Les took me to Chennai Arts (will check exact name and update) on TTK Road, which is an amazing shop full of wonderful colours. It sells jewellery, cloth (for sari's etc), carpets and statues of all materials, and is an chock full of fantastic things. The shop itself is very modern and air-conditioned, spotlessly clean. We went straight down to the basement despite the manager's best attempts to get us up to the carpets, as we wanted to check out the statues.
The salesmen there are very persistent, only too happy to show you items and explain their religious/mythological significance. Unfortunately we were more interested in that than buying - even though I want to buy something like this (and their works are excellent), it is way too early to be buying things on day 2. Also, we got the feeling that things in this shop are likely to be overpriced.
But we got more than our money's worth out of the salesmen with some questions on the Hindu mythos. Why is Ganesh's right tusk broken? Because he snapped it off and used it as a pen to write the Mahabharata. If Brahma is the Creator in the Hindu Trimurti (Trinity), why do we only hear of Vishnu and Shiva? Because Brahma fell into disrepute after he told a lie, and now there are no Brahma Temples on Earth! We are also introduced for the first time to Ardhnarishwara, the statue that is half-Shiva Half-Parvati.
But the sales pitch is constant. How much is fair price? Let us start with just one piece, which one do you like? I tell him I will bot buy until 4 weeks time. What price would you buy today? On and on and on they go, interrupting our cultural lecture. I am genuinely interested in a group of 8 gorgeous bronze statues inlaid with silver - made in Orissa, he tells me these are "unique" and i will not find them anywhere else. But I am not ready to buy today, though this fact again makes no impression.
Which one are you interested in? All of them, but not today. Let us start with just one piece. Which one do you like? All of them. What price, I ask. He works it out and gives me a large Rupees figure. Divide by 80, I tell him. 429 pounds is the answer. At this price, I say, my wife would kill me!
Not that I would pay that amount for some statues anyway, but i hope it will end there - no chance? What price would you buy today, special price? Again and again he asks me, but I am not buying today so I do not see the point. Still he persists. He must be used to some very weak-willed customers methinks! What price, special price?
Okay buddy, you asked for it! They say when bargaining to half the initial price and work up from there - not that I am paying that amount for statues either (and I know one beutiful redhead who will be very pleased to read that ;-). Sixteen thousand Rupees, I tell him after the eighth time of asking.
He falls silent, and despite his best poker face I can see his dismay. "A very special price, eh?" I say. The salesman goes to start again but the manager signals him to cut his losses. Or maybe it was his throat.
"Only 2 days in country, 5 more weeks," I say. "Buying later."
We browse our way unhindered back to the stairs and leave without further pestering.
Tourists 1, Salesmen 0.