Dear Vegetable and Fruit Vendors of Bombay

We have a good relationship na! I must be one of your really few customers who doesnt bargain. You can put the blame squarely on my Appa for that. He used to take me to Kadak Bazar in Baroda every Sunday (me and him together 🙂 ) and then never used to argue with the folks there. He used to tell me ‘RM, what is the point of haggling for 2-3 Rs with these guys who live on a hand to mouth existence. Are we going to get any richer by taking that Rs.2-3 money, but they sure can perhaps get an extra roti if we give them what they ask, and anyways, their vegetables/fruits are going to get spoilt in two days, then why haggle with these folks’

Almost every time we went there, he would tell me and it got so engraved in my thought process, that now I hardly bargain with you. So much so, that I have influenced RD with my thoughts as well 🙂

But then, you do lead a difficult life na. Imagine getting up at 3 in the morning to catch the first train to Dadar and then getting all your goods fresh from there, coming back to the suburbs and setting shop. Its amazing how many of you do it day in and day out, for years together. Some of you, I have heard, even go all the way to Vashi…and God Forbid, if there is a truck strike or something, how do you guys manage? It must be scary to know that each strike or political turn can have an impact on  your food for the day na…I wouldnt dare to live like that ever!

and then of course, since many of you are illegal, the usual haftas to the BMC folks, and police and when the BMC gaadi comes, you guys pick up whatever possible and start hiding.

I, sometimes, think its hilarious you know. I mean, they know you are here always, and you know they are going to come, then why do you even sit there? But I guess, you dont have any other place to go isnt it?

and some of you are so nice to your fellow vendors, that you start running towards the main market as soon as the BMC vehicles arrive and start warning..the market is a frenzy of activity for those 10 minutes…imagine piling all your vegetables in a corner and covering them with a cloth in hope that the tomatoes dont get squashed and the strawberries dont fall down from the box…It must be crazy thinking about the goods whose sales are going to give you the food for the day na?

I love the way you sell your fares. I think its amazing, the singsong voice you use to sell the vegetables ‘bhindi pachees ka kilo, pachees ka kilo’ or when you say to that masi in Gujarati ‘masi tameta lai jao ekdum phresh che’ (Aunty, take the tomatoes they are very fresh’ Most of you are definitely multilingual speaking Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and in some cases even English with such ease…I admire  you for that!It must be bad on the throat na..all the shouting for over 14 to 15 hours…I wonder how you do that…and then again, you have to match your prices with your fellow vendors!

and then the way you arrange your fares..everyone is so so tempted to buy it eh? and some of you keep just two or three veggies and fruits while some of you have everything and anything under the sun..some of you have just leafy veggies while some of you have the exotic varieties….

You are such excellent salespeople that I am sure marketing companies can take a cue or two from you..the way you build a relationship with the client, many of you have regular customers na…often I have heard aunties and uncles telling you ke last time this was good and this was not good…you are definitely open to feedback eh?

The best part I like about is the comradeship you share among yourselves…I dont have change for 100, so I will get it from the guy who is selling exactly the same stuff as me, but hey, he doest mind giving me the change..its amazing that so many of you co-exist in the same place, selling the same stuff, and  yet not have any major squabbles..well at least, I havent witnessed any in six years 🙂

I love the fact that you have the patience to answer a four year old’s question on what is that long green vegetable known as (ridge groud) and then end up giving her an extra bit of grapes or elachi kela..when I try to pay for it, you tell me’kya memsaheb, baachi ko itna sa diya, usmein kya paise lene ka, bachi khush hai na?’

Well, even bachi’s mom is khush..

You dont have plenty, but you sure have a large heart!

I am amazed at the way, you know how much exactly that cauliflower or cabbage is going to weigh even without putting it on the weighing machine…I have heard rumors about how you cheat your customers with wrong weights, but hey, I am not sure, and I trust you guys okie?

And this is one profession I have seen where there is absolutely equality. The women and the men share the same platform, charge the same, do the same work and sit at the same levels..its amazing!

I am at awe at your zeal for life, at your attitude of sharing and at your super sweet way of selling..

Hoping to continue our good relation for years to come..

Always a customer


PS – So tell me something, what exactly do you do with your previous day’s vegetables..throw them? sell them at a lower rate? keep them in a fridge (can you afford one) and sell it the next day?


About R's Mom

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53 Responses to Dear Vegetable and Fruit Vendors of Bombay

  1. My Era says:

    Well I agree with you on the men and women working with same vigor in this very sector 🙂
    As far what happens with leftover vegetables they are usually sold off at lower rates in late evening to bulk buyers like restaurants or is sold the next day to us at relatively lower rates.
    Great series RM 🙂

    • My Era says:

      P.S.- If you are thinking how do I know these replies, well I had once asked a vegetable seller these when I used to go to the sabzi mandi with my dad on Sundays as a kid, just like you 😀 😀

    • R's Mom says:

      oh is it? I wasnt aware..thats why restaurants food is not considered to be very good for health eh? (though great on the taste)

      Awww…you used to with your dad as well is it?

