Spending into the Forbidden Zone

I smiled sheepishly at her. “I have cash. But I need for expenses. Can’t spend all of it here.” I somehow was not liking being pushed about so much. But still 4000 ₹ was not such a lot of money. Hadn’t I earned 25000 ₹ in that part time job last year? Didn’t I win 20000 ₹ in blogging contests last year? I deserved some indulgence. And technically I need not even consider it an indulgence – it could be considered a gift for my wife.

“Please write your name on this paper,” she said offering me a piece of paper. “Do you also want the calligraphy done for the names of your wife and children?”

Now as I mentioned I was not the one to let go of an opportunity for free stuff. So I wrote down the names of my wife and son as well.

“He is my teacher. He is the one who has painted that picture you bought,” she said, pointing to the man who was doing the calligraphy with a brush. The man uttered something to her in Chinese.

“The master says why not have calligraphy done on a scroll instead of doing on plain paper? It will look much more beautiful and you don’t even have to spend money on a frame if you get it done on a scroll. We can get the names of you, your wife and you soon all written in a single one next to each other.”

It did seem a good idea but I was not sure if they would give away one of those scrolls to me like that.

“The scroll is made of expensive material. It will cost 100 ¥. The calligraphy is of course free. You can pick from a choice of four colors.”

Oh, no. Not again. I had already spent 400 ¥ and now 100 ¥ more?

“No, plain paper will do. Just give me those.”

“See how beautiful these scrolls look. Anyways even if you take the plain paper, you have to spend on a frame. Instead take these. They look so much better.”

Hard selling the paintings was one thing – it seemed like excitement about finding patrons for the art. But I did not like the idea of being sold some material which was not a work of art. But then it would be nice to have our three names written in Chinese calligraphy on what looked like an authentic Chinese scroll.

“The master will also write a message for you? Which one do you want? General happiness or happy family? This will bring luck you know.”

Luck was something I needed badly having undergone failure after failure at work. It seems like a good omen. Already 4000 bucks was gone. Another 1000 and I would get a nice looking customized scroll. I was sure my wife would love it.

“Ok. Do the Happy Family.”

“Which color would you like? We have four colors – red, golden, silver and blue.”

Red seemed the appropriate color for China. But then calligraphy had nothing communist about it. They were more to do with royal times. Golden yellow seemed more appropriate. I had spent 5000 ₹ and 45 minutes of my time already. All I had initially intended was 5 minutes and no expense.

“Here you go. See – your name to the left, your son’s name to the right and your wife as the woman around who both your lives revolves at the center. That one there is the month and the year.”

The master meantime had left the scene. I turned around and my eyes fell on the sketch I had not picked. What was that doing out here? I did not have much longer to find out.

“My master said since you liked his work so much, to give it to you at whatever price you are willing to pay. You name a price and I will discuss my other teacher and give it to you.”

Earlier out of respect for artists, I had not tried bargaining. But these people had turned out to be the bargaining kinds giving out on the spot discounts and offers. I wondered if I should ask her to give it to me for 100 ¥. As per the old offer, I could have got it for 200 ¥. Maybe 150 ¥ would be the right price.

“You tell me what the lowest price you can offer.”

“Pay 160 ¥ and take it.”

“No. I think I won’t take it.”

“I would give it to you for 150 ¥. But 160 is a luckier number. We have sold most of the others in this set. This is one of the last pieces. Take it.”

Resigning myself to my fate, I took out 2 more 100 ¥ notes. But the girl was not done yet. My teacher says she has no change. Why don’t you take one of the paintings of the Great Wall? We will let you have one for 40 ¥. So here I was back to where it all began - The Great Wall.

“No,” I said decisively, resisting the temptation to ask if she would give me one of the season paintings for 40 ¥. “Give back my 100 ¥ Let me give you change.”

Finally I was out of the place  poorer by an hour and 560 ¥. But at least I told myself I have supported young artists - my good deed for the day.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces