Recently, I had one of the strangest encounters as far as I can remember with a crazy mystic. It was surreal–everything about the encounter was.
Let me explain: This past Saturday, I went to one of the most crowded parts of Mumbai in search of a wall lamp for my room.
An interesting thing I observed as I was walking around was that in any given area, all stores dealing in similar products tended to be situated right next to each other or at least in very close proximity to each other. Thus, for example, if you were looking to buy bathroom fixtures, you would just have to spot one store selling the items, and very next to it, you would find a series of other stores selling the same thing. I don’t have a clue why they do that–it cannot just be that the same people owned all of these stores because this trend carried on with practically every kind of store.
Don’t Indian storeowners understand the principle of scarcity?–set up your store in an area where you’re the only vendor of your products (or one among the very few) so that you can scale up your prices, increase profits, and avoid competition. Clearly it cannot be zoning laws because such laws only demarcate industrial, business, retail, commercial, residential, and agricultural areas; I don’t think zoning laws apply to the type of product you’re selling.
And here’s another strange but related aspect of how Indian businesses are set up: While you may find, say, shoe retail stores situated next to each other or in very close proximity, when it comes to bars and clubs, it’s the exact opposite!
Spending a night “bar hopping” or “pub crawling” is virtually impossible here because bars and clubs tend to be situated at opposite ends of the city–and I’m only slightly exaggerating! There are no such areas that can reasonably be called “nightlife areas,” even though more recently some bars are clustering up in small and scattered pockets of the city. In other words, once you enter in a club in Mumbai–which typically tend to be expensive and highly pretentious hangs–you are pretty much stuck there for the night, unless you become determined to pull yourself out and drive an hour to another place.
Anyway, all of that was besides the point. But before I get to my point, I have to state another observation: As I made my way in and out of adjacent stores looking for a wall lamp that did not make me frown, I realized that most of these stores sold products for upwards of thousands of Rupees, but had no provisions for accepting credit/debit card payments! That practically means that large amounts needed to be paid in cash!
Now, I am not the one to typically carry wads of 100, 500, or 1000 Rupee notes in my wallet. I prefer the convenience and safety of using my check card. If I need more cash than I am carrying, I simply find an ATM nearby. So, it seemed to be a really sloppy business practice to not accept card payments particularly when your business deals with products that cost large amounts of money–at least amounts that people should not be expected to carry around in their wallets regularly.
Needless to say, I refused to exert any extra efforts trying to look for an ATM to withdraw cash to make my purchase. I decided to deliberately find a store that did accept cards and reward them with my business. Well, and this is where I get to the point of my post: I managed to find one store that accepted cards; but I didn’t know that what was to happen next would be one of the strangest experiences ever.
As I pushed the glass door to enter, thick clouds of incense smoke from inside the store smothered me entirely. I could barely see a few inches ahead; all I could see were balls of colorful, blurry lights shining from the lamps all over the walls and the ceiling of this store. I also heard voices chanting. For a few moments, I was simply confused and unsure of what to do. I stood still, just inside the front door of the store, waiting for either my eyes to adjust or for the smoke to thin out. Soon, a salesman came up to me and asked if he could help. Deciding to simply ignore all the incense smoke and chanting, I asked the salesman to show me some of his wall lamps.
During all of this, as the smoke thinned out and I was able to look around, I happened to glance at the cashier’s counter: a man dressed in traditional Indian white kurta sat with his legs folded and his hands in the shape of the Buddha’s hands–index finger touching the thumb, palm facing outward.
–Okay, wierdo–I thought.
Finally, I had decided upon a lamp, told the salesman to find me a new piece of it from the back storeroom, and approached the cashier’s desk to make my payment. Well, this strange man in the kurta had been watching me all along–I was the only customer in that store at that time, and I could literally feel his stare burning into me the whole time I was there. When I got to the desk, the man spoke up and said one of the wierdest things I’ve ever heard said to me:
“You have the impact of Satan!”
“HUH?!? Excuse me??”
“You have the impact of Satan!” [long pause] “That’s a good thing!”
“HUH?? What?” Taking my time to digest what I had just heard. Then, I just bursted out into a loud, open-mouthed laughter!
“So would that mean that if I had the impact of God, it would be a bad thing!?” I asked, now curiously amused by where this conversation was going.
“No, no.” He said. His English betraying an obvious uncomfortability with the language and a thick north Indian dialect. “It’s not a bad thing; but Satan is better. More powerful. You will be very successful. You are very smart. I saw you. You came in, stopped, looked around, looked carefully at all the lamps. You thought carefully before choosing a lamp to buy.”
“Oh. Don’t other customers also carefully inspect what they want to buy before they buy it?”
“No. Not as you did. What is your name? You are a Capricorn.”
“I am [my name]. And I am an Aquarius.”
“January.” By this time, I just wanted to pay for my lamp and get out of this twilight zone. But mysteriously, or coincidentally, the salesperson was having a tough time working the credit card machine; I suppose they are not in the habit of using the machine too often.
“Your number is 88”
“It’s a powerful number. You have a strong…. uhhhh… powerful…..” hands gesturing vigorously, trying to signal the meaning of force or persona, perhaps. “Tell me about your education.”
I decide to be courteous and respond truthfully. “I got my degree in the U.S., in Communication.”
“Good. Good. I am a guru, you know. I can see your powers.”
“Oh. Okay. Good. I guess.” I’m glaring impatiently at the salesman… “Hello? Why is it taking you so long, dammit!” I want to say to him. Luckily, the machine worked this time and my receipt was being printed. I noticed that my lamp was already packed and wrapped in a bag, kept on the cashier’s desk. The rest of these moments were filled with a thick and awkward silence.
I was the lone customer inside a smoke-filled store of a thousand lit lamps with a man who just accused me of having the impact of Satan and an inept salesman who did not know how to operate the credit card machine! Aaaaarhhll! I needed to get out of this insane environment as fast I could! I signed the credit receipt, grabbed my purchase, said a hurried “goodbye” and “thank you” to the mystic and got out of that store.
“Woah! What was that all about!?” I thought. It was like a strange dream–surreal.
Well, anyway, later that Saturday evening, I met with two of my friends and decided to have dinner at Alfredo’s. I was eager to show off my new lamp to my friends, and so I took it out of the bag, unwrapped the cover, and—what do I find?—it was not the lamp I had chosen at the store! Aaarrrrrrgggh!
In one brief evening, I had encountered incompetence and truly wacky mysticism. *sigh* Only in India!