Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tol Mol ke Bol

Tol Mol ke Bol

It is a habit with some, a need for some others and an elusive target for most. However, if one is determined, one can improve for sure. Observing the seasoned pros in action is a good way to get initiated. In this field, nothing works like experience. So let’s explore how one can master the science of bargaining. 

1)    Do your research – Nothing equips you better than some prior knowledge of the prices of any product. Ask a few people who are probably using that product or are fairly knowledgeable about the market you plan to visit. Use the Internet. If you’re in a new place where you don’t know the tricks of the trade (let’s say, you’ve decided to shop on the bylanes of Mozambique) or you’ve not found anyone who would know how much a certain product should cost (think jewelry which the seller says is silver while you suspect to be junk), then read on… 

2)    Just conduct a mini-survey yourself – it doesn’t hurt to do some background check on your own! Ask the prices of atleast two-three other things that catch your eye – the shopkeepers would only go out of their way to win you over. Moreso, a bulk purchase normally has a lower price tag. A lot of them would succumb to greed and would offer to ‘negotiate’. However, you’ve gotta play hard to get. Move on…survey the other shops. Remember – Negotiation does not imply that it’s the best deal for you. It only means, you’ve gotta work harder. 

3)   Here’s how to ask for the price – This is the first step towards active bargaining. Keep the following in mind: 

a.     Check your body language – You cannot be sounding like it’s your first trip to that part of the world. The moment you let your guard down, it shows and you’d have just very naively invited the sharks! Look confident, talk business.

b.    Look shocked – okay…you’re felling like a millionaire suddenly and wouldn’t mind shelling out ‘em moolahs for the coveted object de art but hold your horses. You’ve gotta look shocked. Look bewildered, look puzzled, look cheated, raise your voice to a crescendo and repeat what the shoppie just told you and start nodding your head knowingly. You’ve got to let him know that what he just said was so ridiculous that even a four-year old wouldn’t rise to his bait!

c.   The shoppie’s trick – ‘dene ka daam bolo’…’madamji, aap hi boliye’…This is the quintessential response to corner you. It is guerilla warfare now.  The predator now wants to gauge how mush you actually know. He’s got every thing going for him while you’ve got your confidence and you math! NO, THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR KNOWING YOUR PERCENTAGES.

4)     Set your price – Now, this is where your gut will do the talking for the first few times i.e. of it’s a recurring purchase (which it is most likely to be for all good things worth bargaining for!). However, once you’ve learnt to maneuver the trade yourself, you’ll just be calling the shots a lot easily. The correct price is not necessarily what you’d end up paying but it’s the best you can manage. Remember, the shoppie’s also gonna be ‘working’ at the price and the game should end as a win-win for both – ideally! Begin with one-third the price and stick to it. There’s no turning around now that you’ve crossed the Rubicon. No matter how much you want, you can’t re-start at a lower price.

5)     Some handy phrases – Try these and invent your own - ‘toh aapse lene ka fayda kya hua?’, ‘aapke paas se quality ka samaan chahiye, isliye to aapki dukaan mein aaye hain’, ‘yeh dam kam thodi na bola humne?’, ‘aapko humein wapas aane dena hai aur samaan lene ki nahi?’…Use your sense of humor. Joke a bit. Avoid a heated argument since it only leads to a deadlock. Remember: You’ve haggling ‘cos you want that goddamned thing in the first place, isn’t it?

6)     Hurry up – You’ve got to look hurried after 3 rounds of debate with the shoppie. Ask him to hurry up. Say you’ve got other things to do and demand a final price. Quote your own revised price and be firm. I’ve seen most shoppies falling into the trap at this stage. They will come out with their final offer price. Remember: you can still manage the one last price since the customer is king. You’ve got to have the last word.

7)     Bag your prize – You’ve won the gameJ The proof is the price you’ve paid which should be close to where you started and farther from where the shoppie started. Do discuss the price with the next time a prospective buyer asks for your opinion or if you meet someone else who’s using that product. You just might find that someone’s got a better deal than you but that’s how you’ll learn.

8)     Go back to the same shop – You’ve gratified the shoppie and yourself in the process of bargaining. So the next time you go to that shop, u’re bound to succeed. Liaisons are mutually beneficial.

Now that we’ve learnt the tricks, I thought of sharing this simple recipe of pickles with you.

Masala Goonda (That’s the Indian Gooseberry. In case you don’t find that in the market, you could use green chillies and even tindi as a substitute)

The Bunch of Goondas we used

The Pickled Goondas 

What you need:

200g Goonda ( pic shared) – Wash, crack it with a pestle/pounder, de-stone and pressure-cook for just about two whistles. It’s pretty stick inside. (In case you’re using chillies, use the thick-skinned ones, since they’re less spicy. Wash and slit into two vertically. Similarly with the tindi.)

