At the veggie guy it gets even worse. Arre! Buss itna dhania patta, sharam nahin atee tumhe! Hari mirch kahan hai! Bhindi, bees rupaiye kee? That look of indignation is enough to make even a grown-up man pee in his pants.
As a nation that has bargained it’s way to adulthood, we always expect more for less. We’ll haggle with the rickshaw-walla over 10 Rs, narrow our eyes in contempt when the unshaven chap demands 300 bucks for those flip-flops in pink, divide and subtract with such precision that the vendor surrenders without a whimper of protest. Did you say 300 for one pair, Ha! I walked off with two! Wait till I get brag about it to my friends and neighbours.
Seasoned bargainers have a body language of their own. They swoop down on their victims. Survey the booty with feigned disinterest. Pick up what they like, survey it disdainfully and chortle with disdain when the shopkeeper dares to ask for a price. Like a veteran politician they stage a walkout but not too fast. Their ears are straining to hear the familiar sound of the vendor begging them to come back. The fellow rarely disappoints and they bag a bargain of a lifetime.For education, beginners should observe college girls in a flea market. They usually hunt in packs and strike with such precision that the salesman has no idea what hit them. These femmes are the original WMD”s (weapons of mass destruction).
For a long time, I lived in a neighbourhood, where the women of the locality greeted each other with “kitne kaa liya”. Every time I came back home with my shopping bags full, I was subjected to intense interrogation by the ladies and dismissed as a novice with Itne kaa liya? Tch tch...After a while, under the husband’s expert guidance I started quoting insanely exorbitant prices just to see them go into a deep shock.
Actually I have always been something of an oddball. I bargain sheepishly, a big question mark plastered on my face. Bhaiyya itne mein doge? The vendor throws me a hurt look. Memsahib, itne kum mein bechoonga to khaoonga kya? I start imagining his emaciated kids surviving on rice gruel. I apologize profusely for having made such an indecent suggestion and end up paying more than expected.
My veggie guy is in love with me. Not only does Madam not bargain, she also throws in a couple of jokes for free. Kitnee sweet aur funny hai! My daughter is distraught that I never haggle over rickshaw fares! But Maa! He’s overcharging you! But they all have a reason that sounds too valid to ignore – escalating rents, a sick mother at home, half a dozen mouths to feed. And if I can over-spend at a posh store in a mall and contribute to some tycoon’s fat bank-balance, why not him? Does he not need my money more than anyone else?
How often do we tip the taxi chap who drives through relentless traffic, switches off Kumar Sanu howling for his lost love on the radio for your sake and entertains you with non-stop chatter! The home-delivery boy who has been working non-stop for nearly ten hours! Leave alone a tip, how often do we smile at the waiter who serves us at the local bistro, makes sure our coffee is served hot and makes our meal memorable? Instead I have seen diners throw attitude and treat them like their minions.
Like I always say, the best way to gauge a person is to observe how he treats people beneath his station.
But I am at my aggressive best when I am shopping for electronics and appliances. I don’t flinch from demanding a good deal and slyly ask if the store is willing to throw in a few freebies. They usually don’t disappoint and I can go back home safe with the knowledge that the hefty discount I wrangled, will not make the vendor bankrupt.
Last week I visited him after six months. And this time I was unstoppable. By the time I finished, my face was a glowing red and I was panting hard. Yes, three extra bowls of golgappa paani never felt this good.
Oh! Was that you waiting impatiently behind my back? Don’t worry I left enough for you.