Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Last week my wife and daughter blew up a large amount of money in various Pune malls buying all sorts of things at what they describe as “heavily discounted” prices. Though I have never believed in these discounts, I give them the benefit of doubt and make them feel elated because I have never felt comfortable with the prices, discounted or otherwise in any of these shopping malls. My opinion that the traders are out to trick us into these bogus offers is “irrational”, says my wife. And believe me; I have given carte blanche to my wife for shopping for me anything from vests to foot-wear, because if I do the purchases, I do them always in haste, and regret (every time) at leisure!
I hate ‘troubling’ the shopkeepers with requests for showing all their stock and walking away without any qualms, as my wife does. My wife and daughter say that it is precisely what the shop assistants are paid for. As someone without unlimited supply of money I feel the prices are hardly affordable, but have no clear idea how to bring them down to levels that I can afford. So to get the best out of a tricky situation I sit somewhere in the mall/shop and wait for them to buy what we all want. My wife says I enjoy ‘bird-watching’ as they do the difficult selection, inspection and bargaining tasks, and back home criticise the time taken, the choice of stuff and the money spent too. At times I admit that they save me the entire inconvenience involved, and give me the pleasure of showing who the ‘boss’ was in the sense I hand over the cash or credit card.
I have been ridiculed by friends for my sheer inability to strike a bargain with any shop keeper. I tend to believe sheepishly or rather foolishly when they say their goods cost a certain amount and that was not to be contested. If I try to act clever and suggest lower prices, they act tough and I withdraw with my wounded price never to visit that place again. My wife twists a knife in the wound at this precise moment asking me not to be a ‘bourgeoisie’ (I don’t know from where she picked up this old Commie expression) and also philosophically implore me to allow them to earn their livelihood. The same person admonishes me often for paying higher prices than what her brother does to get sundry goods, implying or insinuating that he is smarter than me. He later confides in me that he had deliberately cultivated this misunderstanding for just the fun of it while having paid exactly what amounts I had doled out in each case!
My friend Sebastian who lived in New Delhi once took me along to Colaba-Causeway for some shopping he wanted to do because I was an old Mumbai-hand. As we entered a shop he asked me casually, “Don’t they give discounts?” I pointed out the cards displayed on every rack: NO BARGAINING. He didn’t say a word. He found his stuff and bought a few of thousands worth clothes and moved to the cash-counter, asking “what discount do you give me”? The owner of the shop said: “no discounts sir!”. “Then I am not buying the stuff. You give me 25% discount, and I take them; do you get me?” said Sebastian. It was a war of nerves or something akin to that. Sebastian eventually settled for 20% discount, and as he walked out of the shop with his packets, threw this question at me, “TM, what is the use of being in Mumbai for almost ten years if you didn’t know these people could be persuaded to cut prices for what you wanted to buy from them?”
It is as if it is written on my forehead that I was gullible or incapable of striking the right bargain. Bargaining, I thought was a transaction/agreement in which each side did something favourable to the other. I have never found the other side giving me anything, however much I tried! Later I found a way of getting around this problem. I used to casually, almost stealthily walk behind other shoppers adept in this bargaining business if we have common interest in the goods on offer, and pick up at the price they had negotiated down to, before haggling for more and quit. I used to be happy about the outcome, knowing that on my own I would not have got the bargain; what if I overpaid fifteen or twenty rupees? Before I learnt this technique, I had paid a ridiculous 200 rupees for a pair of Kolhapuri chappals in Delhi’s Palika Bazar which my friends told me that I would have got for just twenty five rupees (1992 prices). God! It is such a torment doing the shopping to get the right stuff while paying the right prices. Leaving it to the wife altogether, at least I get the opportunity to find fault with someone else for over-spending which I would have done too. It is a pity that my wife has learnt this part of the transaction and ignores the prices while concentrating on the quality she looked for. She has code-worded this as fifty-fifty – her blame/her quality; my convenience/my money.
I had this hilarious experience the other day in a mall I sauntered into along with my wife, daughter and almost-2-year-old granddaughter. Trisha like all small kids, like to cosy up to bigger kids and was attracted to this 6-7-year-old boy in bright clothes, shopping with his mother a few years older than my daughter perhaps. So I stood by, and was fascinated by the boy’s mother bargaining in chaste Hindi. While Trisha was pulling at his shirt, the boy ignored her and concentrated on his mother’s clever talk. He suddenly pulled the mother and was heard telling in English, “mama, please don’t try to cheat the old lady”. His mother was visibly embarrassed and admonished him: “Karthik, it is none of your business, please keep quiet”. Karthik wouldn’t be dissuaded, and he went on pleading with his mother, “mama, please don’t try to cheat the poor old lady. It’s not fair mama”. Mom was furious and asked him to go away if he didn’t want to be spanked back home. Karthik was subdued by this threat and kept watching the drama involving his mother and the shop assistant, occasionally throwing furtive and benign glances at Trisha beaming at him. At this point the shop assistant gave in and showed up the woollen pull-over and declared she was packing it for Karthik’s mother. This was beyond little Karthik’s understanding of business, and he was heard asking his mother almost in desperation. “mama, she allowed you to cheat her?” I smothered a laugh and looked away at Trisha who had meanwhile grabbed Karthik’s hand starting a conversation in a language cocktail of English, Malayalam, Hindi and her own gibberish. So who’s cheating, afterall?