Sunday, July 13, 2008

Retail sales

There are still a few streets in Chennai that have more houses than flats. It is always a pleasure to go into such a street, because one gets to see sights that are unique today, but were commonplace a couple of decades ago. And when the street is a dead-end, it makes for some added excitement - because you know you don't have the excuse of 'passing through'!

Early last morning, I went into one such street in Abhiramapuram. Okay, the excitement was slightly lower, because I had a good reason to be there. It was nice to see that the practice of washing the space in front of the gates and tracing 'kolams' in them still continues - that's something one can't get to see in front of a flat. And because it had rained a bit during the night, the street had a misty feel to it, the fresh mist that foretells a crisp day.

And then I saw this colourful sight. These tricycles have almost disappeared with the advent of all the big, corporatised retail stores. They are the last link in a chain that has connected farmer to consumer, getting the vegetables from the field to the table within 24 hours more often than not. Unlike the big stores, this chain does not have any fancy infrastructure or management overheads; no storage facilities or refrigerated trucks. It runs on links that fragment the produce at every stage, making sure that there is no need to carry inventory. And it works because there are still many wives and mothers who do not believe in storing vegetables in their freezers - they want them fresh, every day. And these tricyles bring such vegetables right to the gates, dispensing of 250g of tomatoes, a 100g of beans - just enough for a household to be fed that day. And these retail specialists probably know much more about their customers' preferences than any store manager can find out from his databases!


Anush said...

so true :-)

these guys are a vanishing breed. But not in vannanthurai they are not!

my kaaigarikaaran is a local hero :-)

Hilda said...

That is so true! My mother-in-law still buys her vegetables and fish from vendors such as this (usually a hand-pushed cart, though—no bicycle). She can even 'order' in advance (like when she's preparing a special meal for a family get-together) and they get her exactly what she needs.

Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood that has banned all vendors and even junk collectors because of the danger of house robbery (unless they register, but most of them didn't bother). But I live near a major transport stop so I can just take a tricycle and get everything I need there. :)

Shantaram said...

>> CB>> He is, isn't he - and I can almost picture the scene in Vannanthurai!

>> Hilda>> So many things seem familiar - even the responses to security threats!

But tell me, do you mean you take the tricycle to use as a shopping cart or as a means of transport? Slightly confused!!

Kris McCracken said...

This is a charming photograph and story. It’s always sad to see traditions changing, although I bet that the job of these vendors is hard work!

Shantaram said...

>> Kris>> Thanks! Yes, losing traditions is unsettling - but the economic incentive for such vendors is too small to encourage too many such. The competition is very uneven, too!

Hilda said...

Oh, sorry for the confusion. For Filipinos, a tricycle is a means of transportation. This is what it looks like in Manila, and this is what it looks like in Lay's Butuan City.

Shantaram said...

>> Hilda>> Thanks - enjoyed the pictures of the 'tricycles' over there! Now I will consider Chennai 'autos' to be super-safe!