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How not to bargain and still end up winning

Some anecdotes are worth recounting because, somehow, something came about totally by accident. In 1994, holidaying in India from teaching in Dubai, the family — wife, son, I — got caught up in one of West Bengal’s perennial ‘bandhs’ (shutdowns). Everything came to a standstill. Those of us in the Darjeeling hills with plane tickets — Bagdogra, Delhi, Dubai — were doomed to the gut-wrenching sound of dirhams going down the drain. ‘You cannot arrive late for the start of a new school year after a two-month break,’ we’d been warned, ‘Repercussions will ensue. Financial, perhaps. Or, the loss of the job itself.’ Goodness, me! We had just given up long-standing jobs in India to take up posts in the Gulf. Anyhow, when the bandh was called off a day later, we hightailed it for Delhi to buy fresh tickets. Unfortunately, tickets were unavailable, except, of course, if one wished to fly first class! “Why not?” said the wife cheerfully, “We are never ever going to fly first class unless forced and here’s what looks like ‘force’.” ‘Don’t reveal too early’ In this fog of financial gloom, the wife’s optimism notwithstanding, I decided I needed to buy a book to get ‘first class’ out of my mind. And I had a ‘first class’ book I wished to read. Vikram Seth’s new novel, A Suitable Boy. “Go to Connaught Circus,” someone advised, “Suss out the pavement hawkers and bargain them down drastically.” So, I sauntered past a hawker who happened to have the book. “But play it cool,” I was also advised, “Don’t reveal too early the book you’ve got your eye on.”
“Whatever they ask, offer half,” I was advised. I, unable to indulge in such ruthless tactics, offered a mere fifty rupees less. “No, sir, sorry.” “Offer your price and walk away if they don’t accept,” I was also advised. I did this because my adviser had also added, “They will call you back.” So I walked ... past one hawker, past another, past a third all of whom I realised didn’t have the book on sale. Kevin Martin So I asked about Seth’s other book, his novel in verse, The Golden Gate. The hawker quoted a nominal sum. I then inquired about other books I was never really interested in. Finally, I zeroed in. “And how much for A Suitable Boy?” The hawker, with a glint in his eye, because hawkers are bright, quoted a sum. “Whatever they ask, offer half,” I was advised. I, unable to indulge in such ruthless tactics, offered a mere fifty rupees less. “No, sir, sorry.” “Offer your price and walk away if they don’t accept,” I was also advised. I did this because my adviser had also added, “They will call you back.” So I walked ... past one hawker, past another, past a third all of whom I realised didn’t have the book on sale. Won’t budge Finally, after strolling idly past about ten vendors, I turned and slowly made my way back knowing I was under observation. When I arrived back at his pile of books I made as if my feet had developed trouble with moving on. I lingered. The hawker lingered. “What’s your final price?” I asked finally, caving in. “What I told you before, sir,” he replied. And that’s when pride came to the fore. “If they won’t budge, you don’t budge either,” I was told. So, considering myself a moral winner, I said, “I’m not interested in that book after all.” And just to spite myself, I bought — at a throwaway price — The Golden Gate. That night, it got read from cover to cover in one sitting. I remember thinking, “If I ever have the courage to write a book this is what it’ll look like.” That’s how my own Double Cream, Memsahib? was conceived. If someone had told me I had a verse novel in me I’d have laughed insanely. A small group of ‘eclectic readers’ who’d just placed an order for the book ... they were the ones who’d heard that this novel had a back story and cajoled me into its retelling, gushing, “The whole world should hear it.” I told them I wrote a small column each week which, perhaps, resembles a tiny window to the world. Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia. More by Kevin Martin Nowadays it’s OK to be sinister Who’s the joker, who the joked-about?

Some anecdotes are worth recounting because, somehow, something came about totally by accident. In 1994, holidaying in India from teaching in Dubai, the family — wife, son, I — got caught up in one of West Bengal’s perennial ‘bandhs’ (shutdowns).

Everything came to a standstill. Those of us in the Darjeeling hills with plane tickets — Bagdogra, Delhi, Dubai — were doomed to the gut-wrenching sound of dirhams going down the drain. ‘You cannot arrive late for the start of a new school year after a two-month break,’ we’d been warned, ‘Repercussions will ensue. Financial, perhaps. Or, the loss of the job itself.’ Goodness, me! We had just given up long-standing jobs in India to take up posts in the Gulf.

Anyhow, when the bandh was called off a day later, we hightailed it for Delhi to buy fresh tickets. Unfortunately, tickets were unavailable, except, of course, if one wished to fly first class! “Why not?” said the wife cheerfully, “We are never ever going to fly first class unless forced and here’s what looks like ‘force’.”

‘Don’t reveal too early’

In this fog of financial gloom, the wife’s optimism notwithstanding, I decided I needed to buy a book to get ‘first class’ out of my mind. And I had a ‘first class’ book I wished to read. Vikram Seth’s new novel, A Suitable Boy. “Go to Connaught Circus,” someone advised, “Suss out the pavement hawkers and bargain them down drastically.” So, I sauntered past a hawker who happened to have the book. “But play it cool,” I was also advised, “Don’t reveal too early the book you’ve got your eye on.”

“Whatever they ask, offer half,” I was advised. I, unable to indulge in such ruthless tactics, offered a mere fifty rupees less. “No, sir, sorry.” “Offer your price and walk away if they don’t accept,” I was also advised. I did this because my adviser had also added, “They will call you back.” So I walked … past one hawker, past another, past a third all of whom I realised didn’t have the book on sale.

Kevin Martin

So I asked about Seth’s other book, his novel in verse, The Golden Gate. The hawker quoted a nominal sum. I then inquired about other books I was never really interested in. Finally, I zeroed in. “And how much for A Suitable Boy?” The hawker, with a glint in his eye, because hawkers are bright, quoted a sum.

“Whatever they ask, offer half,” I was advised. I, unable to indulge in such ruthless tactics, offered a mere fifty rupees less. “No, sir, sorry.” “Offer your price and walk away if they don’t accept,” I was also advised. I did this because my adviser had also added, “They will call you back.” So I walked … past one hawker, past another, past a third all of whom I realised didn’t have the book on sale.

Won’t budge

Finally, after strolling idly past about ten vendors, I turned and slowly made my way back knowing I was under observation. When I arrived back at his pile of books I made as if my feet had developed trouble with moving on. I lingered. The hawker lingered. “What’s your final price?” I asked finally, caving in. “What I told you before, sir,” he replied. And that’s when pride came to the fore. “If they won’t budge, you don’t budge either,” I was told.

So, considering myself a moral winner, I said, “I’m not interested in that book after all.” And just to spite myself, I bought — at a throwaway price — The Golden Gate. That night, it got read from cover to cover in one sitting. I remember thinking, “If I ever have the courage to write a book this is what it’ll look like.” That’s how my own Double Cream, Memsahib? was conceived.

If someone had told me I had a verse novel in me I’d have laughed insanely. A small group of ‘eclectic readers’ who’d just placed an order for the book … they were the ones who’d heard that this novel had a back story and cajoled me into its retelling, gushing, “The whole world should hear it.” I told them I wrote a small column each week which, perhaps, resembles a tiny window to the world.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

More by Kevin Martin

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