There are those moments which get stuck in your mind. They aren’t necessarily extraordinary. We forget many things, many important ones. So, there is no reason why some of those incidents should not be forgotten. But they stick around. Just like that.
One such incident happened when we were walking around Commercial Street trying to buy a jacket. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but it must be some time in last three or four years. I am not usually a patient shop-hopper and buy things more in a fashion stereotypically (and research-wise!) attributed to men – buy as soon as you find something you are okay with. It was taking time that day, because I had something specific in mind.
The main commercial street still had a mix of old-fashioned shops and newer brand showrooms and retail stores. We walked into one that was an old-fashioned shops. Lots of sales people in the store and all items stocked behind the counters – not on open display. Now, there are things about change I dislike. But open display in retail stores with no sales people getting on your nerves is one of the things I like. Probably the deep-seated introversion and shyness is responsible for that. So, I was apprehensive about this being the store of my choice as soon as we entered. But it would be impolite to just walk out. So, we went to one of the counters and asked for a jacket anyway. It was clear pretty soon that they didn’t have what I was looking for. We made to leave, when an elderly person approached us. He looked like the owner, or at least someone senior and responsible. He entreated us to buy one of the jackets or look for other stuff. When we refused he almost desperately told us that he would give us good discounts too. The street was crowded that day; most of the stores were crowded too. This store was empty.
We left anyway, but the desperation in his voice is something I have not been able to shake off till date. It was that of an old man hit hard by the changes. Those glittering boards of “sale” and “discount” on overpriced items; the discounts probably being funded by insane amount of money that was being infused in modern retail had taken him completely unawares. The new world did not make sense to him. He didn’t look stubborn or resistant to change; simply unable to understand what had hit him in this new world of retailing. Bewildered is the word that comes to my mind when I think of his situation.
What happened to that shop? Did it survive? Or did it get overtaken by one of the brand showrooms and retail stores that almost completely occupy the street now? I don’t know. I don’t even remember the name of the shop and we don’t often go to commercial street now. One of the probable reasons that incident doesn’t go out of my mind is that I have met people since then who are in a similar situation; those who are unable to understand the change that is happening in the world around them; and hence unable to adapt. The scarier part is the former. The inability to understand or appreciate. Once you understand, you can decide whether to play the new game, or gracefully back off and find something else to do. But not understanding is what leads to that heart-wrenching bewilderment and desperation. There are people in book-retailing who can’t wrap their head around the idea that flipkart is actually selling books for a loss. They keep looking for logic that doesn’t exist. Who sells stuff at a loss, they scoff when we tell them that we aren’t giving any more discount to flipkart that what we are offering to them. Well – what can we say? VC funded online retailer, which is chasing growth at the cost of profitability and hopes to use that growth to turn profitable someday after driving everyone else out of business does such a thing! Sell books at a loss. I am not saying that everyone should start playing that game. But whatever they do, they need to understand that this new game is being played. And that, at least for books, the online retailers might always use them as a loss leader to get customers.
This brings me to the only fear I have about surviving in this world. The change is not only happening, but accelerating. Right now I feel like I am pretty much on top of it. I may not always play a particular game, but I know that there is a game like that going on. Will that change someday? When I pray for the future, more than praying for money, stability, prosperity or even love, I pray for the continued ability to understand change and to gracefully deal with it. And sometimes for some slow down in the change! To keep in manageable