One should not be confused by the word “Economics” in the subject. It is there just because the idea of writing an article/a series came to my mind while thinking over the peculiarity in the use of two currencies at the same place.
Okay, I ended the last post with the mention of difficulty in bargaining. Fact is that the reason mentioned there is not the only reason for difficulty in bargaining. In general a “sense of price” creates a difficulty. How much of reduction to ask for? If you carry out the conversation in terms of IC, you will be qualified as an outsider and that is a sure ticket for failure in bargaining anywhere in the world (well, in India at least ) If you talk in terms of NC, its very difficult to get that intuitive feeling of what is the right price. My mother still does not have it, after having lived there for more than two years now. Not that she is a very good bargainer, still.
Oh! And I am giving all these lectures about bargaining as if I am a very good bargainer No, I am not. I am talking by relying on the observations I have made of other people (I always prefer one price shops!).
Now, the interesting aspect of the economics of the area (I do seem to be talking of Economics, after all :p) is the smuggling across the border. Several electronic goods, which are smuggled into Nepal from China, Thailand and other countries are then smuggled into India from that border. And this is the livelihood for many of poor families of the area. You will be surprised at the skill with which the trade is carried out by kids (keeping the child-labour considerations aside for a while!) and illiterate women! According to a cousin brother, who seems to be an expert with his knowledge about this trade (no, no do not get me wrong, he is not involved . Its just the long-time contact with all the shop-keepers who invariably stock these goods, him having lived in Katihar since his birth.), “More than 80% of this trade is carried out by women and you (teasing me) worry about the empowerment of women in this country!” The smuggled goods include electronic goods as explained earlier. Besides, these also include cheap Vanaspati Ghee, nuts (supari) and some other small stuff from Nepal. You have to travel in the train to Katihar (the one mentioned earlier as the only ‘comfortable’ connection to the rest of the India) to get a feeling of what I am talking about. They have found innovative places in the train to hide small things. They will take out one layer of the train wall, somehow find a place broad or deep enough inside it to be able to hide a sack full of things, and before getting down will be able to collect all of them back too! For hiding those big Vanaspati Ghee containers, they will look for seats which has some ‘civilized’ people sitting there and keep it below those seats. Needless to say, I almost invariably always travel with a Vanaspati Ghee container behind my legs! The ticket collectors would still know many a times (”tu chor main sipahi”?) and would take their share depending on the paying capacity of the person concerned. So, proving to the TCs that you are capable for paying only this much or nothing at all is also a necessary skill in this profession I guess. Once a woman, probably new to this area, took out Rs. 20 note from the knot of her saree and needless to say lost it all. Several people, including the ‘civilized’ ones, then preached her on not to ’show them the money’. The drivers are also involved and so whenever a checking is expected at Katihar station, the train mysteriously stops at a particular location before it for few minutes. I have often confused it for the outer signal (since no apparent reason was there for train to stop), only to find the train stopping at the real outer signal few minutes later. WIth time, of course, I have come to know better. Seeing it all organized so well, I have started wondering if there isn’t an organization coordinating the whole thing! I do not know yet.
The question that would be clouding your mind must be about how these things are smuggled across the border. Somehow, I have never seen any Indian guards at the border. And I do not know if Nepali guards would be as vulnerable to corruption as Indians are expected to be. At least, they never allow my father to cross the border with his motorcycle without a helmet! And the general impression I get that corruption is less rampant there. But still there do seem to be some arrangements. I have heard that there are some people who earn their bread by helping people get their goods across the border. Also, there seems to be some other unguarded crude path through which goods come in. All this from those train-talks and hence I can not claim to know much. (And isn’t that safe too?).
I have been told that goods smuggled across that border go as far as to Delhi! Do I have a reason to feel proud for being so near ‘that border’?
What are the cultural impacts? Across the border there does not seem to be much. Some external rituals have been adopted. For example during Dushehra, people in Nepal, carry out their worship at night itself. People start in the temples as early as at 2 in the night. By the time sun comes up, the temples are all empty! Not many people from this side go there at 2, but still they go early enough in the morning. My mother is more comfortable with an empty temple in the day-time The temple we use is in Nepal, by the way.
In food ‘Momo’ and ‘Chowmin’ have their takers on this side of the border (Yeah, chowmin otherwise is not yet a popular dish in small towns, at least not in Bihar). I am not sure if many of you know about momo. It is made of maida or flour (as far as I remember), is steam cooked (again as far as I know) and can be filled with different things like vegetable or some non-vegetarian item. I had first eaten ‘Momo’ in Gangtok. There it went down my throat because in that cold at Sanghu Lake, anything hot felt okay. Otherwise I have difficulty is gulping it down in the normal weather of Jogbani (that is to put in mildly). But of course, last thing you should go by is my taste in food! It is a well liked dish, as I said earlier.
(This might be the last post in the series. Yeah, a small one compared to the earlier attempt at a series. Take into account the fact that I have been a ‘Maithil’ all my life, but a resident of ‘Border Area’ only for a little over two years, that too visited it only occasionally But if some other things come to my mind, I might just add another one.)