The Dreamheron Diaries - স্বপ্নসারসের দিনলিপি

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Today when we hear the word entrepreneur, we think Silicon Valley; we think High Technology; we think Bill Gates. But of course there have been entrepreneurs of all types and all descriptions since the dawn of man. I speak of one here whose milieu was Silchar. The time was 1950s. The area of entrepreneurship: Food.

There was a tiny, shop-lined lane that led you from the bustling main road to the expansive Fatak Bazar. One day, people saw sitting on the pavement of this constricted lane a new vendor, with a new product.

First the product: It was a type of sweet. He displayed this in a typical wood-framed glass box such as was used by mobile vendor of snacks. The nuggets themselves looked like inch-long pieces of Mexican churros. They were probably made from dough of flour and cream-of-wheat, formed, fried and then dipped in sugar syrup. It was a tasty innovation no doubt, but what made it the talk-of-the-town was the vendor himself.

The man was rather nondescript, and wore ordinary street clothes. He called his fare Montu Mithai. Now, Montu is a rather silly nickname for a man, and Mithai is candy/sweet. So, an equivalent coinage of this in Texas or Louisiana might be Bubba Bites. However, we do not know if this man’s name was actually Montu. At any rate, the name Montu Mithai turned out to be a catchy coinage in itself. The man clearly had a good sense of words and sounds.

Then there were the elaborate verses to go with the vending activity. The man sat there and sang his disjointed, non-sequitur lyrics. As far as I can remember, they went something like this (the language was Sylheti):

Montu Mithai anna-ay chhoi.
Montu Mithai anna-ay chhoi.

Anna-ay chhoi.
Mon-e koi.
Rastat khaile-o chhoi.
Barit gele-o chhoi.

And thus he sang on as the product flew off the shelf:

Montu Mithai six to an anna.
Montu Mithai six to an anna.

One anna gets you six.
That’s in my mind the fix.
Eat while walking, it is six.
Take home, it is still six.

As the day grew and the morning rush to the Bazar of the fresh produce buyers waned, the vendor finally stood up. He put some padding on his head, and put his glass box on it. He would now walk the streets for a while, taking his wares home to home. But as he stood up, you noticed that round his ankles he was wearing strings of small bells – the kind Indian dancers wear. His springy steps thus made the accompanying instrumental music to his lyrics. But as he would walk, he would have to stretch out his verse:

Mono nai shukh.
Bakka pai-lai-lam ek dukh.

In my mind there’s no happiness.
And like wow, I just now got a pang of sadness.

And so he would continue with newer and newer verses. As you can see by now, the song had little to do with his fare anymore, but it had to do with him. And the more it was this way, the brisker business he did. Housewives would peep out of their doors and call out: “O Montu Mithai, come this way.”

The strange thing about this unusual entrepreneur was this: It was never clear that he was out to make money. It was as though he was completely engrossed in his particular mode of vending. When people stopped to buy, he mechanically served them and then took the money and gave them correct change – all without any dialogue. He did not break his rhythm.

And to this day I wonder if entrepreneurship is all about money, or how much of it is about money. I wonder if this is not a primary quality of entrepreneurship: Don’t break your rhythm.