I’m in big trouble. I have with me massive discount coupons from all of India's leading apparel outlets. Way too many in fact. Actually they aren’t really discount coupons; they are take what you want for free coupons which I was gifted by the retailers themselves. Why do I have here take whatever catches your fancy coupons and why am I in trouble, you ask? Permit me to narrate the strange turn of events.
So there I was, on my usual Sunday morning jog, wearing a cap that was pulled down real low and ill fitting clothes that meant even my close friends who were passing by the park wouldn’t identify me if they saw me. The park wore its usual seasonal deserted look and hence the only other people who were around were old uncles out for their daily morning walks and pretty young things burning off the calories from another unhealthy Saturday night. My Sunday morning oblivious to the world while I jogged serenity was however interrupted by the arrival two rather odd looking gentlemen who parked themselves on one of the benches and were obviously not there for the exercise. The fact that one of them was pretending to read a newspaper while holding it upside down didn’t help their case either.
Figuring that they were one of the usual we are sitting in the park because we have nothing else to do types I ignored them until they started jogging at a steady pace right behind me. Their bulging biceps and extremely heavy panting were a dead giveaway that they only spent time lifting weights in the gym & stayed as far away from the treadmill as possible. I started to get a little concerned and upped my pace to a steady trot before my attention was diverted by the arrival of some exquisite machinery just outside the park.
Jaguars, Porsches, BMWs, Audis and the odd Merc pulled up as one by one, men in rather dapper suits stepped out of the rear seats of their cars. Safe to assume that it wasn’t the usual Sunday morning jogging crowd. I wondered who these people had come to meet since they obviously weren’t here to burn calories.
I didn’t have to wonder too long as my unwanted jogging companions picked up the pace and were suddenly by my side. Before I could do anything the 2 burly thugs were escorting me, not too rudely mind you, to the contingent that was waiting in the parking lot. I turned around to shout for help but all I could see were 2 pretty girls who didn’t seem to have noticed anything out of the ordinary (honestly, they would’ve created trouble for themselves and more trouble for me had they intervened so it probably was for the best) and an elderly gentleman who would’ve taken half an hour to walk across the park and rescue me (slightly doubtful that).
Seeing as I wasn’t a MMA fighter or a Bollywood hero who could’ve sent the goons flying through the air with all the might of a single punch, I resigned myself to my rather unpleasant fate and let them take me to the parking lot. Rather uncannily, it seemed straight out of the typical Friday night gangster movies that I was used to watching. The ones in which the guy being escorted to a group of well groomed men in swanky cars gets beaten up even though he did nothing wrong. At least in the movies he wins the sympathy and affection of a beautiful lady as compensation for the beat down. I wasn’t so sure I would be so lucky.
"Don’t be afraid, we're not going to hurt you. We just want some answers."
What the hell? Were they reading off some script or something? I looked for the bulge of guns beneath their suits. For a fleeting moment I wondered if I was on Candid Camera. Maybe not. All I had was 2 pretty women and an old man who had by now dozed off. Great!
"Do you know who we are?"
This really didn’t seem to be the time for over smart answers, so I curbed my urge to say something stupid.
"Why don’t you tell us your name?"
Seeing as they outnumbered me 101 to 1 (more like 15 to 1 including the hired thugs but in that frame of mind I could be pardoned for not counting properly) I don’t think I was in a position to give them an alias.
"So tell us Neil, where have you been the last few weekends? In fact, where have your friends been the last few weekends?"
Gulp! The questions were flying in from all sides. Was this my first brush with the underworld? They seemed to be much too classy for that though (no offense to any murderers, extortionists, thieves, bone breakers and other members of the underworld that might be reading this blog). Now they wanted to know details of my friends as well. Some other Neil must have really done something to get these guys mad and now they were after me and my friends.
"How can you be nowhere? Surely you must’ve been somewhere. We just want to know where that is" said one guy who I am sure was wearing an Armani suit.
"I’ve been really busy. Who is asking anyways?"
Trust me to ask something stupid at the most inopportune time. Fortunately the question also saved me a lot of stationary sweating due to excessive worrying as they explained that they were the owners of large retail apparel chains in India. After a round of introductions, my heart managed to extricate itself from somewhere next to my jaw and the eagles that were flying around in my stomach quickly settled down. Me and my vivid imagination .... After explaining my initial misconception we shared a few laughs and they even allowed me to check out all their cars before settling down to business.
"So here's the thing Neil. We are a really worried lot. Its sale season time which means we expect a major footfall for each of our stores. This obviously translates into more sales and we are able to clear out our existing stock in time for the new season. It’s a fool proof formula which has been working for years. Except this time"
"So what’s the problem this time?"
