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The curious case of disappearing lemons!

Date: 15th April, 2022

Publication: The Times of India

Last week, I was at an elite fine dining restaurant in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, and ordered authentic Andhra vegetarian thali plus chicken fry. As the waiter jotted down his order, I asked him to send in a plate of salad comprising onions and lemons (which are mandatory accompaniments with non-veg) along with the food. When the food was served, the salad plate was missing. I reminded the waiter of the pending order, he arrived with only sliced onions minus the lemons. I asked him specifically for the lemons to which he replied “there are no lemons in the market, hence the delivery did not happen.” It was another case where I had seen a whole crate of lemons easily available in local retail chain Ratandeep the previous night. I did not argue any further and quietly sat down to have my food.

Then, I moved to Delhi for a week and set up a local tiffin service to send me dinner and lunch at a designated time each day. With every passing day, the size of the lemon slice sent with the salad kept reducing. From the full lemon on day one, the size of the lemon kept downsizing in subsequent days similar to the moon which undergoes its circle from full moon to a crescent. Yesterday night, I experience a total lunar eclipse when the lemon disappeared from the salad serving and was replaced by slices of cucumber. In today’s lunch, the humble lemon was replaced by slices of tomato. I realized the pricing pressures the hospitality industry is facing due to the exorbitant prices of lemons in the wholesale market.

The Delhi wholesale market is selling lemon at an unprecedented Rs 300/kg with similar pricing at the Ghaziabad market. The local vegetable seller on the street in Mumbai is selling marble size lemons at Rs 10 apiece from the Rs 2-5 earlier a few weeks ago. The seller Rakesh Tomar tells me “Buying nimbu (lemons) is very expensive at the local mandi”. The whole sack of lemons costing Rs 650-750 earlier is costing Rs 29000-3000 at the vegetable markets. Traders are blaming the constant fuel price increases by the Government while others blame the summer season when productivity goes down others point out there is a supply-demand issue. The traders also point out the exploding prices of fruits and other vegetables which are hitting the wallet of the common man.

Widely expected of the Government’s desperation to raise fuel prices post the election results of state assemblies, the daily increase of 0.80 paise was akin to slow poisoning. Despite the offers and purchase of cheap Russian oil in the backdrop of the Ukrainian war, the Government of India has been raising petrol prices which on 13th April 2022 stand at Rs 110.85 in Chennai, Rs 105.41 in Delhi, Rs 115.12 in Kolkata, and an unprecedented Rs 120 in Mumbai. This never before the rise in fuel prices is having an indirect impact on the prices of all milk, fruits and vegetables. National barometer of rising inflation is dairy behemoth Mother Dairy which had already raised the prices of milk by Rs 2 in north India due to cost pressures.

A humble local nimbu pani seller Abhishek in Bengaluru to help his customer get respite from the scorching heat is planning to shut shop as he is unable to procure expensive lemons for his stall. Neither can he raise the Rs 10 priced glass of lemon water to Rs 20 since he fears customers may choose not to come to his stall. The local paw bhaji seller Vikas in Mulund, Mumbai is equally perplexed. His famous shop attracts a lot of customers in the evening who want a generous sprinkling of lemon of their bhaji along with a fat slice of butter. Without the lemons, his patrons will not be satisfied with his mouth-watering paw bhaji.

Fitness-conscious Devika Chopra who lives in upscale Bandra, Mumbai adopts a strict diet regimen each day. Her day begins with honey-lemon water and is concerned about the number of lemons she will need to buy to keep up this schedule every day. She says “If I use half a lemon a day, I will still need 15 lemons (apart from 15 lemons used in cooking in a month) just to maintain my diet, which at today’s prices stands at an expenditure of Rs 300, exactly the double of what I was spending a month ago”.

India has witnessed governments being voted out for tomatoes and onions; will someone lose their job for lemons? Only time will tell. Until then, Devika, Ramesh, Abhishek, and Vivek have to tide through these uncertain times with a brave face.

 

“When life gives you lemons, you make a lemonade as they say” quips Devika.