But escaping the clutches of poverty is never easy. Little did I realize how vulnerable the poor are to exploitation. Now that the family farmed two pans, the water vendor had doubled his charges! As the sole seller of a vital commodity -albeit of dubious quality - he charged whatever he pleased, in this case based on the number of salt pans they owned, instead of the amount of water they bought! Frustrated that others were benefiting from his hard labor, Mangabhai, Bhavanben’s husband, said he didn’t see any incentive to expand his salt business further.
The cost of diesel - their major expense - had also gone up, while the price of salt had remained the same. In Ahmedabad, the state’s major city, I had heard talk about introducing solar or wind power on the salt flats since both have good potential in the desert. But, I saw no evidence of anything being installed so far.
One encouraging sign was that the family had begun to diversify their sources of income to reduce their dependence on their backbreaking ancestral occupation. They had set up a small shop selling basic supplies to others on the pans. The shop - looked after by the oldest son - also sold flour which they now ground themselves using a new machine. In addition, they had begun to produce industrial salt which fetched a much higher price than the consumption salt they produced earlier. And, the four older children – none of whom went to school when I first met them – were now in school. They had learnt to read the vernacular alphabet and rattled off the names of plants and animals pinned up along the walls of the makeshift tent that served as their classroom. Things were looking up, I thought.
India's 'pink' vigilante women
Mallaby writes about Praful Patel in his book, The World's Banker