By Devraj Singh Kalsi
Many of us derive a high after a bout of successful bargaining without realising that the moment of euphoric win soon peters out, only to be replaced by an embarrassing defeat as we get snubbed without a dash of realisation that the same old game checkmates us at some point.
Years ago, a bosom friend of mine found Rs 30 to be a whopping fee for a camel ride in Chandigarh. He did not add up the extra cost of transporting the animal from Rajasthan and denied the owner the legitimacy to charge at will, arguing that the owner would also be selling camel milk to recover its maintenance cost from Punjabis who would relish the refreshing change from the usual buffalo milk, without calculating the quantity of milk a single camel would deliver every day. He did not admit that the opportunity to experience what he would only get to ride in Rajasthan was made available in the local zone and, for that, he should be thankful to the entrepreneurial owner who preferred to bring a novelty item instead of a typical pony from the nearby hill state of Himachal Pradesh.
All he did was sit with the obedient camel tied to a pole, waiting for customers to approach him for a single round of a circular ride of the cemented garden track. My friend looked horrified when he had to shell out the fee before riding the camel, much like a pre-paid cab ride. As was his wont, he bargained hard and brought it down to Rs 20 before mounting the camel that observed the entire exchange in the sitting position, masticating something like chewing gum as the owner did and winking at him. After my friend had made himself comfortable, the owner whispered something, and the camel stood up without a fuss. My bosom friend looked confident and showed me a thumbs-up sign as if he was inside a fighter jet, ready to take the first solo flight.
That the owner was up to some mischief became evident as the pick-up speed looked unusual. He pulled the strings and made the camel run faster along with him so that he could save some time to recover the loss in the ride fare. My friend’s growing discomfort was visible as the camel galloped faster than a horse. He closed his eyes and clutched whatever appeared in sight to prevent a fall. He was no trained horse rider either, and I ran behind the camel carrying my dear friend, like a morning jogger offering moral support, to grab him if toppled, requesting the owner to slow down and stop before something tragic happened. But he did not stop before the round was complete.
When the camel reached a standstill position, the owner was breathless, and the animal waited for further instructions. My friend had started hurling slang words again to order the camel to sit down and enable him to dismount. Finally, after a while, the owner signalled in his preferred language set, and the obedient camel went down on his legs. My rattled friend came down with a hand on his back, almost ready to pounce on the camel owner for endangering his life, threatening him to report the matter and seek cancellation of his licence to operate the camel with tingling bells around the neck in the beautiful city of Chandigarh. I told him it was the direct fall-out of the bargaining process he did to invite this trouble. The camel owner asked him to disappear when another person approached him for a ride and paid the total amount. He went around the park in a slow, languid manner. This pleasant sight further angered my friend. He agreed that the owner took nasty revenge in this manner and threatened to get the camel seized by using his contacts. He tried mobilising the small crowd against him, called him a rough driver who would have been lynched, beaten up black and blue. But nothing happened as the people looked mighty impressed with the novelty and instead blamed him for bargaining with a poor man to be as offensive as cheating and exploitation.
He narrated those terrifying minutes in greater detail as he felt it was a close shave with death. He saw the gates of heaven open up for him as he closed his eyes to envision a Saviour. The chances of a heart attack were the highest during this brief phase. What he expected to be a leisurely ride had turned out to be nightmarish, and he blamed me for not lending him vocal support. He had conveniently brushed aside the bargaining gaffe and concentrated on the life-threatening outcome. He asked the camel owner to pay for an ointment to heal his painful back, but he took small steps and slipped out to serve another customer who was ready to mount despite the dire warnings of my argumentative friend in accented Hindi.
As it is clear, my bosom friend was taken for a bumpy ride no less thrilling than a giant wheel ride as he drove a hard bargain. The camel owner also applied his tricks to outsmart him, proving again that the best bargaining deal often invites trouble for the one who hails himself as the big winner but ultimately ends up as a big loser.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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