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Whilst looking for products when we first launched Scape Interiors in 2001 we had an agent working for us based in Karnataka who was desperate for us to meet his family, so on a visit to Mumbai we met him at the airport and he drove us many miles into the mountainous jungle of Karnataka.
It was a beat up old car and we drove in sweltering heat for many miles. The AC was turned off to preserve fuel. After a three hour drive we arrived at his village where his family had set up a welcome reception for us in a clearing in the jungle with a white plastic table, a tablecloth and four chairs set up under a gazebo with a jug of freshly squeezed orange juice that they had prepared from oranges that they had walked several miles to collect because they had remembered that we liked orange juice…….it was so humbling.
They shared details of their daily life with us. They were able to live in this one roomed dwelling rent free in exchange for collecting certain roots from the jungle that are used to produce pharmaceuticals.
They have no pension and have to save for their old age out of their earnings. The young fellow who was working for us was also collecting the roots, working in a bakery in the morning and a restaurant at night.
He told us he was saving hard to buy a plot of land to build a small house and then would hope to find a wife. After drinking the orange juice which was extremely bitter, although of course I did not mention that after the great effort that had gone into providing it……he scaled a coconut tree and threw down several coconuts which he then hacked the tops off and presented to each of us to drink the milk and eat the flesh.
He took us to meet the rest of his family; one of his cousins had been injured as a child and had lost the use of his legs. Living in a small shack with a dirt floor it was clear he was living in total poverty….I felt sad for him so gave him some money, he was so thankful but insisted on giving us a gift too, an old chicken that had about six feathers and was tied up by the neck running around the yard……we were treated like the Raj…..the fellow had hired a chef from a nearby village to prepare a feast, a simple but delicious fare of local dishes.
In the bakery they bake small buns, which they sell for a couple of rupees each. They are cooked in huge furnaces. He had purchased a small plot of land on a slope and was hoping to build his own bakery. He wanted us to invest in his business by financing the building of the bakery and oven. Whilst we were keen to support him the plan needed some revisions for it to succeed.
He needed £7000 to build the bakery but was never going to make money making little buns that sell for only a couple of rupees.
He needed a bigger plan to bake fancy cakes to sell to the tourist restaurants along the coast that can sell for £10-£15 each. However, neither he nor his father were trained pastry chefs and didn’t have the skills or confidence to bake fancy cakes.
We left him without the investment he wanted but with some good business advise and the door left open should he have any other ideas that had more chance of succeeding.