Category Archives: living

The Great Indian Art of Bargaining

vegetables

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.

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Time

time

(I am writing this because often now I find people suffering from the ‘disease of being busy.’)

The year was 2003. Prasanna, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. She was in her early 30s and before cancer took over her life, she was teaching in Ahmedabad’s Shreyas Foundation started by Leena Sarabhai, the montessori pioneer. Born in 1915 to Sarladevi and Ambalal Sarabhai in the prominent Sarabhai family, Leena Sarabhai was a pioneer in the field of education.  Prasanna always had high regards for Leena Sarabhai and really enjoyed working at the Shreyas Foundation. Post her cancer treatment, she was confined to her home. Leena Sarabhai wanted to meet her but she couldn’t come to visit her at home as she was not in a condition to climb up the stairs and there was no lift.

When Prasanna was admitted in the hospital for some complications, Leena Sarabhai came to meet her (the hospital lift made it easier for her). It was a December evening. She came with beautifully arranged flowers on a lotus leaf. It was refreshing to see somebody not rushing to a florist for a bouquet.

That meeting between Prasanna and Leenaben is etched in my mind forever. Probably that will be one of the most beautiful relationships between a boss and an employee. As 88 year old Leenaben held Prasanna’s hand delicately yet intimately, tears flowed freely from Prasanna’s eyes. She couldn’t speak that time as she was suffering from a rare head and neck cancer. Just to watch Leenaben wiping Prasanna’s tears gently was subliminal.  None of us were using mobile phones then and there were no way to capture any photograph then. But then I think it would have felt brutal to capture such love and affection in a camera. Most of us in the room were crying seeing that kind of love.

After spending some time with her, Leenaben left the hospital. Some of us accompanied her till the gate. As she was getting into the car, my husband said, “Leenaben, thank you for your time.”

She looked at us and said with a smile, “What’s time for?” 

Well, there was silence all around us.

(Leena Sarabhai passed away in 2012)

 

 

 

 

This too shall pass

What’s that pearl of wisdom which stays relevant for all times to come? What’s that philosophy which looks beyond happiness, joy, sorrow, pain, success, failure?

Once a king called upon all of his wise men and asked them,  “Is there a mantra or suggestion which works in every situation, in every circumstances, in every place and in every time. In every joy, every sorrow, every defeat and every victory? One answer for all questions? Tell me if there is one?”

All the wise men were intrigued by the King’s question. They all got together and spent hours thinking about the question. After a lengthy discussion, an old man suggested something which appealed to all of them. They went to the king and gave him something written on paper, with a condition that the king was not to see it out of curiosity.

Only in extreme danger, when the King finds himself alone and there seems to be no way, only then he can see it. The King put the papers under his diamond ring.

Some time later, the neighbors attacked the Kingdom. King and his army fought bravely but lost the battle. The King had to flee on his horse. The enemies were following him. getting closer and closer. Suddenly the King found himself standing at the end of the road – that road was not going anywhere. There was a rocky valley thousand feet deep. If he jumped into it, he would be DEAD. And the enemy’s horses were following him. ad…the sound of enemy’s horses was approaching fast. The King became restless.  Then suddenly he saw the diamond in his ring shining in the sun, and he remembered the message hidden in the ring. He opened the diamond and read the message. The message was – “ THIS TOO SHALL PASS ”

mono

 

The only thing that is permanent is impermanence. No matter how sad you are in the night, the dark night will end with a sunrise. This is the season of cherry blossoms in Japan. The Japanese have a beautiful expression ‘Mono no aware… a beautiful yet melancholic appreciation of the transient nature of life. Celebrating The impermanence of life.

If you are struggling right now with a heartbreak, feelings of sorrow/desolation, or  that aching feeling of saying bye to a loved one at the airport/railway station, remember ‘This too shall pass.’

There’s no greater truth than this. 

