Star-for-fewer-bucks

Star-for-fewer-bucks

Have you heard of BT Starbucks? BT stands for “Better Than”. The three café’s up here in the Himalayan Mountainside have been christened BT Starbucks, BT Costa and BT Barista. Each serves up one thing neither Starbucks, Costa or Barista can. They serve Simplicity. You go there and sit on the basic wooden bench and order a cup of tea, and that is exactly what you get. If you don’t say otherwise, it automatically comes with sugar.  None of the three has the Teavana Shaken Iced Berry Sangria Herbal Tea Grande on the menu. Yes, that’s a real drink at Starbucks. Yes, that is just one drink, not three.

BT Starbucks does only “wood fired” tea because the owner does not use LPG or kerosene. We can discuss how eco-friendly that is. Best to do so in a Café Coffee Day where the Air Conditioning is set to teeth chattering. None of the cafes up here have air-conditioning. Actually, I am not sure they all even have electricity. You see, they close well before dark.

So imagine my shock when I went to a tea shop in the neighbouring village of Reetha, and the shopkeeper asked if we wanted regular or herbal tea. I was with my friend Nitin. I looked at him and found his eyebrows were attempting paragliding as well. We both sat down and agreed to try the herbal tea.

It was lovely. A clear golden-brown color, the rich smell of herbs – all served up in simple steel glasses and cups. The tea was free of sugar – sweetened naturally with a herb called Stevia. One could taste some rather distinct flavours. And the size of the serving was also just right – not an attempt to sink the titanic.

We had to come back to Reetha the next day to meet someone. As happens often in the

IMG_20170825_115046
The man himself – Harinder ji

hills, we had to wait. So we had another round of the herbal tea. It was still great, but a little different from the previous day. The Rosemary was stronger. The sweetness a little less.

 

You see, the owner of tea-shop – a very friendly man named Harinder Singh – is not a barista. He does not have a single definition of perfection which he has decided to foist on all humanity. He said they tried slight variations and something new came up. And their customers enjoyed it.

So we got chatting about how he made the tea. Harinder Singh ji readily showed us all the ingredients – some which he had kept carefully in ziplock packets, some in plastic jars (see slideshow). It was obvious he took joy in growing and drying these herbs. With much pride he explained some trade secrets-

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

like mixing Rhododendrnon flowers with the Stevia makes a better sweetener. He enjoyed the appreciation and special attention he got from us.

What made the tea completely unbelievable was the price tag of 10 rupees. So the next time I am travelling to the city and we want to catch up, please don’t ask me to meet at a Starbucks. Where I come from, I can get 29 cups of real herbal tea for the price of one Teavana Shaken Iced Berry Sangria Herbal Tea Grande.

And if you frequent Starbucks, come and stay at Reetha for a few days. Your savings on herbal tea will pay for your entire trip.

(Title photo credit : Ek Chidiya Cottage)

About Chetan Mahajan:  Chetan is a full-time author who lives in a village in the Kumaon Himalayas. He published his first book with Penguin, and is working on his next one. The amazing creative influence of the Himalayas inspired him to start the Himalayan Writing Retreats: writing getaways for both novice and advanced writers. You can learn more about these retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .  He also writes and edits this blog.

Advertisements

Your money – Black, White or Wheatish?

Your money – Black, White or Wheatish?

Contributor : Navin Pangti.  In this piece Navin – an amazingly independent thinker – walks us through his conversation with a bunch of village kids about demonetization. Their observations offer a simple, insightful reality check on demonetisation. Read the Hindi version (scroll down) to lose nothing in translation.

Like every Sunday, last Sunday too we sat with a few village kids. When I mentioned demonetization, everyone opined that demonetization is a good first step but the needs of the poor were ignored.  Then I asked what is black money? Can it be made white with Fair and Lovely, or does it take more work? Is the money earned by the daily-wage labourer also black money? Is the earning from Charas (Hashish)  black money? They said that the labourer’s earning is not black money because that is earned from hard work even though he does not file a zero tax return, but the earning from Charas is black money. Then I asked – has the Charas earnings in the surrounding villages become waste? They said no. So that means the black money remains. Then I asked – does this mean next year there will be nobody making and selling Charas? They said it will be made and sold. Then my question was did changing the currency notes actually stop the black money?   Or will stopping the Charas trade actually stop the black money?

