Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pani Puri, Anyone?

It began with an emergency meeting of the AIAPPMV- All India Association of Pani Puri Manufacturers and Vendors. (Just for the record, the Association is an affiliate member of United India Federation of Street Food Producers and Vendors, UIFSFPV). A longstanding member was assaulted by customers for using  his utensils of trade for purposes not indicated by the manufacturer of the said utensil. (Plainly put, he had emptied his bladder into the vessel). To add insult to injury, his raw material was destroyed. To add more insult, the law took an unsympathetic view of the matter and fined the said vendor for endangering public health.

The President of the Association started the meeting with a condemnation of the unprovoked attack on a senior member and called for a nationwide strike. The proposal did not find much support as –in the words of one of those present-it was a purely local matter. Serves the chap right, said another. Most of those present, however, were worried about their  losses and they were too scared to go out to work. They wanted the AIAPPMV to do something about it.

A worker with a NGO, which was a support group for the Association, then stood up. He explained how the world had changed and why it is important to be clean and maintain hygiene. He also gave examples of how a clean and pleasant environment actually helped businesses to grow and flourish.

New ideas have their share of opponents and skeptics and this was no different

“We have worked like this for several decades, why change now?” was the immediate reaction.
“It won’t work in our case,” was the considered opinion of the wise one
“Can’t afford this, we are barely able to make ends meet.” This came from the practical one.
“Things are bad enough as it is; trying out something new is not going to make it worse.” Here was a grudging acceptance, at last. The NGO worker had had his way. All that remained was to discuss the plan and put it in action.

Soon, there was a noticeable change in the way business was conducted. The foodstuff was stored in shining stainless steel vessels, it was handled with disposable plastic gloves and the pani was made using packaged drinking water. Cleaner than clean was the driving motto.

The vendors also wore neat uniforms which reflected the colour of their servings- greenish brown trousers (for the pani) and beige shirts (for the puri). They wore chef caps on their heads.

The AIAPPMV and the NGO also installed a large potted plant near every pani puri stall.

What a pleasant ambience, exclaimed a foreign tourist as she reached  for her camera.
One could hide behind it, commented another customer.
Yes sahib, replied the pani puri seller humbly, the plant is of great help in many ways.

The changes also attracted media’s attention. The president of the AIAPPMV was much sought after for interviews.  Soon after, he was invited to lecture Management Students on “Street Level Changes”.

The whispers began a couple of months later. No one paid any attention at first. The whispers gave way to low mutters and then to loud rumblings. Reality had to be faced. The pani puri business had not improved. In fact-as one pani puri vendor put it- it was as bad as it could be.

The same vendor quoted an old customer, “Your pani puri just doesn’t taste right these days”.

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