Monday, 8 October, 2007

Talking Shop

Two experiences that make me wonder about discounts, sales and ethics. The first was just after an electronics megastore opened in north Mumbai. The objective to drive all the way there was to look see at this wonderland of gizmos and appliances and of course decide which washing machine to buy.

We reached there, started looking at the machines. The criteria being price, price and price, besides other important things like colour, looks, features, economy mode, water saver facilities, power consumption, dimensions, weight of clothes that could be washed in one go and so on. The gleaming washing machines were all lined up in a double row. Soon, my wife got really exasperated because of the seemingly endless questions that I was firing away.

The assistant, who was only fulfilling his promise to 'help us buy', got flustered the moment I got into even a slight technicality. I will ask my supervisor was all he could chirp-up every time. After twenty minutes, we were wondering what he was doing there in the first place if he didn't know his products. Other people I know have had the same experience with sales assistants in this chain of e-stores.

The supervisor duly arrived. I asked him the question, (price vs machine features) to which he replied very matter of factly that the tent cards on the few machines which said BEST BUY were actually for sale to the manufacturers and had nothing to do with recommendations or expert opinion of the store. The supervisor informed us that the particular model was about to be phased out so the manufacturer was keen to push it off the shelf faster. And so even though it was not the BEST BUY in terms of features, capacity and price, the Tent card proudly proclaimed it as one for all the gullible people streaming in.

We were shocked.

We would have trusted the store blindly because it comes from a well-renowned diversified conglomerate that is known for its honesty. We dropped into our local mini-electronics store in the neighbourhood and the price of the machine that we had liked was the same as the price in the big mega-store. In all probability he would have given us a further discount if asked.

The next incident is at a mega sale at one of India's first destinations for Shoppers. So last month we zoomed again to that northern suburb and went to the Home section. We spotted just the right soap dispenser and picked it up. It was atrociously priced at Rs 495 less 20% discount. Casually turning it over, I chanced upon the label of the same store, which said "Imported from some Chinese company and the MRP Rs 425". I asked the floor supervisor about this discrepancy where both labels were their own, while the price on top was much higher than the MRP labeled below. He said it was a stickering mistake. I said it can't be. Your own label below says it is at a lesser MRP. Is this mark-up deliberate to fool us into buying products at a 'Sale'?, I asked him. He got upset and said we have our margins to make sir. If you want, you can choose the lower price and opt for a 20% discount.

Shocking. We bought the said dispenser anyway for Rs425 less 20% discount. He quickly ordered his assistants to remove the stickering below. When questioned, he said that since I had brought this to his notice I can have the product at the lesser price. But he can't afford to give it to other people in the store.

Last week after the sale was over, I went to the Bandra branch of this Shoppers destination, and while browsing, chanced upon the same soap dispenser. Well, to my surprise the stickers above and below told the same story - Rs 425! So what was that Rs 495 price all about? A genuine mistake? Or is this how stores make money by marking up prices first and then offering discounts? It will always remain a great mystery.

Tuesday, 10 July, 2007

Taxing Times

Stuck in a bus, I was wondering. The bus was full on a Monday morning, full of all sorts of people, blue collar, white collar and no collar. The issue was this. Bus travel is subsidized. Through tickets and through fuel (diesel/CNG). Indian buses are built on truck chassis by either Tata Motors or Ashok Leyland (well, predominantly). They are noisy, heavy, have low torque and a bitch to maneuver. These ponderous beasts along with their cousins, the overloaded trucks, verily chew up the roads. Especially in the monsoons.

Everyone was complaining about the condition of the roads in that bumpy ride to work, first day of the week.
I looked around again. On this particular route, a majority of the commuters are blue collar workers - carpenters, masons, vegetable vendors and unskilled labour on their way to work.

What were they complaining about?

Can blue collar workers complain about infrastructure when they don't pay tax?
They get wages in cash. They don't pay income tax. They don't pay road tax. They don't pay the toll to maintain bridges and freeways (some people will argue that they do, as a component of their bus ticket, however minuscule, so we shall keep road and toll taxes out of the argument).

Are the tax paying minority actually taking up the burden of all the people who are escaping or being exempt from paying tax? We hear that Mumbai contributes to approximately half the income of the government of India. But does every Mumbaiite make a contribution?

Television artists, makeup men, hairstylists, production crew, catering and so on, in just one industry, live on cash deals. So do the grocers, carpenters, traders, vegetable/fish vendors, fruit sellers, packers and movers, small restaurants and hotels, tea shops, juice-walas, milk vendors, newspaper vendors, car cleaners, maidservants, drivers, chat stall owners, parking contractors, coffee shops, cinema food vendors, pathology labs, doctors, etc.