Salt to taste

Oil – about 4 spoons

Rai (Mustard seeds) – about one spoon

Heeng (asafetida) – half a spoon (we put one whole spoon since we just love the flavour but some people might find it a little strong for their taste)

Turmeric powder – about a quarter spoon

Dhania powder – about 3 spoons

Methi powder – about half a spoon (it’s bitter, no doubt but it works wonders to clean up your blood)

How to make it:

Heat oil in a pan and add rai. Once it begins to splatter, add the goonda. Add turmeric and salt. Saute for about a minute. Add dhania powder, heeng and methi powder. Mix well. Remove from gas and let it cool. Store in a glass bottle and it lasts for about 4-5 days without a fridge and for about 2 weeks inside one.

Just help yourself to a generous helping with your dal-chawal or the good ‘ol curd rice…ummmm…my mouth’s watering again… 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Endangered: The Art of Community Living

Endangered: The Art of Community Living

Community living is now a dying practice. ‘We’ is now getting replaced by ‘Me’. It’s not been a sudden over-night phenomenon. It’s gradually befallen us as we began to move towards a self-consuming lifestyle. I remember growing up in a building where evenings meant times for playing in the compound with the other kids my age, summer holidays meant time for all the mothers to be beleaguered by a bunch of noisy kids late into the nights and one did not have to worry about finding text books for the next academic year since a willing ‘senior’ among us had them all ready to be picked up from his/her place. As a six year old I remember running from door to door waiting for everyone to appreciate the new me each time I wore a new dress. Plucking flowers and making garlands out of them and then getting our dolls married were the annual events marked out in our annual calendars. Perhaps, the annual exams were the only lean periods around then.

Such camaraderie extended even between our mothers. We would often serve as courier boys/girls to send a share of those special dishes to the auntie next-door. The mothers would be often seen gossiping by the doors while we brought the roof down any given evening. Each of us had a ‘best friend’.

However, this art of community living is now conspicuous in its absence. Today the kids are more fascinated with the latest version of online games than outdoor games. Mothers would rather that their children learnt French or tennis than ‘waste’ time playing with the other kids. We always feel a severe time-crunch and leisure is precious. Hence, there is a maid to do the clothes, another to water the plants, a third to wash the clothes and yet another to collect them once they’ve dried. It’s smart to order-in rather than consult one’s neighbor to learn how that baked dish could be made. It’s a convenient life alright but we’ve chosen to withdraw into a shell. We love our fences more than our neighbors.

This may not give you the universal picture. But this is a change which I have sensed (and painfully so) every now and then. Just the other day we were making potato chips at home and realized that now it were  only my mother and I who dried the wafers while as kids, there would be atleast half-a dozen kids to help out.

 Here’s hoping that we revert to the good ol’ ways very soon…maybe this recipe could serve as ‘starters’. It’s as much fun to make them with everyone as to eat them!

My Mom-Made Potato Chips (‘cos of obvious copyright reason)

What you need:

3 kgs Chandramukhi  Potatoes (These are a special variety but are available widely)

Salt – as per taste

Oil for frying

Chilli powder to spice ‘em up

How to make it:

Wash, peel and slice the potatoes using a slicer. Fill up a bucket with water and add about 2 big spoons of salt to it. Soak the potato chips as soon as you slice them.

In a container bring about 4 glasses of water to boil. Make sure its bubbling hot. Immerse the potato slices in them for about 2 minute so that they are just about boiled partly and aren’t totally raw.

Spread out a sheet of plastic or an old sari in a place which gets the maximum sunlight in your house. Spread out the chips and let them dry. Make sure that the chips get a good deal of the sunshine on the first day. Collect the chips post sundown and set them out again for another 3-4 days. Once dried, they become tiny, transparent pieces.

Fry them and sprinkle some chilli powder on top. Store in an air-tight container and munch on at your own sweet will!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Whose line is it anyways?

Whose line is it anyways?

We’ve come across them at the most inopportune moment - just as you were about to make it to the billing counter or the cinema-ticket window or an empty seat in a bus or the trial room at a mall or the lift or the ATM… Phew! We’ve had to face them even at a restroom. Good lord!

Yes, I mean the line-dodgers. They are an ever growing and omnipresent community of X-ray eyed individuals who just seem to detect your brain wave pretty effortlessly and just grab it away from you even before you blink your eye-lid. Any attempt at stopping them falls through. Derisive looks don’t work. Snide remarks are a waste. “Helllllooooo” and “Excuse me!” seem like water off a duck’s back. They just leverage on your inertia of rest to step ahead faster than they do and are further encouraged by your lack of bad manners.

The quintessential line-dodger you are likely to encounter at the choicest of places are as follow:


1)    The serpentine queues at Grocery stores – A scowling middle-aged pot-bellied man who believes he is the reason why the grocery store does not run out of business. Even as you are unloading your cart full of essentials onto the billing counter, he nearly runs you down in a bid to play striking cars with your carton of juice. What’s worse is daddies are just planted at the counter by a hyperactive freebie-loving mother and a fussy kid who are creating a stampede across rest of the store and adding to the Dump @ Daddy.

