Sometime back, there was a strange ad in the Mumbai edition of Tamil Times. It said: “Lane worth 250 kilos per day of idli atta for sale.” What on earth could that mean? A Tamil journalist, who had spotted the ad, was asked to find out. After pleasant, customary greetings, things burst into staccato firing rounds. From four machines installed in a small rented room in Worli, central-west area of Mumbai, a ‘Tamilian’ makes idli batter which he sells to shopkeepers. After costs, he earns around Rs35,000 a month. Vanaseelan was offering to sell that business because he had made enough to have bought himself a business in Coimbatore where he was headed back. The cost of that ‘lane of business’ was Rs four lakh or roughly 11-12 months of earning.
Vanaseelan had not only worked out the valuation but also the process of handing it over. He would entrust the new buyer with three months of providing the idli batter along with the customers’ delivery details and train him on how to treat his loyal customers. After three months, he would let go and, for a month, observe how the new buyer would fare. Then he would depart.
Well, he had many inquiries from ‘time-pass’ buyers; but he got into serious negotiations with three. As usual, there was haggling. The best offer was Rs3.95 lakh, but since Vanaseelan was no uncooked batter, he gave all smiles but no ground. He knew he would get his price. The operating principle was: “Stretch the negotiations, but not at the cost of breaking it.” Do they teach all this – valuation, bargaining, takeoverissues – in any business school?
Cash in Ash
Ashes – that dark grey powdery stuff, which poets talk about when they become fatalistic, and which is as much a part of the God-men’s make-up as foundation packs are of a starlet. Some highly revered saints are even known to generate ashes out of nowhere for bewildered devotees who go into raptures about the ‘miracle’. But these ashes, hundreds of miles from Mumbai, are special. Recently, four sadhus, from a temple at Tardeo in south central Mumbai, were given a fond send-off by the head priest. As they left, he pressed down a hundred rupee note into their hands. While wishing bon voyage, he reminded them of their itinerary.
They were travelling to Solapur (on the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka). After crossing the border, they would get off their vehicles and trek a certain distance till they reached a wasteland covered with mounds of volcanic ashes. They were to collect the ash and bring it back to the temple in Mumbai. But there were strict conditions set down by the land-owner.
One, the ash cost Rs100 per five kilos per person. Two, not more than four persons from the same temple were allowed at a time. Three, no vehicles were permitted anywhere near the ‘Ash Farm’. Four, all the bags would be weighed before the exit. Five, the same temple cannot keep sending its people everyday and collect 20 kilos. Tracking is meticulous. All this sounds more like a Dr No establishment rather than a simple belief supplement. If these sadhus were to be believed, many temples across India would send their trekkers to fetch the ashes. Over 10,000 sadhus visit the farm daily.
What is so great about the ash? Well, since it comes out of the bowels of the earth, it is considered pure and edible as well. There is more. Once back in the temple, it is ground to a fine powder, mixed with a bit of salt and camphor and then placed before the temple deity or given to the ‘guru’ who mumbles something and voila…. Now, if some God-man yanks it out of nowhere, in your presence, remember the sacrifice behind it. He may be a charlatan but there was a blistered pair of tired feet that had travelled far to fetch it; and the heaving, pushing gullible believers are ready to pay anything for it. Flying Ashes are what clinches the deal for many. Or the effort would not be worth it. The guru has seen lucre in ashes.
A veteran journalist Raghu Nandan Dhar has an easy knack of seeing everything in a different light.