the curious case of vegetable vendors
In the big league, Prakash owns something that takes a step further from Raju's darkness and Dulari's dibiya. He owns a petromax, a gas petromax at that. These less ancient lamps have a mantle, to which gas/kerosene is supplied from the cylinder below. It certainly gives better light but turns out to be more expensive than darkness, strategic placement of the shop and dibiya. This takes us to Santu and his prime location with modern lights of electric bulbs. There are others like Santu around him who benefit from this prime spot and its electric lights. Indeed a look at the pictures gives us some idea of the importance of lights for these people. Santu, because of his infrastructure and Razia, due to her strategic placement command more customers. When I clicked this picture, Parkash was walking towards the back side of his thela to pick up his tarazu (balance) as some customers had arrived.
On being asked Raju told me that Santu and the likes were selling vegetables Rs 5 expensive as they had to pay for the generator connections for their electric bulbs. They don't have electricity supply from the government. After all they are informals with no claims over the government infrastructure. However, informally, they claim their spots. Raju said exasperated, "If I take their spot, they will chase me away." A certain form of association seems to be at work here, a association of certain informals claiming a formal spot and the benefits of lights with it. Raju seemed saddened by the lack of light at his spot. His next door neighbour, an old man with a heap of garlics on his thela agreed that light attracts customers. He remarked, "model jug hai na sir" (I think he meant, "its modern era sir"), "If I put a light here, my garlics will shine up to the kali asthan (a Kali temple about 100m away) and people will talk about them. If it shines, it sells".
All of these people are vegetable vendors, all informals, all critical for the town's functioning. They struggle in their own ways to light up as they understand the importance of lights for their business, as do their customers. Can these informals, providing critical services to the town be provided with formal lights by the government? I am not so sure about that. It is especially tricky in a town where even formal citizens don't get enough electricity for light, a town which virtually runs on diesel generators.
This post was first published on my other blog stories of lights on 6th August 2012. This reposting is a part of a plan to merge the two blogs at a later date.