There’s no Rule 2.
This golden nugget of wisdom was offered by our acquaintance at Shillong and taken to heart by my parents, uncle and aunt. They nodded, with a steely resolve hardening their features.
I, however, am a disaster at bargaining. You wouldn’t usually expect it from a Kolkata girl who has spent a major chunk of her childhood and adolescence watching her mother bargain her way through the Gariahat Market. It was amazing, the way she did it. The shopkeeper would quote the price at 400. Without batting an eyelid, my mother would give her price – 50. This was the moment I’d pretend to look at the other stuff in the shop, silently apologizing on her behalf. The shopkeeper would argue. My mother would pretend to walk away. The shopkeeper would coax her back. And voila – she’d get the product at 100.
Me? I’d quote a price. The shopkeeper would say no. I’d mumble an okay and buy it at the original price. Hence, I’ve resigned myself to shopping at malls, where the printed price tag has the last word.
So it was evident that my mother was excited about Police Bazaar. And I was not.
We were on our vacation in the North East. Shillong was our first stop. We couldn’t arrange for a tourist car that day, so our acquaintance suggested that we check out the Police Bazaar, the most renowned market in Meghalaya, located in the heart of Shillong. My first thought on stepping into Police Bazaar was – this is like New Market [in Kolkata]. Which was not a comforting thought for me. Narrow streets, screaming vendors and jostling crowds are not my favourites.
I looked at the slew of shops, lined on both sides of the road and sighed. My mother and aunt dived right in.
It was December then, and the streets were filled with winter clothes. There were jackets, sweaters, shawls and beanies, most of them in black, brown, pink and beige with an occasional military green here and there. Almost every shop had EXACTLY the same pieces at EXACTLY the same price. And since they were right beside each other, you couldn’t really get the shopkeepers to lower the prices much.
Standing in front of one shop, watching my aunt bargain fiercely over a woollen frock for her grandkid, I could see the shopkeeper in the adjacent stall, trying to listen to our price wars. And then, when my aunt approached him, he notched up his price, knowing fully well that my aunt’s pride wouldn’t allow her to go back to the previous shop. Such deviousness, I tell you.
Since the shops and their contents were quite repetitive, I focused on the people instead. Unsurprisingly, the place was predominated with women. And even those women looked the same. I’m not being racist. Though they did have definite…err…North Eastern features, what made them look similar had more to do with the way they were dressed. Half of them were clad in ankle length boots [brown/black. Only 1 girl was in a red pair], faux leather jackets, poker straight hairs and red lipsticks. And the other half were in woollen shrugs, beanies, ballerina pumps and nude lipsticks.
Their bargaining methods, though, were gentler than the kind I witness in my city. They’d try a few pieces in the shop. Request the shopkeeper for a while to lower the price. If it doesn’t work out, they shrug and move on, instead of arguing till their faces turn blue – which is quite common in my city. Maybe it’s because of the cool weather there. Takes the edge off their aggression.
Police Bazaar covers a HUGE area. Though a major chunk of it is dedicated to clothes, shoes, bags and accessories, there are also shops selling products made of cane or bamboo [a Shillong specialty], grocery shops, fruit shops, stores selling household items, pet shops, electronics shops, adventure gear shops, medicine stores, restaurants, numerous hotels for tourists, et al. The place sells everything under the sun. It is invariably the busiest area in Shillong. And frequented by all kinds of vehicles – from cabs to hand pulleys.
What gives Police Bazaar its charm is the people. First of all, this place proves that there are way more people in Shillong than you may think. And second, walking amidst people rushing past you, laughing, jibber jabbering in a different language and going through life exactly the way you do, makes the whole experience quite extraordinary AND comforting. On some level, they all seem familiar. Regardless of who they are or where they are from, you’ll usually find something in common with someone.
For me, it was this girl trying to buy a beanie. She was there with a friend, who clearly was the more determined bargainer. This girl liked a beanie and her friend started haggling with the shopkeeper over it. I could see the girl was okay with the “final price” the shopkeeper had quoted. But the friend, probably out of habit, kept on bargaining. When the shopkeeper didn’t relent, the friend grabbed her arms and dragged her away. My heart went out to the girl, who kept glancing back at the beanie.
Police Bazaar is the place to be in if you want to feel the hustle bustle and vibrancy in the otherwise quiet and understated Shillong. Even if you are not much of a shopper [I know I’m not], the invigorating experience of walking down the streets, browsing through the shops, stuffing your face with food and observing the locals as they deftly go about their business is usually worth the time and energy.
And if you can’t bargain, please don’t bring someone who takes way too much pride in it. Sometimes being ripped off feels better than regret. Trust me on that.
**P.S. All the images have been taken from Google. I was too occupied with trying not to bump into people to take pictures.