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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.
Vodafone prepaidhas many different internet packs, with different data limits and day validities. I was using a 1GB pack with a one month validity. This was not an unlimited plan, and once the 1GB data was used, the plan gets exhausted. My data used was at a 90% level with lots many days remaning validity. Since I was planning much more extensive use, I bought a new internet pack of 651 with more GBs.
This is the way this works in vodafone:
- When a new internet pack is bought, instataneously they stop the older plan, whatever be the data remaining, or days of validity remaining.
- The user first gets an SMS confirming Recharge of the said amount. This does not have any mention of internet packs or any plan. This is the SMS text, “Rchrg of MRP Rs 651.0 on 17-Dec-14 successful. Tlktime rcvd Rs 1.07, STax Rs 71.61, AccessFee Rs 5578.32, New Bal Rs 381.13. TransID Tn 1231232123. Dial *111# for a/c info.” The main intention of a user installing an internet plan is to get more data, and day validity. This sms does not tell about these two important pieces of information.
- After a few moments we get another SMS. This is what it says, “Your request for Data pack BC651 is successful. Please wait for Data pack activation SMS before using the service. Dial *121# to know your best data pack offer.” While I might want to know the best data pack offer, but not at this moment. The moment right after I bought a data pack. This message is better suited if it comes when my data pack is about to end. Also the main thing now I need to know is when will my pack be activated.
- And then the third SMS hits you in the face. “Your previous internet pack has been overwritten by the new internet pack. Dial *111# to check balance.”
So I not just wasted a bit of data, and a bit of validity. Even after buying another data pack, I need to wait for it to get activated. And the time it takes to get activated is much more than a few minutes. It did get activated. After about 1.5 hours.
A good UX would have deactivated the old plan only when the new one gets activated. An even better plan would have given be the balance data from the old plan.
“What time is it?”
“hmm..”, taking out the phone from the pocket, “7.50”, I tell him.
“At this time of the day, nobody would be out. If a young boy goes out, the soldiers will just take a stick and start beating. I miss Kashmir. But I don’t miss that fear. You know I come from a village. It is blacklisted. Nobody cares about us. No roads. No hospitals. No schools. And beatings if you are found by the soldiers after dark. It is only because of the cement factories near our village that people still live. These factories give some facility to the people, clinic, school etc.”
“how far is Pakistan from your place?”
“There is a short hike, and from top of a mountain you can actually see Pakistan. There is another point were you can see Afghanistan as well.”
“oh! Afghanistan? We share a border with Afghanistan? I don’t remember the map.”
” Yeah we do. Anyway the actual LOC you cannot see in most maps. One side taken by Pakistan. Another by China. China takes a few kilometers everyday. You don’t believe me?”
“Why wouldn’t I? I know India is far less aggressive. But few kilometers everyday?”
“Yeah because India does not know where the actual LOC is. So China takes advantage. You know kashmiri people don’t need visa to visit China. Chinese consider Kashmir as theirs. You just need a passport. If the address in your passport is in Kashmir, you can just walk in. Infact whenever chinese tourists come, most of them take me out for Pizza :).”
This is the second part of the series of conversations I have had with a Kashmiri friend of mine. You can read the first part here called Sales.
“I have always wanted to see this place from inside. Finally”, I said smiling.
“This is a much smaller shop. If you see my MG Road showroom it is 5 times bigger.”
“Oh… what is in that small room?”, I asked moving towards it.
“Sit. First what will you have, coke, tea…Indian tea haan!”
“Tea will be nice”, I said settling into the chair.
He went outside to a nearby cafe, while I waited for him in the chair, looking around. He was back in 5 minutes.
Between us was a glass showcase in which scores of jewellery gleamed. Rings, lockets, semi precious stones, crystals.
“This looks beautiful,” I said pointing to a oxidized silver locket.
“This is unique. You see this ring, I can get it made from my jeweller. I just have to call him, and tell him the model number. He will make an exact replica. But not this. This is from a collection. If I sell it. It is gone. I don’t know how to get another one.”
“Who buys these then?,” I asked.
“There are people who are specialists. They travel around buying things and adding to the collections. They come to shops like us and then sell us there entire collection. For example, one guy brought me these tibetan jewellery 3 years ago. I have sold almost 80% of it. Only these 6 pieces remain. I have tried finding them again. But impossible. ”
There was a a red coral oblong like a tablet, with silver inscription of some tibetan text.
