Tale of Printed Prices

Recently I came across a ‘meme’ that accused ‘liberals’ of negotiating prices with vegetable sellers in the street but buying fancy items in malls and stores at face value and then tweeting the grief on farmers’ suicide. On its face, the meme seemed logical. But somehow it didn’t seem to connect dots. The thoughts of finding why we negotiate had been visiting and revisiting me for a long time. We end up negotiating the cost of grocery with the vendors in the streets. We bargain with rickshaw persons for a better fare. We do that even for manual rickshaw which requires human muscle strength to pull another human. Often some section of society  judges the section of negotiators and bargainers. I wanted to dig deeper instead dumping judgements and labels.

We don’t do this bargaining when the price is printed. Even when that is handwritten on a piece of paper like in farmers market or artisans market or trade fair , we hesitate in any form of negotiation.  In fancy malls or stores or hotels, we again have only two options – take it or leave it. When price tags are seen digitally on Amazon or Flipkart, we would have no control again. There might be sale or deals, whose control again sits with the sellers or the platform.

Somehow, when price is written down,  it puts mental blocks towards the direction of negotiations. Those printed or written digits discourage us from asking for better price. Of course the motivation for this discouragement works differently in different situations.   

Sometimes the class difference between buyer and seller plays role. Street hawkers or rickshaw pullers fall in much lower classes than buyers. So buyers exercise some power in extracting better price. But the power of class differences dilutes if the price is printed.

When we buy a house or buy media or software subscription for our company or ourselves, we negotiate to the last drop. Big money involved there. In essence, those negotiations are a thousand times bloodier than the ones on street with grocery sellers.

Thus, ground for negotiation is not as simple as it is portrayed to be. Many factors play into this.

Why I Would NEVER Vote for BJP (or Congress) .. unless..

This evening, I was going for my music class. As I turned onto the Janak Puri Road, the one I take every day, I saw it blocked. I was already late for the class. It was quite a nuisance to see this tent pitched in the middle. I went around it and noticed two police men. Turned out that some BJP meeting was planned to take place in that pandal. I asked the beat officers if the organizers had  permission to hold this assembly in the middle of the road. He said that he did not know. I went up near the stage. The meeting had not started yet. Few people were seated in the chairs. I enquired with one of the guys in the front to learn who the organizer was. He said, “I am the organizer, tell me”. I said, “Do you have the required permission to hold this event at this place?”. He asked why I wanted to know that. I told him that I am a citizen and if a road that I use every day, and specially the one I pay tax for, is used for purposes other than vehicles or pedestrians, then I had every right to know that. He pulled out a paper, and told me that that was the permission letter. As I began to read that, some other saffron clad man snatched that from my hands and asked me who I was. I tried to tell him the same. He asked me to leave and kept asking who I was. The organizer told me to come with him to the beat officers, they would show me the permission letter. I told him that they didn’t have that, that was why I came to him in the first place. Regardless, he brought me back to the constables. As we got there, some other men reached there and told the officer that I was disturbing their assembly. I explained the situation. Some guys hit me. The two constables did nothing. When they tried to charge at me again, constables tried to intervene, one of the men succeeded anyway. Police officers asked me to leave. I asked officers if they were going to press charges against those goons. He asked why I was talking inappropriately. I couldn’t believe this, a group of men just punched me in front of them and they are not saying a word of censure. There was some verbal duel. I asked him if this was why he wore uniform, to just watch? An offense of culpable homicide happened just happened in front of so many eye witnesses. He asked where the eye witnesses were and told me that he would arrest me if I spoke further.

This was a meeting to ask for votes. This is the foundation of electoral democracy in a city – municipal elections. If the idea of ‘development’ is founded on violence and injustice, do we want such ‘development’ ?

One Modi, if at all he genuinely wants to fix this high headedness, cannot fix this arrogance and sense of impunity across the party and supporters. Manoj Tiwari, the head of Delhi BJP already has been seen showing the same attitude of hierarchy. Unless this intolerance of questions goes away, unless these political parties begin to respect ordinary voter and his questions, there is no way I can vote for them.

