Prices of Purchased Affection

I always went shopping with Munna.
He knows where exactly to go:
Where the clothes are just bad enough
to skip the retail stores, but not so much
that you can figure out that they are discards;
Where the sweets are made in boiling ghee
And not the oil that sticks to your fingers
Thicker than the grease on your bicycle chain;
Where the vegetables are just out of farms
And the women from the countryside
Do not know the trickeries of bargaining.


That day he took me to a “non-veg place”
Where they specialized in serving meat.
As you slide the curtains on the entrance,
You realise that this meat is consumed differently.
You see painted on the wall opposite,
The prices of purchased affection.

I learned from Munna, later, that
Unlike most such places,
Where you are asked to pay upfront,
Here, they insist that you taste
Before they bring in the check.
And unlike most such places
Which have an a la carte menu,
This place only serves thalis.
A “Quick fix” is two thousand;
A “Misfire and Abort”, five;
A “Wallie Crawlie” about ten with extra,
While a “Buy One, Get One Free” is
Probably not within your budget.
The starters are limited, though,
And there is no dessert,
But each serving is enough to quell your appetite.
They try to mix up the menu once a while
But you know that the items are not the chef’s special.
To their credit, you always come back for the thali;
It leaves you with that lasting craving,
With that feeling of “just one more”.


Unwelcome it may be to you,
But wise Munna suggests that
The economics of loyalty schemes
And second degree price discrimination
Are understood much better here
Than in any school worth its money.
The more of the same you take
The larger the discount you get.
And for every five times you revisit an item
You get one purchase free.
If you have the cash with you,
You can also get a first class lesson
In Dutch Auction of imported goods.
They come as limited edition;
Some even in untouched, mint condition.
Unlike most markets, here
Straw costs more than copper
And cream more than caramel.
And unlike most diners, here
You can mix sugar and spice
And play with your order before you start.

I wasn’t particularly hungry that night,
But I lost my appetite anyway.
Munna said it was an acquired taste,
But he did not insist.
I waited outside, while he had his meal
And somehow when he emerged
From the folds of the same curtain,
I did not know him anymore.

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