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Swami on a Fridge Hunt: Book Excerpt

May 10, 2020

“You have to buy a 5-star rated fridge with a built-in stabilizer. If you don’t buy a 5-star rated fridge, then it is better you don’t waste your money on a fridge,” the salesman warned Swami. I never knew buying a refrigerator was such a complex activity. But I knew that day when we went for a fridge hunt with Swami, Jigneshbhai and their families.

“Do you mind if we drop into the electronics store? My wife wants to check out a refrigerator,” Swami had asked. An innocent request after the movie turned out to be quite an adventure.

“Sir, bags in the shelves,” the security guard stopped us. “Sir, bags in the shelves there,” he repeated and told us to keep our bags in the shelves near the entrance. “What kind of logic is this? Stupid rules everywhere,” Jigneshbhai complained. “We can’t steal a TV or fridge in this bag,” he muttered. “And the mobile phones and cameras are all bound by some wire to their desks. So why keep the bags here?” He asked me. I gave a blank stare. “Why can’t you follow simple instructions?” I asked and continued following the rules. Jigneshbhai and his logic – why get it everywhere, I thought.

The showroom had rows of TVs of different sizes on the wall all showing the same program. When the picture in one TV changed, all pictures changed. “Why can’t they have different programs on different TVs? At least we can entertain ourselves,” Jigneshbhai complained again. He wasn’t ready to give up yet. “How will you compare the pictures on the TV screens then?” Swami explained. It seemed logical to me, but we left it at that. Why argue about why TV screens in a TV showroom show the same program? Especially if you aren’t planning to buy a TV. In fact, if you aren’t planning to buy anything actually.

But the salesmen didn’t know that Jigneshbhai and I weren’t planning to buy anything, at least yet. Every few steps a salesman walked towards us and asked us, “How may I help you?” Jigneshbhai and I smiled but didn’t tell them that we were here only to while away our time. And that Swami and his wife were the real prospective clients. We soon concluded that they figured it out themselves. Because after the TV, mobiles and camera sections, no salesman approached us. We walked towards the domestic appliances section which was at the far end of the showroom. We passed through huge washing machines and refrigerators taller than us. We finally reached the place where the fridges were more aligned with Swami’s height and budget.

Jigneshbhai and I walked past the fridges. The intricacies of fridge selection had engrossed Swami and the three wives. As in each of our respective three wives, I meant. I never knew there were so many features to check in a fridge.

“This one doesn’t have enough vegetable sections,” Swami’s wife declared. “The ice section here is too large. Who needs so much ice?” Jigneshbhai’s wife observed.

Why do they make these side shelves with 12 eggs? I can’t put anything else there, as they take so much space,” one of them continued. It was true. I remembered my fridge at home. Those empty egg shelves ended up with lemons and spices. And sometimes even small leftover chocolates. Not that I had any problem with the chocolates. But the shelves per se were quite useless for the eggs, when they were not there, that is the eggs. Well, they are meant to be useful when the eggs are there, but you get what I mean. “Madam but these shelves are removable. See, like this,” the salesman argued and removed the shelves to prove it. “But where do we keep them after removing? Now, we have to find space to keep these empty shelves? What kind of stupid design is this?” She asked, to which the salesman had no answer. I could make out that he did not have this experience. He looked too young to have a wife that would make similar complaints.

“Hold this tape, come here,” Swami called Jigneshbhai without warning, asking him to hold one end of the tape. “It is 28 inches, fits well in the kitchen,” he told his wife. They had come well prepared. “But the colour doesn’t match our kitchen wall,” Swami’s wife said. “Do you have a maroon colour in this model?” She checked. Now bear in mind that maroon is not an easy colour for fridges. There were ample whites, blacks and greys, but not many maroons. The salesman shook his head which meant that this model had lost the race to Swami’s home. Swami folded the tape and put it in his pocket. The call for the next measurement came soon.

“27 inches,” Jigneshbhai read out. This time the zero side was in Swami’s hand. The funny thing about these folding measuring tapes is that you could easily misread the inches if you don’t know which is the zero that is your reference. Because there is a centimetre zero on one side and an inch zero on the other. And the measures run in opposite directions, if you understand what I mean. And this tape doesn’t stay straight and gets twisted over a reasonable distance. So initially Jigneshbhai saw a largish number but quickly realised that it was the centimetre number from the other side. Then he checked the other side. Seeing 27 there, and having heard 28 inches earlier, he used his native intelligence to logically conclude that the reading was 27 inches. Well, this may seem like an unnecessary explanation, but if you are new to measuring tapes, it is important to have your fundamentals right.

“It’s smaller than the earlier one, but 8000 rupees more,” Swami proclaimed pointing to the price tag. “But this has more features Sir. Plus, it is 5 star rated, so you will save on electricity,” the salesman pitched in with the explanation. We are used to getting more size for more money. In fridges, to Swami’s dismay, it didn’t work that way. I guess he realised or was made to realise his folly by none other than his wife.

“Do you think it’s a wardrobe? It doesn’t sell on inches,” I could hear Swami’s wife whispering to him. I pretended I hadn’t heard it, but my acting performance was not upto the mark.

Swami looked at us, realising we had heard it, becoming meek as a lamb. Jigneshbhai preyed on Swami’s temporary docility. He handed over the measuring tape to Swami at the first opportunity. He didn’t want to be involved in the inches and centimetre confusion anymore, at least for now.

The entire gang now moved to the next alley which had more fridge models. A touch button which let users control the temperature attracted everyone.

“But how do we know what temperature to set?” Jigneshbhai asked what seemed like a logical question to me. His logic was back.

