Friday, November 9, 2007

Pandeji, Purchase Power Parity etc.

Pandeji has just delivered some piping hot samosas and glistening lavang latas. On this bright and clear Diwali morning. The samosas are just as we like it - light, crunchy, not over-spicy and not too large. And the LLs melt in your mouth - not too sweet, not too soft.

This old man appeared out of nowhere at our doorsteps around a year ago, with a large white-cloth wrapped hill of degchis containing various mithais, with a word-of-mouth recommendation from a distant neighbor. I refused to buy anything initially and quizzed him with what I like to believe was a hard-nosed attitude - 'who cooks this? how can you just expect me to buy your stuff when I don't even know you? where do you stay' etc. I never got any satisfactory reply and warned him, I won't buy it next time (and bought a lot of stuff anyway).
By now, months later, of course, it is like 'oh, it's you - give me
six samosas and twelve lavang latas, will you?' Without having figured out his antecedents yet.
And the t
otal? Rs. 60/-

Nowadays I tell myself about how tickled I am at this wonderfully sublimated globalization. That we can partake of such prices at my own door, in the so-called gated community of Hiranandani Gardens.
At around a dollar and a half, in the Y2K plus 7 year of 2007, a wonderful snack for the entire family. AND a couple of friends who dropped by, over chai.
All this talk of purchase power parity - how does one compare a Pandeji across the world anyway? What exactly is the equivalent of 6 sams plus 12 lls in the West?
The istriwala just delivered 10 items of clothing. Ironed at a price of a total of Rs. 20/-: This is 50 cents in all. The fellow that washes the car charges Rs. 200/- per 'bada gadi' and Rs. 150/- per chhota gadi, per month that is - and makes an income of over Rs. 5000/- working from 5 am to 8.30 am, across a few homes.
He then works full-time elsewhere 10 am to 6 pm, and is seen as one of the successful guys in his circle.
How can we measure parity for something only we have and understand, as part of our economy? How can we put a price to the slogging put in? Should we be celebrating this 'value-for-money' we get or wondering seriously if this is to be seen as 'exploitation'?

And then there is the 'bauni' factor. Pandeji claims to begin his day's sales at my place (hubby dearest believes dryly, that this is his stock line-of-trade). But all said and done, the thing is you don't want to not-bauni someone. If the first customer brings him luck, let the luck come in, we say. That's our pride in our peculiar Indian 'culture' again. How can you turn away such an old man who's earning a living anyway? (my family pegs him at a doddering 80, he says he is 64).

And what the heck. It is like harking back to the times of our childhood when we lived in the now - fast-vanishing 'middle-class' padas where hawkers announced their wares, each with a lilting and individual call of his/ her own. When the poring over the goods with the neighbors' helpful comments was an essential part of our socialization. When they all aided in the bargaining along with us. When it was essential to crib about something or the other to the hawker. The rising prices. If the prices were good, then the quality ('last time it was not at all like you used to make it').

So. One of these days, we may all be poisoned by Pandeji. That's what say the cautionary doubters of today. Or worse, he may be thrown out by the 'gatekeepers' before we even get to know he had arrived.

And that is when we shall be totally McDonaldized -
No taking pity. No bauni (imagine, the guy in the McDonald's counter telling you 'aaj aapka bauni hai' and then doing one elaborate circling of the cash register with your 100 rupee note). Or imagine this: Telling McDonald's "last time your ruthlessly 'always-the-same' McChicken burger was not at all like you make it'!

Ah, Globalization - here we come.

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