That left me with the thought. Do taxes increase the overall standard of living? Or do they just increase the cost of living?

Thursday, 28 June, 2007

From Non-glazed Eyes

An account of one of many incredible journeys home after a binging session somewhere. This is one when Prabha (the boy with a girl’s name) is like totally smashed and drooping on the front seatbelt, young Shaifali is being her politically correct, finicky, with Delhiness-still-lingering self, wasted but miraculously wide awake, perched on the edge of the seat of the Maruti Suzuki 800 that I am driving back home from the far suburbs (Andheri) to town (Colaba).

This is an account of just one of the Friday nights out sometime in Nov 2001 with the other usual suspects: Sonia, Subodh, Akshay and Nitesh.

Maneesh's Story:
SFX: 98.3 FM throughout...soothing trance on the late show…
Door shuts on passenger side, Prabha squeezes in.
Prabha (smashed outta his wits, slurring): " Hmm...less go,
Silence for some time…
Prabha (suddenly): Are you putting the AC on?
Maneesh (switching fan on, it’s cold enough outside): No, no...
Shaifali: Just drop me to a rick...
Maneesh: Ya, ya (beginning to sound like Viren Viren, a guy in office who repeats everything)
Shaifali: Prabha don't sleep, oh gosh! You're not supposed to (sleep on the passenger’s side), wake up...
Prabha: (with eyes closed) Yeah, I'm awake baby...
Shaifali: Can I smoke Maneesh?
Maneesh: Err...preferably no...
Shaifali: Which is? Tell me a yes or no?
Maneesh: Preferably no...
Prabha: silence...
Shaifali: I'm just asking a straight answer...
Maneesh: No...
Prabha: silence...
Shaifali: Gosh...! (irritated, MEN!)
Maneesh: (by now passing Choksi's at Santacruz) One day I want to come here and just buy one of these... (indicating all the drool material cars at the second-hand dealer’s place)
Prabha: soft snort...
Shaifali: (suddenly buzzing) Oh fuck! I love a Pajero man, I just love it, I mean it's so sexy... Fuck, I just want three things in life, I don't want…umm jewelry things, solitaires and stuff, or gold or a house-shouse, just a Pajero...

Shaifali: Oooh! And a BMW and… and a Beetle... that's it...
Maneesh: (Practical at 3 am) Wow! How much is that...35 +30, 65, and 65 + 15 that's how much? Huh?
Shaifali: I don't know...
Prabha: (suddenly) What baby...?
Maneesh: 80 lakhs! How are you gonna get that much...?
Shaifali: I don't know... just drop me to a rick point in wasting 10 minutes, it's already late...Maneeeeesh...gosh! Just, just drop me at the don't have to...
Maneesh: it’s late… Shaifali's residence
Shaifali: Bye guys
Maneesh: Bye ...bye...see ya.
Prabha: Grunt ...

The miles fly...Bandra, Mahim, Dadar, Parel, Byculla, Mohammed Ali Road Flyover,

Prabha: Hrrmf

...VT, Fort, Colaba...destination for both Prabha and me.

Prabha: Huh? (Suddenly and miraculously wakes up, makes an automatic sign at the church next to his house) That's it....that's it baby... (now slurring and lisping)

Maneesh's POV: A lopsided grin and bleary eyes greet me at 2.45 am as I shift into neutral, cooling fan humming...waiting for him to get off...I smile too, which brightens the smile on Prabha's face as he tries to focus his eyes in vain.

Prabha: (slurry voice) You take care sure you're not sleepy?
You’re sure you can make it home alone? (home for me, being just a few meters away...)

Maneesh: (shrugging) Yah!
Prabha: Why don't you just park at the corner and take a cab home...
Maneesh: (stopping short of rolling my eyes) No, no. It's cool...
Prabha: Bye're sure? Okaaay...

Changing Tyres

Some brands are committed to making things easy for you, without taking the pleasure out of owning and driving an automobile. Changing tyres for example. It is a simple thing that keeps bothering me.
If a manufacturer, for example, has already found a way to make life easier, why don't all other manufacturers follow suit?

