Yazdani Bakery Fights Inflation and Globalization


January 24, 2007

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Fresh Bread at Yazdani BakeryThe nearly century-old bakery, set amid crowded streets lined by massive stone Victorian-era buildings near the city’s Stock Exchange, looks like a gingerbread house and stands out in sharp contrast to the other shops, which mainly sell electronics goods.

Irani mans a drawer filled with soiled rupee notes and dispenses quick change and chatter with old-time customers who sit on wooden benches with a cup of tea and a pastry or bread roll.

A wood-fired stove in the back bakes pastries, loaves of bread and a special pav, or bread roll, which costs one rupee (0.02 cents) and is the emblem of the store’s “your daily bread” motto. The bakery, an image for urban historians of what remains of old Bombay.

But Irani, a descendant of Zoroastrian Persian immigrants to India who puts himself at “over 65 and still fighting fit”, is one of the last of Bombay’s small bakers and fears people like him are a vanishing breed in the “new India”.

Five small nearby restaurants and bakeries closed last year, he says, hit by rising prices for flour, cooking oil, salt and yeast as well as skyrocketing rents as fancy new stores open to cater to those benefiting from India’s economic boom.

“We think we can stay because nobody will sink to our price level or serve our customers. But the changes are a worry because these new shops are just catering to the rich”, Irani says as he reads an invoice for bags of flour.

India’s poorest, estimated at nearly a third of the 1.1 billion population, have flocked to Bombay from rural outposts in the past decade to find work.
The city’s population has almost doubled to nearly 20 million people, many of whom can barely afford one-rupee bread rolls and who are lucky to find a place to sleep in slums like Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest, where some units are rented out in shifts.

They have been hit particularly hard over the past year as consumer prices soared 7.4 percent in the city from January to October.
For Yazdani, rising costs have forced him to double the price of a basic pav to one rupee from 50 paise, half a rupee.
The extra cost is a painful subject and Irani says the estimated 3,500 small bakeries in Greater Bombay that account for most of the city’s cheap bread are struggling to survive.

“I read about this nine percent [economic] growth and all the money being made on the stock market, but it doesn’t touch more than 10 percent of the people”, Irani says. “We don’t want to raise prices for the poorest because we know how much it hurts”.
Bread and biscuits were largely made by small bakers until about a decade ago. In 1997, city authorities, citing poor quality and hygiene standards, took away subsidies for small outlets.

Customer Juzar Burmawalla says bakeries like the Yazdani represent the spirit of Bombay. “We all depend on bakeries like Yazdani”, he says. “We need them”. But in an era of globalization, many now have the money to choose and want packaged goods instead of old-time bakery products.
Irani, one of several family members who do shifts at the bakery, says his Parsi ethnic group earned a special place in India by fitting in — and that is why they feel a need to serve food to the poorest.

Original article here