Wednesday, August 30, 2006

“Suit” Yourself.


Surely there had been enough of melodrama the last few days and I had told dad after the Sunday episode that if I was not taken to the wholesaler (or whatever) the very next day, I’d straightaway take the metro to Esplanade, enter one of those showrooms at Lindsay Street, blindfold myself, and pick up just anything my fingers fancied. Of course all these empty threats never work on dad. Nevertheless, on a clear, sunny Monday morning, I was dutifully taken to the wholesale market.

Now that’s easier written than done. Anyone who has been to a wholesale market would know the chaos and utter mayhem one gets to witness. So when we took a bus from Central metro past the Lalbazar Police Headquarter, little did I know that I’d be seeing a place that was a far cry from the grandeur of the shopping malls I was so familiar with.

For reason number one, keeping pace with dad when he walks is an impossible feat. And in wholesale markets, you do not have the benefit of buses, cabs, or anything more than hand pulled rickshaws. After the first few lanes, I did not even know where I was being taken to. Almost scampering through the lanes and the alleys, frantically trying to keep pace with dad, I could barely manage to steal an occasional glimpse at the names of the shops just to know where exactly I was. After a few incomprehensible street names, I found out that we were somewhere in Kolkata- 700 001. That had to be close to the Dalhousie, tea board area. The lanes at times were so narrow that I could not even walk parallel with dad. And then, I had to run like a scared kid, grabbing hold of his left hand (since he had his briefcase in the right one), lest I miss him among so many office goers. If somehow I was lost there, I had nothing more to help me than a few thousand rupees and a mobile phone. And even with that, I was sure I could never find my way through the place.

Every time I looked in front of me, I would see coolies and baniyan-clad daily wage workers carrying asbestos sheets and foam mattresses and screaming expletives, almost bumping into me. I had felt this scared and agoraphobic the last time I had been to the Chandni Chowk market. I had never believed there could be a crowd of this magnitude dashing into you every now and then if you were not careful enough. This is one reason I never go pandal hopping during the pujas. I feel claustrophobic.

And then, people would test your reflexes every now and then by spitting pan and expect you to acrobat your way through the filth and dirt. Or it would be the footpaths where one would wade through the giant chulhas, hot tawas, unwashed utensils and dirty water from these food stalls.

So after what seemed like ages of walking, I finally managed to scream and grab hold of dad’s arms to stop him and to know where exactly were we headed for and if at all he knew a particular place. To which he calmly said, wait, we will need to stop over at a few shops and compare prices before we make a deal. A few shops? I could almost feel the first bouts of dizziness as I approached a blackout.

But no, I couldn’t afford to black out just like that. If I did, dad would take me back home and then, my plans for buying a suitcase would be stalled. I faintly tried to remember brave women like Rani Laxmi Bai who’d fought battles. Surely I could tolerate this much of heat and sweat. But then, perhaps the Rani of Jhansi had never been to a wholesale market in one of the dingiest areas of the city, and if she did, perhaps she too might have needed a few glucose biscuits, a few sprinkles of cold water on her face and the smell of worn shoes and stinking socks thrust into her nose to bring her back to her senses (It’s a common belief to let the person who has fainted smell worn shoes. My theory is that if the person is strong enough to withstand this shock, he/she will live).

To cut a long story short, we finally arrived at a place that seemed to me was in one of the remotest corners of the world. A pan chewing pot bellied man soon asked the attendant to show us a few suitcases. This time, there was no air conditioned showroom, but just a dark room with a noisy fan that dated back to the days of Akbar and could have done with some lubrication. But there was a repeat performance of the Sunday melodrama as I saw dad carefully scrutinize every brand of suitcase they had stocked. The materials and zips were checked, the country of origin verified, the guarantee period known, the colors and the looks… ah, that was the only thing where dad sought my opinion. Surely I hated those 2 bulldozer sized suitcases he had chosen.

But dad, I won’t be carrying ballistic missiles in the suitcases. Why do you want me to take such rough and tough (filthy looking) stuff?

What if your suitcase breaks at the airport?

Dad has always had a fascination for rough and tough, unimpressive looking things, basically anything that has more of strength and less of looks. And it’s not just the suitcases I am talking of. And no, I’m not talking about my mom either.

