Customer's choice

Vendors come across varieties of customers everyday. I was negotiating a cot one Sunday at Gandhi Bazaar in Bengaluru.

Another middle-aged customer enquired, “Will I get sound sleep on it?” The shopkeeper was wise enough to reply, “Sir, I can guarantee the wood’s quality, but how can I assure sleep as it is you who will be relaxing?” Truly, what an awesome philosophical angle.

Whenever I feel inclined to buy vegetables or fruit from roadside hawkers or parked carts, the vendor says “Swamy, nimdene boni (Sir, you are the first customer),” and proceeds to offer the items at only three-fourth the original price! How could a stranger be so affectionate towards you in a fraction of a second is a million dollar question. Similarly, I come across advices like “take this piece,” “use this instead of that,” “always see this label,” “never go for packed stuff,” etc., in different shops.

I was to board a city bus one evening from Srinivasnagar to Kathriguppe. A teenaged boy was making ‘Dun... dun… dun…’ sound using the frying pan like a gong, to draw the customers. He kept  paper cones – not less than 50 – ready,  to be able to save time. That the buyer should not be aware of the cone’s depth might be another reason for this arrangement. Many a times, the amount of groundnuts given will be the same, whether you go for a Rs 5 or Rs 10 cone. And not to forget, a coneful of nuts can be eaten in less time than it would take for one to search for  change. So even as we appreciate this ‘self-employment’, we must wonder how the boy has inculcated these ethics at such a young age?

Once, in a sugar cane juice centre, I was scratching my head over which blend to order  – pepper, lemon. ginger, mint or natural. Behind me stood a gentleman with his cute son. While the man ordered the pepper flavour, he didn’t want his son to follow him, perhaps, because he thought it would be too spicy for the young one. However, despite the father’s efforts – which included hiding the display – the child was adamant. “Alright,” the father said patting the son, “Tell me, dear, which kind you want. But be quick.” The son was so happy that he could not name the blend. In a state of utter befuddlement, he yelled, “Pa, get me an unnatural only please!”   
 
My mind goes back half a century, when we were in Agrahara in Mysore.  A good number of homely hotels offered food on “minimum loss, minimum profit” basis. I recall honest cautions such as ‘water mixed milk’, ‘here sweets are made of refined oil and not ghee’, ‘chutney is not given a third time for dose’, etc. My friend Suresh and I would visit Krishna Bhavan very frequently. Once we had only eight annas (half a rupee of those days).

We ordered a plate of khali dose each and began eating. When we realised that it would not fill our appetite,  we had to pretend chutney shortage! What we could not imagine was the owner’s scoldings this stunt would cost us.

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