"Well this time, we have seen high footfalls but the problem is, it’s all women. It’s almost as if Indian men disappear from the face of this earth on Friday night and reappear on Monday morning. The only men that seem to be visiting our stores on weekends during sale season are elderly dads and husbands who are carrying the kid (s) as the wife shops. That’s it. There are just no other men around.”
Was it just me or were they turning pale as they spoke. Their voices seemed to quiver as the spoke and the others hung their heads and nodded in silent agreement.
“Which means sales in the men's division have dropped drastically. Of course we do find the occasional woman picking up a shirt or a tee from the men’s section but honestly how many women do you think would actually spend any money (theirs or their husbands) on men if it’s a sale? So Neil, we really need to know. What is happening?"
They were putting me on the spot here. I wasn’t really sure if I could and should reveal the answer to their question. I looked around once again. The 2 girls were still jogging around the park blissfully unaware of what was transpiring and the old man seemed to be in a very deep sleep. I pulled my cap a little lower but I realized I couldn’t see anything. After readjusting it and looking around once more to check that no one I knew was around, I decided to take a chance.
"Why are you asking me? And what’s in it for me?"
"Well we sent our guys out yesterday to find a normal guy off the street who we could talk to. Seriously. We sent them to malls pubs, restaurants, you name the place and we sent them there. However we could hardly find any guys and even the ones that we did were not willing to talk. It was the strangest thing. They all pretended that everything was normal and that there was something wrong with us for asking them questions on where they have been on weekends. The ones who were with their sisters / girlfriends / fiancés / wives etc: were the weirdest. They tried their best to shoo us away before the women could understand what we were asking."
"But we would not be denied. As they say ‘If you want to get something done right, you need to do it yourself’. So we decided to roll up our sleeves (Neil’s note: figure of speech obviously), get our hands dirty (Neil’s note: you guessed it right, figure of speech) and get to the bottom of things (Neil’s note: errr figure of speech, mercifully). Which is why we decided to forgo our Sunday morning sleep and find someone to talk to about it. Do you know that we spent the last half an hour driving around Bangalore looking for a guy to talk to and we had almost given up till we saw you in the park."
"Ok, so that answers why me but I am more interested in what’s in it for me."
I’m not the greedy sorts and I wasn’t really expecting anything but hey, there was no harm in asking now was there?
"Which one do you want?"
I didn’t really understand their question at first. The possibility that they might be offering their cars to me crossed my mind and I was amused by the incredulousness of my thinking.
"I’m sorry, I didn’t really understand. What was your question again?"
"The cars. We figure you like them. Which one do you want? If you can give us the answer and help us solve our problem, we are more than happy to give you a car. Or do you want two?"
The thought of a Jaguar XKR in my driveway seemed mouthwatering but there was the slight matter of explaining to the income tax department how I ended up with the gorgeous set of wheels. It was sure to attract the attention of the underworld as well. And I sure as hell couldn’t handle them.
"What would I do with another car?" I asked even though I knew the answers all too well. Sigh!
"Ok, so you don’t want a car. What is it that you youngsters look for these days? Hmmm we could arrange for weekend companions if you want and for as long as you want"
I think it’s best not to type what crossed through my mind for the next few minutes.
"What would I do with more women in my life?" I asked even though I knew the answers all too well. Sigh!
"We could give you free shopping coupons" one of them offered hopefully.
"I'll take it" I said before they could tempt me further.
"So what is it? What’s the story?
I took a deep breath and wondered how exactly I should frame my answer. After all I was about to reveal to these men one of middle class India’s most closely guarded and well kept secrets. But who was I to deny a man an honest day’s labour? And they did offer me their cars. And women errr companions. Sigh!
“Ok but you can never tell anyone that I was the one who told you about this. The reason that you don’t find any men anywhere these days is because of the SSFF”
Before I could proceed I was interrupted by stereo questions.
“Is it a virus? Like SARS?”
I proceeded “Hold on, hold on. You guys definitely don’t know about the dreaded SSFF. It’s the Sale Season Flip Flop. It’s absolutely horrible. No make that terrible. It’s a terrible terrible disease that’s hit almost all of middle class India’s women. And even though they are infected by it, we, middle class Indian men, are the ones affected by it. It drives us up the wall. It makes us question our sanity. We aren’t the stronger sex. Everyone knows that. But add SSFF to the equation and we men really must do everything to save ourselves from an impending implosion.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
They were exchanging glances. The ones you exchange when you have a That was really weird moment. I decided to change tracks.
