I remember the shock when I heard the price of bananas a few months ago. That was the time when they suddenly doubled and went from 20 bucks to 40. That was before the times petrol went from 50 odd bucks to 70 bucks a litre! In that shock (the banana shock) I did not buy bananas for many days. But then I slowly got over it and started buying bananas again. This time, really enjoying each bite of course.
Today while sitting in the dilapidated Qualis owned by my friend Koni and sipping chai at Sitara cafe early in the morning, discussing the news, we noticed an old man park his push cart loaded with bananas next to us. I was in an expansive mood and instantly ordered a dozen! Then, better sense kicked in, and I asked him the price and he said something like 30 bucks and we concluded the deal. As he was drawing away Koni asked him how much the old man bought the bananas for.
The old man looked at him and said 'I don't buy bananas. I merely sell them.'
We were perplexed. How did this guy sell bananas without buying them? The old man explained. 'You see all these carts here (there must be some 100 out there outside the Erragadda rythu bazaar)? No one owns the business. We are paid to sell. Rs. 200 per cart load. The price is also fixed by the bosses. If he says 40 per dozen, I have to sell at 40!'
Wow! And who were the seths? 'Oh there are some 10-15 of them around here,' said the old man. 'If we sell a cartload in a day we are good. If the movement is slow the seths cut the prices and tell us to sell at a lower rate.'
'Does it not make sense to sell on your own?' asked Koni.
'Sell where?' he asked. 'We are not allowed to sell here by the seths. We have to go into the gullies or go into the colonies. It does not work out. Rate of interest and all this organised competition is too much for a poor man like me to withstand. We are better off working like this for Rs. 200! Every single cart here is owned by the seths. We are only selling for them.'
We looked at one another. Koni thought that the seths must be paying off the corporator! That is the only way it works he thinks! Complicated!