Happiness

 

ON INTERNATIONAL HAPPINESS DAY (MARCH 20)

 

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Happiness is

A cup of tea

Getting lost in the pages of a book

Looking at the changing colors of the sky

October … arrival of autumn

Winter morning, evening, night … actually everything about the winter

Watering plants

Watching children play

Decluttering drawers, desks and wardrobes

An air/rail ticket in my handbag

Glowing table lamps, floor lamps

Colourful handmade notebooks (and saving them for that special occasion… middle-class upbringing)

Conversations with nieces, nephews… kids in general

Cooking meals from memory (as once cooked by my mother)

Rice, egg curry, cucumber-tomato-onion salad

Sitting in a quiet cafe and seeing life pass by

Getting lost in the wonderful world of textiles at Ahmedabad’s Rani no Hajira/ Gamthiwala/Gurjari, Boyanika in Bhubaneswar, Nalli in Hyderabad, Anokhi in Jaipur, Baroda Prints in Vadodara…

Browsing through Fab India and thinking what can be purchased without spending a fortune

Stories dancing in my mind

Mutton biryani

Deleting whatspp group messages without reading them

Never ever opening a ‘Good Morning’ message

Looking for pickles, soaps at Khadi Bhandars

Buying glass bangles at Charminar in Hyderabad (even though not wearing them regularly)

Running fingers through my mother’s saris

Dreaming of owning a cafe in the mountains

Travelling in AC Two Tier in Rajdhani Express

Poori-aloo ki sabzi for breakfast

Watching varied moods of Bay of Bengal

Full Moon Night

Listening to Elton John, Cat Stevens, Adele, Kishore Kumar

Momos, fruit beer at Dilli Haat

Reading Lonely Planet India and imagining 1000 trips in my mind

Vivek Express, Gatiman Express, Nilgiri Toy Train and Palace on Wheels — Imagining journeys in each one of them

Istanbul, the home I have never been to…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love for all seasons

vietnam

This virtual home of mine has been lying neglected, untended. Blame it on an infection and subsequent fatigue I have been fighting hard against. But I have been thinking of my home quite often.

When the chips were down, I received a package from my friend who’s a wanderer. I call her ‘Tuk Tuk.’ In the last few months, she has been to Turkey, Greece and Vietnam. The package had this beautiful card from Vietnam, a packet of Lotus Tea and a Turkish tea coaster-cum-fridge magnet. The card lifted my spirits immediately, brought a huge smile on my face and the Lotus Tea gave me the warmth I so very needed. The Turkish beauty is the new charmer in my kitchen.

No matter how hard life is, love, kindness and thoughtfulness make the sailing little smooth. So, here’s a little note of love to the world. I know, I am late.. but here’s wishing a Happy 2018.

Let us just love. Just love. Without questions, theories, explanations or logic.

 

 

There is no Other

In few hours from now, the year 2017 will go behind the curtains. This is also the time to pause, contemplate and ruminate. This year has been a year full of violence, aggression and lack of empathy. The streets of India are becoming mean and violent. People are being targeted for their food on the plate. Lovers are being dragged to courts because they are from different religions. Attempts are being made to put the all-encompassing beautiful Hinduism in a little black box.  On social media, it’s difficult to have a discussion without receiving choicest abuses. If you are sensitive and compassionate then you are a micro-minority.  Everyone seems to eager to vent his/her anger towards an imaginary ‘Other’.

How does one live life in the midst of so much of distrust, anger and violence? How do we bring up our daughters and sons? How do we move forward as a nation and improve our pathetic yet supremely pro-rich health care and education? How do we improve our Human Development Index? These are the questions that have disturbed me a lot in 2017. How can our daughters walk fearlessly on our streets, play a game of hide and seek in our parks and gardens? How can our daughters say ‘No’ to relationships that they find stifling and not face acid attacks and violent attacks?

It’s time for us to pause, contemplate and ruminate.

How do we move forward ?

The answer lies in “The strength to love, the courage to love.”

This also reminds me of the heart-warming story in which a disciple asks the great sage and teacher Ramana Maharishi, “How does one treat the other?”

Ramana answered gently, “There’s no other.”

 

 

Why do lovers fight?

I often wonder why do lovers fight? Even when there’s no reason.

I think, now I have an answer. They fight without reason, they sulk for days because it feels intimate. It feels nice to know that the heart is old but not cold. That piercing feeling  in the heart is still there making living meaningful in times of instant love and noodle.  A strange sense of belonging when you are talking but not in your usual way.

In your heart, you know there’s no threat to your relationship. You have come too far. You have experienced vagaries of life together. Joy, sorrow, smiles, tears, sharing a meal from the same plate, going hungry because you are missing the other one. All in the canvas called love, life.

In between silences, sighs, uttering few words of comfort, he asks, “Why are you doing this? So much of time is gone in the few days. Don’t do this.”

She answers, “What’s time in the end? It’s 25 years since we know each other. You are my time. ”

Suddenly the heart felt warm.

And she knows ‘naraz’ is her favourite word in Hindi. It’s so difficult to translate this word in English.