Paisa Vasul "Market Days."
Paisa = money, vasul = value/worth
Farmers’ markets in the summer hold a special place in my heart.
In summers’ past when we have been able to visit India, we would spend weeks at my parent’s mango and coconut farm. During one of our visits many years ago, I picked up a book for my daughter. The book was an English translation of a Gujarati folk tale where a miser, on a hunt for a tasty coconut -for cheap - eventually finds himself stuck on the top of a coconut tree unable to get down.
The delight in the story was two-fold for my daughter – not only was it funny, but she got to see a coconut harvest or ‘pada’ unfold in real-time. The price for the harvest is predetermined before the harvest, and the collection of coconuts from more than 100 coconut palms is completed in a matter of hours, it was a spectator activity. We watched the chaps climb the coconut palm to harvest the coconuts, sending down large bunches through the canopy with a long “whoosh”. Within minutes, these coconuts would be merrily on their way to the local market or even the nearest wholesale marketplace.
In the shadows of those idyllic coconut harvests were some tougher lessons. In a cash economy, the person who harvested the coconuts preferred a credit module. They would be pay only half of the amount at the time of harvest, back calculated from the price of 3-5 rupees per coconut, for a product that would be sold in the market for about 15-20 rupees a piece. My parents have often waited for several months afterwards to be paid for any one such harvest, sometimes losing the money all together because the chap never returned. And at the end of the day, most farmers are seldom able to recover the cost of growing the produce. Some call it the ‘cost of doing business.’
I also remember what “Market Days” at the farm really meant for us. When I was as young as thirteen, I would be tasked with leading our farm workers with freshly harvested farm produce to one of three local markets for “Market Day”. We would spend 3-5 days prior to the market tending the gardens, and harvesting them to get them ready: onions, jackfruit, cashew, rose apples, mangoes, coconuts, eggplants, jalapenos, and more, fresh flowers like marigolds, mogra and cut roses and various kinds of leaves used in religious observances. To my chagrin, we would encounter both locals and vacationing city-people haggle over the prices for premium organically grown products.
After paying the daily wages of the workers, the transportation cost, and not accounting for the cost of growing all that produce, I recall that it would take several such market days to collect enough to cover the salary of only one of the employees, for one month. I, was never paid – cause it was our family’s farm produce.
A recent essay on a very prominent international platform literally waxed poetic about the virtues of building relationships through a ‘paisa vasul’ module in India. The author celebrated the bargaining practice, bargaining with a small business, extending the promise of repeated business.
This concept of ‘paisa vasul’ or seeking full value for money is a long-standing way of thinking, of doing business in India – whether it is for barter, or for monetary exchange. Whether it is haggling with a vegetable seller over a kilo of onions or scouting for discounts and BOGO’s, it is conducted and expected, each participant being fully aware of the risks. But it also begs us to ask ourselves – at what cost?
As a consumer, I recognize that there is a great degree of comfort and camaraderie that can come from maintaining a relationship – of being a regular client. It helps with trust, and relationship building.
But, as a small business myself, when I see folks seek a bargain, I internally bemoan about all the ways that such practices shortchange the “little guys” - who routinely take a leap of faith that their consumer will return the favor in kind, or offer them more business in the future. Extending and expecting “moral” credit. Like the very scale, the ‘trajvu’ that measures vegetables, the ‘paisa vasul’ concept is a weighted topic with both good and bad.
It is most tricky for immigrants, myself included, who are constantly cognizant of currency exchange values.
I love farmers’ markets. Going to them. Being in them as a customer. Being part of them as a vendor. The next time you visit a farmers’ market, think of the small-vendors’ true cost of doing business: the fees involved to secure a spot, the cost of the set-up, whether they are paying themselves, and the risks they take with weather. What is their inventory investment to make a decent showing at the market?? Before you look for a bargain, ask yourself if you’d be brave enough to do it all.
And just pay the tax. It is not the cost of doing business, but the true cost of shopping.