The vegetable market was alive and kicking at 5 am in the morning, as trucks rolled in from different parts of the state, loaded with fresh produce – crunchy capsicums, lush tomatoes, slender drumsticks, healthy pumpkins – all kinds of veggies that shopkeepers stocked up. Vegetables that would find their way into people’s stomachs, only for the cycle to repeat itself the next day.
As the various shopkeepers opened their shops for the day, the truck drivers stood around sipping their morning cups of tea from one of the many tea stalls that dotted the market.
The market was a big labyrinth of alleys. At the end of the third alley was Raj’s Vegetable Mart. The owner, Raj, was already at the shop, overseeing the unloading of fresh stock, as his bare feet crunched across fallen cabbage leaves and gunny bags.
He looked well groomed and fresh. His shop was much sought after by customers, as he stocked some special vegetables that one couldn’t find elsewhere.
He was a shrewd businessman, his hawk-like eyes observing all the customers in his shop, like a CCTV.
The locals and regulars usually arrived between 9 a.m. and 12 noon. The market took on a whole new ‘avatar’ at this time, as women haggled with the shopkeepers.
The haggling gave both parties immense joy. Everyone went home happy.
At Raj’s shop however, haggling was not encouraged. He simply stated the prices and charged for every small thing. He did not give plastic bags with his vegetables, and charged 50p if anyone wanted one. No freebies to anyone. Despite all this he was successful, and people flocked to his shop for the variety, quality and reliability he offered.
He had two cash boxes in his shop. 50p from each customer went into one of these boxes. Sometimes he haggled with his customers, when they asked for 5p or 10p back in change; change that was rightfully theirs. Most customers walked away without their change, as the amount was very small. All these went into the 50p Cashbox.
There was usually a lull in the afternoons. Business picked up again in the evening, till about 8.30 p.m.
Most shops closed only by 10 pm. But even here, Raj was different. He wound down by 8.30 p.m., emptied his two cash boxes and left the market.
He spoke very little, except when he had customers, so he was not missed much, when all the other shopkeepers gathered for a drink.
While they chit chatted and made merry after a long day, Raj walked a distance of 3 km, with a bag of fresh vegetables from his shop and the collection from the 50p cash box, to a Senior Citizens’ Home, where he cooked a sumptuous meal for the five residents, bought things they wanted with cash from the 50p box, read out articles from the newspaper to them, and gave them their medicines, before he headed home.
The next day, the alarm woke him at 4 a.m. He showered, dressed and went to the market to open shop.