There is a cost, of course. Shopping with Lily Aunty takes four hours longer than usual and usually ends up in a cloud of insults combined with an ingestion of antacid upon return to the house.
So when I called Lily Aunty to help me buy a beautiful silver dinner set, I imposed a set of rules. She couldn’t feign heart attacks. This was the time of Covid and it wasn’t fair to do this to people. Second, she claim to be related to Shilpa Shetty, Aishwarya Rai, or Deepika Padukone. She was a Bunt from Mangalore but that didn’t make her a movie star. Third, she had to open negotiations at 50 percent of the asking price, not 5 percent, as is her wont. Fourth, she had to stop cursing in Konkani. This was the best jewellery store in Bangalore, I said, not some Mangalore fish market where she had cut her bargaining teeth.
Lily Aunty looked wounded at the last phrase. “What do you know about buying fish, you vegetarian?” she ground out from between clenched teeth. “It is harder to buy quality fish in Mangalore than it is to buy silver in Bangalore.”
“Aunty, I mean it this time,” I warned just before we entered. “This shop is not some cottage emporium, okay. I don’t want them to blacklist me because of your behavior.”
“Look how you are standing,” Aunty scolded. “Like some foreigner.”
It was true. My stance was defensive. I protected my space, rather than aggressively hogging it. My tone was matter-of-fact rather than truculent, outraged, or ideally, a combination of both. My attitude indicated my willingness to negotiate.
“Negotiation has no place in shopping,” pronounced Aunty. “Negotiation means compromise. We want to bend them to our will.”
I had unleashed the serpent, I realised. What now?
“Understand one thing,” said Lily Aunty. “Words are cheap. Particularly in India. People don’t say what they mean, and nothing is what it seems.”
This I knew from previous experience. When we were wedding shopping for a cousin, Lily aunty entered a saree store in Chikpete. She ran a practiced eye over the silk sarees behind the glass counter, pronounced them to be “rubbish” and demanded to be taken to the back room where the “real stuff” was. The weird thing was that the salesmen gave her more respect after her rudeness, brought her soda and kolbada and fussed over her like she was Saroja Devi or Bharati Vishnuvardhan.
When I attempted such assertiveness, my statements came out like a croak and I was asked to take my business elsewhere.
So we walked in. And there was the silver dinner set that I had kept on hold. The shopkeeper took one look at Aunty, squared his shoulders, and smiled wanly. He had met a worthy match.
Egged on by her hot breath on my shoulder, I took a deep breath and simulated the light-headed feeling that comes at the tail end of a 16-hour long intermittent fast.
“Eshtu?” I drawled, flicking a dismissive finger at the sparkling offerings I coveted. “How much is this set worth?”
“One lakh,” said the shopkeeper without blinking.
Lily Aunty snorted. I glared at her and pretended to laugh derisively, like Kannada superstar, Yash does in the movie, “Mr. and Mrs. Ramachari.”
“Ree (which is the Kannada equivalent of Ji), Don’t joke, Ree,” I said.
“Would I lie to you, Akka?” He had called me his sister. Game on.
“This is an heirloom set. Custom piece. Only one in entire Bangalore. I would happily give it to you for free, but my boss will kill me.”