PS: Not voting for BJP or Congress does not simply translate to a vote for AAP. Any voter can dislike or like more than one political party or leader. Not to forget that there is always the option of ‘None of the above.

PPS: I went to a similar assembly some weekends ago, where AAP candidate was going door to door with his supporters. I asked him questions. Sure enough, he was visibly discomforted. But not once did him or his supporters dare to even touch me. And there was no police there. Rather, I got him to sign an undertaking that if he failed to deliver, he would quit.

 

Could we be missing something in the conflict issues of African nationals in India?

Like every other evening, I took the e-Rickshaw on Friday evening from Uttam Nagar east to Dabdi. The driver was a young man , 23, from Begusarai, Bihar and his name was Aman.  As usual, I took the shotgun seat next to the driver because the drivers have amusing stories to tell. Therefore, while looking ahead and talking to this cheerful gentleman, I didn’t know who all were sitting in the 4 seats behind us. Aman amused me by telling the story of how his girlfriend from last 5 years turned bewafa! And he got married at 21 and became a father at 22.

At C 1 Janak Puri signal, some passengers deboarded. My pleasant evening mood was suddenly disturbed by the sound of a rather violent pat that I found was on Aman’s hand. There was a passenger, apparently of African origin, who had given Rs. 100 and Aman didn’t notice that as he was busy narrating his stories to me and assumed it was Rs. 10 note, which is what passengers often gave because the ride was priced flat at Rs. 10.

Aman apologized, of course in Hindi. And gave him the rest of the change. He again made some mistake in counting and there was one Rs. 10 note less in the change. The passenger yelled again, this time rather more loudly and hit his arm. Aman realized his mistake, apologized again and gave the Rs. 10 note. The man left talking to himself.

I don’t know if that is how that man or other people of his community usually talked or he was high on something, but I found this demeanor very disturbing. I can tell from my gut feeling, and not because Aman and I have common identity – Indian, that it was an honest mistake. Incidentally, this happened, just when he was telling me that he does not like Delhi because people are very rude to him.

I do not know where that man is from. If it’s Nigeria or some other place. I don’t want to believe that all people of his country or continent behave like that. For all I know, on his part, it might as well be very natural. His talking to himself could also be natural – we also do that in anger.

But the only point I am making is that there is a possibility of another side in each of such cases of conflict. Before jumping to any conclusion, we may want to hold our judgments and keep our mind open, absorb information, if we absolutely have to ( we can always have the option of not going to facebook or avoiding news of any kind!) and later have any opinion. Each conflict is different. Assuming that all Nigerians in India are into drug peddling or all Indians are racists is quite a dangerous proposition.

Interestingly, when I told that man that he should not have hit Aman, the lone woman in the rear seat, an Indian, advised us that we should stop harassing Nigerians.

 

 

Political Warfare

In politics, there are two ways to impress the people you govern. Words and Actions. Ideally one would expect words to be a short term ploy and actions to be instrumental in creating long lasting impression. Empty vessels are known for making more noise. Actions are assumed to be louder than words. Sometimes, it works out like that. Often it doesn’t. More so, in the times when social media shapes national opinions. Surprising as it sounds even in the case of nations like India where population active on social media is negligible compared to the total population.

In the spring of 2014, if my memory isn’t failing me, I met Dr Gayatri C Spivak at a seminar at Columbia University. During a group discussion, I asked her why Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was doing populist things like chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai when he was supposed to lift political conversation above any rhetoric. ( I’ll leave the discussion on Bharat Mata ki Jai for another conversation. )

What she replied  shaped my way of looking at political words. She explained that he was up against Modi! The amount of resources that BJP had, including Modi’s brand was exorbitant. So, Kejriwal would do all that he could, hopefully in ethical limits, to fight this out.

I interpreted that in this manner. Political parties or leaders should not be taken seriously on what they say. They need to be judged on what they do. Their saying is more or less inconsequential. They do that for short term political gains to get power or to sustain power .

