All societies around the world are a mixed assortment of various kinds of people, and could be categorised on different bases: economic, religious, cast, profession, mind set or in any other basis. Every region in the land has its own local profile of such categories. India itself is an assortment of such categories and depending upon our choice we may look at the whole into bits and pieces. It depends on us as well, that is, the categorisation reflects not only the group under consideration, it reflects upon one who is observing and analysing. I myself have done the exercise so many times and finally what I found was the way I normally look at the groups, is based on aspects related to the mindsets rather than any other. I have come across rich people, poor people and destitute and each of these overwhelmingly obsessed me. I have come across some truly rich individuals, and one among them was the vegetable vendor.
The vegetable market is an important place in our small town where you can find everyone you can think about except some bigwigs whose orderlies or servants visit the markets. It is interesting to observe people of all sorts interacting with the vendors, looking at the available things, comparing them in terms of quality and cost, bargaining wherever possible and taking decisions to optimise things keeping in mind the budget. I have been regular visitor to the vegetable market and I have started enjoying the time. Even if I did not have to buy anything in particular, a short outing there kept me busy, especially after my retirement. The vendors are usually of three kinds: those who have their small permanent shops, those on portable thelas or trolleys and finally those sitting on ground by the roadside. Passing along the roadside I always thought of the hardship faced by these poor vendors whose earnings ranged from a paltry fifty rupees to three-four hundred on a good day. If it rained on a certain day then that will be a day of almost negligible earning with added risk of vegetable getting stale.
I stood before such a roadside vendor which was owned by a woman. The place these vendors occupied was sometime out of tradition as a person who had been occupying a place would not be easily challenged by others. This much of decency is shown by most of the people although sometimes there were exceptions. Sometime a bully would come and forcibly occupy a place usually occupied by another. Sometime it was decided by a police man on duty in that area and he could get weekly contributions from these vendors.
She sat majestically on a wooden plank surrounded by almost a dozen small and big baskets containing different vegetables. A ozen or so baskets were arranged elegantly to optimise the use of available space, and she took pains to arrange several items more or less artistically. She was adequately helped by her son who was around ten. Having left by her husband few years back she took the mantle of managing life on her own shoulders.
I was surveying the assortment deciding the items to be bought I saw a middle aged man, clad in a dusty kurta and dhoti, approaching her. When his turn came, the vendor woman asked what he wanted.
Villager: I need few things in small amounts. Give me few potato, onion, two tomato and some chilli.
Vendor woman: How much?
Producing a ten rupee note the villager said: Here is the money. Give me whatever can be arranged in this much.
Woman: Not possible. In ten rupees you want to buy the whole shop.
Villager: Give me whatever can be arranged in this money.
Woman; Go away, do not waste my time.
She turned towards me and I told her what I wanted. Meanwhile the villager said:
Few potatoes, two onions, one or two tomato, some chilli and a little bit of dhania —this much can be bought in ten rupees, if you care.
Woman: Go away; I do not have time for such petty bargaining.
The villager stood up ready to go away. Retracing his step he said:
My wife is ill and admitted in the hospital. I have to cook food for her, and she wanted to eat potato with tomato. I could refuse it to her under normal conditions, but……
He was on the move. Suddenly the woman stood up and said: Hey, you come here, why you not told me in the beginning. What kind of a man you are.
Unable to understand her, the villager just stared.
Woman: Come here, give me your towel.
She collected a lot many potatoes, tomatoes, onions and chilli on the towel and handed it to the villager.
The villager handed over the ten rupee note to her, and said: I didn’t ask for this much. Give me only what can be bought in ten rupee.
Woman: Take all this, I say.
There appeared to be a tussle. The man took out extra potatoes, tomatoes and onions back in the basket leaving four potatoes, two onions and two tomatoes along with chillies. A bit of dhania,… stood up and walked away.
The woman felt hurt and said: Ajeeb admi hai. (What a strange fellow)
Suddenly I thought of coconut, a fruit with hard and tough exterior, and looked closely at the woman. She became busy again talking to other customers, as if nothing had happened.
Next I thought of the villager. That evening I saw two rich individuals of the town.