Saturday, April 26, 2008

Art of Bargaining

When India is referred to as land of diversity , the diversity does not only direct to culture, people region climate etc but it also includes the variety in the markets present here. The markets all over the country provide numerous options...options which include various materials... options that help us enhance our art of bargaining!!!!!!!!!!!!! Be it Linking road or fashion street in Mmbai, m G road at pune or your local market, believe it or not, but it's always possible to get great discounts wherever you go even if the sales aren’t on. And it's up to you to haggle whenever the right opportunity arises. You can do it just about everywhere, from electrical stores to markets to car showrooms, as long as you're aware of the rules. Here are some of bargaining tactics you should know for effective transactions you can have everywhere.

1. Silence is bliss Go to the shop or the showroom when it's relatively less crowded, say during afternoon. The biggest advantage being that you get a much better response from the salesperson who is keen to sell to the few available customers around him. Also, since it’s relatively quiet, it facilitates better communication and makes sure that the salesperson comprehends your bargain offer a little more attentively. What you must also take care of is never to haggle when there's a queue. Those who are standing behind you surely won't allow their time being wasted just because you are trying your luck for a good deal. So, if you want to avoid those dagger-stares and ‘Hurry up’ looks from everyone around, keep your bargaining urge aside.

2. Knowledge helps If you are an aware and frequent buyer, you know the rough estimate of that saree you have been eyeing for a long time. So, come down straight to the 'acceptable' amount and bargain on that. Otherwise, the salesperson will bump up the price when you start haggling and then knock it down. You will think you've got a bargain when all you've paid is the amount that's supposed to be paid at the first place.

3. Don’t be rude Screaming at the top of your voice to get your point across or acting as if you are being cheated by every salesperson will not help. Instead, build a rapport with them. Smile a lot and speak in a friendly manner. Always remember, it is much easier for the salesperson to give a lee-way to that sweet lady and that well-mannered guy vis--vis that grumpy old customer who they wish had never walked in to their shop.

4. Know their policy It is useless to bargain in a shop that has a strict 'no bargain' policy. Hence, try and find out if the shop you are in is one of them. After opening with your first offer it's important to stay silent. Wait for them to speak next. If the reply is: 'We don't do discount,' keep chatting. You might have to ask up to three times before you get to know the shop better.

5. Compromise For buying something you know won’t be available elsewhere at prevailing rates, read their signals and meet them halfway. If they really can't give you a discount then try to get something thrown in (for example, a free juicer to go with your washing machine). If they say no then shop somewhere else, but keep practicing your haggling.

These are some of the basic rules which need to be followed to keep up the bargaining and go ahead with it... But there still are 'gurus' of this art in the market !!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Art of Driving

I have been driving in Mumbai since quite some time now and also had the experience to drive in some other major cities of India like Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Pune. Driving in all these cities has something in common and following are my observations about driving. For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting India and daring to drive on our roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are applicable to every place in India except Bihar, where life outside a vehicle is only marginally safer.

Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best and leave the results to your insurance company.

The guidelines are as follows:

Do we drive on the left or right of the road?
The answer is "both". Basically you start on the left of the road, unless it is occupied. If occupied, go to the right, unless that is also occupied. Then proceed by occupying the next available gap, as in chess.

Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality.

Most drivers don't drive, but just aim their vehicles in the intended direction. Don't you get discouraged or underestimate yourself. Except for a belief in reincarnation, the other drivers are not in any better position.

Don't stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back. Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.

Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk blasts) or just to mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar.

Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister's motorcade, or waiting for the rain waters to recede when over-ground traffic meets underground drainage.

Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience (for those with the mental makeup of Genghis Khan). In a way, it is like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck attempting a speed record. On encountering it, just pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes.

Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in the truck is the driver and the peg of illicit arrack he has had at the last stop; his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught. Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India and are licensed to kill.

Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but never get too close to investigate. You may prove your point posthumously. Of course, all this occurs at night, on the trunk roads.

During the daytime, trucks are more visible, except that the drivers will never show any signal. (And you must watch for the absent signals; they are a greater threat.) Only, you will often observe that the cleaner that sits next to the driver will project his hand and wave hysterically. This is definitely not to be construed as a signal for a left turn. The waving is just an expression of physical relief on a hot day.

Occasionally you might see what looks like an UFO with blinking colored lights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus, full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrim buses go at breakneck speed, seeking contact with the Almighty, often meeting with success.

Apart from the above guidelines, there are some specimens unique to Indian traffic:

Auto Rickshaw

The result of a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and god knows what. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare.

