Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Aminabad vs Laxmi Road

It was Dhanterus a few days back. Believers amongst the Hindus buy something, especially the female ones (Here I must add that it is not necessary to be a believer or a Hindu to buy something).

Aminabad and Laxmi Road are the major shopping places in Lucknow and Pune, respectively. Not of the branded kind. It is mostly the local, indigenous, and modestly cheap stuff, which is found here. Both are huge markets, and always have great rush - festival or no festival.

They look similar, but only superficially. Scratch the surface, and you see the difference.

Aminabad is an orderly chaos. In the narrow labyrinths and mazes of its lanes and bylanes which run into kilometers, you will find every item under the Sun. Exquisite chikan work, and amazing food are its specialty. Every shop floor space has been taken, each pavement is encroached.

The place is biggest feminist statement that one can give out. The odds of finding a male specimen in that place are no more than finding the same in a convent. That's one place where the male-female ratio in the country - in favour of females - is something to boast about. Even the most claustrophobic or demophobic female would be at utter peace with the place. They would feign fake reluctance, but throng the place with extreme vengeance.

Not that men aren't there at all. Usually, they are on the wrong side - the utterly demure shopkeepers. Some of them could be found devouring delicious Galawati Kebabs at 'Tunde Kebabi', or enjoying Kulfi Falooda from 'Prakash Ki MashHoor Kulfi'. And if you still find some shopping, rest assured that they are more an observer than a participant.

If bargaining is an art, then Lucknowites are master at it. But beware, they know difference between bargaining and haggling. This amazing battle ground is right here in Aminabad, and its fun to be part of this game. I have been a witness to many such battles since childhood, when I accompanied my parents and at that time I used to a bit embarrassed of all this.

The shopkeepers are incredibly polite and recklessly persuasive. Even when one is passing by a shop, and has no intention to enter to it, every effort to persuade, except physical, will be made to lure him/her to the shop. New relationships like Bhaiyya, Didi, Beti, Beta develop out of blue. Any outsider, would be pleasantly shocked, but locals know it better.

Inside the shop, you can do window shopping or just idle. No bar. Attendants would tirelessly show whatever catches your fancy, praising the customer's eye for good taste. Meanwhile a cold drink or tea would be at your side, many times without even asking the customer. My mother likes this idea big time, and heavily favours such seemingly caring and benevolent shopkeepers.

Once you have selected the item, bargaining starts. That can last as long as both the parties want. At the end of it, you might have seen thousand items, enquired about the prices of another thousand, and still you might end buying nothing. But no hard feelings. Shopkeepers still have kind departing words for you. Sometimes, they even bring back the customer from the door giving another 'fantastic' offer!

Probably, that's why a long term relationship develops between customer and shopkeeper. All in all, an absolute paradise for the shoppers.

Laxmi Road is more orderly than chaotic. The variety is same, except it is Puneri, than Luckhnawi. Items are good albeit very costly, and unlike Lucknow, they can't be brought down to your price by bargaining. And here lies the difference.

The famous 'Sadashivi Pethi' attitude of Laxmi Road, so eloquently expressed by great Pu La Deshpande comes into picture. He had said that most unvaluable and negligible thing found in Pune shops is customer. They are treated with utter contempt.

Shopkeepers are brusque, and seemingly rude. Window shopping is big no. The concept here just doesn't exists. The moment customer enters a shop, s/he starts getting cold vibes. Worse still, nobody will come forward to cater you. In fact, if you decide to walk out, it just might go unnoticed. They simply don't care if you buy or not.

Bargain at you own risk. Problem is not just of no success. You might be outrightly refused business, and rudely at that. Apney Ko Maal Nahin Bechney Ka!

Still, I would say one can do without above. The biggest problem is of choice. One has to be very precise of his needs. They will keep on asking you what 'egzhactly' you want without actually bothering to show you the stuff you can choose amongst. They don't deal in abstract, you see.

I remember, once I went to a very big and famous shop called Abhyankar Opticals for my Specs. When I asked the attendant to show the frames, he straight away asked me the number of my lense which is usually the last thing asked. When I asked him the reason, I was informed the type of frame depends upon the number of lense.

That was news to me.

Then this guy started showing me thick rimmed carbon frames which people used to wear in early seventies. I rejected them in one go, and asked for light, rimless ones. To my shock he flatly refused. With my number, which wasn't much anyway, he announced I can't wear rimless. I insisted, and he refused again.

Felt pity for his customers, including me, I walked off. Its another matter, I later bought a rimless one from the shop of a Sindhi. Pu La Deshpande was great observer and writer, I agreed. The most amazing aspect about these shops is that they are always closed from 2 PM to 4PM, for daily siesta.

Despite all of this, every one seems to be doing great business. This is because of the high disposable income with the people.

I bet if Lucknow shoppers come and set shop here, they will triple the money they make back home.

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