In the US elections last year, or even in the past, so much dirt was thrown by all, including Democrats. I witnessed same madness in Loksabha Elections in India 2014. At that time I used to wonder how would Modi and Kejriwal would ever meet in person when they have poured so much of bitterness for each other in public. Incidentally, in India, we still don’t see top political leaders debating directly. So we don’t see the nasty talk that Trump and Hillary engaged in directly with each other on national TV. Can you imagine Modi directly saying to Kejriwal – तुम मूर्ख हो। . I was aghast though when during a debate Trump so effortlessly called Hillary ‘stupid’ !

So many things that Kejriwal says like an uncontrolled stereo are to sustain a public opinion against BJP and keep it in his favor. These are the need of the hour because we live in times when just DOING good work or even SPEAKING about the good work done isn’t enough. All parties engage in trash talk, in putting allegations (false or true), in belittling other parties’ belief and in many other kinds of toxic things. Different political parties or leaders have different methods to engage in this. While Kejriwal does it himself,  Modi has a fleet of people and technology and police to do it so that his image stays clean. Around the world, general people aren’t objective enough to see through this. Yet. Simple example – imagine a teacher who gives quality education in a school in an Indian village. A simple way to bring the teacher down is spread such information in public as the teacher eats beef or he is gay or is having a love affair with an upper caste girl or any such things that are considered ‘blasphemous’.  And that might be true too. In the knowledge of such information, all the good teaching work would vaporize.

Thankfully, we haven’t gone that dirty yet in political narratives. We still try to respect private lives. But we are not far from there. If the current pace and intensity of dirt continues, we shall soon be there!

So the point I am trying to make is that when Kejriwal alleges that Modi is corrupt or when BJP says Kejriwal is a liar and takes frequent U-turn or when parties make such allegations, remarks or tweets, which by the way are golden for media, then we needn’t take these seriously. They do it to balance the amount of trash against each other. It’s unfortunate but true. Apart from competing in who does better work for public welfare, they also need to compete in who says more stupid fictitious things or dumps more trash. I must clarify that some of this trash might as well be true. But they come out in an unstructured way without any serious intention to follow through. No wonder these disappear as soon as they come. There are never follow-up actions. If AAP claims that Modi takes bribe, then apart from making #ModiTakesBribe trend, why don’t they file a complaint with Vigilance or FIR and follow-up and keep people informed about progress and ultimately take it to a conclusion? If BJP and its supporters believe Kejriwal is corrupt, then arrange to get him convicted. They even have police and CBI under their influence. Why do you think they arrested AAP MLA’s when they ultimately found nothing. They too probably knew that nothing could be found. Doesn’t hurt to book them. It would fan the public sentiment against them and keep the toxicity against AAP at the optimal level.

What should ultimately matter are the decisions and executions. The projects for public welfare or even against public welfare. Those are what everyone, including news media, should focus, discuss and debate.

Why would media not report on work carried by an MLA in his constituency? When a government decides to start a mining project and auction frequency spectrum, that needs to be discussed. When education minister in Delhi starts a new project, that needs to be reported. When union government brings out a blueprint for fighting corruption, that should be debated and discussed.

But Kejriwal living in X house or Y house or Modi wearing a shirt with his name – how consequential are those on regular people’s lives? If Modi or BJP says AAP people are Naxalite and should go back to forests, are those comments important? When Delhi CM constantly claims that BJP and INC are in cahoots, is that important when not a single conviction is happening? These things are at least not worth producing hundreds of articles and telecast five thousand debates on TV.

Of course, these are of great consequence for page views and TRPs. That’s why I often observe that in media business you end up doing what is profitable and not necessarily what is right. Sure, sometimes the right thing to do also happens to be profitable.

Now there has to be a line that should not be crossed in the crossfires of allegations and comments. Case in point is politicians and influential leaders saying things that have a potential to cause violence or rift in society. Those should be reported and reported again. General people, lacking objectivity will believe such things as well and resort to violence. Comments on religion, faith, gau raksha, and fatwa can cause serious problems to peace in society.

In short, if us people start seeing through words and filter out the noise and pay attention to only the relevant information, that can encourage politicians to engage less in trash talk because they would see that those efforts aren’t bearing fruits. We need to stop liking, retweeting and sharing irrelevant sound bytes and videos to help reduce this madness.

