The High Cost Of Low Prices

Rajini was vigorously bargaining and disputing about the weighing machine with the fruit vendor when she felt a gentle pat on her shoulder. Her furious about turn startled the young lady who was oblivious of the bargaining war that was going on. “Oh Priya!” Rajini screamed in delight, “How good to see you!, You’re looking gorgeous.” Priya blushed and responded,” Wow Rajini, I’m delighted to see you after so many months….” And the long chatter went on to the restless frustration and bewilderment of the fruit vendor whose transaction, like the fruits, was hanging in balance.


After much mutual updating, Rajini remarked,” Hey, your dress looks lovely. Must be very expensive. Clothes had become so costly that I have erased them from my mind and budget altogether. Who can keep spending Rs 1200 just for a simple top or salwar? Isn’t it?” Priya responded with the exuberance of an aspiring athlete who had just qualified for the Olympics,”Oh Rajini, which world are you living in? This dress cost me just Rs 300. Can you believe it? I got it in Chrome Bazar behind MG Road”.  To Rajini’s “I can’t believe it” Priya proffered, “Why don’t you come with me. I’ll take you there.” Rajini hesitated for a fraction of a moment and then announced,” Shall we go this Saturday. I’ll pick you up at 11. We can have lunch at Natraj Café. Their thali is only Rs 150 but is great. Will you be okay on my scooty?” “Of course” echoed Priya and left.


Emerging out of new found heavenly manna from Priya, Rajini absentmindedly picked up the fruits and paid the shopkeeper his price without a murmur. The Vendor silently blessed Priya and the Chrome Market.


Come Saturday and Rajini met Priya at the stroke of eleven with the precision of a satellite launch. Both took off of Rajini’s scooty giggling about an unsuspecting common friend in faraway Mumbai.


Chrome Market had already woken up and buzzing with activity. The huge weekend crowd looked like a convoy of ants from a distance. Priya protectively gripped Rajini’s hands and led her through the labyrinthine lanes to her favourite shop. Through engulfed by six ladies claiming his attention, the owner made it a point to beam a wide smile to welcome Priya with “Namaste Aayiye Behanji. (Greetings. Welcome Sister” and gave a friendly smile to Rajini too. The anxious, expectant looks of Rajini revealed her eagerness like that of a hungry zoo tiger looking at the helper carrying meat during feed time.


Encouraged by the owner’s recognition, Priya took the lead of a seller and began describing the various wares displayed on hangers and also pulled out a few from the racks. Rajini saw bill boards dangling everywhere which said” Rs 300, No bargaining”. Rajini eyed a few salwars and Priya encouraged her with her approving looks. In a flat 20 minute googling, Rajani had shortlisted 10 dresses. Two more salwars were enticingly hanging in the front row. Sensing Rajini’s longing for those, Priya egged her on, “C’mon Rajju, don’t hesitate. Pick them up. You may not get them again. Don’t worry about money if you are short. I am carrying enough.” From the corner of her eye, Rajini sensed that two college girls to her left were also casting tender glances at the two dresses. Without a moment’s hesitation, Rajini sprang forward and clutched the two salwars as though they were her life’s only possession.


With a victorious smile the two nudged forward through the crowd and stood at the shopkeeper’s desk.


The owner began counting and folding the dresses – twelve in all. With a wide smile he announced, “ Rs 3600 Madam. Shall I pack them together or in separate bags?”. By following up the price with a smart operational question, the owner preempted any possibility of Rajini reducing the quantity. Too embarrassed to make any quantity change, Rajini merely asked for two bags and the packing was done. “After all only Rs 300 each”, she convinced herself. The owner also left an extra bag inside as a free gift! After the money and packages were exchanged, the owner gave his trade mark smile and quickly turned to other customers.


“Hey, let the vehicle be parked here; we’ll just walk up to Natraj”. This was Priya’s gentle way of reminding Rajini that the latter owed her a lunch as her fee! Both of them trudged along through the crowded entrance of Natraj surveying the tables for vacant seats. The restaurant was full. Priya studied the status of each table and focused on one table where a family was having coffee. She pulled Rajini and strategically positioned herself a few feet away from the table. She also fiercely stared down another couple angling for the same table and they quickly retreated. Coffee done, bill paid the family rose from the table. Priya dived and took the seat followed by Rajini. Even before the waiter could ask, Priya ordered “Two Special Thalis”. As they were enjoying the tasty lunch, Rajini suddenly felt a gush of guilt that she enjoyed her lunch without her children. So she asked for a parcel of a few delicacies. Naturally, she also ordered a similar parcel for Priya. While parting, Rajini profusely thanked Priya for her help in the purchases while Priya thanked Rajini for the delicious lunch.


Back home, Rajini changed and decided to take a short nap. In a few hours her children would be back from school. Of course, her husband Vikram will be late and arrive only around 9 PM. Vikram was a Finance Manager in a mid sized IT company and toiled hard to keep his family finances afloat.


As she was lazing in bed unable to sleep, Rajini’s mind automatically went on to calculate the day’s expenses. Dresses Rs 3600, Lunch Rs 300, Parcels Rs 240 Total Rs 4140.


The children came and gleefully emptied the delicacies in an instant. It is a wonder how children, who have no appetite for home food, expand their stomachs when it comes to outside food. Anyway, finally Vikram came home, haggard and exhausted after a day’s work stress and daunting traffic. Rajini welcomed him with a beaming smile, gave him water and simultaneously proclaimed, ”You know Vikram. Today I went to Chrome Market and saved Rs 10,800!” Vikram choked and stopped drinking water. He couldn’t believe his ears. What a wonder his Rajini was, he thought. “Really? What did you do? Did you sell our old washing machine and other unusable appliances?”, he asked. “Come on Vikram, don’t joke like that” protested Rajini. ‘I purchased a few salwars at rock bottom prices.” She excitedly went on to explain the whole episode in great detail to a dazed Vikram who tried hard to manifest a saintly smile to camouflage his inner dismay and shock.


Vikram mentally compared the total cost of Rs 4140 spent by Rajini who had chosen this option to avoid an expensive Rs 1200 purchase at Aurelia. He instantly dismissed the thought of explaining the accounting mismatch. Rajini was strongly convinced that she had saved a lot and upsetting her would result in further spends on movies or jewellery to cajole her. After all, a homemaker’s accounting concepts are so different from that of a Chartered Accountant! “One more lesson in Finance learnt today” grumbled Vikram to himself as he now fully understood the high cost of low prices.