Sunday, May 2, 2010

The ancient art of Bargaining

At the very outset, I will say it “All the Indians are proficient in the subtle art of bargaining”. There. I said it. Period. Doubt it? Please read further as I try to convince you of the same.

Russel Peters says “We Indians are cheap and we are proud to be so. We walk into a store in US and where others would take a look at a Reebok shirt and see if it is worthwhile to buy it from the store; we Indians think of whom we can contact back in Ludhiana to get that shirt from the factory outlet”. Well that’s not verbatim what he said but that’s about the gist of it.

And don’t tell me that you don’t know that. Every time that street hawker has told you that a trinket you fancy is for 20 bucks, as certainly as good wins over evil in a Hindi movie, you have said “Kya baat kar rahe ho bahiayya… Yeh toh 10 rupey ka hai”. And then of course you proceeded to make a bulk deal with him to give the trinket to you at a discount and in turn you will buy two hundred dozens of the same.

And we don’t feel it to be natural that people actually buy things without bargaining. I mean, we really cringe at the very thought that there are some naïve creatures left on the face of the earth, after the phenomenon we know as Indian Population Explosion of the Hindu rate of growth, who may actually have been developing the thoughts of buying the thing at the price quoted buy the vendor at the very same time you were planning your strategy for counter offer to that quote. How very rude! What if some of that being’s naivety had rubbed off you? Your charitra would have been lanchaned forever. You would not have been able to show your black face anywhere. (Well this goes with the typical hindi dialogue of tum apna kaala muhn dikhane ke layak nahin rahi). And well.. hawkers are just one small part. We Indians have perfected the art of bargaining in every face of life. While trying to get an autowallah to go to the destination of your choice in Delhi (or a taxiwallah in Kolkata), a difficult feat in itself seeing as both of them are more interested in passengers who also happen to be going their way; we also find newer and newer avenues for bargaining with them. Going to buy clothing material from market? Of course the shopkeeper has to give you some discount seeing as you have been a loyal customer to them. Now you don’t have to be a regular or anything, you just have to convince him that you are. He won’t know a difference.

A very good incident that I recall from the movie “Outsourced” which very aptly describes the ingrained bargaining nature in the psyche of a typical Indian – A foreigner asks a local sardarji taxiwallah to go to a certain location. The Hindi speaking, non-English speaking driver says 5000 bucks. The English guy agrees to it but still tries to reiterate the location. The driver, Indian that he is, thinks that the English guy is trying to bargain, as the driver is habituated to people bargain over taxi fares, complaining about the prices and brings down it to something like 3500 bucks. The English guy gets confused as to why he has reduced the prices and asks him so. The driver again thinks that the noble art of bargaining is being actively practiced and further reduces the price to around 3000 bucks and ending the transaction with “Bas sir is se kam nahin ho sakta… mere biwi bachhe bhooke mar jayenge” (That is the least that I can go sir. Or else my wife and children would have to go hungry).

Like so many other things that we Indians are good at, , we have even perfected the art of bargaining down to the last frown of the face and even the impact of socio economic classification and the environmental factors in the bargaining and a study on difference in bargaining nature in the Tier I and tier II cities.

This haggling begins with the vendor quoting an obnoxiously high price to you because even he known that you are going to bargain. You feign indignation at the quoted prices with witty and absolutely never before heard remarks like “haan haan bhaiyya kyoon nahin” and “nahin bhaiyya aisse toh nahin chalega”. The key here is to fake it. You are expected to play the role of a helpless victim of the free trade, increasing prices and decreasing incomes, and how you could buy the same thing at a fraction of the price “couple of years back” (a vague phrase). In fact, you are expected to feel insulted by the price quoted. But don’t get too much into the flow and move away. Otherwise you would never be able to buy that thing in a bargain and you would have to buy it at a “proper” retail outlet at MRP (A typical Indian reader is fully expected to experience a shudder at this point). So you stay in the game. You tell him that you are insulted. You tell him to lower his prices or else you will go (FAKE IT but don’t actually go away dummy!). Then the vendor will play his part of doubting your ability to buy that product, trying to hint that the product is too good for you. But don’t take it personally. It is all a part of the game. This Cat-and-mouse-chase may continue for several minutes, the equivalent of corporate lingo which says “We are still in discussion with all the concerned parties and that nothing has been finalized as yet. There are still several factors to be considered”. Then the two parties try to haggle back and forth a bit. Then when a price mutually acceptable to both the parties is reached, and where you think the margin is not too much, the game ends.

