The Power of Plenty… And The Power of Small Change

Friday, May 09, 2008

India 2008… Economy on a super-expressway… GDP @ $800b… 8% (YoY) growth… Expected to touch $1 trillion by 2010… 1.4m cars sold… 2m in 2010… 10m two-wheelers produced… 12 million in 2010… 12m TV’s sold… 20m in 2010… 26m sq ft of organized retail space… 60m sq ft in 2010… 300m telephone subscribers… 500m in 2010… Software Exports – $27b (now)… 30% (YoY) growth… $60b by 2010…

India 2008… a consumerist population for 100% of all products that humankind knows and sells… well almost all… except Viagra (Pfizer, please excuse… we are virile)…

India 2008… barring inflation and political idiosyncrasies… experience the Power of Plenty…

Last Sunday I went to the local, round the corner shopping complex a few hundred meters from where I live… I needed to get a document photocopied… and as I knew I needed only two copies and since the shopkeepers in Delhi NCR normally make a hullabaloo of small change, I took the exact change with me that I could pay for this service…

This shopping complex has been dormant – almost dead – for the first ten years that it was built fifteen years ago… I live in one of the older residential colonies of Gurgaon – Palam Vihar – a colony, this side of the expressway, which still retains its pristine greenery… and is peaceful, calm and devoid of the clamor and clutter of the other side – the DLF part – of Gurgaon… except…

…Except that my four 50 paisa coins (amounting to 2 rupees) for the photocopy service, were met with skeptic eyes and flared nostrils of the shopkeeper… the guy across the counter simply refused to take the change and said 50 paisa coins are not accepted at his shop… I tried arguing with him, that I did not mint these coins at home and that the Indian Revenue Department, upon the behest of the Government of India, which I voted into power, and which has been able to secure and retain its glory, pride and the required numbers in the well of the lower house of the Indian Parliament amidst a well enacted drama this week, has actually minted them at Nashik… and I happen to possess them not because I used to live close to Nashik until a year ago in Pune… but because I am one of the many diehard consumers of a time zone not so long ago, when the 50 paisa coin was indeed… quite powerful…

The shopkeeper was very clear… nobody would accept a 50 paisa coin from him, if he wanted to give them back to another consumer… a story, I found quite fascinating, and which I chose to analyze against the backdrop of all the toffees (candies), that the shopkeepers in this complex and all such complexes in Delhi NCR have been feeding the consumers with, for the last few years… in lieu of the small change that they need to return to the consumers…

The truth, as many Delhites would reckon, lies in the accepted reality in almost every nook and corner of the city… if you go to the round the corner grocer, you would end up either shelling out money that is rounded off to a total to the nearest 10 (not even 5) rupees… or you would end up with candies for your kids… for the 3 or 4 rupees that the shopkeeper needs to return to you…

My father is clever… he is more time frozen than I am, when it comes to the power of the paisa… he is septuagenarian and lives on love of his grandchildren (a six of them)… his 60 year old wife who has been tolerating his tantrums for the last 41 years since they have been married… and the round the corner medico, who is his lifeline for the umpteen vitamins, health capsules, prescription drugs and the occasional cough syrup…

The other day he went to his next door chemist shop and took with him all the 17 candies, accounting for the 17 rupees the chemist had to return him over the last one month… my father wanted to buy a cough syrup, which cost him 20 rupees… my father paid him 3 rupees in cash and the 17 candies… the medico was perplexed… my father just smiled at him…

Of course, my father is a senior citizen and could get away with this barter system of a bygone era… but when my shopkeeper sees me in the Lacoste Polo Shirt, Levi Strauss Jeans and a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses handing him back the 6 candies that he gave me last week, he looks at me scornfully, curses me under his breath and asks me – “Kyon Bhaisaab, bacchon ne toffee khana bandh kar diya hai kya”? (Have the kids stopped eating candies?)… I retort – “Nahin bhai. Maine ghar pe toffe ki factory khol lee hai”. (No my friend. I have started a candy factory at home)…

It happens to you all the while… the bigger the grocer, the bigger the theft of the small change… step into the glitzy malls of Gurgaon and you would know this better… the food products… daily needs… veggies… soaps and detergents… you name it… everything comes with some additional offer or the other… buy one get one free is passé… the new age offers look like this… buy edible oil, get hair oil free… buy a big toothpaste, get a small toothpaste and a toothbrush free… buy 3 cakes of soap, get the 4th free… what if I need only 2, I can’t shake the rest off the pack as all 4 are packed together… the audacity of the offers doesn’t hit you till the time you reach the cash counters… till you discover, you have been rid of the small change in your wallet to the tune of 15% or the near about of the total bill… which you never intended to spend, but for the offers…

Nothing comes for free… you get charged the small change… or the candies if you will… everywhere… especially in a ‘Bata Price’ economy…

The biggest killer in the growing consumerist India is the ‘Bata Pricing’… the other day, I bought a pair of slippers for 99 rupees (the very special Bata price) at the ground floor Bata outlet of the flashy MGF Metropolitan Mall in Gurgaon… I paid 100 rupees and waited for the 1 rupee change… the owner of the mom-and-pop-franchisee-bucket-shop, who was behind the counter gave me a – ‘how-dare-you-come-to-glitzy-malls-and-can’t-leave-a-rupee-behind’ kind of a look… and when he really did not make an attempt to return my change, I looked straight at him in the eye and demanded it of him… he searched all over the place for the elusive small change and with much reluctance, fished it out of one of his employee’s wallets…

Well, I hadn’t priced the shoes at 99 rupees… and it’s not my fault if he did not have any candies to offer me instead of the small change…

India 2008… barring the slickness of the change all over and the Power of Plenty… experience the problem of small change…

India 2008… horse trading gets you a ‘Bata Priced’ Member of Parliament at 24,99,99,999 (24 crores, 99 lakhs, 99 thousand, 9 hundred and 99 rupees)…

The MP comes with a candy worth 1 rupee… free…

Keep the Change…

Have a Great Weekend…

Ravi Kodukula

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