Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Right Price

Helmets have never been a high priority purchase in our family. The law requires some dark coloured protection for the skull, and that's the extent to which we interpret the law. Style was never a criteria. Our family vehicle for four long years was the Fiat. (Read about the car - Introduction, School, Road Trips, Sounds). My own personal two-wheeler was an average looking bicycle till class 10th. From class 11th, I was the co-owner of a whining TVS Moped (with a whopping 60cc engine !). It had seen good days in Mhow. By the time it tasted the roads of Delhi, it was over 6 years old. Since the vehicle wasn't a source of pride for me, buying an ostentatious helmet wasn't really a real concern. And there's the other reason...

I have a...amm...amm...big head. Oh god! The tragedy,,,the shame ! Oh the shame ! Bad helmets, ill fitting caps, bewildered looks of friends and shopkeepers who discovered this abnormality....sniff sniff...

Anyway, a week back we needed a replacement for our helmet. Since I was the aberration in the otherwise standard head-sized family, I was assigned the duty this time for purchasing an appropriate helmet. Directives were simple :
1. Find something that fits your head
2. Don't peruse branded or extravagent models
3. Go for a simple design - no chin guards or natural air vents

That evening, I cruised dilli roads for a helmet. The moment I spotted one, I had an awful "lets NOT go shopping !" feeling. I dragged my feet on the dusty path to the heap of helmets and the sales-MAN.

Helmet terms aren't a standardized lot. When enquiring about laptops, I can mechanically specify terms like Centrino, RAM, DVD Combo etc. But who knows what they coloqially call a chin-guard in a helmet ? Gangways are called taraapa, Reinforcement is called Sariya. So I assisted my sales-MAN by vigorous hand actions. "Bhaiya, Helmet mein (cupped my ears), chin guard (rapid shaving action), nahi chahiye ! (broad hand movement)." Sales-MAN apparently understood my charade, and brought the flimsiest piece from the stack.

I recognized the model. I smiled and told him I already had one like that at home and it doesn't fit me. He wasn't perplexed by the fact. He placed the helmet on my head. The piece was literally floating on top. I gave him an 'I told you so!' expression - "Bhaiya, mera sar BADA hai." Nope. Sales-MAN wasn't convinced. He used his favourite arsenal - "Arre,,,wo adjust ho jaaega. wo kuch din baad fit ho jaata hai." I removed it and placed it on HIS head. It was a normal fit. He wasn't swayed by this obvious fallacy. He repeated his give it some time routine. I sighed and asked for a different model.

He brought out the roadside showroom's "branded" stuff. He tested waters - "badiya hai. company maal hai. 380 ka padega." "Ha!", I sneered. My last drop of enthusiasm trickled away. "Agar 200 types bhi hota to khareed leta." It seemed to be a millimetre larger than my skull size - a few shades better than the stuff I'd worn before. My ear tips stuck out from the sides. It would have been impossible to explain this to Sales-MAN. And the price !! Who had the energy to bargain ! I called up my father and told him the same. He reiterated - buy it ONLY if it fits you. Aha ! The perfect loophole !

To make a clean exit, I thought I would try and be completely honest with him. I gave him 3 reasons for quitting the bargaining exercise - It doesn't seem to fit me. I don't like the price. And I don't want to make this decision on my own. Sales-MAN made his move.

S-MAN : 200 de deejiye."
ME : "Bhaiya. abhi nahi khareedna hai. kal pitaji ke saath aa kar khareedoonga." (I am not buying it now. I'll come with my father tomorrow and purchase it)
I took a step towards the scooter.
S-MAN : "theek hai. 190 deejiye".
ME : "Bhaiya. mein jhooth nahi bol raha. mein kal AA raha hoon. abhi nahi khareedna." (I am NOT lying. I am coming tomorrow. I DON'T want to buy it now.)
S-MAN : "abhi le leejiye. nahi pasand aaye to kal lauta dena." (Buy it now. If you don't like it, you can return it tomorrow.)
I wore my old helmet and unlocked the scooter.
ME : "Bhaiya !!!! kal AA raha hoon. abhi NAHI le raha." (I am COMING tomorrow. I am NOT buying it now).
S-MAN : "180 de deejiye."
I thought this was going nowhere. Maybe a little eyebrow-raising would convey my point. I removed the old helmet.

