The Art of Bargaining

When we lived in the City, there was a large market nearby, called Bhuleshwar, which was a bargain-hunter’s paradise. There were large stores and smaller ones, as well as street vendors. All sorts of cloth, lace, trimmings, wool, plastic items, brass goods-the list is endless- could be found there. I often went to Bhuleshwar, especially if I needed stuff for my children’s next school play or dance competition.

Once I was buying some lace to make into a belt for my daughter. “Fifty Rupees, Bhabhiji.” the vendor stated. Now I am not much of a bargainer so I was ready to give him the fifty Rupees. when I saw the woman standing opposite me slightly shake her head. “Maybe forty?” I asked the seller. He nodded.

But the woman didn’t seem satisfied with my effort. So I continued,”No, I think maybe thirty five would be a good price.” I looked at my new friend for approval. She nodded slightly. So thirty five it was and the vendor accepted the price!

I learned a lot about bargaining in the years I lived in the City. My neighbour there was a Gujarati lady and she was a bargaining pro.

There used to come to our building a Bohari who took our old clothes and gave us steel vessels in return. I preferred to buy my pots in a store so I persuaded him to give me money instead. One day my neighbour watched the Bohari leave after giving me money in exchange for old clothes. “Is that all he gave you?” she asked in disgust,”Come tomorrow and see how I do it.”

The next day I went to see her bargain. “Are these all the clothes?” the Bohari asked her. “I’ll give you one steel pot for this.”

My neighbour picked up the pot and flung it down. “Just this? See how thin the steel is! I don’t want your pot. I’m taking my clothes back!”She started to gather the clothes.

“No, no, Bhabhiji, I’ll give you this one in addition.”-the Bohari said.

“What use are thin pots to me? I would not take five of them.” thundered Bhabhiji.

“Okay, I’ll give you a good one.” he agreed.

“Only one?”

“Okay I’ll give you two.”

My neighbour accepted the pots and sent me a triumphant glance!

We now live in the suburbs where most of the shops have ‘fixed rates’. Not much chance to bargain here. Shopping has become very tame.

But sometimes I am tempted to bargain, and putting down the item I want to buy, I storm out of the shop. I glance back out of the corner of my eye, to see if the shopkeeper will stop me, quoting a lower price. And sometimes he does!


Taking Care of Other People’s Children

There are several families in our building with young children. Usually both husband and wife work. They employ nannies to take care of their children.

Some of the nannies are young girls who cannot get better jobs. Some are elderly women. Some couples are originally from other states and have brought their nannies with them from there.

In the compound of our building there is an area for children to play with two benches for grownups to sit on. In the evening the nannies, with their charges, come down there. The children play while the nannies talk, or rather, gossip.

Our kitchen overlooks this space, and I can often hear the conversation of the nannies while I prepare dinner.

Most of them have many, many complaints about their employers. “My employer locks the bedroom when she goes to work” says one in a low voice.

That’s nothing”says her friend,”mine even locks her fridge. She keeps everything the children will need out on the table.”

One young nanny is worried that her employers had seen her meet her boyfriend the previous day. “I just know they’ll sack me.”
“No they won’t.” Another consoles her. “Where will they find another nanny to take care of their little terror?”

One elderly woman who takes care of a sweet little girl says,” Her mother just wants to go out all the time. When she’s not at work she goes to see a movie. Or goes to a restaurant without taking her daughter.”
“She never thinks about me. Shouldn’t I get time to go out sometimes. I get bored sitting in the house all the time.”-she says, sounding like a nagging housewife.

But however they may complain about their employers, they seem to love the children.

Every once in a while they stop their talking to shout at them.

“Hey, Raju, don’t climb there, you’ll fall!”
“Sonu, why are you pulling Priti’s hair?”
“Come here, come here.”

Dusk falls and they all get up to go home.
“Tomorrow at the same time?” they ask one another.

Gathering up the toys, waterbottles and napkins, they shepherd their charges home.



If you turn from the main road into the lane that goes to my home, you will immediately notice the hawkers. They stand on both sides of the lane, selling mainly vegetables. Some sell fruit. Others sell spices. One enterprising youth even sells orange juice, or in mango season- Mango milkshake.

I have always seen the hawkers in our lane, ever since we moved here to the suburbs. They are hardworking men. Two or three persons are usually needed to manage one vegetable cart. One gets up before dawn and goes to the wholesale vegetable market at Dadar to buy the day’s supplies. His fellow hawker arranges the fruit or vegetables left over from the previous day, on the cart. Their work goes on until late at night.

One day as I turned into our lane, I noticed that it was unusually quiet. No hawkers were there at all. I made some enquiries, and found out that they had all been rounded up and taken away. It seemed that it was illegal to set up a cart to sell vegetables on the side of the lane. The Municipal Corporation had confiscated their carts and supplies, and taken them away.

The next day they were back. I asked one of them what had happened. He told me that this happened every couple of months. “But don’t worry, Behenji, we just pay the fine and get everything back.”

I wondered at the resilience of these hawkers. They come from their native villages to make a living in the city. They live on the streets. They work hard to earn some money to send to their families back home.

If they did not sell vegetables here, we would have to go a fair distance to buy any. The authorities could easily convert this area into a hawking zone, and make their activities legal.

But they won’t do that. They prefer to keep them illegal and fine them every few months. The poor vendors have to earmark a tidy amount for this. And also to pay the local Dada under whose ‘protection’ they are staying here.

The hawkers take everything in their stride, though, and are there everyday selling their vegetables- “What will you buy today, Behenji? The lettuce is fresh and the spring onions very crisp. Or maybe spinach- specially brought here from Nashik.”


The Shadow of Terror

Saturday’s bomb blasts have brought us face to face with terror once again.

Terror compels us to view everything and everyone with suspicion.

We secretly scrutinise our neighbour’s guests. We become scared to talk to the young man who recently moved into the flat downstairs.

Terror causes everyday, ordinary objects to inspire fear. The day after the blasts people emptied garbage cans in the streets of Delhi to make sure there were no bombs still remaining inside them.

Terror curtails our freedom and stunts our lives. We hesitate to venture out of the security of our homes.

But on Sunday, a day after the blasts, Indians did not stay holed up in their homes. It was the last day of the Ganapati festival. Devotees of Lord Ganesha came out in large numbers to witness the immersion of their favourite deity. They put their fears aside and did not let the terror disrupt the annual celebrations.

There is still hope.