Posted On Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 02:40:42 PM
Pune is a city of traders,’ he says knowledgeably, fiddling with one end of his moustache. ‘Why do you say that?’ I prod him, wickedly, aware that he never fails to rise when baited.
‘Everyone is busy trading in something or the other. If it’s not stock market wheeling dealing, it’s life insurance or buying and selling property …’
‘You have a problem with people being industrious? Do you want us Pune denizens to be like that fellow Thoreau in the US of A who went and lived in a forest and built his own log cabin and grew his own beans and said that we should be able to count our wants on the fingers of one hand? What’s wrong with you? Is it a crime to earn well and live well?’ Oops, I am getting a little carried away.
‘What are you getting hot about?’ He wants to know.
‘You are behaving as if everyone has to go by what you choose…you should be the last one to be going on like this…look at your lifestyle. You have seven different sources of income.’
‘Fifteen,’ he corrects me, ‘what’s wrong with that? Does that prevent me from saying what I am saying? It’s just an observation, anyway. And I don’t think I’m wrong. Just down the road from here there’s a so-called ‘supermarket’ which started off as a paan bidi kiosk outside a construction site. He added on a chai and vada pav counter, then expanded it into a chai, vada pav, idli dosa counter, then went on to make it into a mini dhaba, then shifted to a rented space a little further on, then bought the place and turned it into a café cum snack bar which mutated into a multipurpose ‘supermarket’. ‘
‘Hmmm,’ I say and reflect on what he’s just said, ‘so where do you think it will lead…I mean all this trading…’
‘Well, we’ll grow into a city of opportunities, the more opportunities — the more people — the more it will expand… and so on and so forth…’
‘Into a big bazaar?’
‘Who knows?’ He sounds wistful. ‘But it will be the death of the specialist.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ I ask, not wanting him to get away with everything he is babbling.
‘I mean there’ll be sub kuch wallas everywhere.’
‘Not exactly. There’re thousands and thousands of people in this city who are specialists in their own right. The fellow selling enormous papayas on the main road, ahead of the bridge across the rail tracks.’
‘What about him?’ he wants to know.
‘Well, he’s been there for ages. And his father before him. They get their papayas from their family plantation. And there are others too… the handcart fellows on MG Road and Centre Street who sell unusual fruits… or the jamun sellers and guava sellers… and there are people selling other wares too… that tradition isn’t going to die so easily.’
‘You’re behaving as if you are arguing their case,’ a smirk has erupted on his face.
‘Not at all. I’m trying to figure out the direction you are coming from.’
‘I’m just chit-chatting about the economic landscape of Pune,’ Pradeep Sundarlal gets up and stretches. ‘Time to get back to my comp. Have to catch up with business, every minute makes money or loses money.’ He’s gone even before I can respond.
Complicated fellow, complicated city. But that’s what change is all about. I try to make sense of the conversation but don’t get anywhere so I decide to take a walk, that’s the best way of clearing my head.
Out on the street I walk down past a nearby construction site and notice a small paan bidi kiosk. The fellow inside, grins broadly and calls out to me. ‘Come and have a free paan, babu, I am doing business promotion.’
I pick up my free paan and walk away, happy to know that he’ll one day be the owner of supermarket … or maybe a … This is Pune after all, anything is possible.