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Just picked or packed?

Despite the number of department stores that have mushroomed in the city, many still prefer to buy vegetables from the open market because they are fresh and their rates reasonable.

"HOW IS it that `saar' does not come to the market these days?" I turned to see whom the vegetable vendor was addressing. Even before the gentleman who was picking fresh tomatoes could reply, the vendor shot off the next question, "Hasn't `amma' come today?" Satisfied with a nod from the customer, the vendor continued as he weighed the tomatoes, "May I give you one kg of Ooty peas?" The customer replied: "What will I do with one kg, we are just two of us."

"Don't worry, it can be stored in the fridge and used to make sambar one day and porial the next, for, the price is only Rs. 15.

Meanwhile, to another gentleman's query about the price of peas, the vendor answered curtly, "Rs. 20 a kg." The gentleman tried to bargain but, in vain.

The first customer asked the vendor, "Why did you suddenly increase the price?" To this the vendor replied, "That man always buys only a quarter kg and insists that I give him a little extra each time." Emptying the peas into the bag, the vendor courteously continued, "The ladiesfingers are tender, so are the beans. Shall I give you half a kg of each?" What about bottle gourd?" In no time, he had filled the bag, adding a bunch of coriander and curry leaves in the end, the last two, of course, free of cost.

As more customers arrived, the vendor continued serving them - weighing and calculating the amounts in a jiffy. His stock of vegetables dwindled in no time. The scene was the same at all the other stalls in the market.

On meeting a few of the shoppers one learnt why they preferred to buy their weekly stock of vegetables in the open market, especially when packed vegetables were easily available in the big department stores and supermarkets that have sprung up throughout the city, where all one had to do was pick up the vegetables and pay the bill.

Not only could unpleasant haggling with vendors be avoided but also the extra time involved in picking and weighing the vegetables could be saved.

"I agree that buying vegetables in the open market is time-consuming but the satisfaction it gives more than compensates for this," said Dr. Rao, professor in a business school. "Moreover, the vegetables are fresh and there is a certain pleasure derived in handpicking them. Most important, there is the personal touch of the vendor."

"I pick up packed vegetables from a food store when I go there to buy groceries. I do so more out of convenience than choice," says Mridula, an advocate.

"I come to the open market out of habit since I have been buying vegetables here for the past 15 years. I am sure of the quality unlike vegetables that come packed," says Malathi, a housewife. "Besides, the open market prices are more reasonable."

Says Suman, a chartered accountant, " More often than not, the air conditioning in the big stores is either switched off or ineffective. The result, the packed vegetables, especially greens, get stale. Sometimes, mosquitoes hover around and that puts me off. So, I do not mind driving the extra distance to get fresh vegetables from the open market, though I live quite close to a department store."

As pictures of the roadside vendors were being taken, a vendor pleaded, "Please ensure that we are not asked to vacate from this place. We have been selling vegetables here for the past so many years."


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