So after endless rounds of haggling and haranguing, I am finally the proud owner of 2 suitcases and 1 cabin luggage, bright red and deep blue in color. And I can boast that I have got the best deal in the minimum possible price, unless of course your dad happens to be the owner of a travel gear shop. But wait, let me tell you more.

Dad never returned home with me. He packed all the stuff into the rear end of a cab, exchanged a few words in Bhojpuri with the cab driver (and I’d give anything to know what exactly did he told the cab driver), and waved me a goodbye.

But dad….

Don’t worry. He’ll make sure you reach safely. Just give me a call when you reach home.

Sighs !!!! So very typical of you dad. But thanks for the suitcases anyway. Of course we got them at a great discount. Plus, I got to write this post too.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

When Shopping With Dad- III.

Why is shopping with dad absolutely nightmarish?

Reason three- Because sometimes, there is no stopping him.

It so happened that dad decided to help me buy the suitcases that I'd need. Good enough. This included a comprehensive theory session at home regarding which materials should one rely on, how does the fiber sheets inside the cases help keep it strong, what’s the basic difference between Indian “maal” and the imported stuff, how the suitcase he’d got from Hong Kong was lightweight but sturdy, etc. So for the last 15 days, I have been trying to set an appointment with dad. Yet either work at office or the rains or the uninvited guests or something else would crop up the last moment and delay our visit to the showroom. So on a clear, sunny Sunday afternoon, I almost forcibly took him to the showrooms selling travel gear at New Market.

At the showroom…..

We specified our budget and were shown different stuff by a rather impassive-faced salesman. Soon, I found dad examining the materials just like a quality control officer would do.

Come and see the inside material. It doesn’t seem very sturdy, does it?, he asked me.

Now when you are with a learned man, even the most ignorant of people have to feign some amount of knowledge. How was I supposed to know if the material was sturdy? As if I have been buying suitcases all my life. Yet I nodded my head in compliance with him.

He scanned half a dozen more stuff, asking the salesman every type of question. Kahaan se aata hai yeh? Material imported hai kya? Yeh channel dekhiye andar mein, it doesn’t seem very thick. Yeh material kya fiber ka hai? Kitna discount aata hai is range mein? Chinese cheezein kitni reliable hoti hain?

Frankly after some time, I had lost the conversation. I kept browsing through the prices of the rucksacks and the waist pouches, dreaming about a backpacking trip to Europe, while he kept scanning the hinterlands of the suitcase, unzipping everything, slightly tugging at the materials. I had never known there could be so many unknown things one could look for in something as simple as a suitcase.

Finally after an hour or so, I thought a handful of stuff had caught his interest. I had come all prepared with the money, sure that I was taking 2 large ones and a small cabin luggage home (and that was a lot of money I was carrying). So I started moving expectantly towards dad, wanting to make the final choosing on color (why did I feel that was the only thing I’d have a say about?).

Dad, the red one….

I think we should not restrict our choices to one shop.

We spoke these lines together. At the same time.

Eh?, I stopped after the word “red one”, not understanding for once what did he have in mind. You mean you still wanna look around? I didn’t believe I was hearing it.

Look, these are pretty expensive things. And who knows, we might get a better deal elsewhere.

To my embarrassment, the salesman had already got a hint that we might not be making business here. So he drifted off to the other customers, repeating the rote set of lines he had enthusiastically repeated to us a lifetime ago when we’d entered the shop.

But dad, this is not done. These are all branded stuff. Wherever you go, you’d get the same thing.

Arre yaar, apne baap pe bharosa rakh. I’d get you the best stuff.
Whenever my dad uses this “arre yaar”, one must know that he is definitely going to do what he has had his mind set on. And there is definitely no stopping him.

But half the shops are closed on Sunday, I was frantically trying to make him change his mind. The suitcases seemed fine to me. Most importantly, the prospect of suitcase-hunting for a few more hours bothered me.

So what next dad?, I felt defeated. Exhausted. Irritated.

We will go to the wholesaler tomorrow.

Dad !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh come on, these showrooms at prime locations charge a lot of money.

But dad, mom said she won’t let us enter the house if we didn’t buy the suitcases today.

