Denomitisation crunch continues!  Friday’s in India are salary and pension payout days and it’s not crystal clear just how everyone will be paid given that three of the banks – two State Bank of India branches and a branch of the South Indian Bank - I surveyed this morning had no cash.  But on returning to Michaels Homestay, just around the corner is a Canara Bank ATM that was dispensing money.  According to the rules, foreigners are allowed a withdrawal of a maximum of Rupees 10,000 per day but the machine apparently didn’t get the memo since I could only get the new Rupees 2,000 notes.  On the other hand, I was able to manage four transactions in succession at which point I thought I had better quit while I was ahead, at least for today.  While ATM machines no longer swallow your card for some infraction, I was concerned that I might be cut off electronically if I made too many transactions at a single go. 
Kochi is normally chock full of tourists from Germany, France, Australia, Malaysia at this time of the year (it’s winter so not so bloody hot and humid as it is come March and April) but this year it looks to me as if foreign tourists are in short supply.  Even before I left the States I had noticed an article in the Times of India that highlighted tourists who were leaving early due to the Demonitisation crisis.  And, Fort Kochi lives on tourism so I’m thinking this year is going to be a rough year for all the merchants, hotels and homestay folks.  Maybe when the Kochi Biennale begins in a week things will pick up.

We’ve shifted from Alappuzha (Aleppy) by rickshaw to our home base in Fort Kochi.   I wasn’t all that thrilled to be travelling for two or two-and-a-half hours in a rickshaw but in fact it turned out to be both pleasant and kind of interesting.  We took the Beach Road (it’s the Beach Road here in Fort Kochi but called several names between here and Alappuzha) but it’s a two lane straight shot that follows the Arabian Sea.  Of course, you can’t see the ocean because of the twenty foot high rock tsunami barriers that were erected after the devastating tsunami that hit the east coast of India back in 2004.  Frankly I doubt whether these barriers will do much of anything should there be a west coast tsunami.  Maybe they’ll help a little.
But the sea route is probably the oldest roadway between Alappuzha and Ernakulum and passes through small towns, fishing villages and small settlements along the 60 kms route.   What impressed me is that almost without a break are shops, shops and more shops by the side of the roadway.  These range from ramshackle shacks with thatched roofs to modern, glass enclosed structures and every sort of construct in between.  There are literally thousands of them.  It suddenly occurred to me that this is what is meant by “small businesses” and  “ small business entrepreneurs” and in India this is indeed what these small typically family owned and run establishments are.  And, they exist from the Himalayas down to Cape Cormorin. 

When politicians invoke the mantra of encouraging “small businesses” back home, the bastion of Free Market Capitalism and individual initiative, this is not what they are referring to.  Small business in the States generally refers to professionals or specialty operations like your artisanal bakery or a franchise (KFC, McDonald’s) owned by some international mega corporation.   But here in chaotic, socialist, government bureaucracy run amok India, true small, family owned businesses flourish.  It’s why there is a great deal of protest against the spread of Walmart and other Western business enterprises the fear being that they will wipe out all the small businesses that have endured for centuries.  And it’s a reasonable concern.

On the other hand, there is probably no stopping the march towards “modernity” and the spread of western corporations in India.  But given that the country has a billion plus inhabitants, I suspect that your local, neighborhood, just around the corner ship selling sweets, candy bars, chips and baby diapers will probably still be around for many more years. 

Have A Great Day!


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