Along the narrow winding hilly roads in Seling, Mizoram, it is a common sight to see thatched bamboo huts that line the highway. Inside these huts, you may find an array of vegetables, fruits, small dried fish and even freshwater snails. However, don’t be surprised when you do not find a shopkeeper.
These shops run on the ancient Mizo principle of nghah lou dawr that translates to ‘Shops without Shopkeepers’. It is a practice that dates back to a time when the villages in the state were ruled by tribes. Today, with labour for farming being expensive, the farmers cannot afford to spare members to sell the produce and mind the shops.
Every morning before the farmers leave for their fields they lay out the vegetables and fruits in their thatched bamboo huts that double up as shops. A signboard with the names and prices is hung up and a small payment box, known as pawisa bawn, is left at the counter.
Throughout the day customers can pick up what they require and put the money in the payment box. If change is required, the customers can take it from the payment box. The shops work purely on the basis of trust and it is a tradition that the shopkeepers and customers are equally proud of.
“I maintain records of all that I keep at my shop. Sometimes, I find the amount dropped in the box is more than the prices of vegetables taken away by travellers. People leave extra money out of respect,” says the owner of a shop.
Watch this video to know more about how this ancient Mizo tradition is helping villagers maintain social distancing during the pandemic while also aiding farmers.