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The Market MAG
The sun beating down on the car is almost as harsh as the city itself. You pull your hair up up up, but of course, you cannot tie it. You always forget the freaking hair ties at your freaking house.
“Now, Shagun, be reasonable. You can either come with me or stay here in this overheated car.”
“Reasonable? Me? No, thanks. I’ll stay here.”
Your mother looks at your brother for reason. But there are certain things, like shopping under the hellish midsummer sun, that unite a brother and a sister.
“Sorry, Mum, you’re on your own.”
High-five your brother in the back seat. When your mother leaves, the sense of victory does too.
Everything sticks: hair to neck, shirt to skin, flies to garbage, your calf to the dashboard.
Everything stinks: your brother’s feet, your own sweat, the open sewer, petrol fumes from the ancient car.
Your brother speaks, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Isn’t there something … like a place which is air-conditioned, where Mum can shop? Oh yeah, it’s called a mall!”
“You shut up.”
You exhale loudly, ending the argument. Shopping unites; heat divides and rules. Bored, you turn your eyes outward, beyond the confines of the car – toward the Real World.
Hey, hey lady. Beautiful scarves. Look at the colors! Two for hundred! Two for hundred! I give you fair price, don’t I? Newspapers in seventy-six different languages. What do you need? Quick, boy, what do you need? Don’t waste my time. Unload it faster! Clean it quicker! Move, move, move, move, coming through! Everybody is short on time. Everybody is running late. Everybody.
The following play unfolds in every corner, practiced, rehearsed and memorized right down to the period:
Customer: “Seven hundred? You’re nuts! I’m not giving a rupee over six hundred.”
Shopkeeper: “Six? Ha! Look at the quality. You ain’t gonna see such quality anywhere.”
Customer (walking away): “You think I’m a fool? Not a rupee over six hundred.”
Shopkeeper (beckoning): “Okay, okay, wait just a minute. You seem like a reasonable lady/guy. I’ll give you a special price.” (Conspiratorial whisper. It is, after all, a special price.) “Six-seventy-five.”
Shopkeeper: “Six-fifty and I’m losing money.”
Customer: “Yeah, right. Six.”
Shopkeeper: “Six-fifty is best price. I have a wife and children to feed.”
Customer: “Okay. Six-forty-five.”
The shopkeeper hides a smile. Six-forty-five is a hundred rupees over what he expected.
The best lassi in the city! We have the best lassi in the city. Just a taste and you’ll be hooked! Come, come and drink our lassi! In this market, there is little difference between cocaine and sweetened milk.
If you turn right at that painted red pole, you enter the seedy underbelly of the market. There is no visible difference in the people, just a change in stance and a quickness of the eyes that locals like me can understand.
Unlock your (stolen) phone; buy (broken) laptops, fresh stock (not really) of banned meat, the best (fake) foreign liquor. If you come here, we’ll smile and flirt, and we’ll joke around and slip money out of your pocket when you are looking at obscenely colored dresses. Don’t be offended. It’s a business.
A conundrum: too hot to close the window, but too smelly to crank it open. A strange shiver runs down your back. A heat shiver, not a winter shiver.
A guy sells fake Gucci glasses to a blonde foreigner for two thousand rupees. She has no idea she could have gotten them for Not A Rupee Over Two Hundred, Period.
Foreigners are the longest-running joke of this market. They give the price you ask for. Not one can bargain to save their lives. Foreigners! Ha! But they shouldn’t feel cheated – you see, our shops run on them.
You wonder if all the shopkeepers hold weekly meeting to decide the prices of everything they sell, deciding not according to race, religion, or even gender, but the language a customer speaks. For English-speakers: eight thousand. For other foreigners: five thousand. For Hindi-speakers: one thousand. For local-dialect-speaking brothers and sisters: five hundred.
The principles of laissez-faire are well-established here. Doesn’t matter in the least what the government says. If you can keep up, you survive – or else!
A drunk brawl erupts and ends with similar swiftness.
A quiet, illegal transaction involves guns.
A policeman wonders out loud if a specific shop had its liquor license renewed. Money passes under the table, and he walks out with two bottles of wine given as “gifts.”
Beggars scream tales of various distresses.
Small children run around laughing, not a care in the world.
More foreigners cheated.
Just another day at the market. Yeah, just another day.