When I was growing up, politeness was good. Now, I am told that politeness is ‘a good’! Well, that means it is priced as a commodity, and how! A café in UK has come up with a unique pricing proposal that factors in polite mannerisms. You ask for ‘Desi Chai’ and you are charged $5.59. You ask for ‘Desi Chai, please’ and the price comes down to $3.35. And were you to say, ‘Hello! Desi Chai, please!’, you would be asked to pay $2.12 only. Apparently, this is mostly being used as a marketing gimmick and no one has been yet charged the full amount of $5.59. If a customer asks bluntly for ‘Desi Chai’, the staff just points to the price board and customers become polite immediately. Price of being polite at the counter – $5.59 less $2.12 = $3.47 i.e. around ₹280!

I was particularly taken in with the entire idea. Panting as we are with the inflation at 7.41 per cent and food inflation at 8.6 per cent, my kirana bills have been soaring. I went to the kirana store a couple of days ago. On receiving a bill of an unbelievable ₹5,648 after having shopped for pretty much nothing, I gave a bright smile at the counter and said, ‘Namaste, bhaiyya, kuch discount milega?’ Somewhere in my mind, I had firmly pegged the value of being polite at the counter at ₹280 and hence was expecting at least a 5 per cent discount on my bill.

Unfortunately, looks like I am the only one reading things about these amazing cafés in UK. My kiranawala, who had read nothing of the sort, shot me a look of pure disbelief and pointed to his own board which read ‘Fixed Prices, No Discount’. Drat it! The fellow needs to be reading more, if you ask me.

Pay taxes with a smile

Just imagine, if we actually put a price on politeness, how many things could be done differently! The Income Tax Department could give us a politeness rebate. It could arm the payment gateway on the Saral portal with a camera.

Whilst paying taxes, if the taxpayer manages to smile instead of that usual grumpy, teeth-clenching, frowning, irritated attitude most taxpayers seem to bear, the camera would capture it with intelligent vision. The Artificial Intelligence software could gauge the politeness quotient depending on the curvature of the smile and the overall expression of the tax-payer.

The Captcha code options such as ‘IncomeTAXmyFAVdepartment’ or ‘iLOVEpayingtaxes’ or ‘iwanttoPAYMORE’, designed to make the smiles of the jolliest of us quiver and falter, would test the depth and trueness of the emotion. If you are in the 30 per cent tax bracket, you will also be required to feed in heart-shaped emoticons in the captcha code to further the challenge. The taxpayer could be given a tax-rebate of say, 0.02-0.05 per cent for paying taxes politely. Bigger the smile whilst feeding in the captcha, more the rebate. This will make our income tax system not only ‘progressive’ but also ’positive’.

One can only imagine how much excitement this will cause amongst advertisers. Toothpaste manufacturers will stop saying ‘Recommended by 90 per cent of the dentists’ and will instead start using ‘Recommended by 90 per cent I-T officers’ as a tagline. Adhesive companies will come out with edible glues so that the smile sticks to the face whilst feeding in those challenging captchas.

GST, now packing in ₹1.4 trillion per month routinely, could afford to offer a politeness set-off. Prompted by lower GST rates, TV channels could lower advertisement rates for programmes that promote civilised behaviour and politeness. This might be a great cure (finally!) for those simply insufferable Saas-Bahu soaps, wherein bloodthirsty women in huge bindis and heavy silk saris completely unsuitable for Indian weather routinely poison each other, trip each other off staircases and also turn into Naagins, startling the unsuspecting viewers beyond belief. Once the advertisers insist on meaningful content, we might get slightly better programmes to view.

Politeness rebates may also re-define the world of 9 pm debates. The 9 pm slot on most news channels is mostly reserved for debates, wherein yelling others down and taking personal swipes at each other has become a habit. If channels insist on basic manners, the quality and content of the debates may increase drastically. Of course, I wonder if Indians will be able to sleep soundly at night, if they have not watched people verbally attacking each other madly at 9 pm.

Perhaps, in the broader interest of sleep of the nation, politeness can be limited to cafes in the UK. My kiranawala will agree most politely.

The author is a brave economist trying to laugh against the odds