Friday, September 25, 2009

dark secrets

Nurture felt slightly nauseous as Nature dunked a gulab jamun in a pool of syrup.

She looked away from the pulpy mass and focussed on the task at hand. She had to teach Nature to say lurrrve, and judging by the subject’s inordinate fondness for sweets, the best way seemed to be with a dessert.

“I think it’s time you graduated to a more sophisticated dessert, like dark chocolate.” she spoke firmly.

“I can’t. It’s not sweet”, Nature replied cheerfully, as she swallowed the gulab jamun mash. “And my family genes forbid me to ingest any dessert that doesn’t come with a diabetes guarantee card”.

“It’s a cultivated taste you know” Nurture spoke with a confidence born of centuries of success with white mice, rhesus monkeys and drooling dogs. “Come on, try some”.

“I’ve tried it” nature said, as she looked longingly at nurture’s untouched bowl. “But my ancestors got together and made me gag. Especially my great uncle – have I told you how he once ate 20 laddoos at a…”.

“Yes, many times.” Nurture interrupted, insensitive to family ties of mere protein. “It’s usually followed by the story about some glutton who used to have no space in his thali for pooris when he served himself shrikhand”.

Nature looked a bit miffed at having her family tree squeezed into two stories.

“I remember them because they’re fascinating stories” Nurture rushed in to make amends. “But the past is… well, predictable. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“That was bred out generations ago.” Nature replied sadly. “My dad’s idea of adventure comprises using both hands to move pieces on a chess board. My mum feels the thrill of a bungee jumper when she bargains her way to two free bunches of coriander”.

“Ok so forget adventure then” said Nurture. “What about being cool? Don’t you want to be one of those elitists who discuss the finer nuances of complex flavour profiles?”

“I do”. Nature admitted, influenced by a few stray but powerful genes from an aunt who in the 70s, had served caramel custard at her son’s wedding. Twenty years later, the aunt still recounted how some of her uncool relatives (from her husband’s side of course) had whispered the name of the dessert in case people thought they were swearing.

Nurture saw victory inching closer and pressed on. “For a moment, forget all those chromosomes. Let’s pick up that bar of dark chocolate and take the first step to getting cool. I’ve got an eleven step process of tasting dark chocolate that might help you.”

“I know it.” Nature said. “I tried it with milk chocolate. By step 2, the bar was finished. By step six, my intestinal enzymes had got to it.”

“Yech it’s your sweet tooth”. Nurture said disdainfully.

“We haven’t had a sweet tooth in our family for generations”. Nature countered. "Ceramic teeth, yes, many times over. Metal teeth, check. Empty gummy spaces, bingo. But no sweet tooth after the age of 10.”

Nurture felt herself sinking deep into despair. She wished she were working with tomatoes or some other subject that didn’t have vocal cords.

“So forget it then. I guess I’ll just have to live with the fact that I couldn’t teach you to say lurrrve.”

“Lurrrve?”. Nature asked. “I don’t even know what it means.”

“It’s well, a verbal version of a machine gun.” Nurture explained without much interest. “Because of its ability to reduce people’s self confidence to pulp.”

“Ok, I want it already”. Nature said. Actually, she was mouthing the desire of a distant relative who achieved the same result by referring to designers by first names or nicknames. The relative usually topped it with a pitying look when listeners thought choo was a sneeze or that Nina was a neighbour’s name.

“Only certain things can get you the power of lurrrve, For example, you can lurrrve Norwegian salmon, not bangda fry, unless you’re doing the inverse snobbery thing. You’re allowed to lurrrve unpasteurized stilton, not cheese slices. It doesn’t matter if you prefer cheese slices. You just can’t lurrrve them. Of course the easiest way to join the lurrrve club is through dark chocolate, but I guess…”

“Wait” Nature interrupted. “Did you say Norwegian salmon? I do genuinely love it, I mean lurrrve it”.

“Good for you” Nurture said, her mind already preoccupied with strategies to reduce a normal person to a size zero.

