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Posts Tagged ‘sellers’

Mango Fever

For those who need to constantly justify, there’s a common refrain in Bombay: “Well, the weather in the summer is terrible. But the mangoes make it worth it.”

We’re now in the throes of the true ‘Indian summer.’ April and May bring on the heat until the June monsoons roll in.  Going outside is an exercise in moving quickly enough to get from one place to the next while moving slowly enough to not sweat through everything you’re wearing. There is no hiding the difficulties of this weather.

But the mangoes.

I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment that the mangoes are worth the heat (I’d certainly trade them just to feel cool again) – but they are something to behold. Imagine the ripest, juciest mango you’ve ever tasted in the Western world. Then stretch your imagination to think of what would happen if you multiplied the taste of that mango by a hundred. That’s Indian Alphonso mangoes.

Alphonso Mangoes at Crawford Market

You can’t live in India in May and not know about these mangoes. You start hearing about them everywhere in April: “I’m just waiting for the Alphonsos.” “I saw someone selling mangoes claiming they were Alphonsos, but everyone knows they’re not ripe yet.” “They’re just starting to come, really expensive, but they’re coming.”

Then suddenly, they are everywhere you turn – you start seeing the boxes at every fruit-stand on every corner; sellers start coming by your car as you’re parked at the stoplight; signs heralding their arrival at shops display their joy from windows; shops and restaurants start offering mango lassis, mango tarts and mango ice cream; there’s a constant stream of newspaper articles about the state of mango season (My favorite line from a Times of India article: “The king of fruits has made its maiden entry to the Belgaum fruit markets, but the prices are out of the reach of common man.” Or, more recently, “The king of summers, mango, has already arrived in the city and is spreading its sweet smell in the markets.” In the last 3 months the Times of India has produced 179 articles mentioning mangoes…)

Mango sellers

Mumbai has mango fever and it has it bad.

It’s perfectly understandable – I would venture to say its certainly one of the best fruits I’ve ever eaten. But the mania has just begun and I can only watch, amused, at the state of love people have for their mangoes. My only option? I guess I’m going to have to keep eating mangoes.

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There are a lot of things here that take some getting used to – but none more so than adjusting my expectations when it comes to the cost of labor.

In New York, if I ordered a dozen cupcakes from one of the many, many bakeries I frequented the order might cost $30 (don’t get me started on the cost of cupcakes in New York. That’s another tale of adjusting expectations). But to get them delivered usually costs around $15 – increasing my cost by 50%. But you can’t blame the bakery – the cost of a delivery guy loading the cupcakes, getting to my apartment, ringing my doorbell, delivering the cupcakes and getting back to the bakery might actually cost $15.

In India, $15 might be the cost of hiring a person for an entire week. Americans are uniquely aware of this arbitrage – because we’ve all  seen outsourcing in action by this point.  Yet when you COME here with an American frame of reference, the rationality of this understanding is constantly replaced by the sheer amazement at the low cost of anything that needs a human touch.

I bring this all up because today we went furniture shopping. We’d done our basic shop at Hometown, as previously mentioned, but we had been waiting to buy a few nicer items that we could keep forever.  We had been told to go to Bhaghem Bombay – it’s a store you won’t find in any guidebook, but rave reviewers had assured us that this was the place where you’d get a fair price on some of the most amazing furniture you could imagine.

As with anything here, I kept a healthy dose of skepticism with me as we went into the store. How great could it be?

Harry, the man we’d been told to ask for, greeted us with the enthusiasm of a salesman who knows he has what you want and will make you want even the things you didn’t think you wanted. We were taken into the showroom and I knew we’d been steered in the right direction – beautiful intricately designed hand-carved tables, dressers, trunks and chairs surrounded us. We had come with an idea of what kind of items we were looking for — one big table or storage unit for our living room, perhaps a small side table — but we were immediately drawn to the bar.

Close up of one small section of carving

At the back of the room stood a tall teak bar unit. On the top, on the paneling and even on the back, intricate patterns had been delicately whittled into the surface. We could use it as the storage unit for our living room and, of course, it’s intended use as a bar.  When Harry saw my eye move towards it he immediately sprung to life.

“This one of my favorite pieces. It took artisan three solid months to make. Here, you open–”  he opened the front cabinet to reveal wine racks and drawers and leafs that expanded the size of the piece — “This one of a kind. You not find something like this very often.”

I agreed. I had never seen anything like it. But of course, there was that one nagging question. “What is the price of this one of a kind, artisan carved, very large piece of furniture?”

“Because you recommended to me by a friend, it’s 28,000 rupee. Roughly $600.”

Now, I’ll pause the story here for a minute to put this in perspective. I’m clearly not going to argue that $600 of anyone’s money is a small amount. But when Daniel and I moved to New York and bought our furniture from Ikea- the cheapest store imaginable – our ‘Malm’ dressers (which combined used about as much wood as this bar) cost $300 each. They are the worst made pieces of crap (pardon my French) that you could imagine made from the cheapest wood (and plastic). And we still had to put them together with our own bare hands. A bar made with beautiful teak wood that has three months of carving work and an amazingly complex interior has the value of my two dressers that are barely acceptable in a dorm room.

All our new furniture

We decided we would buy it. How could we not? We can ship our items back at the end of the year by sea freight, and this is an item we literally would keep for the rest of our lives. I also got sucked into getting the most comfortable and beautiful wood and wrought iron rocking chair and we additionally purchased two small tables. Again, for perspective, the small table’s base is carved all the way around. The top of the table has inlaid designs. It cost roughly $50.

The flashes of guilt I’d felt early on in my stay tried to crawl back in (how can they pay skilled artists so little for their life’s work?). But my rationality repeated itself: this is what it costs here. This is the price they are asking for.

We walked out with a handshake from Harry and a promised Tuesday delivery once the items were polished. I also walked out with a new Indian frame of reference — one that meant I might just never be able to walk into a Pottery Barn again.

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