"250 rupees for all three bundles,"

"I just want one. How much?"

I was bargaining for a bundle of white lilies wrapped in cellophane paper at a traffic signal outside the J W Marriott in Bombay. A lovely fragrance wafted from the flowers and mixed with the humid breeze that blew from the ocean.

"120 last price,"

"20 rupees," I told the kid. 10 years old. Barefoot, ragged clothes. I don't think he ever saw school.

"20 is what we buy the flowers for, Sir," he slipped. "Give me 60 rupees."

"Waah, you buy these for 20 and want to sell them for 120. Profit 100 rupees?" the auto-wala turned around and chipped in.

The kid gave him a stare which did not fail to tell him buzz-off-mind-your-own-business. The digital clock on the traffic signal ahead was ticking away ... 20, 19, 18 ... I knew and the auto-wala knew and the kid knew. If we did not close this deal in another 15 seconds, the Honda Accord behind us would honk so hard, it would blow our eardrums. 17, 16, 15 ...

"Give me 45. Look at them ... nice and fresh. 45." The flower kid knew his stuff. He was reading my body language and was responding with an offer. He was timing it well. He had got me indulged. "40 is a good price for this bouquet," I thought to myself. "Nice brownie points I will pick up at home."

"20 rupees. It's a daily for me," I said aloud putting up a stern face.

"35,"

Thirty five rupees was lesser than what I had decided I would pay. Now was the time to pull out the money and grab the bouquet. A nice fresh bundle of white fragrant lillies wrapped in a cellophane paper. I would pay a bomb for this had I walked into a flower shop.

5, 4, 3 ...

But at that moment, I decided to play a little harder.

"No, no. 20 rupees," I told the kid. And regretted my offer that very moment.

2, 3, 1. The red light turned green. The kid did himself a huge favour and walked away. The Honda Accord honked. My auto-wala shifted gears and we rolled on.

In those 30 seconds and a Rs. 35 non-deal, I learnt what my five year education did not teach me. The flower kid faked an offer. When he was caught, he quickly corrected it. He got me indulged, he read my body language and he responded well. He responded quickly. And he walked away at the right time. And he walked away like he had nothing to lose. Had he not walked on me, I would have offered Rs. 20 for all flower bouquets every time I saw him or his friends at a traffic signal.

Deal or no-deal? From trying to sell a second hand cell phone to negotiations with a VC; from talks on salary offer to haggling for an antique - a deal and a no-deal are separated by a few seconds, few rupees, few moves.


Written: Oct 2008