• Mohana Prabhakar


As I sat in front of the officious looking gentleman in the small dusty room in a remote corner of a large departmental store inside a larger mall and watched him carefully smell the oversized shirt I was returning, I knew I had to write about it. This phenomenon of returning stuff.

There are more than enough horrifying/funny stories about what customers try to get away with when it comes to returns, but what about the times that we, the customers, are traumatised? Returns are a fact of life, and another fact is that India is not fun when it comes to exchanges.

I can only think it's been so long since I went to return something at a store in India that I had forgotten the experience. It starts with coming into the store. For the uninitiated, in India, none of the departmental stores, including most of the top-end designer and high street brand standalone ones, will allow you to enter the store with your shopping. You leave everything besides your handbag or wallet at the entrance with the security.

I had the bag with the lone shirt, receipt in hand, and I went up to the diminutive security guard. The whole conversation was in Hindi. Two things that I feel I must mention here: Hindi is not my mother tongue and I completely massacre the language in my efforts to speak it. Two, I am not exactly patient when it comes to idiotic questions and it's incredibly difficult to be sarcastic and annoyed in a language you’re not comfortable with.

“I want to exchange this,” I said, holding it out. “Is this the item?” she asked while dangling my candy pink shirt and receipt in one hand, and continuing to rummage vigorously through the plastic bag as if it had a false bottom.

While it didn’t sound very clever in Hindi, what I effectively said was oh no, she had caught me out. This was probably not the item and could she look to see if there was anything else in the empty bag. She looked puzzled, a little annoyed and said, “So why did you bring this? Go bring what you want to exchange,” and turned away to the next

person in the queue forming behind me. Served me right, you are thinking, and you are correct.

Properly chastised, I meekly announced that this was indeed the one I wanted to exchange. I got another stern look and then she started the process of looking through the 15-odd entries on the bill to match it to the shirt.I gently tried to show her I had circled the item in question, and she literally swatted my hand away.

I waited and waited. And then I waited some more. Finally, she found the entry, which was, of course, second-last from the bottom and circled in blue. “Why do you want to change it?” Having run out of patience, I growled, “Why do you care?” However, the effect may have been somewhat diluted by my very hasty exit from her presence.

I am convinced they tuck away the exchange counter/room in the farthest corner of these departmental stores so that only the brave and worthy can reach it. With a determination that was starting to crumble around the edges, I embarked on the quest and found it hidden away on the third floor.

That’s when it got to the smell test. The man, after he had given the shirt very thorough sniffs at strategic places, proceeded to check the tags and receipt again, in between directing what I interpreted as suspicious stares at me. And trust me, even though I hadn’t worn the shirt beyond trying it on, it still freaked me out on a number of levels.

Finally, he acknowledged I was worthy of being allowed an exchange and I promptly picked up the next size without trying it on. Various papers/bills exchanged hands and I was back at the exit, which was, unfortunately, the same place I had entered from.

My pint-sized nemesis welcomed me expressionlessly and asked for my bill. The duel continued with me handing over the receipt, her endless digging through my bag to see if I had secretly stashed one more shirt in there,

me rolling my eyes trying to make my displeasure felt, her not giving a damn and so on. But finally, I marched out of there triumphantly, new shirt in hand.

It doesn’t fit, by the way. The shirt doesn’t fit!

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