“Uber will cost you between 84-90 INR”, I told the German couple while we discussed how to help them reach their hostel. They had two very little kids, dangling from their cases (I don’t know what those fancy things to hold kids are called and since I don’t plan on having kids anytime soon, I don’t really bother about the extra gyaan) and were visibly not comfortable given the Delhi humidity. Varnana was handing me over tissues to help me wipe the sweat off my face while this discussion was on.
“Umm, 85-90 is ok, but we paid INR 60 when we came towards this side,” said the husband. His wife wasn’t really amused at the discussion. On hearing the rate, she asked how much are the Rickshaw guys asking. I asked one of the auto guys and he said he will drop them in INR 100.
Now, the hotel was almost 7 kilometers away. If I assume the rates have changed by 10% since I last saw a Delhi auto use a meter (Hail the Demi God of Delhi), the approximate cost of going by a meter would have been 70 to 75 INR. So, in terms of percentage the auto-driver was charging almost 33% extra. I understand the arguments from his side that he won’t find any passenger where the hotel is and hence some 10-15 INR is the premium for the same.
While I thought this out quickly in my head and conveyed the information to the couple, they were not happy to say the least. I looked at Varnana, who was still trying to understand the events. But then I tried to reason with them that saving 10 INR wasn’t worth the discomfort of trying to cross the road with 2 kids and then haggling with more auto-drivers. And that too with no guarantee of a smaller price of course. They bought that argument and finally were on their way and I and Varnana on our way to have our Momos, a tradition of sorts on the evenings I leave Delhi.
Over the momos we discussed how different our perception of the western world is compared to how the folks turn out to be and there lies the ethos of this post.
Growing up in a typical India middle class, surrounded by neighbors of a similar mind set, bargaining was something not something alien to us folks. Rather, going shopping with Ma was always a lesson in Bargaining and learning what I now term as ‘People skills’. Therefore whenever we would go shopping, seeking a small discount was always a norm. Shopping without seeking the bargain was considered blasphemy. Not only did it ruin your day, it would ruin that of the shopkeeper too, though she/he would never admit the same. Coming home to the exploits, my mind usually wandered back to the conversations, to understand what went right and what I can leverage in the future.
When I was 14 and was representing my school at a swimming meet in Delhi, there occurred what I remember as the Palika moment; something which changed my outlook towards bargaining forever. I was shopping with my folks when they found a particular painting, which after long negotiations, we got for around 40% of the original quoted price.
Afterwards I realized that there is always enough room to bargain and ask for. And it will forever be hard to realize how many extra inches one call pull through. This continued till college, and over time the art of bargaining began to diminish. When I started working and earning my own, I stopped trying to negotiate a fair price due to multiple reasons. Firstly, I felt that by negotiating too much, I was stealing someone’s chance at earning that extra for his/her family. Secondly, I became lazy and thirdly, I felt bargaining for the right price was a little shameful.
And thus began the long list of unsatisfying purchases. The price many a times felt wrong and the purchase brought left a taste of having being taken for a ride. But then there was too much pride to be lost. I almost started recognizing bargaining with a past I somewhere wanted to forget.
And that’s where I guess things have gone all wrong. Bargaining you see is just a metaphor. At a higher level it represents seeking what is fair and what is right. And as I did away with bargaining, I did away with standing for what’s right and what’s fair. In office, asking for a fair appraisal stopped. In relationships, seeking, or expressing concerns stopped. Life became about accepting things as they came and never even trying to set them straight, or at least voice a concern. I was too ashamed of myself whenever I remotely tried to do anything like that. The other time, friends, lovers made me feel ashamed for seeking extra. That became my reality and the negotiations ceased.
Of course, meeting the strangers didn’t change the situation overnight. But it brought out a long lingering concern. And it made me realize that there was nothing poor about bargaining or seeking what is fair. Of course, we sometimes pay premium for time, comfort etc. But trying to get what is correct and fair isn’t about being poor, impossible to satisfy. Not by a distance. So while the momo bites were all delicious and savoury, there was another one of the bites, the Reality, which left a deft, subtle, long lingering, sour after-taste.