Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Panwallah: The betel leaves seller


The betel-shop owner has traits of finest businessmen. He merely has a 25 square feet of area, inside his yellow coloured iron box, without any air-conditioners or fan, in scorching heat, during heavy rain and in winter's freezing wind; located just outside a restaurant, on a busy road. He has scanty hair, pointed nose and slightly squinted look. He opens his shop early in the morning and closes it only an hour before midnight. He has to earn fifty paisa, a rupee or at max two rupees per item, in order to build-up his business. He says that only thing he likes about his business is a unique opportunity to meet as many type of persons as any business would ever allow. Except teetotallers, almost all type of persons, especially of unfair sex, teenagers, adults and even sexagenarians keep on coming to his shop for cigarettes, betel-mixtures, tobacco mixtures, betel-leave mixtures etc., throughout the day.


He considers himself an honest man. He says that he has always kept his word. People who borrow items from him and never come back to pay money, make him feel extremely sad, but this has taught him well. Now, he says that he could easily know about the persons who would never keep their words merely by talking to them for a few seconds, and he avoids lending anything to such persons.

At his shop, various persons, with tea in a glass in one hand and cigarette in another, indulge in most random discussions. Some people might start complaining about water and electricity, some others about state of corruption in the country, and some others talk about increasing prices. But everyone of them considers himself to be an expert. The fact that most of the people stop by his shop for a very short period of time, give their inputs in the discussions and leave, makes these discussions very unique in nature. The only constant is the betel-leaves shop owner. None of the discussions here are for showing-off intellectual prowess, neither for affecting the masses. He will continue to work and listen all of the discussions. He doesn't hesitate to correct those who are not thinking in the proper direction, because despite his lack of formal education, he has gleaned information and learned by listening to thousands upon thousands of people on a day-to-day basis. People don't contend here with each other. They're relaxing and enjoying their idle time and this is why their opinions have hardly any weight from their egos. Most of the times subjects are social and people tend to agree with each other.


Betel shop owner wants to move out to another business. No matter how enlightening those conversations are, no matter how great his contact-base is, he feels suffocated in his shop, where he is hardly free to move. He might have been a claustrophobic person, but force of circumstances made him accept that lack of space and conditioned him to work there, day after day, every week. The urge to move out to a bigger space still calls him every now and then and he tells me about it. He thinks that his ability to quickly identify the type of person would be a great asset for him, in any business he would start. He is bored of his betel-shop. He wants to move on. He came over here, thousands of miles away, from another state because it was difficult to earn money in his village. He had no capital to begin with. He borrowed some money and wandered here and there for a few months and then started this business because it needed no huge investments and though gains were slow in the beginning, by and by he started earning enough to feed his family well.


He rarely goes to meet his family now. Once in a year or may be once every two years. He says that his business gets very badly affected by his absence and he has no one to take care of his shop when he is gone. He says that betel-shop, though a very small and insignificant looking place, could make its owners rich, if run with enough diligence. He told about a betel-leaves-shop owner in market road, who was a millionaire once. There used to be a very big queue of cars, almost half a mile long, just to buy betel-leaves from his shop. Why those Paans were so popular is still a mystery. Some say that they were addictive and others say that they were of very high quality. But the fact that he used to charge as much as two thousand rupees per betel-leave mixture raises enough of suspicion, because an average shop owner would charge 15 rupees at max for the same item.


But our shop owner is a content man by nature. In his village, he was offered to contest Panchayat elections, because his family members, relatives and friends thought that his character was so nice, therefore he would have easily won. But he refused to contest and instead left his village in search of a job and ended up owning a small betel-leaves-shop, which is his current destination. He has no qualms that he couldn't get enough education. He thinks that the wisdom is more valuable than formal education.

Image Source: Umbra Sumus