Brewing tea, ruing the economy!


Sarthak Ray | April 24, 2010

Does the PM know about Manohar?
Does the PM know about Manohar?

Manohar ‘knows’ the prime minister. “I have seen his pictures in the papers and on TV and on wallposters,” says the guy who fixes a quick caffeine/nicotine dose for many at Filmcity in Noida.

What he doesn’t know when we begin our conversation is that great expectations lay on him. Absurdly great. The government at the centre has refused to roll-back the hike in prices of essential goods, choosing to believe that he and millions like him are capable of absorbing it.

Manohar—a chaiwallah—may be a dot on the landscape of the prime minister ‘resilient’ Indian economy. But if he were to join the dots of his own economy, the prime minister’s version of the economy looks like it might belong to another planet.

For a 14-hour work day, this friendly, neighbourhood tea-stall guy takes home Rs 200—from the sale of around 18 litres of milk-tea, some tea-accompaniments, a couple of hundred cigarettes, hundred-odd packets of gutkha (tobacco-laced betelnuts) and roughly thirty plates of Maggi noodles and bread-omelette. Add another Rs 20-30 for his good days when he sells some of those bite-sized Haldiram’s snack packets.

He and his brother—who earns Rs 4,500 a month as a data entry operator at one of the media companies here—feed, clothe and shelter a family of eight at two different places—one of which you can barely call a house, the other which even he doesn’t name so. He can’t afford a two-room tenement at Atta Market. So, while his brother’s family of three makes do with a single-room at Atta, he has shifted his wife, son and parents to a tin-shanty on a construction site.

Savings, if any, are meagre. Most of it goes back into stocking his store for a day’s business. “If prices are going to remain like this, I’ll have no savings. I can’t even think of moving to a different place. Probably, I’ll have to home-school my kid in the dark,” he says.

This semi-literate, street-entrepreneur had figured out some of what is taught at the best B-schools in India, making a business out of what is a chore for many. But the price-hike seems to be fast defeating his hard-earned education in managing a business and amongst other things, a life. For example, all that he had learnt about inventory and inventory management has come to naught. “Earlier, I used buy stuff in bulk. If the cash-flow got a bit irregular, I could still have my shop running. Now, I live from day to day,” he says. Milk, by the way, is not something he can keep as inventory—not at least for any longer than a day. So, any unused milk may, for the better, be food, or for the worse, be loss.

Manohar, the aam aadmi, is no more bargaining for a future. Resignation, more than anger marks his reaction to the PM’s statement when I finally tell him about it. “Sarkaar Dilli mein baithe Noida ka haal nahin jaanti hai. Desh ka soch bhi kaise paayegi?” he asks.

Taking on the inflation has been a losing battle for him so far. Pages in a soiled log record every sale-on-credit. He finds it hard to turn down regulars for credit. Some of them are drivers, security guards and office-boys working in the offices in the area. He understands, empathises and never says ‘no’ to these regulars. But he still isn’t passing on the burden to his customers. “Chai toh abhi bhi chaar rupaiye ka hi de raha hoon, lekin cheeni kum hai.”

Lunch is a busy hour with quite a crowd of customers. Most days he has to forego lunch because he can’t abandon his stall. A hired-hand is not easy to find and even more difficult to pay. “I can only pay somebody if I have any money left. Everybody wants more money these days. Living has become very expensive. No one will work for even a hundred less than they demand and I can’t give a hundred more than I am ready to,”  he admits.

“Why don’t you offer coffee,” I ask him. “It almost cost the same as tea.”

“Hmm... Unnees bees kas fark hai (there’s a marginal difference),” he says absent-mindedly, pouring milk into the pan.

“Then why don’t you offer?”

“Jis din unnees bees jitna hi ho (when the marginal difference is removed),” he smiles.

At an auction price of Rs 129/kg, he just can’t afford to brew the arabica in this ‘resilient’ economy.



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