Did you like it? Was it worth the money? Would you want to come back after ten years? OK! But what’s a Chingu? Though being a Himachali, and having spent a considerable number of years of my childhood in Himachal, I became familiar with Chingu, only during my recent trip to my village.
I had hired a taxi from Shimla – a Tata Sumo – for myself and my parents and the lots of luggage to dump us in our village in Jubbal. Having plans to venture into the tourism industry, when the means allow me, I thought of engaging the taxi-driver into a conversation, and know the secrets of the trade.
A local of Kotkhai, a well-educated – graduate – young boy and a bike-rallyist, he was more than willing to share anecdotes and some secrets. Let me call him by his surname only – Chauhan.
Well, Chauhan told me – first thing first – you earn by not running the taxi but through hefty commissions at hotels and various show-rooms across the state and particularly, Manali. No surprise here. He continued: Bhaiji! (Brother!) Punjabis and Gujaratis are the easiest to lure to buy things. The Bengalis, the Malbaris/Madrasis and the Purabias (Everyone from down South are Madrasis or Malbaris for us here and everyone from Bihar are Purabias) are the most difficult. While the former love to travel as a family, the latter in a group of multi-families.
So what’s the secret? He came to the point and asked me, “Bhaiji, have you heard of a Chingu?”
“What is it? An animal,” I asked? “Or a monument, or some place?” “Neither,” Chauhan flashed back with a smile. With a pause to create mystery, he said, “We are not supposed to leak out the secret. We take the groups (the travellers) to various show-rooms. We have a tie-up with them. Every sale of Rs 10,000 fetches us a commission of around Rs 3,000.”
I nodded in affirmation, as if I already knew that. There was a pause again.
I was being tempted to ask: So what’s a Chingu? But chose silence over curiosity. However, Chauhan chose to unravel the suspense himself.
“Bhaiji, one Chingu costs anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000.”
“Depending on quality?” I asked.
“Depending on the customer,” he said, adding, “You have to be seasoned to know from the mood, language, attire of the person, how much worth the person can shell out. If there are women in the group, or not. But Bhaiji, we don’t interfere in the sale. We neither urge the customer to buy, nor side with them. If anyone asks us, we say, ‘it’s good’.”
“What? Chingu?” I interfered again. My patience was running now.
“Yes, Chingu,” he said. “But what’s it?” I asked, as a matter of fact. But he wasn’t in no mood to let the secret out so early.
“They tell the customer that Chingu has no value for them today. Its value increases as it gets older and after ten years, if they come back and sell it to them, they’ll be happy to buy it back at five times the price today. The customer has to keep the receipt handy, as a proof that the Chingu was bought from them.”
“Yaar, ab bata bhee do (Friend, open up now). What’s a Chingu?” I asked.
“A shawl,” he said, with a smile.
“Yes, a shawl.”
“A woollen shawl?”
“Yes, a woollen shawl.”
“Is it some special shawl?”
“Hmmm… A special shawl to lure the customer, but otherwise a normal shawl.”
“Is the quality bad?”
“The quality is good though.”
“So, is it made of wool of some mountain animal?”
“Yes, for the tourist, but otherwise it’s normal, sheep wool.”
“But what’s so special about it?”
“It’s plain glib-talking, and marketing skill. They tell the tourists that the wool of Chingu is very special. It has no value for them today. As it gets older, the wool gets finer, and the value increases. It’s so special that it keeps a person warm during winters and cool during summers. If you wet the shawl with water in summers and wrap it around, it will keep you cool in summers,” he revealed.
The secret was out but there were some other questions left unanswered. “But, doesn’t it get ruined by pouring water over it?” I asked.
The answer was, “Bhaiji, you tell me, who will wrap a shawl in summers?”
“But what if the customer comes back?”
“Bhaiji, ten years…. Who has seen ten years? Who’s going to keep the receipt for ten years? Who’s going to come back to Manali just to complain that the shawl or the Chingu didn’t cool them in summers?
“Even if one comes, they would have an answer ready that the tourist must have not taken precaution and proper care. But we haven’t heard a case of anybody coming or complaining, as yet.”
“But, what if they ask you?” I asked.
“We just say that yes, it’s good. Actually, the wool is good, but the real value should not be more than Rs 2,000. The price depends on the design work and above all the tourist. Bargaining does work at times, to a discount of up to Rs 1,000. The shop keeper makes a profit five times even after handing over our commission,” Chauhan said.
“Hmmmm…,” I nodded my head in acknowledgement that Himachalis are not as simple as I thought.
Well, would I be able to apply same tricks if I were to venture out into tourism, I’m, honestly not sure. Though one does need to be a glib-talker to be a smart business-man but is it worth cheating and ruining the reputation of the state? But, may be, it’s everywhere.
So, did you buy a Chingu, when you were in Himachal?
Cross posted on: HimVani