I am looking for a necklace with little skulls on it in Delhi. I am looking for it because I’ve decided to do almost all of my souvenir shopping here. I have decided to do almost all of my souvenir shopping here because Delhi is cheap, and because I might up and decide to meditate for ten days before I leave, which would cut into my souvenir shopping time in Bombay.
So that’s that.
I am looking for a necklace with little skulls on it, too, because my ex-girlfriend said that she saw one once and that she thought it was rad. And because I love her, I’m trying to get her a souvenir that she’ll like.
I’m nice like that.
(Just don’t tell anybody.)
The important thing, though, is this: there are no necklaces with little skulls on them in Pahar Ganj. None. Not a one. There are a shit-ton of necklaces with other things on them–beads and doilies and shells and teeth–but no skulls. I have looked. I have walked up and down the main bizarre repeatedly, inquiring at shops on the strip, following touts to their “shops,” only to be offered hash, hats, trips to Kashmir. The like. It happens.
So I am defeated and I have lost, and oh well, I can get her something else. I am walking back to my hotel. Another tout approaches.
Manzoor is his name.
“You check out my shop?” he asks.
Fucking touts. “No. I’m only looking for one item. A necklace with skulls on it.” I point to my head, then his, because I’ve learned that “skull” isn’t a word that most ESL Indians really know the meaning of. “Skulls. Like, the head, minus the hair and the skin and the brains.”
Manzoor looks flabbergasted. He pronounces the word to himself.
“Yes, skulls!” I say. “Bone. The bone that covers your brain. Only, I want one with little animal skulls on it, not human skulls. Those would be too big.”
“Aha!” Manzoor says, lighting up, “Shells!”
I smack my own forehead. “No. Not shells. Skulls. Skulls. Skulls.”
He assures me that he has necklaces with skulls on them, and that if he doesn’t, that I’ll find something I like. “Very good price,” he assures me. Knowing better, I follow him to his shop.
His shop is through a winding alleyway, up a set of concrete stairs, over the sleeping leper, and under the ventilation unit. It doubles as his home. This is where Manzoor lives. This is where Manzoor works. I hope that it isn’t where Manzoor dies.
“Sit, sit, sit,” Manzoor says. “Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” I reply, “I just don’t really want to waste a bunch of time, you know?” This isn’t entirely true. I kind of do want to waste some time. And by the time I’ve reached his shop, I’ve already decided to buy something from Manzoor. Because I like him.
Rule number one for selling me shit: you must make me like you. In this respect Manzoor has succeeded. Perhaps it’s due to his lazy eye and his nonchalant demeanor. But it’s hard to tell in retrospect.
So I sit down.
Manzoor pulls out bags of jewelry, none of which, of course, are necklaces with skulls on them. I pull out a piece of paper and a pen, draw a skull and crossbones, and point.
“This,” I tell him, indicating the skull, “is the skull. Not the bones underneath–those are bones. I want a necklace with fucking skulls on it. And not shells, either. Skulls.” Manzoor is holding a necklace with shells on it, and the impatient part of me wants to wring his neck.
“Ahh, ahh, okay. I see,” he says. “I don’t have.”
No shit, Manzoor.
“But here, you look at other items anyway and find something you like.”
I do. I find two necklaces. One for Dan, and one for my ex-girlfriend, one that fits her aesthetic–or what I can recall of her aesthetic.
Memory has a funny way of abandoning you at the most inconvenient times.
“How much?” I ask.
“This one two hundred,” Manzoor says, pointing at Emma’s, “And this one 150,” pointing at Dan’s.
“150 for both,” I offer.
“220. Last price.”
“No. 150.” The most important thing to know about haggling–other than the fact that you need the proper time to make it work, that you cannot haggle successfully while you’re in a rush–is that everybody else sells the same exact item you’re bidding on. Everybody has a rickshaw, everybody has a travel company, everybody has trinkets, jewelery, water, cigarettes, food, drugs, everything. If you don’t get your price, you walk. To the next guy. Don’t be afraid to walk. You’ll never learn to haggle if you don’t walk away from good deals every once in a while.
“My friend, give me good price,” Manzoor says.
“I just did.” I start to stand up.
“Okay, okay. 150.”
“It’s okay?” I ask. “150 for both?”
I hand Manzoor two 100 rupee notes, ask if he has change. He doesn’t, and I don’t feel like waiting for him to get it.
“Give me 50 rupees worth of hash, then, and we’ll call it even.”
Manzoor pulls out a chunk of hash. “Whole thing, 250 rupees.”
“No. Only 50 rupees worth.”
He tries to convince me to take the whole ball for 250, then 200, but I am firm. He cuts it into thirds, gives me one.
“A little bit more,” I tell him.
He cuts one of the thirds in half, such that I’ve gotten a gram of hash for the equivalent of a dollar. Such that I have won the haggle. Such that I’ve come out on top.
(But really, with haggling, everybody wins. Some people just win more than others.)
Manzoor asks me to sign his guest book, because guest books with notes and signatures from satisfied white people are de rigeur for a reputable tout, and I oblige him.
“Good hash,” I write. “And cheap necklaces. Love, Blogbytom.”
I bid Manzoor adieu and I wind my way back down the stairs, over the leper and through the alley to the bizarre. Into the sunshine. Into the city of Delhi.
Out of the rain.