Sitting cross-legged amidst an array of delicious confectioneries, he was starting to get impatient.
“Aap rehne he do, nahi bechni aur kachori aapko” (leave it now, I don’t want to sell any more kachoris to you) he said with slight irritation. There was no anger in his words. In fact, his speech gave away a hint of hesitation.
After all, our little group of photographers, who had descended upon Nandgaon for their annual Holi celebration, was a profitable business for him. We’d already purchased 8, was it 9, or maybe 10 kachoris, and before he could finish his sentence, another person from the group picked up a samosa and went away saying “ek aur add karlena” (add one more).
“Paisa sab kuch hai” he would later say. Money is everything. Maybe we city folk were not all that different in our thinking from him. This time though, we were bargaining with him for prime property.
As it happened, his house bordered the village’s main field where the Lathmar Holi was about to commence. All the vantage points had been “booked” prior, and our little group of first-timers was left wondering where to go.
The Tea Seller’s house was in demand. One of the two terraces had already been booked by a film crew. A group of 15 odd foreigners had been surviving the afternoon sun on the other for a few hours now. As we sat outside, picking a samosa every few minutes, 15 now was it or maybe 16, we began our negotiations by polishing his ego – a little appreciation of his food – which in all honesty was tasty – and general chit chat. Acting innocent, we enquired about the festival and how it is performed as if he was the ultimate authority on all things Nandgaon.
A few from our group left in search of other spots, beaten by his to and fro attitude. Some of us had seen it all before. That ego, that feeling of power – he had something we wanted, and he knew it.
As luck would have it, soon, the group of foreigners, beaten by the blistering heat, left, and our Tea Seller loosened up. Once again, that hesitation in his voice emerged for no longer was he denying our request outright.
While the negotiations were in progress, the tab on the tea, samosas, and kachoris kept on going up; 9 Samosas, 10 Kachoris, 10 Teas, a Lassi, and 2 Bottles of Fanta. That irritation would creep up every few minutes only to subside quickly, for we had crossed that boundary of just being a seller and buyer now.
Just then, a man who had been listening to us plead called me aside and said: “He’s a greedy man, offer him some money”. Ah! money, the root of all evil and also the one commodity that makes the world go round.
We knew we had him where it mattered. Till then, we had only requested to go to the balcony, leaving money aside because we weren’t sure how he would take the offer. Now though, with little time left and no alternate, we made our first proposal. Maybe it was the ego polishing, or perhaps he just wanted us to go away, but the final nail got hammered as he accepted without much thought.
A crisp, new, sans demonetization, 500 Rupee note – for the 5 of us who remained – was presented to him, as ceremonially as possible. His brother, running the restaurant inside and playing the bargaining game in-between, was a little shocked at the amount settled. But it was too late. Hands had been shaken. The Tea Seller had made too much of a big deal about his own ethics and morals that he could not go back.
Tarun and Varun, if I remember correctly, were their names. Tarun had sat there cross-legged serving tea to the locals, and aerated drinks to me, with the occasional Lassi, running his business on one end and making money off his prime location in the village on the other.
When I look back to that eventful day in Nandgaon, I fondly remember this little tete-a-tete of sorts that took place between the Tea Seller and us. Sometimes, no matter the outcome, it’s fun to interact with the locals on such an intimate level, even if it is all about “business.” When we finally departed, everyone was happy, smiles all around, and we even made last-minute purchases for the trip back home. I might not have taken much from the meeting, but it’s a memory that I will cherish, as weird as it may seem…
…and then, let’s not forget, while we waited, we did consume quite a few of those Kachoris and Samosas… 23 was it now or 24?
I guess neither Tarun nor I will ever know the correct number.