Just an Air-Filled Bag – வெறும் காற்றடைத்த பையடா.

Siddhas- சித்தர்கள் – were intellectual people, born in present day Tamil Nadu and known to who have attained mukti or nirvana. Not just philosophers, they also wrote about science, medicine, arts, literature and many other subjects. Some of their ideologies are considered to have originated during first Sangam period (4400 BCE). Sample a gem:

காயமே இது பொய்யடாவெறும்

காற்றடைத்த பையடா

மாயனார் குயவன் செய்த

மண்ணு பாண்டம் ஓடடா!

A rough translation would be, ‘the body is an illusion; it’s just an air-filled bag. A mud pot made by creator; take a hike.’

This is about the modern equivalent of the illusion of the air-filled bag. When the Indian Economy got liberalised, every MNC set up shop in India and some of the earliest ones were the soft drink majors. Soon they started selling their chips and carbonated drinks. Some were opposed to this investments and some wanted to define which sectors should get liberalised. A senior politician remarked once, “we don’t want potato chips but only computer chips.”

But potato chips did come to India. When I first saw Pringle chips I was just amazed at the size and uniformity. It was about 2 inch in diameter and packed tightly. I assumed that they just used the centre parts of potatoes to get same size and discarded the rest. It was much later I got to know it’s not potato chips we knew but something totally different. Potato is just 41% of the chips. I was naive or stupid or both.

In Pune, we used to buy potato chips (potato wafers as we called them) from Bhudani wafers. The shop was at the MG road corner. We used to go to MG road during the weekend, kind of Time Square or Oxford street, bought a bag of chips just out of the hot pan, eating them as we walked down the road, taking the sights and came back home. We also bought a bag to take home. They were consumed on the day we bought them or the next day. So the ‘use by date’ was never an issue. The chips were packed in greese-proof paper so the oil did not ooze out. If we were planning a drinking session at home, one of the friends went to Bhudani and bought chips. But this would be masala flavoured to go with the drinks.

So there were just two flavours, plain and masala. It was more or less same across the country from whichever vendor you bought it. That is, till the pack of Lays Chips (Walkers in the UK) landed in India. There were so many different flavours; most of the names we could not pronounce nor understand; Barbeque, Spanish Tinge, Maui Onion and a dozen others. One thing was certain; none of them were as good as the good old Bhudani chips.

The other thing was the quantity. When we bought chips, the bag was full of chips. But when we opened the Lays pack, not even 10% of the bag was filled with chips. The rest was just air. Of course one could argue that the weight of chips were marked on the bags. But when we bought chips before this invasion, we bought a particular quantity of chips. You bought a pound of chips or half a kilo, it was half kilo, packed and stapled at the end. In Lays’ case you bought a bag (small or large), they were filled with air. The air-filled bag gave an illusion of bag full of chips. The joy of holding bag full of chips shrank as fast the bag when you opened it.

Of course the bag was filled with nitrogen to preserve the flavour and to keep the shape intact when you transported it a thousand kilometers. But the end product was just an air-filled bag – well mostly..

Anyone who has travelled through Chennai airport recently would have seen an extra queue before entering the security. After the baggage X-ray queue and the bag drop queue, one can see many people standing at Sri Krishna Sweets trying to get hold of their famous Mysurpa (a sweet made of split chickpeas, ghee and sugar). My sister who lives in Pune tells me that whenever she visits Chennai she has to buy Mysurpa for her colleagues as the first thing they will ask her when she resumes office, “did you get the sweets?” The Mysurpa used to be packed in drab yellow colour plastic boxes but the boxes were always packed to the brim. Realising the popularity of the sweets, the owners have now changed the packing and keep increasing the prices. Now you get a carton with attractive printing on the outside. Inside there is huge plastic tray with few square holes where the sweet is placed. The box is now three or four times bigger and you get an impression that you are getting a lot of quantity.  The prices increase probably every month or everyday as the petrol prices in India or the value of Bitcoin.

Off late, Sri Krishna’s savouries have become popular as well and they have a learnt a lesson from PepsiCo. They keep increasing the size of the bag and raise the prices. In the last one year the price must have gone up by 80% and so is the size of the bag. You get a large bag which probably has ten or twelve thattai or murukku (popular savouries from TN). These bags are not even filled with nitrogen to preserve the flavour or shape. They have the same shelf-life as before. You need to fill in nitrogen when you are transporting from Seatle to San Antonio or Punjab to Pondicherry (2000 miles + distance) not when you are transporting from Mambalam to Meenambakkam (not even 12 miles).

I was very furious when I saw this first. Then it dawned on me. The bag filling trick should not be the exclusive preserve of the MNCs. If some of our companies can make money using the same formula, why not? I should just appreciate them for their ingenuity. The downside is, soon everyone will join the bandwagon; from Bhudani in Pune to the sweet shops in Lucknow to savoury shops in Sivakasi, all will follow the game and you will end up paying for the packet and not the contents.

The Siddha who wrote the poem in the first para would probably write something like this, if he is alive today.

லேஸே (Lays) இது பொய்யடா – வெறும்
லேஸான, காற்றடைத்த பையடா
பொடேடோ சிப்ஸ் என்று சொல்லி
பெப்சிகோ தரும்
பிளாஸ்டிக் பை தான் ஓடடா

Lays is a lie; just a lightweight, air-filled bag. PepsiCo call it potato chips; it’s just plastic bag – take a hike.

So it’s your last chance to get your favourite sweet and snacks from your preferred vendor before he or she finds out the secret of nitrogen filled nylon bag tricks.



4 thoughts on “Just an Air-Filled Bag – வெறும் காற்றடைத்த பையடா.

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  1. Good one. There is consistent increase in price per unit either through increase in price or through reduction in quantity. The trick is used in every retail sphere …soap to chips… The mysorepa and chips price increase had been much much higher than inflation for sure…


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