 

कश्मीर की दहलीज तक | Kashmir, Almost !

kashmir685

Early in January, I had to cancel one planned trip to Kashmir. A week later, I wanted to go. Anywhere. Just somewhere.  After lots of deliberation about going to Kashmir or Bhutan or going anywhere at all,  I finally got myself close to flying to Srinagar. Loaded my iPod with the most beautiful santoor pieces, packed enough woolen. I was super organized this time. Reached airport on time. While in the lounge, checked the display with reasonable periodicity. But something else was planned.

The flight was delayed first. Another announcement delayed it by another hour. Finally canceled 😦 . When I went down to the departure gate, it was a mela of Kashmiris. They were all so pretty. Exactly how I imagined when I would hear Rahul Sharma’s album Sounds of Valley. Long nose. Chiselled faces. An accent that usually pahadi people have. There was no flight seat until 22nd January. My return flight itself was scheduled for 22nd. There. My Kashmir vacation was over before it even started. Only thing Kashmiri I could get access were Kashmiris. They were very kind. They expressed disappointment for me.

Oh well. Another time.

Paan – Can this be fixed?

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Not so early morning. 7AM. DTC bus RL77. As the bus roared it’s engine, the man in front of me spat one long red pichkari leaving fresh deep red blood marks on the white foot walk that looked recently painted. I felt too lazy and confused to do or say anything. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. Didn’t feel comfortable talking. The suddenness and profoundness of the sharp pichkari also left me thoughtless and speechless. So I collected myself and took admiring looks at the landmarks of central Delhi.  Two traffic signals later, came another pichkari. This time it wasn’t a long jump. The projectile of this one was more of a high jump and didn’t make it to the already dirty footpath but settled only a few inches away from the bus and few droplets on his face too. Might be an occasional slip because he otherwise appeared experienced.

Now the hideousness of this red rain was grossing me out. But apart from demotivating factors stated earlier, this time I also feared that if I speak to him then I too would get a slice of the red shower on me. I ignored once again.

But when the bus hit a speed breaker, the rain man lost some stability and poured down entire tsunami of redness in a consecutive series of 2-3 intense pichakris.

I had to do something now. In these early hours of the morning, I didn’t want to spoil his mood or mine. I didn’t want to lecture or preach. I wanted to just understand what I could do for him to stop doing what he did. What could be an alternative to pichkari?

First, to begin, I asked him if the bus went to a place that I already knew it would. He replied in affirmative and added that that place is two stops away. Now post this ice break I felt comfortable to shoot.

“अच्छा यह बताइये, की अगर पान के साथ एक डिब्बी या थूकदान  निःशुल्क दिया जाए थूकने के लिए, तो इस समस्या का हल हो सकता है क्या ?”   {“I want to ask you something. If a small spittoon is given free of cost along with pan, will that solve this problem?”}

“कौनसी समस्या ?” [What problem?]

“ये पान की पिचकारी”  [Pichkari of paan]

“हम्म .. ” [ Hmm ..] He didn’t totally see it coming but didn’t take too long get out of the mild surprise I inflicted on him through my unexpected question. So he replied after a brief pause.

“बंद कर दो”  [ Ban it ]

“हैं?” [what?]

“डिब्बी से कुछ नहीं होगा। डिब्बी के बाद भी मुझे बाहर थूकने में अधिक सुविधा होगी। टहनी को क्यों काटो। पूरे पेड़ को ही काट दो। पान पे बैन लगा दो। ” [ Spittoon won’t help. I won’t find it comfortable to spit in that. And why bother chopping a branch of an infected tree. Bring the entire tree down. ]

It was my turn to be lost in surprise. That too not a mild one.

“हम्म .. ” [ Hmm ..],  I responded.

“पता तो सबको है कि जर्दा सवास्थय के लिए हानिकारक है। तब भी सब करते  हैं न सेवन।” [We all know that Zarda is injurious to health. Still, we consume. It’s not easy to give up. ]

“पर बैन तो शराब भी है गुजरात में, फिर भी बिकती भी है और पीते भी हैं। ” [ But does ban work? Alcohol is banned in Gujarat, still, it is sold and consumed ]

“क्या बिना पुलिस और सरकार के सहयोग के बिना संभव है वो?” [Is that possible without the help of police and government?]

