Vanlaldika never thought his act of desperation three years ago would trigger a rural marketing revolution, and become the yardstick of honesty in Mizoram.
In 2003, Vanlaldika was elated by a bumper harvest of vegetables in a fairly inaccessible village 100 kilometers from Aizawl. But he encountered marketing woes — there were hardly any takers for his produce. Despondently, he set off early one morning with a bagful of his produce and set up a temporary shop on the Aizawl-Champhai road, 30 kilometers from his village. He soon gave up after no buyers turned up, but left the vegetables behind.
When Vanlaldika returned the next morning, the vegetables had vanished and in their place was some money, neatly stacked. He came back the following day with more vegetables, a signboard displaying the price of each item — “we sell in pieces, pairs or bundles to save the trouble of weighing” — and a moneybox.
The idea clicked. Travellers on the busy road — Champhai is an important trade point on the Indo-Myanmar border — began stopping their vehicles, selecting vegetables of their choice and paying by putting the money in the box that invariably contained change for their convenience. Vanlaldika’s shop soon came to be known as Nghahloh Dawr, which in the Mizo language means “keeperless shop”.
Today, there are over a dozen such Nghahloh Dawrs in an expansive stretch on the Aizawl-Champhai road. And apart than vegetables, these keeperless shops also sell eggs and poultry.
Despite the stiff competition, Vanlaldika is not worried. “There is still room for more,” he says, adding that he is happy to have provided a marketing option for farmers who cannot afford to take time off from their fields. “The concept of keeperless shop has eliminated the middleman besides saving us the cost of employing salespersons,” he told reporters in Aizawl recently.
Most of the buyers are honest but there have been a few thefts. However, the loss is more than compensated by generous buyers who often leave extra money in the box.