ME : "Bhaiya. MERI BAAT MAAN LO. mein iss road par har din jaata hoon. jhoot nahi bol raha. KAL AA RAHA HOON !" (I travel on this road everyday. I am not lying. I AM COMING TOMORROW.)
S-MAN : "160 de deejiye final."

I gave up. I tried the same helmet again. It seemed just right - my ear bottom could do with a little ventilation. Snug fit was definitely better than a floating accessory. Two things were apparent - I would never get this price again. I had unknowingly made my life's best bargain. The dissapointing fact was the price would not drop further. I paid up 160/- and drove off adorned with a brand new helmet.

I wonder if sales-MAN would have lowered the price further. Did I hit the right price ?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Muffinisation

Barrista is a summation of all those little things - that streaked hair, those Italian coffee beans, that pretentious plop of swiss chocolate, that tall bitter cappuchino/mocha serving, that female in the ill-fitting top shouting - "That's so cool yaar. I tell you nooo, it's like..."

My friend broke my trail of disgust - "Arvind, you want this ?" My doubt was cleared by the Barrista employee - "Yes, it's Aam Panna. It's made from raw mangoes, chilled and served with...." The cynic within me smiled.

'Oh it's an Indian drink made from MANGO. This fruit is considered the king of all fruits in India. In villages, people drink this to quench their thirst. It reflects the culture, tradition and customs of...'

As I sipped the Barrista version of Aam Panna a few minutes later, I was later hit by an even bigger revelation - I was neither the Moccha Frappe nor the Aam Panna crowd. Is this some vague food identity crisis ?

Add a bit of cool air-conditioning, some false ceiling lights, that chic wooden furniture with glistening steel lining - and whoa ! You have enveloped food with a layer of exclusivity. And that flavour of upmarket culture entices the aspirations of Ritesh Verma, the 20 something BPO employee, the icon of rising India. And why shouldn't he splurge ? It's his hard earned money. He deserves some cool comfort.

The Indian urban cityscape is offering fewer options and greater number of clones. Aggarwal Sweet Corner is no longer what my generation wants. We prefer Coffee. I've visited quite a few of these joints - Mocha, Cafe Coffee Day, Barrista. And each offers more or less the same thing - Coffee Culture as publications would like to call it. Is this alien culture, or am I the alien in generation Y ?

Then again, it is probably my ignorance eating up my comfort level. What ignorance, you may ask. Well, here's my favourite example. Serve a guy/gal soup and plonk a tray of condiments for the dish. It is certain that he will try out a bit of every condiment (quite a few times without tasting the soup !). Majority of people drinking soups across India don't exactly know what soya sauce does to the taste. Or how many teaspoons will enhance the taste without ruining it. A bit of this, a bit of that and our man has created his custom soup. Phew ! Of course he knows his food quite well. Vinegar ? Yup, lets have some of that too !

Salt and Pepper on the other hand, are quite Indian and comprehendable. You'll seldom find someone adding spoonfuls of salt to customize the dish.

Maybe I am supposed to learn this the hard way. Visit the joints often - be a part of the muffinisation. Drink up that frappe, mocha and eventually decide which one suites my taste. Ah, the one with Italian roasted beans costs thrice the one with costa beans...But the taste has that Italian bitterness..hmm.. what crap !

Tikki, Chaat and Bhelpuri stalls/thelaas are spread across India, serving cheap food with questionable hygiene. Bansal/Aggarwal Sweets satisfy that broad middle class who want that assurance of cleanliness too. An odd Haldiram joint serves the same in rare localities that require even higher standards.

Even my favourite ice Cream is not a luxury item. Yes - you can purchase a serving for Rs250/- if you walk into a 3Star. But the same is available for one-fifth the price at quite a few shops ; And at one-tenth the price in all the ice-cream trolleys. And I, the so called king customer, can exercise my choice and pick the category that satisfies me.

And that's what really annoys me - two cubes of brownie with a spoonful of ice-cream costs Rs65/- at CCD. Where are my option two and three ? That's why I feel the Coffee Culture consists of a bunch of morons, sipping that glass of cold coffee concoction, munching that muffin, not really sure about what they are having, why they are having it, but smiling nevertheless. It's Mocha for heavens sake ! I LOVE MOCHA !

Aren't we plain sucking up to what previous generations ominously named as Western Culture ? Am I missing something here ?