Since the wireless network at home has been giving me trouble on my not-so-swanky-new computer, I walked into a computer-peripherals shop yesterday and enquired about the price of a network cable. I wanted 20-odd metres of the stuff, so the women at the counter said they’d have it “made-to-order” for me. Only, it would cost Rs 50 per metre. This sounded steep, so I called Headquarters (Amit, of course) to check. In the course of various conversations, they realized I was Bengali, and I realized that they were Bengali. It also turned out that they were mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, which I found interesting. I didn’t know two women in that relationship could successfully run a business together!
When I finished my conversation with Amit, I told them I’d let them know in a couple of days if I wanted it, just in case my engineer husband could fix the wireless. To this, the older woman at the counter said she’d try to organize a discount for me, because I was also a Bengali. Having said which, she quoted Rs 30 per metre for the same cable!
My response: that’s the wrong reason for giving me a discount.
Well, I said it with a smile, because I realized it was a snub, but I really meant it: I don’t think that is a good reason to give a discount, and it is not something I’d want to be party to or to encourage. And if they thought they were flattering me in some way, by giving me this discount for this particular stated reason, I want them to know that far from being flattered I would almost take it as an offence. This very sentiment, after all, is the sentiment behind “Northies” being targeted in Mumbai, Pune, and occasionally in Bangalore as well. If we, the “outsiders” start to build our own exclusive little clubs, then naturally the “locals” will treat us like outsiders. Shouldn’t we stop thinking of along the lines of “Bengali and therefore to be favoured over others”? After all, we are not even people of the same nationality in a foreign country, only people of the same state in a different state of our own country. Why should it even matter to someone running a small business, whether a particular customer is Bengali or something else?
That’s my take on it, but what I wonder is: what, nowadays, would be considered the “proper” thing to do? Perhaps my reply was impolite, but was it also “politically incorrect”? Should I have been gratified to be given a discount just by reason of being of the same community? Is that the reaction that would have been commonly expected? Or was it, as I see it, an indiscreet and tactless thing for the person to have said?