The Bargaining Syndrome

Human beings living together in organised, civil societies give ample evidence of being most business-like of creatures. Seldom, however, is it appreciated that they go about doing their business with a playfulness peculiar to them by the virtue of their possession of that singularly fascinating entity – the human mind with its ever bargaining tendencies. I personally find the bargaining facet of human personality to be a constant source of fun, frolic and amusement.

When I visit the vegetable market, I frequently find the shopkeeper and the customer haggling over the price of tomatoes. A close watch on their faces and a little strain on my ears vividly reveals to me the underlying playfulness in the changing nuances of their conversation.

The shopkeeper starts with the quotation of a substantially higher price of tomatoes, giving himself subtle but definite airs of imperiousness. The customer handles a couple of tomatoes, makes a face and puts them back into the sack with a remark on their quality, describing them in poorer terms than they deserve. When he opines on their money value, which he deflates by just about the same amount by which the shopkeeper inflated it, the latter seems to feel the effect of deflation on his own self. The changed look on his face indicates he is no longer insistent on riding his high horse.

The shopkeeper’s demeanour takes a friendly turn, instead. He conjures up another sack of tomatoes – paler and much staler – and offers them at the customer’s price. The lack of shine on these tomatoes is reciprocally commensurate with a mischievous gleam appearing in his eyes before he goes on to assume a poker face!

The customer disdainfully glances at the second stock of tomatoes and silently rejects it with a gestural brush-aside. However, the shopkeeper’s offer, with that well-concealed mischief in his eyes, has done more to the customer than meets the eye.

The customer turns back to the original stock of tomatoes and displays a wonderful quick-mindedness in revising his opinion of it. The same tomatoes, painted pretty much anaemic in his previous remarks, get to hear a good many colourful words said about them. “Only it is their price that forces one to see them in darker light,” is the way the customer verbalises his mind now. “Better, perhaps, it would be” – he continues to think aloud – “to drop the very idea of buying tomatoes. A meal could very well be cooked even without tomatoes.”

The customer’s predicament and the possibility of his meal being left untouched by tomatoes seem to touch the shopkeeper’s heart, instead. The alacrity with which he comes forth with a price-revision so as to enable the customer to make his meal a more juicy experience would make the most gracious of angels seem lazier in benevolence!

The price reduction, however, has not been to the extent that could add succulence to the customer’s sapless spirits. On the other hand, it probably succeeded in making his mental state more fluid.  For even as he begins his departure from the shop, the ripples in his thought-pool are apparent. He looks a bit unsure and after every couple of steps turns his head around to re-examine the tomatoes; and the shopkeeper’s face!

The customer’s apparent unsureness works for sure in convincing the shopkeeper he can’t feel too sure of his tomatoes and his customer, both at the same time. This new-found conviction blossoms into a cordial smile on his face as he invites the customer back to the shop with the idea of adopting a via media.

The customer returns with more sure-footedness than any Olympian athlete can muster in the same few moments if he wasn’t already expecting the quick turn of events. A bargain is struck on a mid-way price. Both parties look cheerful and their tomato-hued cheeks leave no doubt about how much they enjoyed combining their little sport with business!

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