“It says Om Mani Pad Mani Om,” he said. “This hear is lapis lazuli. It comes from Afghan.” He pointed to another oval stone with just a tibetan Om in silver.
“How much is this?” I asked pointing to one of them.
“This here is 3350. This smaller one is 1850.”
“I love this one. I might come some day to get it. Not today though. Sorry I am wasting your time.”
“No no. You are my friend,” he said, sounding 100% genuine.
“Are most indian customers like me?”
“It depends. People from Coimbatore have lots of money. Once a lady came and bought 6 pashmina shawls. She was a professor. Very old. Didn’t even bargain. If I say the real price for harem pants, 350, then they will say, “Bhaiyya, kam keejiye na. Real price batayiye.” I don’t entertain. They can go to other shops where they will first say 500, and then finally give for 350. You know sometimes real good people come. Once a german guy came. As soon as he entered, he put his finger to his lips. “Shhh…” he said. Don’t say anything. Then he started picking up things from here. There. Shawl. Meditation bowl. The bill came out 60k. He paid with card. And forgot his card when he left. Good thing he had mentioned the guest house he was staying. I took it back. He hugged me when I gave him the card back. He came back the next year he was here. ”
“Don’t you go to your other shop, the MG Road one?, I asked.
“That is run by my uncle. You know. He has a different style. He is a very good salesman. I have a different style. I don’t try to sell. I make friends. Once a guy came and asked to see chess sets. I asked him whether he would like to play. We played. You know make friends. Offer tea. Thats how I sell.”
This is the first part of a series of posts I will be writing based on my conversations with a Kashmiri friend who has a handicrafts showroom. I can vouch for this guy, if anyone coming to Auroville wants to do some handicraft shopping. Hot indian chai guaranteed :).
UPDATE- You can read the second part of the series here called – Foreign Affairs.
I was sitting there feeling the warmth of the wollen rug beneath me, and the lukewarm terracota tumbler with milk in my hand.
“Bhai, ye chatai kis cheez ki bani hai?”, I asked Jatan Bhai.
“kaun sa ye..? ye jungli gyag ke baal ka bana hai. meri miseej ne banaya hai.”, he said, smiling proudly.
“Gyag?..ye kaun sa janwar hai.”
“arey vo hota hai na gaay jaisa, bade sije vala. jiske lambe lambe baal hota hai”
“Yak..?”, I asked
“haan haan vahi. paltoo yak ke bhi baal milta hai. par ye jungli gyag ka hai.”
I was amazed. How did they find wool from a wild yak. I asked him.
“ye toh secret hai :D…”
“pleeeze bataiye na bhaaai….mein kisi ko nahi bataaunga.” puppy eyes and all ..
“Achha suno. Faalgun ke maheene mein hi hota hai. Us maheene mein hi ye gyag kafi thande hote hain. Inka saal ka poora chakkar chalta hai na. Ashwin ke maheene mein ye garm hote hain. Pichli baar toh mera ek dost hai Dhhuni. Uske shareer pe bahut baak hain. Ek baar davaai lene hum log oopar gaye they..toh ek gyag kahin se aake Dhhuni pe savaar ho gaya. HAA hAA hAa hAa.
aur fir 6 maheene baad phalgun mein bahut hi shant. Mein jab bacha thha tab toh jaake gyagni ke dood bhi pee leta thha.”
“Ye gyagni ka doodh hai?” I asked wondering at the sweet milk I was having.
“arey na na…ye toh vo sardaar apne bhains lekar aaye hain ludhiana se. Yahin milti hai na hari ghaans garmi mein.”
“Achha. haan toh vo phalgun mein…..?”
“Haan. Pehle toh hum log aisa gyag dhoondte hain jiska baal humey chahiye. Ye alag alag rang ke hote hain . kale , bhoore , laal, safed. Uske baad humse se jiska bhi gala sabse achha rehta hai..vo ye gana gate hain. aap ye youtube pe dekh sakte hain.”
“koi aisee sundar bandee nahi rehti vahan. bus hum teen char dost aur vo gyag.”
“aapke gane se kya hota hai? ” I asked wondering.
