Pouches and Bottles

I saw Crocodile Dundee recently. It is a good movie. Based in Australia, it somewhere had this mention of a walkabout. Here is how walkabout is defined at UrbanDictionary

A spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet, a need to be elsewhere, the craving for the open road, that space over the horizon…yes… something like that… you can’t quite touch it so you have to go find it because it’s you just know it’s there…Or maybe it just feels good to go walking around …

In urban settings sometimes I use a cycle for this purpose. Sometimes there is a vague purpose about the whole ride. I might need some tool. Or someone mentioned a temple being built somewhere which has lots of broken high quality stones, which I could use to sharpen my tools. And so on.

I was on one such ride today. After cycling for about 3 hours in the sometimes cloudy sometimes surprisingly sunny weather, I broke a sweat and needed a bottle of water. Now I had two choices. The common man here in Bhilai goes for the water pouch. Priced at Re 1 or Re 2, the format, package and the price is right for the market here. But a friend from Bhilai recently sent a watsap message which said something bad about the local pouch water. Chemical contimation, etc etc. Ok, so I thought I will get a full bottle of water. Pouch would have been more convinient, as I would have to  stick the bottle between the cycle carrier. Ok so I went to a store and asked for a bottle of water. I don’t want cold water I said.

Now nobody who buys a bottle of water in bhilai, wants warm, kept out of the cooler, bottle. The person who buys a water bottle and not a pouch also does that to signify his social status. This is not a 0-1 thing. They might also believe in bottled water being more safer. But the social status angle is sure there. Also water pouches are usually stored in ice boxes with ice. As they are kept by small shoebox stores, pan shops etc, and even if they have an electricity connection they do not simply have the space for a cooler, or a refrigerator. Needless to say the water pouches are not that cold. This is another point where a water pouch buyer goes and buys a water bottle. He may be a water pouch drinker himself. But today is the weekend outing with his 3 year old kid and his wife. And today he can splurge on a water bottle. And if you see his budget, splurge is not a wrong word. He spends almost 3-4 times for the same commodity. The only thing he wants is his bottle cold.

Now the bigger stores have usually a cooler, given to them courtesy either Pepsi or Coke. The cola wars have made sure that every dick and harry corner store in even remote villages has either one of them. Off course if the cooler is from Coke, you won’t see any Pepsi drinks.

Now back to my thirst. I asked him for a warm water bottle. Drinking cold water after a long warm ride, I knew was a bad idea. Anyway I am off terribly cold water for some time now. Now this itself,might have been surprising for him.

“I don’t want cold bottle, Bhai”, I said again, as he approached the cooler. He got one bottle from inside the cooler and gave it to me.

“I kept it just now. It is not cold”, he said. He was right, it was in the cooler for maybe half an hour.

“20 rs”, he said.

I reached for my wallet, and my other hand rotated the bottle trying to find the MRP.

Rs. 18, it said.

Now from experience I know that if someone wants cold drink, or cold water bottle, these stores take Re 1 or Rs 2 above the MRP. This practice is throughout India, and you  might have come across this surely. At such situations I don’t like leveraging the law. So many laws and policies are such a joke anyway. And as soon as you mention any law, the whole cloud of the law system, the courts, the police etc come into picture. It might well sound intimidating, like somebody wants to report if they don’t comply. A very unpleasant situation.

“But this says Rs 18. I don’t want cold water. I know you guys take 2 Rs for the cooling. Why don’t you give me warm water?” I asked him. Maybe he could not imagine anybody not wanting cold water.

He proposed he will give me some other brand, at Rs 16.

No, I said. This is not about money. Do you have any reason why you are taking 2 Rs more from me. Above the MRP?

I have been in such situations before and they make me excited. Excited in a very negative way. My fight or flight instinct begins to take over. And I have even sometimes paid more. Or sometimes not bought and went away. Sometimes got into a word fight for 15 minutes and then got the water for MRP. The only difference today was how calm I was about the whole thing. In fact smiling the whole time. The women at the cash counter could not understand the situation at all. Everyone paid Rs 2 more. How could this guy refuse. When I saw no, these people are not budging, I moved on.

“Look i am not that thirsty. I will find water somewhere else.” When I was near my cycle, the salesman called me back. Surprisingly the salesman was the person taking the call, not the woman at the cash counter.

“Please take the bottle. And here is the Rs 2. Happy now? He asked”

I smiled again.