It’s 2pm and the otherwise bustling neighbourhood market in east Delhi’s Vasundhara Enclave is deserted – barring a shop that houses a lone ATM. The serpentine queue outside it refuses to get shorter. Frustration is writ large on the faces of not just those standing in line but also the shopkeepers in the market -- a lifeline for thousands of families living in nearby high-rises.
Once throbbing with activity, taking care of people’s daily needs – from groceries to medicines to dry cleaning to haircuts to cigarettes – this cash-only market is struggling to survive, even as residents somehow try to make ends meet.
The relationship between the vendor and buyer has transformed, and though sales are down to the bare essentials: there is a combination of goodwill, generosity, technology and trust that has replaced cold, hard cash. The Vasundhara Enclave market is a microcosm of how this changed dynamic is playing out across the city.
“People who earlier spent Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 are not willing to spend more than Rs 300 to Rs 400 now. I cannot dump my customers in these difficult times -- I’m inviting them to buy grocery on credit. I don’t even know some of their addresses, but I have faith in them.” says Gagan Chawla, who has a notebook with a list of people who have taken grocery worth Rs 500 to Rs 5,000 in the past two days.
Shopkeepers such as Chawla, who accepted only cash payments until a week ago, are now turning tech-savvy. “The other day I signed up for a mobile payment service,” he says. “That has helped.”
As he’s talking, Mohammed Furkan, a customer, enters. Chawla is happy to see the Rs 470 Furkan puts on his table as he hands him a sheet of paper in his wife’s handwriting. Furkan is apologetic, knowing that though the list is long, he is short of money. Chawla is cooperative and lets him take whatever he wants on credit.
Puran Taneja, who runs a hair salon next door, is waiting for customers. “Some people come with either old Rs 500 notes or new Rs 2,000 notes. I can’t accept either because I don’t have enough change. I ask them to pay me later. I don’t know how I will pay my staff,” he says.
Even street vendors are helping. “I just ask for the phone number of people who cannot pay cash,” says Sharat Kumar, a vegetable seller. Ankita Shukla, a regular at the market, says she’s been surprised by the generosity of shopkeepers. “I came here with Rs 100 only but managed to get fruits and vegetable worth R 500 on credit.”
At the DDA market in IP Extension in east Delhi, Manoj Kumar, who runs a stationery shop, pulls up his shutters for just 3-4 hours these days. “I used to make Rs 6,000 a day, but now barely make Rs 1,300,” says Kumar. He, too, is exploring online payment options.
Raju, who works in a dry cleaning shop, has failed to collect any cash since morning, but has cleaned and delivered clothes nonetheless. “Our counter always remained crowded. Now, regular customers are not taking the delivery of clothes lying for days. But I’m going door-to-door -- I’ve told them they can pay later. ”
It’s a whole new world in Delhi’s markets. “But,” as Raju asks, “how long can it continue?”