“Arey ye gana shayad gyag ko lori jaisa lagta hai. Humare purkon ne pata nahi ye kaise khoja. Kai peedhiyon se hum log yahi gana gate hain, gyag ko sulane ke liye.”
“Toh gyag so jaati hai?”
“Haan so jaati hai. khurrate maark ke. aur bus hum chakoo se uske baal kaat lete hain. Har 2 baal lene pe hum ke baal chhod dete hain. Usey nanga karna bhi sharafat nahi na.”
Jatan bhai is planning to soon start selling a couple of these rugs every year. Please keep an eye out for link to that rug selling on a superfurnish.com site, that I might soon share.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any living or dead people is entirely coincidental.
I had arrived a day before, but felt like a veteran, riding the official ride of aurovillians, the TVS moped. It wouldn’t go any faster, and I was dangerously close to missing my lunch. My guest house served all three meals, strictly at 7 am, 1 pm and 7pm. Avoiding the potholes and swerving to avoid the goats, I saw her waving, apparently at me. The wave changed into a thumb pointing to the direction I was going. She was dressed in loose cottons and manali pants, and you could mistake her for a spanish tourist. A pretty spanish girl who looks indian. I braked my moped to a halt and then noticed a baby near her, playing on the ground. He was covered all over his body in blue stripes.
“Ink?”, I asked her pointing towards the boy.
“Yeah must be..he was playing with another kid, and I had taken my eyes off them just for a minute….and when I noticed, both of them were covered like this.”
“Let me take my bag in front”, said I, letting them onto my moped.
“Are you living in the village?”, she asked.
“Village? I don’t know, I am staying at the Cheruze guest house. You know near the Mother’s market.”
“How much do they charge?”
“750 per day, but they include three meals and a wifi connection.”
“ohh..that is too expensive for me. I won’t be able to afford that.”
“Where are you put up now?”, I asked.
“I am looking for a cheap place, you know I don’t have much money.”
“Are you sharing it with someone?”, she asked.
“No, staying alone. It is expensive for me as well. I have booked only for 10 days. Will search for some other place, meanwhile.”
“Do you have any friends there?”
“Not yet, I know a few people, but not friends yet. I came only yesterday, you know”, I said.
“Oh”, she said, the tone of which I took as ‘oh you don’t know how to go about living in this place. Staying alone! Imagine!!’
I sensed that she wanted me to ask her if she wants to share a room with me. And suddenly I started imagining things, dirty nappies, standing in line for vaccine shots, waiting for the baby to sleep in the small single room I had, every night, and on and on. She wasn’t asking me to marry her, fuck she hadn’t even asked aloud if I wanted to share a room. Couldn’t she get a job, with her fluent english and sauve ways, if she needed money.
“What do you do in Auroville?”, I finally asked.
“I am a teacher. I was working as a teacher with the Tamil Nadu government. And then he got born, and I lost my job.”
“Oh wow..same pinch, I haven’t earned anything in the last few years. Living on my savings”, said I, hoping to establish that I was no rich corporate honcho, the modern landlord’s son.
Meanwhile the boy got excited and started jumping between us.
“He seems to be having fun”, I said.
“Yeah he does this everytime we are on a bike. He is calm in a car, but on a two wheeler, he feels like he is the one riding it. Soon he will go to prep school, or kg school or no school, since I have no money.”
Meanwhile my guest house neared. And it was with a mix of guilt and shame that I stopped my moped at the turn which takes me to my guest house. I felt the hot summer sun pouring down on us, mainly on them. What made it even worse was something she had said when she sensed that I was about to stop and say ‘bye bye’.
“I don’t know where we are headed”, she muttered anxiously.
“Does anybody”, I thought, as I raced my moped, without looking back.
Tried my hands at sewing a chappal with my hands. The leather was again from a scrap leather dealer in Ghee Kanta, Ahmedabad. The sole is reclaimed tyre rubber. The best thing about custom made footwear is that it fits like a glove :D.
The cheap awl I was using had a plastic handle which came off very soon. Used MSeal for making the awl handle. Embedded it with seed from the manjadi, the bead tree, and some other baubles I had lying around. This also gives it added grip.
Fascinated by mexican skulls, carved this out of coconut shell, using hand tools.