Nongpoh is a small village on NH 40 situated in Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya. While driving to Shillong from Guwahati, my colleague and I decided to stop at the weekly vegetable market at Nongpoh to buy some fruits that could be our breakfast. It was around 7.30 am and the local traders had already started coming in with their fresh produce. Most of them were carrying fruits and vegetables in tall conical bamboo baskets. Small vans were helping traders carry their wares from long distances. As we reached, some vendors had already set up their stalls while others were finding space. I spent the first few minutes trying to identify the different local varieties of fruits and vegetables that were being sold. There were huge bunches of leafy vegetables, long and weird shaped roots, and big melons that I had never seen before. Some stalls were selling meat and there were others selling grain and spices. I was actually very tempted to buy some local stuff and try it after returning to
; but that would have been too much of an ordeal. Bangalore
We picked a few oranges. They were small, a bit spotted and looked like poor country cousins to the oranges that one finds these days in city markets and the ones we are used to seeing in advertisements selling orange juice. But they were fresh and juicy and perhaps also organically grown. We managed to buy them using gestures without having to speak a word. However, buying bananas was not at all easy. First of all, we looked completely alien and none of the vendors could speak Hindi or English. Our Assamese driver was of no help either. The bananas were large and in huge bunches, so we tried our best to request them to sell us only four bananas. All we got in response was head shakes or blank expressions. While I love the fact that
On the way back from Shillong, I wanted to stop again at the Nongpoh market and try my hand at buying a pineapple cut as per my specifications. I knew it would be difficult to communicate – we had fumbled while purchasing the bananas and negotiating for skinned and cut pineapple would definitely not be easy. The first vendor flatly refused to sell anything but a whole pineapple. I was determined and decided to go to the next vendor. He simply looked away and ignored my request. I went back to the first vendor who just pointed me the second vendor and asked me to buy from him. What kind of trade logic is this- where a vendor passes on a customer to his immediate competitor? Either he was a bad businessman or he must have thought that I am not a customer worth having. For a few minutes, we kept moving between these two vendors, pleading them to sell us a pineapple as per our specification. Nothing materialized. Then I spotted some women sitting at a distance with pineapples and decided to try my luck with them. I don’t know how but one of the middle aged woman vendors understood exactly what we wanted although we did not understand each other’s language. She negotiated the rate with us, helped us select the fruit, skinned and cut it, helped pack it in a large leaf, procured one plastic bag, cleaned the bag as it was dusty and kept the cut pineapple inside so gently as if it were a sleeping baby. All this was done with a smile and for only Rs. 20. I thought the entrepreneurship that she showed in understanding us as customers, taking care of all our requirements including quality and hygiene, not letting the language constraint come in the way and not loosing us to her competitors was absolutely remarkable. I was reminded of what the senior bureaucrat had told us in the morning about lack of enterprise and I could not help but contrast the experience we had with different vendors at the Nongpoh market. I don’t know what really makes up for an entrepreneur and what does it take to develop business skills. In this case, I thought gender might have played an important role and the enterprising woman vendor could perhaps be explained by the matriarchal system followed by many social groups in Meghalaya.