Our village shops are extensions of the owners’ homes. If the shutter is down, or the window-panes shut, one can knock or yell for whatever it is one wants to buy. If the owner or his wife/daughter/dog are awake, there’s chance someone will check whether it’s available and one can go home satisfied. Or dissatisfied. Once, I bought a packet of wheat flour. When I opened it, friendly worms wagged and waved as they came up for a breath of fresh air. I took them, the packet and all the flour in it back to the shop for a replacement. Debate ensued; shopkeeper wanted to know why I hadn’t read the expiry date before buying. I wanted to know why he kept expired stuff on his shelves. But mostly the little- shop keepers warn me not to buy something that might be soggy/ rancid. Espirit-de-gaonkar.
Nowadays, though, when in doubt or need, it’s more convenient to wheel it to the nearest ‘supermarket’. These, in Goa, are much better stocked than the ones in the metros, I said to Shri Husband.
“How would you know that?” he asked. “You’ve never been to any.”
“I have,” I retorted. “With my friends.”
He smirked, but stayed silent.
He doesn’t know: if there’s a buy two get one free offer, I try and make it a ‘necessary’ item on my shopping list. (Actually I don’t make shopping lists, I’ve just added the term because it looks impressive. Lists are for organised people.)
They (the get-one-free-offers, not the shopping-lists) lead to educative experiences. For example, the other day I saw a board that said ‘pay for two fruit juices and get a third free’. After I paid the bill, I had to ask for the third (free) pack. The freebie was hidden under the cashier’s counter. Because I can read, because I read and paid attention to what was written, because I asked for what was due to me, I got the free pack. Else it would have gone into some staffer’s backpack.
Shri Husband said: “Same was true about a sauce that came free with a canister of oil, a lotion that was supposed to be mine after you filled a thousand bucks of petrol and a sachet of iodized salt that was meant to piggy-back ride a packet of the regular stuff. Yes?” So he does know what I’m up to. Sneaky.
I ignored his comment and said: “Ask and you shall receive is the motto here.”
Once, in a very expensive five-star hotel, the ‘free’ massage/taxi-ride/souvenir was written in fine-print. I’ve put free in inverted commas because nothing really is free.
Shri Husband confirmed: “We payers have already guaranteed profit for the company.”
I said: “But it feels nice to read ‘free’.
The guaranteed ‘upto 65 per cent off’ is another interesting event. Most of the things inside shops which declare such ‘offs’ are marked at only 10-15 per cent off, which means a sliver of their profits are reduced. Shri Husband, being of suspicious mind, said: “Mostly it’s close to the expiry date in food-stuff. Otherwise, the unsold stuff probably goes back to the shelves at regular price unless it’s spoiled or soiled.”
Being shopping-challenged, I seldom venture into uncharted territory alone. I learn about guarantees/warrantees/discounts and new products from friends like Bai Goanna, the Billy, Poo and others. My friends have strange names.
When I confessed this (my being shopping-challenged, not having strange-named friends) to Shri Husband, he said: “Can’t you think of any serious topics?”
I looked around for something serious that might interest him.
“Here,” I said, thrusting a pamphlet at him.
“What?” he said, reading it aloud. “Guaranteed first-class?”
“Yes,” I said, watching out for a smile on his face. Happens, though rarely. “Isn’t that nice? A coaching class that promises high marks, even a place in the merit list…”
The usual interruption: “This is rubbish. If the student doesn’t get the marks, that same class isn’t going to give a refund. And it probably admits bright kids who are going to do well anyway. Its profit margins are so high and our marking system so flawed that if a rare deposit has to be returned, it won’t even make a dent in the accounts. Even you’d get a first class if you were to take an exam now.”
I shut up. We were treading on dangerous ground: my ex-marks.
“See this,” I pushed one pamphlet towards him. “It says guaranteed cure for diabetes.”
I’d misjudged. After reading that, Shri Husband’s snappiness got worse: “I don’t know why we bother with medical colleges and hospitals. I don’t know why doctors study at all for degrees and other useless things. We just need to consume whatever this pamphlet suggests and get cured of piles/ cancer/ baldness/ kidney failure/ impotence/ psoriasis/ asthma/ infertility and anything else you can think of.”
Just as he took a breath, a bead-bedecked “nandi-bayeel” came by our lane and his owner said it was giving ‘pavsachee guarantee’ in the next few weeks. Considering where we stay there’s a permanently floody environment, this wasn’t an appropriate thing to declare, especially as it was overcast. The stray-dogs with collars around their necks (people adopt dogs and then allow them to stray around, barking crazily at vendors, rag-pickers and bulls) chased the soothsayer away, distracting us from our conversation. Pity, because the “nandi” was giving a newly-wed guarantee about having children and getting a job.
I went back to something that was bothering me.
“What’s the difference between guarantee and warrantee?” I asked Shri Husband. Whilst he gets the answer from Googleshwar, I’m figuring out whether or not I need to go shopping today.