Vanlaldika never though his act of desperation three years ago would trigger a rural marketing revolution. And at the same time become the yardstick of honesty in Mizoram.
In 2003, Vanlaldika was elated by his bumper harvest of vegetables in a fairly inaccessible village 100 kms from Aizawl. But he encountered marketing woes — there were hardly any takers around for his produce. Despondently, he set off early one morning with bagfuls of his produce and set up a temporary shed on the Aizawl-Champhai road, some 30 kms from his village, and spread his vegetables. He gave up after waiting for buyers to turn up, but left the vegetables behind.
When Vanlaldika returned the next morning the vegetables had vanished. But in their place were 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 the vegetables of their choice and paying by putting the money in the box that invariably contained changes 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 "nghahloh dawrs" in an expansive stretch between Seling and Keifang villages on the Aizawl-Champhai road. And other than vegetables, these keeperless shops sell eggs and certain animal products.
Though he is facing competition from fellow villagers, Vanlaldika is not worried. "There's still room for more," he says, adding that he was happy to have provided a marketing option for farmers who cannot afford to take time off their fields. "The concept of keeperless shop has eliminated the middleman besides saving us the cost of employing salespersons," he told reporters at Aizawl recently.
Despite honest buyers, the nghahloh dawrs have occasionally had thefts too. But the loss is more than compensated by generous buyers who often leave extra money in the box.
Email: rahconteur @rediffmail.com