Wednesday, 26 December 2018

He should've been our Finance Minister

A tea stall is like a benchmark to measure inflation in semi-urban and rural areas. Apparently, Sivakumar, who runs Bhagavan Tea Stall at Vamban village in Pudukottai district is pretty sure about this and says that he has come across words like, 'Neenga thara sambalathula oru tea kudikka mudiyuma' asked by daily wage labourers to landlords.

So, he has made one big decision that came after his entire village was devastated by Cyclone Gaja that made its landfall in Cauvery delta region in November this year.  And, the decision is to waive all the existing debts kept at his shop by the villagers who lost everything to the disaster. I wanted to talk to him and somehow traced his phone number to greet him. We had a simple conversation during the call.

“I have been in the tea stall business for over 20 years. This village gave me life and I had to give back something to them,” the 38-year-old Sivakumar who is nicknamed Kumar by the villagers, told me.

So he ended up choosing this way that would give them some financial relief. “I never wanted to say this. But still, I would say a major portion of the villagers owe me some money for the tea and snacks they had here, since they don’t have money all the time and would pay me whenever they get cash. The overall debt would be somewhere between Rs 40,000 and 45,000 and I am happy to waive it off,” Kumar said.

Writing it off should have been the hardest decision for him as the area he belongs has been witnessing sudden inflation after the rise in demand in all basic life necessities following Gaja.

“On a regular day, I earn a profit to about Rs 500 to 600. But now, it has gone down to the range of Rs 200 to 300 per day,” he said and added that he has not only waived the debts but also has reduced the price of tea.

“Because most of my customers are elderly people who buy things like flowers, betel leaves, etc from Pudukottai and sell here. Their weekly income would not be even Rs 150 to 200. How could I sell them tea at a usual price in time like this?” he questioned.

Surprisingly, the price of a glass of tea is comparatively very low at Bhagavan Tea Stall than a similar outlet in an urban area. “The regular price of tea at my place is Rs.6 and after Gaja people pay Rs. 4 or 5 for a glass of tea. That’s why the profit margin has gone down,” said Kumar and added that he is happy with this.

When asked how is he able to sell tea at a low cost, he said, “I cannot see my people struggle. They love my tea as we don’t make it from packeted milk but from cow’s milk. They are used to my shop’s taste and essence. They never failed my business in 20 years. Sometimes they even notify me if they are working in other villages that they won’t be having tea at my shop so I can buy less milk that day to reduce wastage. If they are so bonded with me, I should show back the same love and respect. And, this is it.”

Basically, from a family with an agriculture background, Kumar said he can connect well with the loss of his customers. “Till five years back, even I was seriously involved in farming. At one point I was facing a complete loss because of bad weather and drought. So, I know how this loss would impact their lives.”

Sivakumar is running Bhagavan Tea Stall along with his father Sivaraman at the Four Road Junction of Vamban village. He can be reached at 9095336300.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, December 26, 2018.

A part or complete version of this interview by Santhosh Mathevan has appeared in

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