My mother-in-law thinks I am bekaar (useless). This unilateral judgment only stems from the fact that because I am a dud when it comes to bargaining. The other day I went to the nearby market with her. Being a Mallu she loves her share of coconuts the way an Italian loves his/her pizza. But she will not buy the coconut just like that. She has to haggle and haggle till the shopkeeper loses his patience (if not his customer) and hands over the coconut at a price demanded by her. I asked her, “Why do you waste time and energy for Rs 16?” She answered back, “How can I not? I am a senior citizen.” And thereby dismissing me at one go. Well, even if I am no fan of Ektaa Kapoor’s soppy saas bahu soaps, I have learnt to be quiet. You see, over the years I have mastered the art of domestic silence. All in the name of peace and happiness.
My mother-in-law has a theory (read brilliant) of bargaining. Actually she can put any economist worth his salt to shame. On a balmy July evening, I bought a dress and did the mistake of sharing the price of the dress with her. She almost fell off the sofa and when she regained her composure, she taught me the fundamentals of bargaining. Her funda goes on like this — if the shopkeeper says Rs 400 all that you have to do is to divide it by 2 and then deduct Rs 50 from it. So, a T shirt worth Rs 400 should be actually Rs 150. She will never go to a shop which has ‘Fixed Price’ written on its wall in bold letters. In her dictionary, only one word rocks and that’s ‘bargaining.’
But in all fairness, my mother-in-law is not alone. Almost every Indian has this unique art of bargaining running in his/her DNA. The most primary example is the raddiwala or the kabadiwala. I mean, selling newspapers brings more smile on our faces than reading the newspaper in the morning. The thicker the newspaper on Sundays, the broader is the smile. And selling newspapers is not an isolated mundane act. There comes the great act of bargaining. If the raddiwala says, “Rs 4 per kilo”, immediately he’s told curtly, “The other guy was offering me Rs 4.50 last Sunday. But I was going out to meet somebody, so I couldn’t sell it.” And the haggling will continue till it’s settled at a price suitable to both. Such is the power of bargaining.
Same story is repeated at vegetable vendors. I remember one particular incidence of a lady coming in a swanky car and buying 500 gram potatoes and then asking ‘Give me one tomato free.’ Getting dhania (coriander) and green chilli free is every Indian’s fundamental right. But I think, there is a threat to the fundamental right as now I hear my neighbourhood vegetable vendor telling, ‘No free dhania now. It’s very expensive.”
The other day, we were having sev puri at a roadside stall. And then I eavesdropped on a conversation between a father and his eight-year-old son. The conversation was somewhat like this:
Father: How much did you pay for the sev puri?
Son: Rs 20
Father: How much he asked for?
Son: Rs 20 only
Father (In a much higher decibel voice): And you gave him Rs 20 without even bargaining once? You didn’t ask for a single rupee discount. You think, money grows on trees (I instantly thought of former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s famous statement ‘Money doesn’t grow on tree.’)
I almost choked on my humble sev puri hearing this conversation. Certain lessons really start early in life. No wonder, I am still struggling as a ‘bekaar’ in life as my parents never taught me this art of bargaining. Picking up these lessons from my mother-in-law and the ‘unknown’ father, I decided to be a world class bargainer.
The other day, while walking on a crowded street, I decided to pick up two traditional puppets. I asked the price and the young boy said, Rs 250. Immediately, my mom-in-law’s face danced in front of my mind. And then I said with loads of confidence, “Rs 75.” He gave me one of those Gabbar Singh laughs but then I too was in a Phoolan Devi mood./
I kept on walking and he kept on walking behind me. After a while, I told him, “Why are you following me?” He told me, “Why should I?” But in true bargaining style, we decided to once again strike a fresh conversation. I used all kind of tricks in the world right from telling him how poor am I to how many new customers I will bring for him if he sells me these two puppets at Rs 75. Finally, I won and got the puppets for Rs 75. For a nanosecond, I felt like one gold medalist at the Olympics. But the story doesn’t end here. When I told me mom-in-law about my great bargaining act, she dismissed all my tall claims by telling, “I could have got it for Rs 40.”
Well, if my mom-in-law were my FB friend, I would have blocked her immediately. But then we have a ‘real’ relationship. So, in spite of all our fights, we end up sharing a cup of tea. But I am learning the art of bargaining. Wish me good luck.