Sunday, August 28, 2005

Caught in the Act

This morning I decided to sell the pile of old newspapers to the junk-seller (raddiwalla) that came doing rounds asking for "Purana Paper". Before going on with the routine measurement, I enquired the prevalent rate in the market. He said, "Rs. 4.50". I wondered how he was able to offer such high rate when I remember the one going on in my hometown varies from Rs. 3~3.50. As it is better, I decided not to bargain.

"Take the pile and go ahead with the weighing", I ordered.

He took the massive pile out of my room, which must have been 8 kilograms atleast. Then he took out his pan balance and a 500 gm weight. I asked him why he didn't carry a 1 kg weight. He told that his carry bag would tear apart on being subjected to 1 kg weight. But I knew the answer. They always go for smaller weights because they can put more paper on the other pan to show "just balanced" and then use that greater weight with the dead-weight already present to maximixe their profits. But this much cheating is allowed for them. I knew that if I went on to measure the actual weight of the dead-weight, it would be more than 500 gm. But I comforted myself on the plight of the poor man and chose to ignore.

The guy proceeded with the weighings. First he showed me his balance without any weights balanced and hence confirming a non-rigged balance. Then he proceeded to put the dead-weight in one and judiciously selecting a pile that was under 500 gms. He then took a little more newspaper into the pan to show almost exact balance. The pile looked like almost 800 gms, and it grew suspicion in my mind. Then I realized that when holding the rope, he was resting the side on his arm on the side of the scale to force it to look equal. I immediately understood his trick. But before I could say anything, he took off the newspapers off the pan.

"Stop! Stop!", I cried. "Take the measurement again". He though alarmed, kept wearing his innocent face and put the pile back on. "Why are you resting the side of your palm on the pan balance beam?", I enquired. A smile grew on his face and he put down his balance. After thinking a little, he said "Will you take Rs.30 for this pile?". I knew he had done his numbers.

"Why don't you measure it?", I enquired. He said, "I can't. Its not economically feasible for me to pay Rs. 4.50 per kg if I weigh."

"But I didn't fix the rate, you did", was my reply. "Its not possible....I won't weigh how much would you pay for it", he continued.

"I am not selling if you won't weigh it. You may go.", I was quick to reply.

We argued for a while till he was hopeless. As he started packing his stuff, I put forward my final step: "So what's your final amount?"

I must say he had to think a lot. Being in the same business for atleast 5 years, he knew his mathematics pretty well. "Rs. 40", he called.

"Ok. Take it.", I replied.

He started taking it but the expression was not of any joy.

I knew I could have got a better deal by pressing further or going for some other raddiwalla, but harassing the poor had never been my idea of fun. Though I never give alms to the poor(?) beggers, I bargain less with the vegetable seller. I put a question mark after the word 'poor' because the tragedy of India is that an average begger earns more than a hard-working labourer in a construction site or a vegetable seller. As I can't do on to show my solidarity with the construction workers, I do it with the hard-working vegetable sellers. I know that even many of them resort to malpractices, I show compassion to only those whom I go regularly to buy and know as bona-fide merchants. I don't mind if someone says I am a poor bargainer because I knew I could have. And the sellers also sometimes show happiness by pushing a little dhania/adrak in addition to the vegetables free of cost, even without asking.

Long live humanity.

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