The Sagely Business Ethics of Mantapa Rama Upadhyaya

In the second part of this series, we get a glimpse into the profound business ethics of Mantapa Rama Upadhyaya through several heartwarming anecdotes drawn from real life.
Mantapa Rama Upadhyaya
Mantapa Rama UpadhyayaPic Courtesy: Sri Mantapa Prabhakara Upadhyaya

In this Series

Mantapa Rama Upadhyaya
Mantapa Rama Upadhyaya: The Entrepreneur who Consecrated his Life in a Profound Mantapa

Grandfather would place his mind on the scale he had kept at his shop and constantly weigh it and refine his thoughts. The process of how he broke down one kilogram of Hing and packed it into tiny parcels of 10 grams each was a great source of joy in itself. The One Rupee coin of those days exactly weighed 10 grams. Thus, he would place one kilogram of Hing on one side of the scale and hundred One Rupee coins on the other. He removed each coin and filled exactly that amount of Hing in the packet. In this manner, hundred packets of Hing would be ready. Instead of this method, if he had simply weighed 10 grams each, the total number of packets would amount to about 95 or 96. Sometimes, it would cross 100 by four or five packets. In order to avoid this faulty tally, grandfather adopted this technique. The customer should not be cheated, neither should I incur a loss: this was the reason the scale exists. This was grandfather’s business ethic. On some occasions, the weight of the Hing would exceed one kilogram by ten or twenty grams. In such cases, he would equally distribute this excess among all the hundred packets. He thought that this profit belonged to the customer. He would constantly tell us this: “our accounts are not ours, but Chitragupta’s. He writes our accounts.” These were not mere words but his inner conviction.

Grandfather made his own weighing scale using just the stick of an umbrella and the tin lid of a face powder box. A measure of its accuracy was the fact that even if a single grain of sesame fell on it, the scale would drop to the floor. He stayed in our house at Bangalore towards the end of his life. On that occasion, he prepared one such weighing scale for us. The ideals of his life flowed into our own and have protected us. But then, we were lax about preserving these innovative creations that he made, and permanently lost many such precious items.

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However, what deeply fills my mind and moistens my eyes even today is his personality.

In that era, agriculture was the main occupation in the coastal region. For people of that region, the shop of Sri Mantapa Rama Upadhyaya was a temple of knowledge. He would first explain the procedure to use agricultural tools and only then sell them. It was new knowledge to the ignorant and an affectionate reminder to the learned. Grandfather regarded this as his sacred duty and discharged it till the end.

If someone asked him for Amaranth seeds, he would say, “wait.” Then he would attend to other customers, send them off and return. He would describe in detail the extent of land needed to plant Amaranth seeds worth one rupee and the method of sprinkling the seeds. After this, he would ask the customer specific questions about his exact requirements. Finally, he would say, “you need just ten paisa worth of seeds, not one rupee.” The lesson didn’t end even after he made the sale. Grandfather would instruct the customer on the precise method of growing the Amaranth plant. This was as follows: the seeds must be mixed in ash-coloured soil and placed in a cloth. The cloth must be tightly tied and soaked in water and hung at a great height to prevent ants from damaging it. The seeds would sprout in two days after which, it must be sunk in a seed-bed prepared for that purpose. This lesson also came with a stricture. After the Amaranth plant matured, the farmer had to set aside one plant. Once this plant was capable of producing seeds, the farmer had to bring it to grandfather. In turn, grandfather gave him one rupee. Next, he collected its seeds, prepared them carefully and put them up for sale.

This process of seed-preparation was extremely thorough. For example, if he sold ten seeds of ladies-finger, it would yield ten individual plants. This held true for all seeds that he sold. Thus, the customer who purchased seeds from him would gladly come back and sell his plants and seeds to him. In case of some plants like pepper and vegetables, grandfather would himself prepare the sapling and sell it to the customer.

Mantapa Rama Upadhyaya
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Grandfather’s shop was located at a side on the main road between Udupi and Kundapura. Thus, it was natural for vehicles from the surrounding villages to regularly ply on that road. However, one had to go to either Udupi or Kundapura to fill petrol. And so, grandfather sold petrol in his shop. However, he would sell it only if the need was urgent. The quantity was sufficient to reach Udupi or Kundapura, not a drop more. And those who bought petrol from him had to come back with a litre of petrol. Thus, he stocked petrol only in a spirit of public service.

If a child came to his shop for pins, he would pierce the pin on a paper and then wrap that paper with another paper. Inside this outer wrapper, he placed the change money and tied the entire bundle with a string and placed it in the child’s pocket. Finally, he put a safety pin across the pocket and wrapper and sent him home. The great profit from this pin business was the following: the unshakeable faith of the children’s parents in my grandfather that their wards would neither lose the pin nor the change and return home safely.

In those days, plantain-clusters were sold in numbers, not by weight as is the practice today. Both the seller and buyer would hold the stem of the cluster at one end and continuously rotate it, counting the number of plantains. In order to avoid repeat-counting, they smeared their fingers with refined lime solution and touched each row of plantains. In this manner, the counting was finished when all the plantains were smeared with lime solution. But grandfather did not send away farmer (seller) after the counting was complete. He would seat him and then carefully sift through the plantains classifying the fruit based on their size. Next, he would fix the selling price and stick the price tag on the fruit in the farmer’s presence. It was only after this procedure was completed that grandfather paid the farmer and sent him away. In this manner, the farmer who had sold his produce also knew the profit margin that this old man kept. The same procedure applied to the sale of tender coconuts as well. He pasted the sale price on each coconut.

Thus, the farmer walked away with the satisfaction that grandfather was not buying his produce at a cheap price and selling it at an exorbitant profit. There was no room for such suspicion.

Grandfather’s philosophy was straightforward: both the seller and the buyer should return with a feeling of contentment and happiness. Even in seasons where there was no demand for plantains (typically from monsoon till the onset of winter), grandfather continued to buy them for the simple reason that the farmer should not suffer loss. It is solely owing to this level of integrity that grandfather had earned the trust and goodwill of farmers in the region. They didn’t even look in the direction of other shops. This standard of transparency in doing business might sound like fiction to you, given the kind of relationship that exists among farmers, middlemen, merchants and customers today.

To be continued

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