  2. Sumana says:

    madam, you have become too good in writing all these thankyou posts. Thanks to you too, this makes each one of us remember what we should be thankful for. Anyways, you have expressed very very rightly about the vegetable vendors. Life is tough on them and they accept it and do it with such zeal. I sometimes feel that all the politicians should be replaced by these vegetable vendors and they should run our government for a month. They have all the skillsets.

    • R's Mom says:

      Arey thanks Sumana..thats such a nice compliment..

      yes you are right…life is very tough for them..LOL on replacing politicians with veg vendors..guess thats NEVER going to happen ever na

  3. Amit says:

    It is sad that India is full of such people, trying to make ends meet, not able to think beyond putting the next meal on table. My problems seem so small and insignificant when I think about them.

  4. About what they do with the previous day’s veggies–my guess is that they have to throw it away because most of them do not have cold storage. At the weekly mandis they have here in Chandigarh, rates drop sharply as it gets later in the night–by 10 o’ clock in the night they are ready to dispose of their wares at throwaway prices. I know many people who make it a point to go to the mandi around 10 O’ clock in the night and make fun of us because we go in the evening.

  5. Jazz says:

    Wow RM, I can relate almost all the points you mentioned to the food vendors in Hyderabad and Chennai as well. They are really friendly, I wonder how they manage to remember the customers and also strike a conversation. And it is also amazing how they all co-exist doing the same business like you said.

    I miss those free ka coriander or curry leaves we get in Chennai. Sigh !

  6. techie2mom says:

    Hey i loved all the “Dear … of bombay” series…
    Thanks for sharing & letting us know how difficult their lives is and how everybody makes a great difference to our lives…

  7. I read the first para and realized these are the same words my father has to say abt small vendors. Its quite surprising na RM that we haggle with a vegetable vendor for meager money but we won’t argue with a salesman for a shirt or a jeans or whatever even if its not worth for the amt it tagged for, when we go to a mall..

  8. Zephyr says:

    You know what, RMD could be the grandson of my grandfather and so my sibling/cousin. How about that???! If you want to know what he did, you should read

  9. meeta says:

    awesome, even I dont bargain from them, I simply dont see a point there. If I am not comfortable I will change my vendor, but not sit to bargain. Thankfully my vendor is good.

  10. DI says:

    🙂 I haven’t commented yet, but I am loving this series! The very fact that there actually so many specific points to be noted about these people we pass by everyday. This is why I enjoy observing people to an extent. The fact that there is a story behind each of them which we are not aware of, or bothered by 🙂

  11. meenamenon says:

    Now am 100% pukka tht u bidding goodbye to mumbi!!!!!!

  12. Lovely post, RM! I am simply loving this series! 🙂

  13. Dear RM, you are very sweet to be writing all these odes… 🙂 I hope some day, someone to whom you are writing to reads these…

  14. I miss vegetable & Fruit vendors here so much. Really RM, it is no fun to go to the supermarket & tore a plastic bag form the roll & select the veggies & fruits & take it to the check out register to pay. The real fun is to run downstairs when the veggie wala calls – “sabji leloo” and then to select the veggies while talking to him/her on some or other topic & them ask him to weigh the veggies and pay him & come upstairs with fresh veggies.
    Nicely written as usual 🙂 Have a great weekend dear 🙂

  15. Ashwathy says:

    Love the P.S. 🙂

    And ya I agree with you, they deserve a standing ovation…

  16. ashreyamom says:

    thats an eyeopener for me.. i just cant buy vegetables without bargaining, never thought that,2 or 3 rupee extra can make a difference to them.. so from now on, i too shall not bargain with vegetable vendor..
    cheating, yes i have faced a lot, either when u dont look at, u get spoiled vegetables or quantity is less .. or they tell some rate at the beginning and change it while billing.. :(..

  17. Lifesong says:

    This post brought back memories of going to the sabzi mandi with my dad as a child. Now it has been quite some time that I visited an actual sabzi mandi.
    I am loving your series on the people of Mumbai 🙂

  18. Sreetama says:

    They are amazing! Totally agree. They have this charm in them which makes me buy veggies from them only which the big stores don’t have & can’t offer. This is one reason I don’t support FDI. Kudos to them!

