Adapting to the Times: An Urban Herder’s Story

For the better part of the twentieth century, IBM made its name selling commercial scales and punch card tabulators, and later, mainframe computers and calculators. But disruptive times called for the company to change business models and it adapted to become a leader in IT and consulting services.


Call Shivnat Rai Jadav the IBM of Central Kolkata. For the first 50 years of his professional life, Shivnat delivered milk to homes and businesses in and around Bara Bazaar, a vibrant patchwork of narrow bylanes and back alleys where over 50,000 merchants make a living right on top of each other. “We had cows and buffaloes here,” he waves his arm at the surrounding area. But ten years ago, Kolkata Police enforced a ban on urban grazing and Shivnat was forced to move his herd across the Hooghly River to the suburb of Belur seven kilometers north. 

Shivnat sent two of his sons to oversee the herd and its dairy production. He set up a small stand serving chai. “What else could I do? Paisa. I need paisa. I need to eat. So I had to adapt.” He did just that building a business where others might have only seen a small strip of sidewalk. On top of a wood platform, smaller than a yoga mat and raised a foot off the ground, Shivnat sits cross legged in front of a small burner and kerosene tank, bhar (clay cups) neatly stacked in a row to his right. He stirs “special cha” over coals next to the platform. What makes it special? “Only milk. No water.” One cup was the perfect way to start a day exploring the area – Shivnat’s stand is just a short walk from College Street, home to the world’s largest second-hand book bazaar.

Shivnat explains what goes into his chai: tea, sugar, cardamom, and milk from his buffaloes in Belur.

Hours later, after being detained by a downpour in one of College Street’s cluttered stalls, the sun begins to set and twilight approaches. In Bengali, twilight is known as godhuli bela, literally “cow-dust time.” You can imagine the old days when Shivnat’s herd would join hundreds of other cows walking home through the streets, their hooves raising dust around the city. Today there are no cows on M.G. Road, but they live on through Shivnat’s chai.


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