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.

Can You Recall The Five Faces You Saw Today?



Last Friday, as I was rushing for work and walking into the subway station on East 86th street, I was so lost in my own world and thoughts that I did not see a man coming from the opposite side at the same turnstile where I was about to swipe my card.  I noticed that only after swiping my metro card. Not even after swiping,  I actually saw that when I had moved turnstile in to enter the station and came in less than an arm’s distance from that man. Now I saw that he was blind and that he was now inching back to make room for me to move forward. I could not feel more shamed of myself, of my absentmindedness. This was so not mindful living. That man began doing without having any eyes, what I could not do, with two perfectly functioning eyes. A woman now assisted him in making the exit. She gave me a look of contempt, which I clearly deserved. These few seconds now were the moments of very high awareness and consciousness for me. I can never forget the faces of that man and the woman who assisted him.

Feeling awful about this, I got into thinking about the cloud of our personal thoughts that surrounds us, ALL the time when we walk around in New York City. The things that are allowed to be a part of this cloud are devices – our cell phones, our e-readers, our music players. We don’t really lift our heads up or take our eyes off our devices or books to make an eye contact. Even when neither of the devices are engaging, our thoughts are still elsewhere. We say New York is a melting pot of cultures, but we don’t even know the language of the person sitting next to us in the subway because Spotify is streaming into our ears, screening off any linguistic treat from commuters. From the time we leave our apartment in the morning, till the time we hit the bed in the night, we must be coming across at least 30 new faces ( no Maths done), but can we recall even five of those faces when our head lands on pillow for a good night sleep?

There was another face I will never forget. Few days ago, I was taking a cross town bus from west side to east side ( I don’t take buses otherwise ) and the seat to next to me was empty. A noticed a really old woman approaching towards this seat. I just smiled, which I usually do when I see someone coming towards me. Not a big wide grin, but just a moderate smile of acknowledgement. And I resumed reading the Metro News. The woman took seat and said, “Thank you for your smile”. I can’t even forget the tone and warmth of that voice. There are many people of her age who probably didn’t grow up in a time of wired humans. For them, it’s hard to comprehend this new generation that is wired in an individual virtual cloud. So possibly, it was a pleasant surprise for her to receive smiling acknowledgment of her existence from a random stranger. And it was a surprise for me, for I did nothing extraordinarily out of my way to please here, I did what I usually did.

I know that it might be too much to ask from urban dwellers to always stay in the present and notice every human they see and make eye contact with everyone. That will be a lot of visual information to process each day. But that done in moderation might make each day a more pleasant one as the researchers Nicholas Epley and and Juliana Schroeder found in their research at University of Chicago, which I still believe is nothing earth shattering. Often, the clouds are full of thoughts about past and present. Engaging with strangers help us distract from them and get back in present, at least for time. Looking in other’s eyes and seeing their faces make us more empathetic towards them because we begin to see them as humans and not as objects dotting our way to some destination. Who knows, you might not need to go to Match.com or OkCupid, because the person you were looking for was sitting right next to you on the Q train to Times Square, if only you two had allowed each other in your virtual clouds.

So, will you try to recall five faces tonight?


Ah! finally I got time to write! after ages.

India , one of the oldest civilizations, is slowly changing itself so much that cultural heritage will soon reduce to a word in history text books.
I had joined music classes some time back. Students who would learn music with me were of the age like 5 or 6 or sometimes perhaps 4 also! These kids learn Hindustani classical music in English. The teacher gives them notes as Sa Re Ga Ma. And this is true for students from any community, there were lots of Bengali and north Indian kids there. They all learn music in this way. People in so many states are fighting to get a ‘classical status’ for their language, but what is the use of that status if the language that gets that status is not considered ‘cool’ by the community that was expected to encourage its use. Already, so many languages of the world have become dead. But most of them became extinct because the people speaking that language became extinct. But in our country, number of people capable of speaking Indian languages is always on an ever increasing trend. Hence, it will be shameful if Indian languages become obsolete.

This also reminds me of another interesting trend in the ‘upwardly mobile and progressive’ society that is flourishing in satellite townships of Noida, Bangalore, Gurgaon etc..
Yesterday my mentor told that he bought an alphabet primer for his few months old kid. The book has alphabets as:
P for Pizza
C for computer
B for burger
and perhaps I for iPod!

I might be accused of acting like French (who, it is said, dislike anything American, like our very own Left) or some anti-progressive jerk, but what kind of nature loving and healthy kids we raise if they learn of Pizza before identifying a Parrot and they see Burger before getting excited to play with a Ball

bangalore – glass house?

It’s been more than a month since I moved to Bangalore. A lot has been said ans written about this so called silicon valley of India. Here’s my contribution, my first hand experience. My office is on the Airport Road, right across Leela Palace. I thought this must be the most happening place in the city. Soon my illusions were over when I saw the map and discovered that actually we are far from the hip hop spots of Bangalore. Most of the services have their centres far from here. Near to this area, I once saw a mini La Defense. The place around that golf course had all the brands of IT one could think of Microsoft, Yahoo, HP Google and what not? In erecting these high rise posh buildings, people behind all of it, forgot that India has a weather different from that of countries where these glass houses are a norm for business houses. In my own office,

in spite of state of art air conditioning and climate control system, I feel sultry in the noon if i am sitting next to a glass wall exposed to weather outside. So, those feeling awestruck (as I felt when I DLF building for the first time while going by Gurgaon road) by the sight of glass buildings, do have a heart for how it feels behind those glasses!

