Dishevelled hair, numb forearms, bruised toes. That’s how Rashmi Rajput*, sweating and disoriented, emerged out of a sea of people pushing and shoving each other.
“Where are the bags?” was the only thing I managed to blurt, suddenly cold at the thought that the two-hour ‘ordeal’ (we can always speculate for a better word), was for nothing.
Whoever coined the term retail ‘therapy’ definitely found herself outside the glass window during a flash sale. Shopping through a one-day flash sale at a suburban mall in Mumbai on August 16, felt nothing like therapy. That, policemen were called in around 11.30am for crowd control — to “calm the women”, should not sound exaggerated. It was a 60 per cent discount sale. It WAS a law and order situation!
A breathless Rashmi, who seemed like she had just skipped a marathon half-way, could only manage “Meghna”. There was going to be no dearth of drama. This was Mumbai on a Sunday morning — inside a mall floor, full of women shoppers.
And just like that, four shopping bags, filled with the tags, seemed to float above the sea of shoppers. Meghna Yelluru – holding the bags with her outstretched hand looked like the last soldier still waiting to give a tough fight. A three- hour adventure had ended, with the collective damages less than Rs 8,000. Selfie moment.
Rashmi and Meghna had just ended a long one hour wait in the queue for billing. A queue that long, enough to shame the Mumbaikars at railway booking counter. It wasn’t easy — those two gruelling billing hours. At least we had a strategy. The four of us walked in at 8:30 am with a rehearsed reporter protocol: spread out, scavenge, locate target, eliminate and edit unwanted. And end at the billing queue.
Ruhi*, a Delhi girl at heart, went strolling across the floor with a finesse only Delhi girls possess. That she spent good time judging many girls and their choices was a given.
Changing rooms were not for us. We scoffed at women standing in a separate set of serpentine queue outside changing rooms. Landgrabbers should learn a thing or two from the four of us, as we monopolised a spot in the middle of the floor, trying out clothes right there.
So did another 100 women all across the store. But we want to believe we were the smart ones. We had the mirror!
As all of us went hunting at sections — shoes, jackets, dresses, pants, accessories — we parked Rashmi at the billing queue. Anjali managed to stock the clothes already picked. The rest, well, went scavenging for more clothes. Greed always was for branded clothes.
With no clothes to bill, Rashmi was obviously greeted with dirty stares for standing in a queue with no heap on her hands. What was she gonna bill anyway, wondered a few. “This is a billing queue,” remarked a stranger, whose face was hidden behind a pile of discounted clothes, but not her attitude. At times, that we lost each other — we would take selfie indicating a landmark — yes a landmark. Sometimes the jacket counter, or the shoe rack to tell the rest of us, our spot, in the crowded mass.
Lessons learnt: Attending a sale for lack of better things to do on a Sunday is a BAD idea (Half of Mumbai already knows this. We belonged to the other half). Too much choice is a curse.
A flash sale is a war. The victims are the clothes thrown on the floor, stepped on, dragged beneath greedy shoppers. Victims are those few men who are sent out on the battleground to pacify women screeching in pain and crying for help. The victim is that one man (a staffer) who was called by scores of women for help and for “giving tips” to handle the situation. The victim is that one man (floor manager) who no woman listened to, even his small instructions in a mike and loudspeaker saying “everybody please take two steps back”.
Also in any flash sale—things are always nice, normal and peachy fake smiles, till that first big push. Within minutes, the party music is stopped. Instructions meted out. Women begin screaming and whining (just when you think they won’t do it here at least!)
“Don’t push please”, “I can’t do this anymore, I need to get out”, “I am a writer I am going to write about this mismanagement” came tumbling loud.
Then it finally happened. That moment when you know you are in trouble. The barricades holding the lines fell! It was OVER.
In minutes, it was like the Will Smith movies with infected zombies charging and screaming at the human cashiers for two pieces of clothing. They were out to get them. The billing sounds, the screeches of the heels, the sound of madness. The plastic card and the four number codes. All looked like a “big mistake”. Just to borrow those famous words of Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman, when she is denied help at a high street fashion store.
Imagine then to see a father of three, yelling to keep order.
“There is going to be an accident here and I am going to sue you,” the man screamed angrily with a Konkani accent.
Knowing your “true friend”, no not the one you walked in with, but the one ahead of you in a shopping line is extremely important. Don’t let anybody come in between this relationship.
People lost clothes, phones and composure in these lines. People jumped these lines. There is absolutely no way out but to cheat. Finally finding yourself in front of the cashier is like finding God on a Sunday.
The last fight always is to get out of the billing line, in one piece. Meghna emerged with her clothes torn at her sleeves. Rashmi called for help to be rescued from the counter. Someone pulled her hair band and even as she was helped by two others, she returned a complete mess. The war wounds were for everyone to see.
Once out — we checked our loot. Two dresses, two jackets, ten tops and two floppy hats. Hey, when else do you buy floppy hats!
co-shoppers RASHMI RAJPUT AND RUHI BHASIN
(The four were not on duty on Sunday. On regular days they can be spotted wearing effortless street chic, checking out formally dressed women as they sip the local cutting chai opposite Express Towers)