Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shopping Assistance

Mr Roland mutters some feeble excuse about having to go out and earn rupees, for me to sprinkle round In Orbit with such largesse, so I take Monu shopping with me instead. And do you know what? He doesn’t ask for a cup of coffee every twenty-five minutes, nor does he keep trying to slope off to Mr Raymond’s, tailors, to get himself measured for a rack of new shirts. Accha!
In Monu-world, all shops fall into one of three categories. First, “big mall shop, very nice, very famous.” Then, “small shop, no fixed price, very danger.” And lastly, the lock-ups: “small, small shop, all day open.” These include, by way of sub-set, the pavement shops, with nothing to lock up. Everything, from strips of pre-packed paan and cycle helmets, to coconuts and chandeliers, can be bought in the fresh air, on a Mumbai pavement.
When Monu comes to collect me, for our retail marathon, he’s got an orange bindi on his forehead. I ask, if he’s been to the temple. “Today, my god-day. First, go to temple, seven o’clock.” Ganesh gets up early, then. We drive to Malad, Monu’s home turf, and park at the kerb. He points down the street with a flourish. “Twelve and fifteen furniture shop.” (I will shoot the person who teaches him to say “to” and not “and” – “two to three hours” in Monuspeak is “two and three hour”- it makes me smile every time.)
Today, I’m after a sofa-bed. For the first three shops, we have a communication problem, then Monu says politely, “This is, folding-bed,” and the way forward unravels, on castors. The man, in the folding-bed shop, picks up the demo model off the pavement, and wrestles it into his lair. “Sit!” he barks at me. I smile, and shake my head, in case sitting concludes the contract. “You will sit,” he says, gritting his teeth, “please!” What can I do? I sit. “Five thousand five hundred rupee!” I'll take it, I think. Monu closes his eyes, and turns his face fractionally away, but I’m watching, and don’t get the sockful of rupees out of my handbag, just yet. Instead, I point at a mark on the fabric seat. Monu and folding-bed man chorus, “No this one! New one!” in horrified amusement. So I sift through the swatch-book, and choose a cloth. Then I check out several hundred more samples, to make sure we like the first one best. Isn’t it always the way?
Monu and the man strike up a heated debate, but since it’s in Hindi, all I can say for definite, is that they don’t mention lemons or bangles. (Nimbu aur churi.) The man’s getting a bit theatrical and aggressive, many gestures and throat-slitting mimes. I wonder if Monu’s making disparaging remarks about his mother. Every so often, Monu laughs, and looks away, shaking his head. Then, he stares at the man, and starts again. It’s interminable. I’m just about to start tip-toeing towards the door, when Monu says, “Madame, four thousand ok?”
See, the next best thing to knowing how to barter, is having a Monu.
I fill in the usual form – name, address, inside-leg, favourite pizza topping, etc. – and they discuss delivery. I think we’re arranging to collect it next week, but this moves folding-bed man to desperate English, “No collect. I come. Six o’clock.” Given that it’s gone mid-day, this is going to involve some pretty nifty stitching, but this is India. We all say, “Six o’clock. Today,” in a round, pointing at the floor, for some reason. The deal’s done.
Outside, Monu says, “This man angry, first he say, his benefit only 300 rupees.” If his profit margin on five and a half thousand rupees is only three hundred rupees, how come we get a fifteen hundred discount? Retail’s a complete fiction. I wonder if all transactions are ripe for frowning negotiation. Monu waxes economically expansive: “Big malls – In Orbit, Phoenix – government shops, fixed price. Small shops, no fixed price, very danger.” I say, in future, he can come shopping with me, and Mr Roland can drive the car.
Monu laughs. He thinks I’m joking.