Friday, January 31, 2014

The day the bookwallah stood still

(I wrote this a couple of years back. Thought i would put it up here as well. Looking back at this incident, i think i shouldn't have made so much fuss!)

It was a typical Delhi summer evening –hot, a bit humid and lots of traffic on the street. As hordes of cars and bikes dashed through the road in front of my apartment, I carefully made my way towards the market on the opposite side. I was going to pay a visit to the bookwallah and rent a novel. I had already paid him 110 rupees from which 55 had to be deducted since I was going to return Archer’s Only time will tell. A bit disappointed by it I had made up my mind that the next one would be from a different author, probably Ludlum.

Over the years the marketplace known as ‘sector 4 ka market’ had grown in popularity and shops. I still remember a few years back when the place had many shops in three storey buildings erected at regular intervals with space for parking in between. With rapid population growth (not a new thing in India), first came the indigenous burger thelewala who made burgers using aloo ki tikki and pav bhaji buns. The hungry population jumped at it. After all you did not get 15 rupees burgers full of butter and paneer in the bakery shops. Come now and you will realize how successful even a balloon seller is. I still cannot understand how he can sell them every day?! (It’s not as if this is some India Gate or a picnic spot where families hang around and buy their children a balloon! )

After five minute of walking past two complexes I found the bookwallah with a rickety wooden bed on which rows of books were placed, some old some brand new ready to go to a new home. My mind quickly ran through the arguments I was going to present to him in the hope of convincing him that the book he claimed to be a very interesting read wasn’t and he better give me a better deal for the next one.
Before I continue, let me introduce you to the golden rule of bargaining I have learnt over the past few years by watching family members, relatives and strangers arguing till the seller gave in to their demands. It is just like any other art. Some are born with it some aren’t. Unfortunately I never inherited these ‘bargaining genes’. Even a ten bucks discount would make me proud, but this time it was going to be different.

“Bhaiya, the last book you gave me was nothing which you had claimed it to be. I can’t imagine how you could call this the most popular book you have ever sold”, I said in a loud and clear voice.
“No problem. Try this one”, he pointed out at another book by Jeffrey Archer. A weak start but I calmly picked it up and read its synopsis at the back.

See the first rule of bargaining is to appear confident that you are a regular customer and hold great knowledge about the subject in question, in this case- novels. If you show even the slightest of a hint that you are interested in one particular book then he is going to make sure that you buy it at his price.

So I gently placed it back to its place and inquired about a few other books.
“Has the new edition of Digits come out? And also show me Linux For You”, while I picked up Chip. He diligently went to the other end of the bed and carefully picked them out. “Do you sell any other computer magazine?”

By this time he had probably realized that I was serious about buying something. He ignored a few other potential buyers and even gave me the privilege to take one of the magazines out of its cover to have a better look.

Realising that I had gained his faith, I quietly put down all the magazines and started browsing through novels. One of them which caught my eye was Khaled Hosseini’s “A thousand splendid suns”. I decided to hide my intention of acquiring it and instead picked up some other novel.

“A great pick. This is the last copy”
“But I want it on rent. How much for it?”
“Sixty rupees”
“That’s too much”
“Fixed price”
“But last time you had said that old novels cost less”
“Prices have increased. Everything costs so much nowadays.”
“But I asked you two days ago”
And the bookwallah stood still. I was about to enjoy my moral victory when he quipped, “I increased the prices yesterday itself”.

I acted as If I never heard him and continued to browse through other books. Finally I picked up Hosseini’s novel and enquired its price. His reply was the same. Annoyed with his attitude I decided to give another bookseller a try and asked for my remaining security deposit.

At this point you might feel that I was acting too miserly but give me a chance to explain myself. A typical bookwallah usually charges around sixty bucks if you rent a fairly popular novel written by Sheldon or Archer. The prize goes up to ninety if you happen to like JK Rowling or Dan Brown. An average reader, busy with other things, usually takes around a week to finish one off. And here I was, on a vacation with not much to do completing a novel in two or three days. I just could not see myself spending hundreds of bucks on second hand novels every week especially when I knew that these guys bought it at the same price that they gave it on rent. Go visit Nayi Sarak in Delhi if you don’t believe me.
But more startling was his reply.

“That is not possible. I have been given strict instructions from my uncle not to give any remaining amount in someone’s account. You just have to buy some other book from it”.

Strike one!

This was something unexpected. Have you ever imagined being refused money given as a security deposit? I regained composure and demanded my security deposit back. He tersely replied that it was not possible and served another customer.

A bead of sweat trickled down my neck. This was no longer about bargaining but rescuing money which was rightfully mine. I silently waited till he walked back to his rickety stool and sat back. This time I took a few steps towards him and asked him angrily, “So you are saying you are not going to give me MY money? Do you think I am going to listen to all the rubbish you are telling me?”. He was certainly taken aback by my act of aggression and this time in a lower voice said, ”I cannot do anything. My uncle has told me not to return any deposit”.

“Where is he right now?”
“He is attending a wedding in his native village”
“Does that really concern me? All I need is the remaining balance. You are ripping everyone off”. The conversation went on and on for several minutes. Infact a few people stopped by and started to take interest in our heated argument.

He kept on arguing that he was bound by his uncle’s instructions and took out his mobile.
“Yeah go on, talk to your uncle. Let’s see what he says.”
“I am not. I just want to know the time”.

Strike two!

I had never felt this helpless. This was certainly not in the plan. I tried to take control of the situation by browsing around another bunch of novels. While my hands flipped through pages my mind was busy thinking of a new ‘rescue’ plan. Another round of reasoning failed.
“See I am not gonna leave till you give me my security deposit. Or you could try give me a novel at a fair price.”
“That’s not possible”
“Fine, I am taking this book. How much for it?”, I picked up A thousand splendid suns.
“I told you, sixty rupees”
“You already have my fifty five rupees.”
“Fine this time I will allow you, but next time I’ll take the full amount”. He was obviously tired of arguing and decided to allow a five rupee concession.

A home run!

What he had forgotten was that I had taken a book without giving him any additional security deposit and now I basically owned the book! I briskly walked and after a few moments looked back.
The bookwallah stood still. For a moment I thought he had realized his mistake and might call me back but he stood still as he waited to serve another novel enthusiast.

People love to showcase their prized possessions. Whenever you visit someone’s house you will be greeted with these wonderful statuettes given to them as a prize, or maybe a plaque boasting their achievement. Come to my house and you will find a small yellow cover novel resting peacefully in the display cabinet.

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