Vantage point

Saturday, July 27, 2002


Sonal commented on yesterday's post saying that Delhi's peddlers too have an 'I don't care' attitude towards selling stuff!!!

Surely there are two Delhis? Because the Delhi I visited, begs to differ.

The perseverance just kept on increasing wherever we went. Be it the shopkeepers of that vastly over-rated dungeon called "Palika Bazar" or the street vendors of the treasure trove called "Karol Bagh" or even the peddlers of Chandni Chowk, they all seeemed to have been Economy Size packets of some adhesive like Fevicol in a previous life.

First there was this vast community of tie-sellers! Wherever you went, they were selling ties for 25 rupees. At first it seemed like a steal, but then after observing the quality of the material, the deal went "tie tie phiss".

The shopkeepers of Palika Bazaar sent these scouts after us as well. Then there were the food vendors who would appear shell shocked if to their question "Chholey Bhaturey khaoge?", you chanced to answer in negative. But when one of these scouts managed to lure you into their shop, was when the real drama would unfold. It always consisted of a lot of bargaining.

The bargaining pattern followed pretty much the same path as markets elsewhere. He says 1000 rupees, you snort and say something like 52 ruppes. You hem ( while examining the shirt's uneven hem), you haw, he hems, he haws, and finally the sale takes place at somewhere in the range of 213 or so. I always leave wondering if I have been had, inspite of the 80% drop in the quoted price. But I digress....

One tribe that infests every nook and crany of Delhi is the hanky-sellers. They carry these hankies all around and are absolutely hell bent on unloading some on you. "Roomal le lo", the fellow will say in pretty much the same way that a mother tells her child to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home. There is this authoritative, yet, helpful tone in the voice. He continues, "10 rupaye mein 3" or some such irrelevant price. You will, obviously not be wanting hankies at this point in time. Then begins the "put doubt in his mind" routine. "Roomal nahi chahiye??!!!!??!!" he will ask bewildered, this time the tone sounding like what Queen Elizabeth's reaction would be if she offered to return the Kohinoor to Vajpayee and he refused. For a few seconds that emphatic surprise does set you thinking. "Might I be coming a grave folly in turning down this bargain?" or "Maybe it's better to buy hankies now than repent later" or something like this is how your thought process runs. Fortunately wiser counsels prevail and you reject him with firm finality. He will make a loud "tch" sound, shrug exaggeratedly in disgust, throw a puzzled glance at no one in particular and move on to the next guy mouthing "Roomal le lo".

Then there are guys who live their life by the motto "Leather Maketh a Man(or Woman)", and believe that we all do so too. They will seek to lighten your wallet by offering you another. "Ye batua le lo, sirf 25 rupaye main, asli leather, Jodhpur se". Now firstly, your naps in the Geography classes at school come back to hound you as you have no idea if Jodhpur is famous for leather. Secondly, you wonder why anyone would sell genuine leather for just 25 rupees. It was like when our proffy at IIM asked "Would you buy a Mercedes if you got it for 1.8 lakhs?". The answer was an obvious NO. Thirdly, you realise that you have a perfect and faithful wallet and you don't really need another one. So you convey your unwillingness to the peddler. Then he proposes that you buy a belt "Toh belt hi khareed lo, sirf 40 rupaye". The thought process mentioned earlier is still residing in your cache memory and this time your rejection is much faster.

Then there are these peddlers with some solitary item to sell. I mean they carry only one piece of whatever they are selling and hound you forever. There was this guy who showed me an original Rolex watch and hissed conspiratorially "Ssssirf 1200 mein". Intrigued, I took the Rolex in my hand, admired it, gave it back to him, and made a stupid mistake. Instead of just a "No", I said "I don't have 1200 rupees.". That set him on my trail and he followed me from Parathewaali gali till the steps of the Jama Masjid (Delhi-ites like Sonal should testify that it is a long distance, even for a peddler to stalk you). He kept reducing the price, I kept saying No, all the time wondering why Rolex hired such unorthodox retailers. Finally, I turned down his offer of 500 at the steps of the Masjid. He got all teary eyed and said "Meri beti ka operation karwaana hai, is liye main ye apney seth se chura kar laaya hoon, meri beti ko bacha lijiye." I must confess that I almost melted and gave in, but the fact is, I did not have any money and I had no desire to buy stolen goods. I conveyed my final rejection and suddenly his expression changed from pitifulness to annoyance, and he said "Theek hai, tu nahi to koi aur mil hi jaayega", and walked off. Wierd experience, huh? There have been people trying to sell me solitary sleeping bags and teapots(!!) as well. All of them, I suspect, stolen.

There was a guy who insisted that I buy a rolling pin and that thing they roll rotis on (we call it polpaat, I dunno what the Hindi word is). I was like , what is this guy's target market, and who is he hounding? He also suggested that I take the 'belan' as a gift for my mother. I put high value on the structural integrity of my forehead and so did not take the risk of buying a lame gift like that for my mother.

There were many other peddlers who made sure that I never walked alone on the streets of Delhi. While it was irritating for a while, it makes for good anecdotes.