Once upon a time there lived in India the humble onion. He was a regular part of every meal and sometimes the only side dish a poor man could afford. People did feel odd if he was not available or if he was too burnt, but no one appreciated the simple fact that he was part of a dish. Instead, frivolous dishes like pickle and desert were considered mouth watering. This attitude of Indians troubled him greatly. After so many years of valuable service, no one seemed to care about him and all they could think of was how he brought them a few tears. What about the flavour that he added to every dish?
The onion’s frustration grew to a peak in the late 1990’s. Finally he decided that he had to act with more self importance. He had to assert his existence and teach those ungrateful men what tears really meant. He knew that the best way to challenge the high handedness of men is to get some of them on his side. He knew the poor farmer who raised him did not have the voice to help him. He finally decided to get the help of the middleman. After long drawn negotiations, he was finally able to convince the middleman of the simple economics of demand, supply and pricing. The onion could see the trader’s eyes gleam with greed as he imagined the excess profits he would generate. Happy with the result of his negotiations, the onion was now ready for his extended vacation in the godown.
While the onion was enjoying his vacation, the outside world realised for the first time how they had taken him for granted. They would go from shop to shop looking for him. Either he was not available or he was acting pricey. They really didn’t know how to react. The middleman reported all this back to the onion. The onion was puffed up, he felt happy and decided that this validation was enough for his return. But the middleman advised otherwise. They were a team he told the onion. They should milk this opportunity as much as possible and gain full mileage from of it. He told the onion how his pricey act was getting the attention of the usually uninterested politicians of the country. This mystified the onion and so he agreed.
The result of his continued absence was something the onion had never imagined. Single handedly (oops actually with generous help from the middleman) he managed to bring down a government in the very important state of Delhi. The onion’s supremacy was established. His grand political debut became part of folklore. The Onion model of profit became a huge success with middlemen and they started replicating it with other neglected vegetables too.
The Onion model of profit has now become an established practice and has even been replicated with various other vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and even grains and pulses like wheat and toor dal. Over the years senior middlemen have come up with many strategies to give plausible reasons for the rise in prices of vegetables, climate change and its effect on rains being their favourite. Some other reasons cited are fuel price hikes, cyclones, festivals, strikes by headloaders, tribals etc. The onion didn’t object to most of these, the only one he had a problem with was when some middlemen said his acting pricey was helping the farmer who raised him, but then having sold his soul to the devil, the onion couldn’t say much. But as for the common man the onion had these famous self important last words, “Earlier these men used to cry when they held me, now they cry because they cannot get hold of me!”
(N. B. This is a fictionalised account of the food inflation in India based on generic information.
At the time of writing this piece, there is a political war of words going on with respect to rising onion prices in India. Exports of onions have been stopped till 15th January. The Prime Minister has even written to the Agriculture Minister to take strict action with respect to food inflation. The year to year food inflation rose to a record 20% last year but is said to be milder this year.)