The Bread wala bhai
When I was younger, like seven or eight, we used to be visited by the “The Bread wala bhai”. He would go house by house, with a large green box fitted on the pillion seat of his bicycle. He would stop gently near our house, and as he dismounted from the bike, he would make sure his leg go over the front handle bar of the bicycle. Mom would always buy a bread, sometimes smaller, sometimes larger bread. On some days she would buy eggs as well as some rusks, on other days, just the bread.
Me and my sister had a simple arrangement with him – we could buy a bun, and we wouldn’t have to pay anything. He would simply note it down, and get paid at the end of the month for everything we bought from him. It was a tacit understanding that we would only buy at most one bun a day. We could buy a 25 paisa bun, a 50 paisa bun, 1 Re bun (and later a 2 Re bun), but I can not remember, ever buying two. Mom would not pay for her purchases on a daily basis either. It was just too inconvenient with small change on a daily basis. End of the month was the way.
He would always come around dusk, when the children had, or were about to quit playing. We would be hungry, but still sweaty and tired, and not ready for supper. We would buy the bun and still run around eating it. I am sure he went through many houses and many streets, but the timing that he would hit at our house was very much the best. I think it also served him to be at the same place consistently as people would expect him. Though he had a very distinct air horn on his bike that he would press and play as he went around the street, still it might not have been well heard by us at times other than dusk.
He would pick up the goods at the local bakery, and deliver them from house to house at a small profit. We were never taught any compassion or pity towards him, nor were we taught that he is an overcharging monster. We never felt any pity or any negativity towards him. To us, he was just the bread wala bhai.
For better or for worse, the bread guy had no name for us. He was significantly older than us – the name would do us no good. The choice of the address was between “bread wala bhai” and “bread wale uncle”. The latter would undoubtedly be reflective of a higher respect, and a higher social stature. However, he was stuck with the former for good. I don’t think we meant any disrespect, but we also did not think he was in the social equivalent league of our neighbors.
So many concepts that people study in business schools, I am sure the bread wala bhai had to just learn in life. Profitability, cash flow positiveness, those were all the concepts he was familiar with. He knew he would give out goods, not just to one family but to everyone for the entire month, and only then get paid. The last day of the month was likely, but not guaranteed to be the pay day for him. If we were going to be traveling, then he would get paid later. If it ever happened that mom did not have money that particular day, he would get paid next day. In all likelihood, he got paid around the last day, and likely never after the 5th of the following month.
And yet, he was more thankful for our business, than we were for the buns.
Then, at some point of time, he stopped appearing. I am not sure how he fared. It is possible he moved up the chain and bought his own bakery, and didn’t have to go street by street on his bicycle. It is also possible he simply became ill and couldn’t do the rounds anymore. If indeed he did become ill, how would he get his money back, and what else could he really do?
As children, we did not think about these things, nor did we feel pity. Perhaps, this agreed with his entrepreneurial spirit – we were lovable little children, but customers first. Perhaps, our respect to him as a seller was all he needed to go on with his rounds.