I had no answer.

“बैन करो तो ठीक से करो, सब राज्यों में करो।  सरकार ने गुटखे में जर्दे पर बैन लगाया और कहा की जर्दा खाना है तो अलग से खरीदो। अब जहाँ 1 रुपये में गुटखा जर्दा दोनों मिलते थे अब 5 रुपये का जर्दा अलग से लेना पड़ता है। जहाँ पहले एक पैकेट से पर्यावरण दूषित होता था अब 2 पैकेट  से होता है। और 5 रुपये किसकी जेब में गए ? सेल्स टैक्स सरकार का बढ़ा। ” [ If you ban, ban it properly and across the states. They tried to ban zarda in the paan by declaring that consumers would need to purchase zarda separately in Rupees five sachets. What did that result into? People still buy that zarda. It is rather more expensive now. And the government gets higher sales tax. And earlier environment was polluted by one packet, now we litter two packets ]

He deboarded.

 

Socializing over Sonu’s Samosa in Sagarpur

In the past, talking to your friends did not require a background music of food or beverages. An innocuous walk would do. Or just sitting on the roof would do. That changed. Now socializing happens OVER something. ‘Let’s discuss this over a cup of tea’. ‘Let’s get drinks and catch up’.

It is what it is.

But why that has to happen in a Cafe Coffee Day or any fancy cafe or a bar or a fancy restaurant in a fancy part of your city. Honestly, at least in India, most of the fancy places serve food or drinks that are often equally unhealthy as the regular tea stall or neighborhood halwai shop or regular theka-bar.

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I had to meet a friend few months ago. We both are from the same neighborhood. It didn’t make sense  to go to a third place that is far off. We do not have a CCD or any cafes in our neighborhood. We decided to get a cup of tea at Sonu Halwai – a neighborhood sweets shop. He was making fresh hot  Samose then. We got those too. Background set, we spoke of the same things that we would have if we were in an upscale cafe. We ate and drank similar things as we would have otherwise except that it was way cheaper here and the tea was ready to be consumed. Unlike in cafes, here we didn’t have to grab sugar sachets and keep stirring sugar. Some fancier places are even worse – even tea water and milk need to be mixed by you. Although I do empathize with their attempt to celebrate individual taste . Further, it saved us the inconvenience of driving some kilometres to find a cafe.

Saving costs and convenience is definitely one push for this favoritism of mine for local and less opulent places.

But other equally strong, if not stronger, force is the concern for widening gap among socio-economic classes in India. Gap not really about how much people make or about their ability to make money, but about the ability of people to be present with each other. Often, you won’t rub shoulder with, say, an auto-driver when you are having a drink of rum or whiskey with your friend. The drink you may have at some bar in Connaught Place or on One Hundred Feet Road in Indira Nagar, in Bangalore, might be similar to those consumed at a theka bar. A less expensive rum or whiskey might be more common. Chances are that your preferred brand might also be available. Perhaps specific concoction like Mojito or Bloody Mary might be unavailable. Granted, the theka-bar may not have the ‘your type’ music, ambiance and crowd. But are these ancillary background items too big to bridge when all you wanted to do was catch up with your friend over drinks? Could it be possible to go over the fence once in a while?

I understand that at bars, safety can be a concern when female friends are involved. But for other socializing at least, like a quick bite or cup of tea, the place in your street isn’t too bad an option. If health and hygiene are concerns, a ten rupee samosa could very well be equally unhealthy as a slice of expensive burger or doughnut.

This occasional fence jumping addresses that widening gap in an interesting way. Going to those nondescript places creates the presence of otherwise disconnected individuals. When you go to those places, it is very much possible that there might be no conversation between you and those relatively less privileged ones. But sheer presence of all of you in the same space ushers in some sense of familiarity. Just occasional unintentional effortless overhearing of each other’s chats or musings will bring in more familiarity than the transactional chats you had with people like them earlier. ‘Will you go to Moti Nagar?’ or ‘How much?’. They too will perhaps learn to hold you in less awe or feel more comfortable with you.