Was the issue the black money, or the businesses generating it? They seemed to agree that the problem was the businesses generating it. Then we talked about what is barter, what is money, what is business and trade, what is currency, where are notes printed and how, how is the value of the rupee determined etc. During our talk we also understood the English words for these terms. We did not talk any politics or discuss Modiji. For three hours we talked. The gathering of kids ranged from classes 8 – 12. They easily understood all the issues at hand, but it is shocking how our civilized and overeducated society seems to have lost the spectacles of its brain.  They seem unable to see that plastic money and bank access are privileges of the privileged class.

Why is a tiny subsection of India’s population controlling and foisting its ideas on all of society? The sadly funny thing is that those who deal in black money are the ones looking for so-called freedom from it, and they don’t even realize that the people bearing the brunt of their actions do not have any wealth – leave alone black money. Tell me, tomorrow when you do land and property deals in the city will you not make payments in black money? Will you not pay the extra 2% on the registry fees? If you will not, that is great. But if you will then please wake up to yourself … understand the real issue and think about it … the country changes with you.

 

indexAbout Navin Pangti :  Navin is a free-thinker who abandoned the city and now lives on a green hillside above almora. He wears numerous hats which include artisan, farmer, designer, poet, storyteller, entrepreneur and home-schooler. He has also published a collection of his hindi poetry under the title “Dhar kay us paar”.

 

 

हर इतवार की तरह आज भी गाँव के कुछ बच्चों के साथ बैठे. मैंने demonetisation का जिक्र किया तो सबका मानना था की demonetisation अच्छी पहल है पर गरीबों का पक्ष नहीं देखा गया. तब मैंने पूछा कि काला धन क्या होता है? क्या वो fair and lovely से सफेद हो सकता है या मसला कुछ और है? क्या जो देहाड़ी में मजदूर कमाते हैं वो काला धन है? क्या चरस से हुई कमाई काला धन है?  वो बोले मजदूर ही देहाड़ी काला धन नहीं है क्योंकि वो मेहनत की कमाई है यद्यपि मजदूर zero return नहीं भरता पर चरस की कमाई काला धन है. तो मैंने पूछा – क्या आस पास के गाँव के लोगों की चरस की कमाई बेकार हो गई? वो बोले नहीं. तो मतलब काला धन वहीं रहा. फिर मैंने पूछा – तो क्या अगले बरस चरस नहीं बनेगी और बिकेगी. वो बोले बनेगी. तो फिर काला धन केवल नोट बदलने के कहाँ रुका? वो तो चरस के बनने और बिकने से रुकेगा ना?

मुद्दा काले धन का नहीं काले धंधे का है. उनके बात समझ आ गई. फिर हमने बातें करी की वस्तु विनिमय क्या होता है, रूपया क्या होता है, व्यापार क्या होता है, मुद्रा क्या होती है, नोट क्यों और कैसे छपते हैं, रुपये का मूल्य कैसे तय होता है, इत्यादि… इसी बीच हमनें इन शब्दों की अंग्रेजी शब्दावली भी समझी. हमनें मोदीजी या राजनीति की कोई बात नहीं करी. तीन घंटे यूँहीं यही बातें करते रहे. ये बच्चे कक्षा ६ से १२ के थे. वो सहजता से अधिकाँश बातें समझ गए पर अचरज इस बात का है की हमारा सुशील व सुशिक्षित समाज अपनी बुद्धि का चश्मा कहीं खो चुका है. क्यों उन्हें दिखाई नहीं देता की plastic money और bank access एक privileged class का privilege है.

