Off Season Tourist - India Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Two weeks in India, 2003 Notes from the Off Season Tourist
Buying a Rug, or two.
Not a web page for tips on haggling.

We are not familiar with the Kashmiri rug making process nor are we skilled in discerning a high from low quality rug, but we are familiar with the fun of buying.

We understand that being taken to any merchant by a third party puts us at risk for paying higher prices to cover commission. This extra fee was an acceptable trade off to us when the alternative would have been to wander the streets looking in stall windows where we were unable to find umbrellas, let alone a fine rug collection.

We were driven to a few places but were most taken (perhaps a bad turn of phrase) by a five foot tall Kashmiri with a full and fabulously groomed beard. The age of men in India is hard to gauge. Our driver Sanju, for instance looked ten years younger than us but was almost 6 years older, only his teeth showed age from his beetle nut chewing habit. If this same ratio of appearance to actual age were true for all men then the Kashmiri rug storeowner who looked 55 would be in his seventies. His English came out softly, always using a slightly louder voice only for emphasis of comment. Julie had visited this shop the day before, as well as a few others. In fact, we had just left another shop where the rugs were also lovely, but the salesman had a less than trustworthy attitude to his work and seemed a bit shifty. Our concern was that the rugs we bought might not be the ones that arrived, if they arrived at all.

The Kashmiri was delighted to see tourists on the off-season. Sales are slow and the shop was filled only with his staff of 5 or 6 people. He ordered one of his boys to bring us chai, as did all the other shop owners with whom we would do business, but this chai was of a different quality than all the others - it was freshly made and did not come served with a small skin of milk on the surface.

The Kashmiri explained his philosophy that a customer is an honored guest who has agreed to be shown the businessman's goods. The customer is not there to be sold, but rather to decide if they would like to buy. About ten minutes had passed and we had yet to see a rug. The Kashmiri had been sitting with us; his hands were holding the weight of his upper body on a small walking stick as he leaned slightly forward. He used it to lever himself up and make his selections from the numerous vertically stacked cylinders of colourful rugs that filled the many shelves which lined the walls of his very large basement shop. He unrolled three rugs rapidly with the free from effort movement that an experienced fisherman uses to cast a net. These were of course the exact three rugs that Julie had liked the day before.

There were few windows in the Kashmiri's shop but his shop was well lit to show the rug designs and it was air-conditioned. While air conditioning may be another factor to consider in the cost of the rug, since we were to spend three hours with this man, it was worth a little bit more to do so without uncomfortably sweating through the entire process. At no time did we worry that the rugs we were being shown were not legitimate. The size of the shop and the one benefit of being brought by our driver was the fact that our driver's travel agent is endorsed by the government and would face deliscensing if we were to register an official complaint about their business connections.

We were indeed his guests who had no need to rush and he had saved us the hassle of trying to get ourselves up to Kashmir where bargaining at the source, instead of through our middle man, would undoubtedly have reduced the cost. But we were not scheduled to go to the region that is in dispute between Pakistan and India. Although this area has been disputed ever since the Partition of 1947 created Pakistan for the Muslim population of India, one way to gauge that tensions are at a high is when the governments refuse to allow the national cricket teams to play against one another for fears of team players being killed. In the summer of 2003 India and Pakistan could not play cricket. One of the lovely things about buying a rug is that you are invited to take off your shoes and walk around. Really dig your toes into the nap of the carpet.

back to top