So why do we bargain? The scientists at the Baburao Ganpatrao Aapte Institute of Medical Engineering and Management have conducted a research on several test subject and came out with shocking findings. According to their research, the Indians actually enjoy bargaining. Following are some of the key research results:

We “enjoy” it – We try and value bargaining for what it symbolizes and not only for what it means. By dictionary definition, bargaining is a haggling process. But we Indians know that it is actually more than that… it is actually a gentle process of giving and taking, accommodating others etc. Of course the satisfaction of saving that 10 paisse on an article is also a good feeling, even though you are still deciding what to do with those extra 9 flower vases that you had to buy. The gentle feeling of haggling over prices, equivalent to “nonk jhonk” between a couple, is such a great feeling. As a hindi song goes “tera manana mera ruth jaana re… saiyyan dil mein aana re… aake fir na jaana re”.

A secret revolt – Indians have been ruled for long enough time by foreigners. Which is even more ironic now that India is considered a mecca of brainy people, sometimes I wonder how come no one thought earlier about revolting against brits. Anyhow, ruled as we were, we were cheated and deprived of what was our due. That has left deep mental scars deep in our subconscious… so deep that the good for nothing American scientists are trying to find a gene even for that. So this deep mistrust is now manifesting in the form of our distrust on the vendors with the assumption that those useless vendors are trying to cheat us as well. Thus the bargaining is the form of revolt that we people are practicing to get what’s our due.

A part of Psyche – From the moment we are born till the moment we die, we witness countless occasions on which we witness bargaining in action. No occasion, however insignificant or great, is too small or too big for bargaining. When we are born, we witness the hijras (oops I believe gender neutral is the politically correct term here) coming to parents and bargaining for 10 grands and a saari from parents. Of course bargaining kicks into action from that moment onwards and finally those people may be lucky enough to get a couple of hundred bucks. Wedding? That’s the mother of all occasions from bargaining standpoint. With so many occasions ranging from shopping, catering, wedding planners, cleaners to gender neutrals, every stage is a bargainer’s haven. Net impact of all this is that the bargaining nature is ingrained in the psyche of a typical Indian. Hence, in a way of speaking; bargaining completes us.

A great equalizer – India is a great democratic, secular country. We believe in the equality of all human beings within the state on India. We allow for no bias or discrimination on the basis of gender, caste, creed, political affiliation, or ethnic origins. In this way, bargaining is India incarnated. The act of bargaining transcends all virtual or even imaginary boundaries. In India, doesn’t matter an Indian or a foreigner, a Hindu or a Muslim, a male or a female; all are subjected to the same haggling process and all have to follow the same protocol for bargaining.

Bargaining is a great Conversation starter – Imagine a situation where you bought an item. You went to your friend’s home and saw the same item. Now if that item were something that would be sold at MRP only, what fun would it be to discuss it. No imagine that item is something that you get from flea market. Now begins the game of one-upping the other. Who paid less for that item than other? Whose product has better finish than other?

And the less said about the level to which we can go to for bargaining, the better it is. Let’s just say that it is enough to put even Ekta Kapoor to shame. And trust me… that would mean reallllly something as it would take a lot to put her to shame.

After all where would the fun of shopping be if all that we had to buy would be available in a store near you at a fixed MRP. Would be rather not go to Big Bazaar or its contemporaries and shop there? But then what would happen to the livelihood of the lot of traders in Karol Bagh, and Chawri Bazaars and the likes. In fact, we should be proud that we are in fact helping in providing means for such a large population to sustain themselves.

Were it not so, the entire world would be a one large BuyNLarge (aka WALL-E). And we know what that led to, didn’t we?

Some good links on the same topic :D 


  1. I like the arguments. good one.

  2. I hate bargaining... I just ehar the price, quote mine... If he agress near to 20%+ of my price well and good... Else I just walk away...

  3. @Varun Well we all do know that you are not a typical Indian now, don't we? :D