Five incidents, in chronological order. Related, or maybe not, I don't know. The most recent happened today, and made me remember the others. Here they are.
1) Someone I know used to drive regularly on the Pune-Satara road. He says there were often fig-sellers on the side of the road, baskets of large luscious fruit on display. Once, he couldn't resist the temptation and stopped to buy. Haggled genially, settled on a price for a kilo.
Whereupon, the fig-man reached into his bag and pulled out a number of much smaller, much less luscious-looking figs and began packing those.
But what are you doing? asked this now-baffled person I know. I want those large figs!
Oh no, said the man. Those are only for show, to attract customers. If I sell you those, how will I attract any other customers?
The person I know drove off in anger, baffled and fig-less.
2) Two of us stopped at a small shop once. Pretty lady behind the counter smiled and asked what we wanted. Ham, we said. Can you give us three-quarters of a kilo?
Pretty lady got a startled look on her face, then smiled ruefully.
I'm sorry, she said. I can't give you three-quarters of a kilo. I can give you half a kilo, and I can give you a quarter kilo. But I cannot give you three-quarters of a kilo of ham!
3) Someone else I know went to the nearby post-office and asked for four aerogrammes. Man behind the counter pulled out four, carefully counted them, and handed over three.
Three? asked this someone else I know. But I want four!
But I have to keep at least one, said the man behind the counter. What happens if the next customer wants an aerogramme?
4) Hole-in-the-wall watch and pen shop at Fountain that I've been visiting for years. I've bought pens, watch batteries, watch straps from them, so often that the owners recognize me, smile at me.
Some months ago, I needed a strap for a watch. Stopped by this shop as usual, got the usual welcoming smile. The owner took my watch, looked it over and said, yes, I can give you a strap for this.
Can I see it, I asked.
No, he said.
No? I asked in utter amazement. I can't see the strap?
No, you can't see the strap, he said. If you want it, give me the watch and I'll fit it. That's all.
You seriously will not let me look at the strap before I buy it?
No, he said, angry now.
Well, I said, you've just lost a good customer for ever!
5) Fruit vendor near home. I often stop and buy oranges, or grapes, or a pommelo (sp? and is there a finer fruit in the world?). Again, I've been doing it so long that the two or three guys who run it know me well, have often extended me credit when I've not had money, that sort of thing.
This morning, I noticed he had some good looking black grapes, a large pile and a couple of open boxes. How much, I asked.
50 rupees a kilo, he said.
And those in the box? I asked.
Also 50 rupees.
OK, give me a kilo of those, I said, pointing to one box.
No, you can't have a kilo from there.
Why not? I asked.
That's a two kilo box and if you take one kilo, the box will get spoiled (baksa bighad jayega is what he said).
Come on, I said, someone else will come along and take the other kilo!
No, the box will be spoiled!
So I moved on, baffled and grape-less. I didn't think to say it, but he too has lost a good customer.