क्यों हिंदुस्तान कि आबादी का एक छोटा सा हिस्सा पूरे समाज पर कुंडली मार कर अपना हक जमा रहा है. मजे की बात है की जो काले धन में खेलता है वो खुद उससे ‘तथाकथित’ मुक्ति चाहता है पर ये नहीं देख पाता की जो उसकी इस चाह में पिस रहा है वो काला धन तो क्या, धन क्या है ये भी नहीं जान पाया है. एक बात बताओ, कल जब जमीन में पूंजी लगाओगे, surplus income से नया फ्लैट खरीदोगे तो क्या ब्लैक में पेमेंट नहीं करोगे, रजिस्ट्री के दो परसेंट नहीं दोगे? अगर हाँ तो बहुत अच्छी बात है पर अगर नहीं तो कृपया जागो… मुद्दे पर आओ और सोचो… देश बदल रहा है

Demonetization in the Village

Demonetization in the Village

Sometimes we dislike an action because we dislike the person doing it. That is hate clouding judgement. The fact is sometimes people we dislike may do smart things. At that time it is gracious to accept.

I don’t write political posts in this blog, but demonetization is well beyond politics. What does it mean to the Kumaoni Villager? In the village the incomes are from agriculture or small trading or jobs. Most people are below the tax bracket anyway. All dealing is cash – little happens in banks. So demonetisation naturally creates big problems here which go well beyond inconvenience. Too many people are unable to get necessities despite owning banknotes. The community always helps here in emergencies. Most people grow at least some food, and that is shared around. Informal (not card based) credit is extended because people know each other.  But even that is a chain – the next link is how much credit the wholesaler will extend to the retailer and so on. Since mandi’s run on cash, so the vegetable and fruit retailer clearly is in pain. The assumption underlying short term informal credit is a quick return to normalcy but no new banknote has reached the SBI in Mukteshwar or the ATM in Sitla, and the banks project another week of a 2K exchange limit. This pain is real, current and impacting livelihoods. The community cushion – in the village people help each other in ways city people cannot imagine – helps, but that too has its limits, especially when everyone is feeling the same pain. To top it, many do not understand why it has been done, or why it is important.

But that is the Micro level. At the Macro level, the benefits of demonetization are game-changing. People with the wrong principles will finally be hurt in the right places. (First imagine having 10 crores in cash. Then imagine all of it catching fire in front of your eyes).  The hard-working people who regularly pay their taxes won’t feel like losers. Paying taxes does have cynicism attached to it in India, but the fact is it should be done equitably. With demonetization, the government revenues will jump in the near term, and hopefully many citizens will start thinking paying taxes is better than dealing with such uncertainty. The world has taken notice – it realizes that India is serious about the cleanup, which gives confidence to the FIIs. With black money turning white, it will seek legit investment destinations. Both these will pump up the stock market.

Back to the villager, though – the only windfalls happen from land sale. The land prices might slide a little but will correct to real levels. The next land deal may have more cheque payment or people will simply convert the cash proceed to gold immediately. But normal life in, say, December will continue largely as before.

So what should the government do, and what should we?

The government should ensure the return to normalcy and liquidity is as quick as possible, in every village. The implementation has been shoddy, and the government needs to catch-up. We were four people who stood in a line for 2 hours today to convert a total of 12k. I think there is a lot of pressure on that front, and that should stay.

And what should we do? Should we oppose this policy or support it? Our sectarian, criticism-sensitive leader has demonstrated leadership in a critical area, and that part of his work at least, we should support. Don’t let hate cloud judgement. I think the move needs our support, because this is a critical battle in the war against corruption. We’re almost there. Backtracking now would be like asking for an abortion after hours of labourc9830ae650b153d2813a88599b44c6b2 pains.

We need to back our side to the hilt. I am reminded of the many posters used in America in the second world war.  Words like perseverance and fortitude were flaunted.  To fight this effort would be to fight change and vote for the status quo – which is what we cry about at all other times. The swastika in this WW2 poster is the status quo. Time to give it some heat.