One Kilo Onions for One Kilo Edible Gum?

Sitting on a reclining chair, sipping coffee at Mangesh’s house in Dallas, USA, I was watching the video capture of the Trek our group members did in tribal areas in the vicinity of Javaar. In addition to the video soundtrack, Mangesh was filling up the gaps.

We were in self congratulatory mode. The screen showed flickers of rural life. Austere, unchanged for centuries, disconnected from the rest of the world.

Had we not made specific plans to see that DVD, probably we would be talking about the economic boom in India. The software companies, visas and green cards, projects and assignments. Nowadays it is “The thing” in NRIs to talk about India’s economic boom.

And there it was. The stark contrast to the golden glitter. The scenes went from group’s driving to trekking to Jairam’s house to weekly marketplace in a village. A market where even today barter system is prevalent. A young woman was exchanging a few handfuls of some lumps for the same weight of onions. “Edible gum ” (Dinka in Marathi), Mangesh explanied. She gave the trader about a kilo of edible gum and got a kilo of onions in return.

I could not believe it. That is the worst trade I have seen in my life. It must have taken that women at least a day to gather that much of edible gum.  She exchanged that for same weight of onions. In cities, the market cost of edible gum is somewhere in the range of 10-15 times that of onions. Yet here they were traded weight to weight. Trading the two for same weight is as absurd as trading a bag of cellphones for a bag of say, coffee cups.

Yet the woman did it. Completely unaware of what is called a “fair market value”.

Why?

Disconnection ! She has no clue how valuable the edible gum in the cities.

In a week, she will spend about two days to get enough edible gum to trade for potatos to feed her kids. Then a day more perhaps for onions and spices. A day will be spent catering the only cow she has and rest of the time and energy will be spent fetching water and finding burning wood.  On the weekly market day, she will trade the valuables things like edible gum and spices for things like onions. She will go home and start another week of hardship and poverty, while the trader sells the same stuff at profit margin of 1500% and will buy two cars.

When will the disconnection end? When will she be aware of real value of the things she has?

When will she find out about the vast world out there? And when will she find out about the people in cities, who finally enjoy the fresh edible gum she gets ? And when will she hear about Internet? And Blogs?

Will she ever read what I am writing about her?

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