Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Bargain

Malls were mushrooming uniformly across all the suburbs of Mumbai. I was one of the many Mumbaikars who had spent their Sunday evening in one such mall. Though I had gone to the mall without a shopping list I had returned with a few things in my bag.

After an evening spent browsing through various tags, labels and brands I was resuming back to my routine today. Like everyday my day began in a local train that would after an hour’s journey take me to my routine destination. My fellow travelers pushed, jumped, pulled, cursed to board the train and get a seat or a comfortable place to stand inside the crowded compartment.

I lacked that kind of motivation and preferred to board the train when the pushing-pulling exercise would get over. I had discovered and developed two hobbies while traveling in the local trains. The first one was standing at the compartment door and feeling the breezy wind on my face and the second one was eavesdropping on the myriad conversations that took place inside the compartment.

Today I was entertaining myself by observing and assessing my fellow travelers' activities. My eager eyes were grazing through the many faces in the compartment and were drawn to a face with a toothless smile. That old face belonged to a lady selling bags. I couldn’t help but look at her intently.

Women around me in the ladies compartment were too engrossed to notice the efforts this old lady was doing to make them look at her bags. Nothing could dishearten the smile and the positive vibes she was carrying with her. After some time my fellow travelers took some interest in the lady and her bags.

The well-dressed working women from Mumbai, faces glossed with the lipsticks, bodies draped in ironed saris and salwar suits.... After scrutinizing the bags to their satisfaction they would ask for the price of the bag. By now almost all of them knew the bag would cost them 10 Rs. and it was to be used when you go to buy vegetables.

Nothing could still discourage the smile and the old lady. She had pushed herself around the compartment, disturbed every group busy with the gossip talk, yet she was unsuccessful in selling a single bag. The powdered, prim proper face of the city women would lose its shape and the expression signified the shock, discontent, horror they felt after hearing the highly inflated price of that bag. The women would all of a sudden lose all interest in everything else and debate, plead, order, force this woman to reduce the price as it was just too out of reach for the shopaholic women to spend Rs. 10 on a not so useful bag.

My journey for today was coming to an end.. I could not look at the wrinkled face anymore, my eyes refused to meet those jet black eyes full of hope to win over everything even when more than half of the life had proved them wrong. Then I heard myself calling that old lady. I told her that I needed to buy a bag. The joy that she felt in showing me the different colours I could choose from and telling me that she had stitched every bag herself was making it impossible for me to hide the emotions that surfaced on my face. I picked up a red one for myself and gave her 10 Rs.