Arrey don’t worry. Tomorrow we’ll go to the wholesaler first thing in the morning. What does your mom know about suitcases anyway?

And your office?

I’ll go to office late.

Frankly, I didn’t look convinced.

What? You don’t trust your dad? I said I’ll go to office late. We are going to the wholesaler first thing in the morning.

So this is shopping with dad. He is taking me to the wholesaler tomorrow. Let’s see what brews there.

At the wholesaler’s place…. Coming up soon.


Monday, August 21, 2006

When Shopping With Dad- II.

Why is shopping with dad absolutely nightmarish?

Reason two- Because ignorance is bliss and he isn’t ignorant.

Most of the time, I prefer shopping on my own. However, there are things (like kitchenware, cosmetics and cotton socks) I have no idea about. It is then that I take mom along. Shopping with people who (like me) don’t have much idea about things is relatively simple. This is because they keep on experimenting all the time and don’t blame you if you have paid more than what you should have. However, there are people like dad, shopping with whom can be absolutely nightmarish. He will scrutinize every part of the article, trying to strike up a conversation with the salesman. Like recently I couldn’t decide between a pair of Reebok shoes and a pair of shoes from Nike. Had I been there alone, I’d just have closed my eyes and picked one. Not dad.

He took his turns to hold each shoe and bend them this way and that way. And then, he knocked on the sole and twisted the tongue of the shoe (that’s where the laces are) while all the time I kept wondering what exactly was he trying to do. We were told by the salesman that the sole was vulcanized (whatever that meant) after which, dad asked the salesman something else I could not even comprehend (some technical thing perhaps). And then, I was asked to put on both the pairs and catwalk the passageway till I knew which one was more comfortable. I wish I could do a little jive before I could tell him. For truth be told, I hardly realized the difference. It is then that he himself tried on the shoes (we have the same feet size) and finally passed on his verdict after some 45 minutes of deciding between the two pairs.

It is then that I finally got to buy myself a pair of shoes. Thankfully.

I’ll tell you how it would have been with mom. She would have chosen the reebok one, and then I’d have told her that the nike ones looked better. And then she would have agreed on the nike ones and I’d have started having second thoughts. This would have happened for 10 more minutes before we would have made a random selection. Vulcanization be darned.

You see, ignorance is bliss. Sometimes the lesser you know about things, the easier it is to make a choice.


When Shopping With Dad- I.

Why is shopping with dad absolutely nightmarish?

Reason one- Because we are ignored (not deliberately though) most of the times.

First, he walks so fast that I can never keep pace.

And then I hate this weird habit he has of striking up a conversation with every cab driver who happens to hail from Bihar, Orissa, or Delhi.

Chapra zila se hain ka?

The cab driver’s (with his broken Bengali) eyes would suddenly light up, hearing someone speak the dialect of his native place. Mom and I would silently give knowing looks to each other the whole journey. We would yawn, we would start talking on our own, but nothing would give dad the cue. He would be at the front seat so engrossed talking to the man that family would soon be forgotten. The contents of the discussion could be anything, ranging from the reason the man shifted to this city and took up cab driving to the local political scenario to who all live in his family to how much of dowry the brother-in-law demanded, basically anything under the sky. Had you not known dad, you’d have thought he and the cab driver have been best buddies in school and were separated at the kumbh mela. Mom and I would look thoroughly disinterested, trying to fix up our hair or applying lip gloss, trying to decipher broken pieces from the conversation progressing in fluent bhojpuri. And then when we reach our destination, the man would exclaim, aap bihari (or oriya, or whatever applies) hoke bhi badhiya bangali bol lete hain.

I would be on the verge of stepping forward to clarify the man’s wrong notions about my dad and his origin when (instead of clarifying the faux pas the person has just made), dad would smile at him and point at mom- ka karein? Apne sasuraal waale bangali jo thehre. And then the cab driver would speed away, his smile clearly indicative of the glee he’d experienced on having met someone from his “des”.

And then, dad would look at us guiltily and I would put my hands on my hips and make a face at him, saying- raste mein tanik hum se bhi baat kar lete. Ab chalein ka? (you could have talked to we lesser mortals too on the way. Let’s get moving anyway).