After noticing a flat tyre, normally, you fix the jack and pray that you have placed it at the right spot and haven't managed to damage the suspension or any other critical part. Especially so on slushy/wet roads when you aren't particularly keen to go down on your knees and peer under the car.
Well, BMW and Mercedes have gone ahead and made it simple. And they have for a number of years.
Look closely under the doors near the four wheel arches and you will see circles with a key hole (it's exactly that, a key hole) on BMWs or small rectangles (Mercedes). When you notice a flat, you take your car key, twist the circle out (or pry the rectangle out, as the case may be), insert the solid rod of the jack into the opening and just wind/pump the vehicle up. The four optimum spots are designed into the side skirts to help you leverage the car up precisely, without damaging the underside or the suspension bits by a wrongly placed jack.
So no crouching or peering under the body. No stress. Just a simple, clean way to jack the vehicle up.
Simple ideas are difficult, but how difficult is it to incorporate this simple idea on all vehicles?

Tuesday, 26 June, 2007

Fuck This Book (Bodhi Oser)

A collection of real public signs that have been appended with the world's favourite four letter word. Please Don't Fuck the Pigeons. Automatic Sprinkler Fuck Off Valve. The Fuck Depot. Makes for the most hilarious coffee table book.

Wednesday, 20 June, 2007

Local (Jaideep Varma)

As good a first book as The Kite Runner is what came to my mind just after I finished it.

For those who have travelled the Mumbai way, it's a great nostalgia trip. And for those who haven't yet, a close substitute.

If you are expecting Local (short for local trains that run in suburban Mumbai) to be a coffee table book in prose recounting interesting train journeys, then wait till the power of the narrative hits you and you get hooked on till the finish.

I thought the author has tackled the 'fleshing out' of the characters bit, in a really amazing manner, away from the main plot and yet retaining the flow.

The author's observation of people, habits, mannerisms, the hollow world of advertising, the napalm-bombed, oxygen-less life of the central character is so real it socks you in the stomach and you can't help but identify with the pain, long after you've emerged out of the book.

To write more would be injustice and any less, even more so.

Powerful stuff.

Showing The Finger To Relationships

We use our fingers not just to manipulate things with dexterity, but also to indicate things: Point. Display our mood. Affirm love. Encourage. Rebel. Indicate our destination. And so on and so forth

Almost everyone understands what we want to convey. Across genders, cultures and communities. Not to mention SEC strata (since we are so habituated by demographic divides)

We deal with people all the time in our day-to-day lives. We have relationships with them. Our relationships – with parents, spouse, girl friends, guy friends, boss, subordinates, kids, the help – are invariably very clearly defined. And often enough fall broadly under the 5 roles.

This role playing is so part of every day life that we hardly give it a thought. There are about 5 relationships that you can be in. And on either side. In a power / being led relationship. In an encourager / discourager relationship. In an abused / being abused relationship. In a love / love relationship. In an arm-twisting / faithful-dog relationship.

And these relationships can be broadly distributed on the five fingers on a hand.

Think about all the people who you deal with every day. And each relationship can be assigned to each of the five fingers.

- Thumb (encouragement/discouragement)

- Forefinger (power)

- Middle finger (abuse)

- Ring finger (love)

- Little finger (arm twisting)

An interesting way to look at them is in a purely man-woman relationship. And the fingers can be symbolic to the state they are in.


The ‘Twist-around-the-little-finger’ relationships happen here. A twist, under the right conditions or with the right person, often enough takes place quite willingly, akin to sweet torture. The subconscious is always aware that one is getting twisted into the act, but there is very little resistance to it.


Then there’s the ‘He/She is the One’ relationship where you are thinking of long term commitment, love and therefore symbolized by the ring finger. These are the relationships where you know that you can take him/her home to meet your mom.


The middle finger relationships are your one-night-stands and relationships that never move beyond the physical plane, because the only thing that attracts and keeps you together (often for a very short while) are just the baser instincts. These relationships are what are called the 8-minute craving and driven by sheer lust.


The forefinger relationships are the beckoning, come hither, power relationships where there is one dominating person and other necessarily suppressed. (Unlike the twist around the little finger relationships, where the person follows willingly and voluntarily with complete awareness and even enjoyment, the forefinger relationships can go either way. The domination could be voluntary or involuntary.) On this finger, it is good to note that most relationships are fore finger relationships. And necessarily so at times. Because someone has to take the lead. And it may not be possible to take a consensus in everyday life.

So what is the perfect relationship? One which uses all the finger-states subconsciously at various stages, for various situations and decisions. By either of the two people.

And not just the four fingers, but also the vital fifth: the thumb.


The thumb symbolizes encouragement. And discouragement. Just like the thumb is isolated yet part of the hand, relationships need isolation once in a while. A thumb relationship provides space, space enough for the two people to grow as individuals. Independently and together. And yet hold the relationship firmly.