The salesman came up with a booklet. “Sir this has a list of indicated temperatures based on what is inside the fridge. “A company representative will come to install and explain,” he assured Jigneshbhai. He did not know that when Jigneshbhai asks a question, it doesn’t mean he is buying the fridge. It only means he is curious. With his curiosity satisfied, he neglected the salesman.

But Swami was not curious, he was evaluating features as they presented themselves. “It’s too complicated. What if I put ice cream first, and then someone comes later to put vegetables and lowers the temperature?” Swami didn’t like the idea. I wanted to point out that ice cream goes into the freezer and vegetables into the fridge generally. So, this situation will not arise under normal sane circumstances for sane people. But I refrained. Counter arguments aren’t advised when a buyer has decided against something. Especially when the buyer is Swami.

The wives were anyway not interested in this feature, so this fridge had lost out in any case. We moved further.

“This is nice. The food shelves are on top and the freezer is at the bottom. So, we don’t have to bend every day,” Swami’s wife observed.

“But I have to bend my back,” Swami said. “Look at the price,” he pointed at the tag. This fridge lost out.

“Why does this fridge offer 10 years and this one offers 20 years warranty on the compressor?” Jigneshbhai asked what seemed like a pertinent question again. His curiosity was slowly reaching its known peak. He had once asked an English teacher why curiosity is spelt with an ‘s’ and electricity with a ‘c’. The whole class had spent the next 20 minutes playing tic-tac-toe while the two argued.

The salesman, thankfully, had an explanation. He gave an awkward smile. “Sir this is a local company, that one is German-made,” he explained. That satisfied Jigneshbhai who again moved elsewhere while the salesman explained further. “But we have an extended warranty program Sir from our side. At a nominal price, you can cover the compressor beyond company warranty even for the local one.” He was about to bring us more details, but we indicated to him to hold on. How had he not realised that Jigneshbhai’s questions didn’t mean he is buying anything? Everyone learns, I thought.

Meanwhile it looked like Swami’s wife had shortlisted another model. It seemed to tick all the boxes. This time Swami asked me to hold one end of the tape and said, “28 inches”. I didn’t have to take the reading. I just held the zero end. The colours matched, the features were fine, the measurements aligned. The pricing seemed ok. It was also 5 star rated with built-in stabilizer and had a 10-year compressor warranty.

Swami was fiddling with his phone when his wife whispered again “Are you checking for it online?”

The salesman who was standing some distance away seemed to have heard it. He sensed the threat of a customer with whom he had spent so much time ending up buying online. “Sir, charges for installation charges and extended warranty are higher online. Plus, you won’t get future customer service,” he said. He was well-trained and knew customer behaviour well.

“No, I was doing something else,” Swami told his wife, irrespective of what he was doing. I suspected that he was doing what his wife suspected but be that as it may. He directed the salesman to get the exact final pricing with any discounts.

“Ok Sir, I will check and get it,” he said and walked to his billing system, presumably to get a proforma price.

Meanwhile, Jigneshbhai had lost interest in refrigerators. He was now busy walking around the TV wall. Next to that were the home theatre and other sound systems. Jigneshbhai said, “Now I get it. This is the reason security wants us to keep the bags outside.” He had a small earphone in his hand. “There is some logic, after all.”

Jigneshbhai was in a world of his own. He seemed to be on an exploratory mission to understand the logical fallacies in an electronics showroom. I had long forgotten about the security. The entrance seemed far away, and it seemed like we had spent almost as much time as the movie in this showroom.

Swami and his wife seemed to have made up their mind to go ahead with the shortlisted fridge model. They were discussing the modalities of payment and delivery. “Check with him when they will deliver, and will they take our old fridge in exchange?” She instructed Swami.

The salesman was walking back towards us. Swami was ready with his questions. But the salesman didn’t have any paper with him and had a dejected look on his face. Jigneshbhai detected this first and shared his observation with me. “He is coming empty-handed. Looks like he doesn’t have the pricing,” he whispered. His attention was back on the fridge hunt.

“Sorry Sir, this was the last model. It has sold out,” the salesman said when he came closer to Swami. That explained the dejected look observed by Jigneshbhai.

The news disappointed everyone. “When will you get another piece?” Swami asked.

“Sorry Sir, the company has discontinued this model from this month,” the salesman said.

Swami was about to lose his head on the salesman. Jigneshbhai and I saw that his head was slowly reaching the point that milk on a gas reaches just before spilling over. “Why did you waste so much time showing us a discontinued model? Do you think we are fools to waste our time checking out a discontinued model?” he thought. But these were still within the mind. Before it spilt over, he saw the wives in a chit chat.

He noticed that the wives had reconciled to the non-availability. They had already moved on in their quest for the fridge. That was like the gas was switched off just in time so that milk in Swami’s angry head suddenly went down. They were already thinking of going to the next store. “There is an electronics store 2 kms down,” said one. “Yeah it is a good showroom with good variety of models,” agreed another. Swami’s wife looked at him and said, “There is parking too.”

The plans were already made. Jigneshbhai said “alright” and was cool as ever adjusting to the new reality. Swami said “dammit” and looked irritated still. Swami gave me the keys, “Will you drive?” I took the keys. “Fridge hunting does lead to cool heads,” Jigneshbhai chuckled as we walked out. We headed to the next showroom, the hunt ended there, and we went home after that.

It was another day in the life of Jigneshbhai and Swami.

Excerpted from the book “The Good, The Bad and The Silly” by Ranjit Kulkarni. Available on Amazon Kindle Store worldwide and as a PDF eBook on Paperback available on (in India) and on (only outside India).

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