Final year.. i am sporty!

All Work No Play, Makes Jack a Dull boy.. In IIT(G.. it happens Guwahati at least!), this thought descends upon the minds of students in the last lap of their race called ‘IIT life’. Yes, final year fills in the students, particularly B.techs, an unprecedented enthusiasm for sports. Not being a part of at least one sport becomes so ‘not cool’ suddenly. But the first three year find a significant section of people not busy with sports. And this trend has been observed invariably year after year. So an intriguing question is “Why now? Why not earlier?” Let’s explore…

Generally, one gets a standard reply to such question, that “we had other tasks earlier. ”, but considering an IITian style of living, it is quite reasonable to agree that the ‘other tasks’ were mainly different types of recreation, since students in IIT are not nerds. So one cannot buy any sort of argument that would imply that earlier students did not get time for sports. They did, but for other kinds of leisure activities which are different for different chaps. There is one breed of people who sleep and wake with computer games. They talk of it even during meals in the mess, if at all they remember to have food during mess hours! Similarly, we have the movie maniacs. Members of this tribe are crazy about watching movies and soaps.

But film studios haven’t stopped releasing movies. New seasons and episodes of various soaps are also available even now. There is no dearth of computer games or of excitement for new arenas of old computer games. So why the other wise really exciting passions of students fail to please them now? Why are those passions put on backburner now? People who never held a ball in their hands are now hitting courts regularly. A basket ball team consisting of final year students has not five but as many as seven (or even eight sometimes!) players. Even some good second year inter-IIT students are at times displaced from the fields and are told to play somewhere else to make room for their seniors. Oh yeah, they are seniors, at least, in terms of years spent in IIT if not in their experience in sports. Students can be seen trying their hands at everything under the sun as if tasting all the food stuff in their meal! Lawn tennis seems to be the easiest option to start with. No wonder tennis court is found so much congested these days. Some boys have gone as far as purchasing new tennis rackets. It’s true that it’s never late to learn anything in life, but why this learning thought strikes in eighth semester!! Is it because your next door neighbor is playing, so you should also go for it (so that you would not be appearing left out)? ….. If reader finds a suitable answer to these questions, author would be more than pleased to see it, as he could not find one.

Rajeev Gupta

(A final year student himself and a struggling player since first year!)

Work hard dude..

We have always despised government departments and offices for being inefficient and corrupt. We view them as a store house of lazy babus. Have we ever given a thought as to why year after year, babus keep on getting born in these offices? When one babu departs (retires.. because they are never fired!) to make room for a new candidate for his job, all that we get is another incompetent employee. Why?

We might get an answer if observe our technical and cultural fests. We organize Techniche and Alcheringa every year, which are indeed splendid festivals in terms of scale , organizational responsibilities, events and what not. We notice one thing in most of the events: they are delayed. They are not on time most of the times. In the inauguration of every edition of Techniche and Alcheriga, Dr. Gautam Barua , our director, urges us to start an event scheduled at 5 , at 5 and not at 5:30! But this doesn’t happen. I am not blaming anyone for this. I am myself a part of the same system for four years now. My event was also delayed. But is the inability to do things on time inherent in Indians? Is it impossible to respect punctuality? I am bewildered with these questions and observations because today when we go to , say, reservation counter of a railway station, we feel annoyed to see clerks sitting on counter taking ages to make the ticket or to find him not in his seat during office hours. But ultimately it is the people of a country that constitutes that nation. All of us will join the work force in a matter of few months. If we can’t organize things here in IIT with punctuality, how shall we do it in the offices we will join?

A similar and intriguing trait I observed during placements. I found many students more than willing to join NTPC or other PSU’s like IOCL and ONGC. They presented the simple logic that they would not need to work much in those companies. Well, these are the people who are called young IITians, graduates from elite institutions. If they are so much averse to work, what can one expect from the babu sitting in some municipality office or at a railway station for that matter?

India in the western veil

These days ,Indian companies make it a point that they have pics of non-Indians in their advertisements,billboards, posters etc.. One can only speculate their intentions behind this non sense. They may be doin this to attract people, thinking that Indians have always been attracted to fair skin or to foreigners (coz some of them are Africans or American blacks as well), so this will make their ads eye catching. But they often say that that they want to show off some kinda diversity in their employees and clients, that they are serving people from all over the globe , that a substantial percentage of people working in their company are non-Indians. But those guys forget that majority of them are Indians. The Times of India and the Economic Times always ensure that their articles somehow contain a pic of non Indian thing even if that thing has got almost zero relevance to that article. I am not chauvinism or xenophobic, but I am Indian. Globlalisation is indeed the order of the day , but forceful globalisation and blind aping and appeasement is not.