will be just around the corner so that we can see days of real prosperity in our country.