“Ok let me try and explain. Now I love my sister a lot. If she were to ask me to do anything for her I would. Without a moment’s hesitation. Except during sale season. And here’s why. When sale season comes around, she gets excited because well she’s a woman. And women get excited about such things. But then she starts feeling a little guilty about spending so much money on buying clothes and shoes when she has so many already. So she makes me promise her that I won’t let her buy anything. Which as a brother I would promptly do.”
“I on the other hand would actually need to buy stuff. Like maybe a pair of jeans. Or formal shirts. So I take her along to help me pick stuff for myself. Now once we are there she obviously wants to check out the women’s section. Quote “Just to see what’s on sale” unquote. Now who am I to tell my little sis that she can’t look at women’s clothes? So I follow her as she starts checking out what’s on sale. Soon (or rather immediately) she has a change of heart”
“What sort of change of heart?”
“The shopping sort. After seeing how nice the stuff in the women’s section is, she decides to pick up some stuff. More than some actually. And I, the dutiful and ever looking out for my sister’s interests brother that I am, remind her that she herself had decided not to buy anything this time and that she should probably keep it back. Which is not something that she likes to hear. And she does an excellent job of making her displeasure known. ‘Who am I to decide what she wants to do with her money and so on and so forth’ ”
“So now I’m stuck. If I let her buy it, I know there will be repercussions. If I don’t let her buy it, I know there will be repercussions. So I cave in and watch as she buys all of them. And since we have spent so much time looking for her clothes, it’s time to leave and I obviously haven’t bought anything that I needed.”
“We never knew that. No wonder men have been missing from our stores these last few weeks”
“Hold on, you guys have only heard half the story. There’s more to this torrid tale of woe. So my sis & I get home which is when she realizes that she didn’t really need to buy any of that. Now she feels bad for having spent her money and bought so many tops and shirts, some of them indistinguishable from the clothes she already has. But, and this is the best part, it’s my fault …..”
“Why is it your fault?”
“It’s my fault since I let her buy the clothes. Since she had told me not to let her buy anything I should have stopped her.”
“But she scolded you when you stepped in, didn’t she? So how is it your fault?”
“My point exactly! And that is the SSFF …..”
I could see that they were reeling as they tried to unravel the puzzle that was the SSFF.
“Now take this scenario and multiply it across thousands and thousands of middle class households in India. For me it was my sister. For somebody else it will be his girlfriend. For yet someone else, it will be his fiancé. For the unfortunate lots, it’s their wives. All of us are victims of this. We dare not discuss it with the women because you know what it is like to argue with women on logic. You never win. The more logical your argument, the greater your chances of getting a cold shoulder for the next year.”
“So we discreetly discuss it with other victims. In offices. In buses. In waiting lounges. In cafeterias. With friends. With strangers. With family members. With guys we despise. The topic obviously changes when a woman enters hearing range but the fact is everyone is suffering. Which is why when the weekend comes along we suddenly find ourselves ‘busy’. Suddenly all of us have to go to the bank. Or the lawyer. Or the mechanic. Or we are feeling ‘feverish’. Or, and this is the best one because it elicits sympathy, we have work. There’s nothing to pull a woman’s guilt strings (if she has any) like saying you’re working hard when she shops.”
I could see that they were still trying to take it all in.
“You see this cap and these baggy clothes? I wouldn’t wear this even if my life depended on it. And that’s why I’m wearing it.”
They obviously weren’t getting it.
“It’s my avoid detection mechanism. I have a few women friends who stay nearby. Some of them have asked me if I was free over the weekend because they wanted to go shopping. Which means they will make me promise them that I will not let them shop. So I claimed that I was loaded with work and had a ton of errands to run. But if they see me running contently with all the time in the world on a Sunday morning, I’ll be in trouble. So I have to disguise myself like this. To avoid detection.”
The rest of what happened is self explanatory. They were pleased as punch to have received some answers even though I didn’t have any solutions for them. Men around India are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel because sale season is winding up in a couple of weeks. And things can go back to normal.
Except for me that is. I am sitting on a ton of coupons. And even if I did pick up whatever I liked and maybe some of what I didn’t like, I would still be left with a whole lot of coupons. Which means I will have to gift them to my sis and my women friends who will would more than happy to receive them. But it also means I will have to explain how I ended up in possession of these coupons. And I am a terrible liar. I should’ve taken the Jaguar XKR. I think I would have an easier time explaining to the Income Tax department why I had it in the driveway compared to the Guantanamo Bay interrogation I’m going to receive on the coupons. I really am in big trouble …..