How much does a glass of sugarcane juice cost? We all would think that the answer to this question is pretty obvious. On an average a glass of sugarcane juice costs anywhere between ₹10-20 in India. On a hot summer day the refreshing solace it provides to thirsty souls is nothing short of bliss. Those who stop by the roadside to enjoy a glass of sugarcane juice take quick gulps of this nectar, pay their dues and zoom past the vendor with a sense of satisfaction. The price of one glass of sugarcane juice is not high enough to evoke the disgruntled feeling of being ripped off by the juice seller. No further thought is wasted on the vendor who toils day and night. Yesterday, when I tried to understand the true cost of the one glass of sugarcane juice that I drank, I was shattered.
The couple earns a net income of ₹10 after selling three glasses of juice for ₹10 each. I was taken aback.
Let me share the facts with you. This is a story from a typical small non-metro city called Nasik. I stopped by a small sugarcane stall run by a poor couple. Both the husband and his wife were looking extremely weak and stressed, churning out their livelihood one drop and a time with a hand-operated cane crusher. The lady helped her man in pushing through the cane while he rotated the handle manually to extract the juice. The effort required to crush cane for a glass of juice was monumental. When I finished my glass of juice I paid them its price -- ₹10 -- but didn't leave right away. Instead, I started a friendly chat to understand the economics of the daily living they make out of this painful endeavour.
I was told that the cost of the sugarcane they buy is anywhere between ₹4000-4500 per tonne. This excludes transportation cost which is somewhere between ₹500-700 per tonne. A cane weighing around 2kg can be crushed to produce not more than four sellable glasses of juice. The cost of ice and lemons used in making one glass of juice comes to around ₹2-3. The basic calculation is simple. The couple earns a net income of ₹10 after selling three glasses of juice for ₹10 each. I was taken aback. I asked the man about his daily sales. He smiled and without blinking an eye quickly replied that he makes a sale of ₹700 to 800 per day. My heart sank. Ten hours a day, 80 glasses worth of struggle for a paltry take-home income of ₹200 to 250.
On that hot summer day I experienced the true intensity of heat, the heat of poverty.
His wife, who was quietly observing us, broke her silence and tried to help me understand the meaning of all this beyond numbers. She said that she is pregnant. Sometimes they need more than ₹500 to visit the doctor. There is no way they can go beyond their means. But she believes that their hard work will pay off. Her voice, which was cracking, was full of self-esteem and confidence. Perhaps, her pride came from the very feeling of facing the storm of life every single day. When I took their leave they bid me goodbye with smiling faces. On that hot summer day I experienced the true intensity of heat, the heat of poverty.
I also learnt yet another sweet lesson about life. Money can certainly buy us happiness but lack of money need not make us unhappy. Millions of Indians making their living on the streets are fighting their daily battles of poverty. Do find some time to stop and ask them their story. These stories will make you feel complete. Sometimes an empty glass of sugarcane juice is enough to make us realize that our glass is not half empty but half full.
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