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Marketing Tactics

I like to think I've had a moderately non-sheltered upbringing. I may not know how to get to anywhere that's more than, say, 2km from my house, but that's mainly because I rely on Google Maps rather than putting in the effort to figure out my city. I've seen people sleeping at bus stations, I've travailed on second-class non-AC trains, I've dealt firsthand with goat droppings. Until my last NCC camp, though, I had never been to a Bangalorean mandi.

This post is one I've been meaning to write for a while, so needless to say, I haven't even tried until nearly a month after. Needless to say, I now find myself unable to recall the precise details of the outing. What I do remember, though, is being roused from my slumber at 4:00am, a full half-hour before the NCC usually expects cadets to wake up, and being told to go downstairs because we had to go to the market. I got dressed and went downstairs to wait in the chilly darkness with nine other cadets for an instructor to join us. After about fifteen minutes, one of the instructors came downstairs. To our misfortune, he wasn't the one who was supposed to be taking us to the market. Not that it stopped him from having us move all the 20-liter water containers that we'd unloaded the night before, of course.

Our bodies nicely warmed from the exertion involved in transporting 30 heavy containers of water, we bundled our aching selves into the canter. For those of you who don't know, "canter" is the accepted NCC term for a large truck, which is the preferred mode of transportation for NCC cadets during a camp. They're invariably old, green army vehicles with shock absorbers so rusted they actually amplify each bump on the road. Taking a ride in a canter is rather like being thrown into a low-velocity car crash - you leave with an assortment of bruises, a strange ache in your back and the belief that your bones will never stop vibrating. In other words, first-class travel arrangements, courtesy of the Corps.

I didn't really know what to expect in terms of the mandi itself, not least because I didn't know it was a mandi at the time. I'd been told that we were going to the market, so I was picturing something along the lines of an outdoor grocery store. Well, we stepped out of the vehicle into what seemed to be the aftermath of the Tomatina festival. For the first quarter kilometer or so, all we saw were tomato sellers on both sides of the road, jostling for cart space. The putrid odour of tomatoes in various stages of degradation pervaded the air. I'd bought new shoes to take to the camp, and I don't imagine I'll ever be able to get all the tomato skin out of the crevices in the sole.

After the tomato area, the mandi stopped resembling the rest of the city. The short, one-storey cement buildings with signs over the door were replaced by sprawling brick megastructures. Most of them were two or three storeys tall, but they were incredibly long, stretching all the way to the horizon on both sides of the street. The bricks had been blackened by soot and dirt, and strewn all over the ground were vegetables in which I am positive the CDC, should they happen across them, would take a keen interest. The sickly-sweet of the putrid tomatoes was joined by about 5000 other kinds of sickly vegetative aromas, together with a stench of sweat, beedi smoke and hard-driven bargains.

The most incredible thing about the mandi, though, is the sheer volume of humanity contained with it. Everywhere you looked, there were people. There were more people per square foot of land than some countries have per square mile. It was a sight to behold, I must admit, particularly at the incredibly early hour of 5am. The snails and larks were still fast asleep, yet humanity marched on.

Of the entire group - 10 cadets plus two instructors - I seemed to be the only one who did not know how to shop at a mandi. One of the instructors held a list of all the vegetables we needed to buy, together with their prices the last time we bought them. The other one appeared to have memorized the price of everything being sold in the place already. It was quite incredible to watch, actually. We'd walk up to a stall, the instructor with the list would demand the price of some vegetable, and the other one would be steering him to the next stall along before he even had a chance to remove the list from his pocket. The instructor was even able to quote the prices of vegetables we pointed to - vegetables none of us could so much as name - to us, and he'd very rarely be off by more than, say three rupees.

Finally, after nearly an hour of shopping, we began the laborious task of moving the vegetables onto the canter. The canter couldn't come into the mandi, you see - the roads were far too narrow. All of us were about a kilometer inside of the mandi. Now, I don't know if you've ever had to carry a 40-kilo sack of potatoes for a kilometer, but let me tell you, it's not an experience I'll be recommending to anyone in a hurry. The sacks themselves, which seemed to be made from a particularly abrasive material - in case you felt that you had a little too much skin on your hands - didn't help much either. There were holes in the sides of them, and every few steps, a potato would fall out. The guy behind you, who was carrying an equally heavy bag of some other vegetable, would be forced to stoop down, pick it up, and thread it carefully back into the sack via the same hole. You'd be forced to do the same for the guy in front of you, too. For some reason, though, the holes only seemed to allow vegetables to fall out - putting them back in was a task which required considerable finesse.

At long last, we climbed back into the canter, aching from the physical strain of it all. Then, we pulled a few oranges out of the fruit bags to chew on while we headed back to camp and comforted ourselves with the knowledge we wouldn't have to march that morning. Personally, I think that's a fantastic reason to put yourself through that much strain.


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