2)   The Movie Ticket counter – This variety essentially comprises the Rayban-spotting, tattooed, yelling-on-the-mobile-as-I-blow–bubbles-with-my-bubble-gum who believe that they are there all the while and it was just your fault that you missed them. How could you? Well… excuse me now if you’re dun, lady...and you do because you don’t want to create a scene while there are so many people watching you.

3)     On the Bus/Train – You’ve conducted a mini-survey and figured which seat is getting free the earliest and you’ve fixed yourself right in front of your target. You sure can’t miss this one buddy, no way! You are standing smug as the reigning proud possessor of the seat turns other women away. The bus-stop/station arrives, the crown princess vacates her seat, and you just step aside to let her move out and there ….you’re slow again! Someone’s made it bang on target or asked the next lady to push up a bit.

4)    At the Loos – Most often these are mummas with kids who are just not trained to be patient. They are a noisy duo who just cant hold on for the love of dear life and they make a dash for the throne even before you plead your case.

5)     At the Trial rooms – Technically, they are the most difficult to define since they could be anyone – from ayahs, to daddies, to aunties, to cousins, to grannies (thank goodness, pets are not allowed inside malls, or else maybe a Labrador too!) who are posted outside while there could be two ladies alternately trying out for the perfect pair of jeans! Their cronies outside are in-charge of the apparel supply-chain management while they are supposed to dress and re-dress themselves for hours on end, make a cameo appearance at the door, complain about the fit more than wait for approval from the crony and if not satisfied, just let the other cousin inside instead so that she may try her luck a little later. Meanwhile, you’re expected to try your clothes on – mentally, of course!!


I’ve suffered them time and again. Experience has taught me not to feel embarrassed about embarrassing them. Its good for your health as it keeps your blood pressure under check and saves you the possible danger of suffering queue-anxiety. Moreso, you are safe since you are bound to find support from the person standing behind you in the line.

Here’s a no-fuss recipe for you once you’re drained but victorious against the line-dodgers.

Italian Toast with Vegetables

You would need:

Bread - Just about as many slices as you want to have

Cheddar cheese (pizza cheese) – Half a cube, grated.

Butter – 1 spoon

Maida – 1 spoon

Garlic paste – 1 spoon

Black pepper powder – 1spoon

Salt – 2 spoons

Capsicum, Carrot, Cauliflower – About 1 piece each, washed and finely diced.

2 big spoons of oil

How to make it:

Take some oil in a pan and sauté the vegetables with some salt till they are semi-cooled. Make sure you don’t make them too soft. Set aside once done.

Heat butter in a pan and add the Maida to it. Cook till it becomes a little yellowish. Add a little bit of water, garlic paste, pepper powder and some salt. Once it attains a thick sauce-like consistency, add sautéed vegetables.

Spread out 2 spoons of the cooked veges on each slice of bread.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 5 mins at 120*C or place on a covered tawa for about 5-7 mins.


Italian Toast with vegetables is ready to serve!




Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Weekend Wows

Ever since I first realized that I was going to a place called school, I’ve begun to hate Mondays. It meant that I would be torn away from my bed, my toys, my friends and my mother only to be dressed in a neatly  ironed frock and sent away to a place where I met other unwilling kids my age. Tears came easy but rarely did they prove useful. I would wait for Fridays and used to feel as high as a kite on any given Friday morning – would get ready in record time since I knew I was beginning my return journey for the week!

 Life’s not changed much even though school is a distant memory now. What's worse, I still begin to get knots in my stomach Sunday evening onwards for some unknown reason! Weekends still mean a world to me. Little else can match the respite that these last two days of a week bring. Be it settling my cupboard and finding forgotten clothes or finishing off the thriller, which I just couldn’t find time for or watching a romcom happily tucked away in bed, or just catnapping – weekends are self-repair time. 

 As they say, it heals best when one’s not looking at it.

So here’s one’s for the weekend. Am sharing a recipe that is bound to go well with your favorite weekend sport this summer.

Aam Panna

You would need:

1 Raw mango – Pealed and steamed in a pressure cooker

Sugar – 2 spoons

Salt – Half a spoon

Some roasted Jeera powder (roasted and ground cumin)

2 Mint leaves – They make your glass look more glamorous and have excellent blood-purifying properties

3 Ice-cubes

Water / Soda, suit yourself.

How to make it:

Blend the boiled mango in a blender along with sugar and salt and then allow the pulp to cool for 10 minutes.

Take a tall glass and add ice-cubes.

Pour about 4 spoons of mango pulp and add water or soda and stir well.

Sprinkle some jeera powder and don’t forget to do up your glass  with those Mint leaves.

That sure helps beat the weekday worries!