After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton's laws of motion en route to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film Ben Hur and are licensed to irritate.


The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often "mopped" off the tarmac.

Leaning Tower of Passes

Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem (hell). There are passengers hanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers.

One-way Street

These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in their otherwise drab lives. Don't stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you are the fussy type.

Lest I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also.

Rash and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a "speed breaker"; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence
and is left un-tarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipe for year-end accounting.

If, after all this, you still want to drive in India, have your lessons between 8 pm and 11 am - when the police have gone home. The citizen is then free to enjoy the 'FREEDOM OF SPEED' enshrined in our constitution.

Having said all this, isn't it true that the accident rate and related deaths are less in India compared to US or other countries ?


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Art of Travelling

Local trains … the ‘life-line’ of Mumbai…. Thousands of people hold onto this life-line everyday to keep pace with their lives... And here I am... One of those thousands... trying to go ahead in life using the life line … so cut-to-cut that even one minute’s delay can cause me to be behind others!!!!

Daily adventures or misadventures in the train are very common. If I start writing on those, this post would never end. So this is my way of actually saying that Local train traveling is a very adventurous way of living!!! Adventure that begins from running to the station, to get on a train at odd times like 9.23am, 10.56 or 19.44 etc amongst which is suitable for me till getting in that train and from there till being in one piece to getting out of it!! But then every adventure no longer excites you if over done; you get tired. So I think I have started getting tired of it!!!

Anyways, this post is meant for people who never have come to Mumbai or traveled in a Local Train. To an outsider, who has never boarded a local train in Mumbai (a task difficult to accomplish and once done, difficult to keep up with), well, you have missed an opportunity to be massaged in every possible place on your body, even in those places, which you never thought existed.

Every morning I wake up to the same derisive feeling, loathing myself to wake up for such a task as to get on board a local train in Mumbai. This isn’t a personal loathing towards railways or even the people traveling on them, it’s just a state of contempt upon the whole competition for as scarce a resource as a square foot of real estate which is rightfully mine.

I was listening to Bruce Yandle’s pod cast, in which he discusses a really cool concept called as the ‘Hummingbird Economy’. It’s so deceptively simple, but to know what it means, we need to jump back to Yandle’s childhood. At their family ranch, as kids, he and his brother used to put up wooden feeding bins for hummingbirds. Since there were too many of those birds around the ranch, they used to have a great time watching them feed while fluttering around each other competing for food.

What he observed was that the feeding began with just one hummingbird hovering around the bin and trying to pick some food up for itself. But as soon as the bird backed off a little bit to make room for some more comfortable hovering, other hummingbirds (who have spotted the food source as well) flocked around the first hummingbird and competed for food and eventually there was a flock of birds trying to do the same thing and the first hummingbird may or may not get his coveted share of food.

This concept is so alarmingly close to what I feel every single morning when I try to board the morning local, especially a fast local train. It isn’t much of a trouble on weekends when the crowd is relaxed. But on a working day, during peak hours, it becomes a hummingbird economy. There is a resource (read one or possibly half a square foot) of space in the train compartment. There are 5 people or possibly more, standing right next to you who are contesting for the same space but with similar or completely out of the box strategy to acquire it. There are many variables at play. The speed of the train as it enters the platform, the speed of the train when your intended compartment approaches you. Other variables that come into play would be the density of people standing around you, their luggage and last and the most important your luggage and belongings (phone, watch, wallet, et al). When you factor in all these variables into the decision of getting on board the current train, it all boils down to a yes/no question. Sometimes you need to be brave enough to risk getting bashed against some other person, squashed in the crowd with your neatly tucked shirt desperately trying to give up any physical contact with you.

The whole physics of the situation is simple, your weight, your belongings, and your life (metaphorically); your shirt or even shoes for that matter are utterly immaterial. You need to be selfless, like a monk, to appreciate the serenity of getting a place right below the small fans that choke out some puff of wind every now and then.

Each day most of us fight... Fight to get in the train suitable to us so that we are in on time... Fight to remain in there and fight to get down...!!! (And here fight refers to an actual ‘fight’!!!!)

The ultimate lesson from all this is, get up early, catch your train early and leave the crowd behind to fight over what is left. As Yandle explains, it is always advantageous for the first entrant to set up shop, use the resources until others get to know about it and leave before there is too much clutter. Because if you even move to readjust yourself in the crowd by leaving your quasi square foot of space for just a microsecond, some other competitor will replace you and leave you starving for the very same resource which you once claimed.
No wonder why they call it ‘early bird’ prizes