The great Indian art of bargaining

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adity ray newMy 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? (11$)” She said, “How can I not? I am a senior citizen,” and thereby dismissing me at one go. Well, even if I am no fan of Ekta 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. A tad different from the United States.
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 something 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 or trash collectors. You see in India, our civic bodies are there by name only, they are non-existent. So we have people who come to the doorstep and we sell our newspapers, beer bottles and other recycle-able stuff to them. 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 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 with vegetable vendors. I remember one particular incident 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. It’s very expensive now.”
The other day, we were having sev puri (snack) 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 you paid for the sev puri?
Son: Rs 20
Father: How much he asked for?
Son: Rs 20 only
Father (In a much higher decibel): 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 bhelpuri 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 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 following me. After a while, I told him, “Why are you following me?” He replied, “Am 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 @Rs 75. Finally, I won and got the puppets for Rs 75. For a nanosecond, I felt like the Germany World Cup team. But the story doesn’t end here. When I told my mom-in-law about my great bargaining feat, she dismissed it saying, “I could have got it for Rs 50.”
Well, if my mom-in-law were my Facebook friend, I would have unfriended 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 still a beginner in the school of bargaining. Wish me good luck.