"So why don’t I just think of Norwegian salmon when I’m talking about dark chocolate? I lurrrve dark chocolate. How’s that?"

There was no answer.

“I could then talk about cocoa percentages… I can do that quite easily.Nurture are you even listening?”

Nurture wasn't listening. She wasn't even in the roomt. She had left already knowing that her mission had been successful but that she couldn’t quite take the credit for it. Unless of course, she used her sense of adventure to fabricate a story…

Sunday, September 13, 2009

it's a steal...

The first time I visit a shop, I’m a regular customer. But the second time I go, I’m royalty. Salespeople come rushing up from every corner of the store, the manager addresses me by name, and I’m assigned an exclusive shop assistant for the duration of my visit. For the longest time, I attributed this special treatment to my charm, but after introspection and several hits to my bank balance, I’ve realised that my lack of bargaining skills are the real reason.

I’ve had the opportunity to watch some prize bargain queens and kings at work. I’ve observed how they plough masterfully towards their targets, and how they let nothing get in the way. And from these observations, I’ve understood that getting an extra tissue on demand at a café does not constitute a good bargain. I also know now that bargaining may be an art, but copying the masters achieves nothing except an unflattering likeness to a simian in a panchatantra story.

If you’re like me, ie the hieroglyphic symbol for loser shopper, here’s the greatest bargain you’re ever likely to get. You can share my failure for free, instead of getting your own at the cost of angst and embarrassment.

One person’s masterstroke could be another person’s stroke: My sister and I were shopping for ethnic totes at a street bazaar in Delhi when my sis pointed at one she liked. The burly XL stall owner quoted a price. My sister named a figure that was low enough to make me squirm. Monster man dropped his price a shade. At this point, my skinny teenaged sis looked straight at him and said “I’m beginning to get angry now”. She said this softly, with a smile on her face, and the stall owner was shocked into nervously looking around for skulking armed men, before he wordlessly handed her the tote.

This is easy, I thought. So I tried it at another street stall in another city. “I’m beginning to get angry now” I said at the right moment, my voice velvety soft and Brandoesque. Almost on cue, things started to happen. The stall owner quickly pushed a chair towards me and gestured for water. “BP patient hai”, he whispered knowingly to his assistant, and handed me a glass crusted with fingerprints. While I pretended to sip the slightly murky water, the man regaled me with stories about his own blood pressure travails. I left after a while, with a recipe for bitter gourd juice (BP ke liye ekdum first class) but sadly, no bargain.

Starting from scratch: When a salesperson tried to convince me to buy the last refrigerator in the store, ie the display one, I decided to capitalise on the bargaining opportunity. I knew what to do, having watched my bargain black belt friends closely. I disdainfully pointed out a near invisible scratch near the door (I think I might have created it while pointing it out) and demanded a discount. The salesman quickly dropped the price and before you could say freeze, I paid for the piece. When the refrigerator was unpacked at home, I realised the scratch was truly invisible, as it was eclipsed by at least 3 dents on the door. The crisper tray looked distinctly French, as the r had been rubbed by enthusiastic shoppers. The egg trays croak ominously every time I open the door, and soon, I should be able to save myself the first step of making omelettes.

Great timing comes at a cost: Yippee, it was sale time! The time of the year when bargain royalty moves in and gets stuff it might need later. Well, I got that bit right; when I swooped down on a brilliantly discounted dishwasher I didn’t need. It arrived in perfect condition, though I can’t say the same about many other things anymore.

My jars have melted into size 0 shapes, which are great for the catwalk but not for storing things. I've had to replace them with dishwasher safe ones (read imported, read expensive). My electricity bills have doubled as have my tea and biscuit expenses. The last two are courtesy my erstwhile human dishwasher, who has no work left and uses my home as a café for her mid morning breaks.

Make a fresh start: Whatever the evidence against it, I’ve started believing in reincarnation. It's my best chance to be brilliant at bargaining. Yes I realise I might be reborn a mosquito, but if I can get a great deal on a repellent-free home, I’ll take my chances.