    P.S: I’m loving your series. Reading all of them though not able to comment on some posts. Work… 😦

    • R's Mom says:

      Thanks a lot Sreetama 🙂

      About the FDI, oh well, I am still a bit confused about it…I need to research more before I even give my comments on that one 🙂

  19. anisnest says:

    Awww.. you and your recent posts.. good job lady..
    I also believe in the same and can never bargain to street vendors RM.. when amma tries to bargain I ask her the same Q.. what’s the point in saving those 2 or 3 rupes when their life is dependant on that money.. would she do the same at a costly restaurant or at a silk saree shop? we should not take the street vendors for granted just because they don’t own a shop.. I am very serious about this..

    Reg. the old veggies I guess they get sold at lower rate to some restaurants.. hotels and restaurants will never never buy fresh veggies..

  20. Pepper says:

    I love this series RM. I hope your writing makes people more sensitive and considerate. I love the way you observe the world. So much like me.

    None of us ever bargain with these people either. I think it is criminal. I get furious when people blame the vendors for increased prices. Heck, they are buying them at a higher cost too! Why blame them? They make such a small profit anyway, Why do so many rich people want to snatch away from their meager income. It makes me very sad.

  21. I can never bargain too RM, I thought I am one of those weird people, also I can never sort vegetables , if I go to the Indian stores I see ladies/men picking okra or tindoora one by one, I wonder how they do that, I end to picking a bunch and when I cut I have to throw few of them 😦 but my point is if everyone picks all good who will pick the bad ones or average ones?

  22. Nidaa says:

    Ohh RM… You are sooo nice!

  23. Comfy says:

    Oh no! Now you are making me miss all the fun I used to have vegetable shopping. I used to go to Dadar for some classes and would sometimes do to the sabzi mandi to get whatever list Maa handed to me. Such good days. 🙂
    But I can never bargain worth anything so I don’t even try. 😀

    • R's Mom says:

      oh the Dadar mandi is amazing na..its my long term get veggies shopped from sachimein…Dadar is far off from where I live..but one day in my life, I am going to get up at 5 in the morning on Saturday, take a train to Dadar, get fresh veggies from there for the week 🙂

  24. Chandrima says:

    Very nice post RM!

  25. So, I am torn between two worlds when I meet shop vendors.

    I once went shopping with my maid and she was aghast that I didn’t bargain with the vendor (more below). I just brushed her aside with the argument you gave.

    Then one day, when I got onto an auto-rickshaw, she noticed I didn’t bargain. This was the extreme limit for her – showing any remorse to the Chennai auto-rickshaw driver is considered criminal. And she burst out. It’s because of you that poor people like us ending paying more for vegetables and our auto-rickshaw drivers are cocky. [It does not sound as heart felt when translated from Thamizh. Readers, do imagine it in your local vernacular].

    She won. You can win any argument in Chennai if you portray the auto rickshaw driver as the adversary. Of course, she is also correct in a purely technical perspective.

    I now bargain with vegetable vendors for price (and make sure the nearby vendors hear) but round up change to the nearest ten or twenty to feel better. Same with auto-rickshaws, bargain but tip well.

    Now, some background. My own dad was a heavy (and almost obnoxious?) haggler and I really hated it. I assumed(*) that it was a habit he formed when, for a few years, we as a family were seriously suffering from an extended financial crisis. The same period had changed my mom, but differently – she would spend more time shopping around to find the lowest price. When I confronted my dad, armed with this more pleasant alternative, he explained to me that bargaining is an economic efficiency tool (he was to me, a thirteen your old at that time, too good at winning arguments) and him and mom were not very different.

    In the ideal world, all prices would be displayed side by side (something akin to what the internet is doing now) and there would be no cost to price discovery. Bargaining reduces the cost of that price discovery, because there is a huge cost to visiting each shop to find a price. Secondly, it can somewhat overcome collusion when all sellers bid the same, because sellers in a vicinity can see each other prior to your visit and conform to an agreed price. That is one of the reasons why, shops in different areas quote different prices to begin with, at all. And so bargaining is a necessary (but not complete) tool to combat price fixing in sellers.

    He won the argument. But it left a bad taste in me and I swore I will never bargain with people who are struggling to survive once I could afford it. (* And oh, I later found out that dad always was a haggler and had rehearsed his argument).

    • R's Mom says:

      Thank you for your comment…

      Few things

      1. I would haggle with the rick drivers in Chennai. Period. Full stop. THey charge WAY TOO MUCH!

      2. I would haggle if I know that a guy is trying to sell me somethign worth Rs.20 for Rs.200…

      3. I would not haggle if I know that a guy is trying to sell me something worth Rs.20 at Rs.25

      4. I dont blame your father..most of our parents have lived through difficult economic times and often bargain more as a habit than anything else

  26. dipali says:

    You are inspiring me to write about my childhood sabzi shopping trips with my father!!!

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