John Bliss was attracted by a purple-coloured carpet that was buried beneath a pile of other carpets. However, he didn’t know how to approach the street vendor. But he was surprised to hear the vendor addressing him in English: “Which one, sir?” After five minutes of haggling, John left with the carpet he wanted.
Roopa is not the only street-side retailer who can speak in English. Vendors who sell trinkets, such as necklaces, chess boards, Indian artifacts and garments at Janpath, use phrases that they have picked up while talking to customers, particularly to foreigners."
Deshraj, a vendor who sells chess boards, doesn’t know how to read English, but can converse well in the language. In fact, he can say, “Excuse me, sir/madam” and “No bargain” in more than 12 languages.
Women selling traditional upholstery on the street use Hindi, Gujarati and English to express themselves. “It’s all about experience,” says Vasundhara, who has been selling garments since the last 20 years.
“We have to do all this to survive,” says another vendor, who along with a second language, has also picked up an accent. These vendors are also good at figuring out the nationality of foreigners. “Americans have a hard accent and are tall, Russian and Portuguese can be recognised from the colour of their eyes, and Spanish from their physique,” says Dharmender, a retailer.
They are also good at bargaining. “We quote the price of our product, depending on the customers,” says Ganesh. “The head massage tool costs me Rs30, but I quote a price between Rs75-150,” he adds.