Kharab Se Kharab Chai – An unforgettable lesson in selling

The first time I heard this sales pitch was when I was doing my graduation in Pune…sometime in the mid-1990s on board train no. 2859 (now 12859), the Bombay – Howrah Gitanjali Express. Azad Hind Express, the direct train between Pune and Howrah had just started as a weekly…Wednesdays from Pune and Fridays from Howrah. Getting a reserved berth in it was tough. So the best option for students from Jamshedpur (there were too many, including me) was to take any Bombay bound train from Pune, get down at Kalyan and board Gitanjali Express – the fastest and the most preferred train on the route…one actually felt like a king on getting a reserved berth; OR Howrah Mail (became ‘Bombay Mail’ on reverse route) – the Plan B train in case reservations weren’t possible on Gitanjali; OR Howrah Express (became ‘Bombay Express’ on reverse route) – a train which had earned itself a bad reputation of ‘stopping at every house along the railway track’ and ‘giving a pass to even goods trains’…only booked in TINA (There Is No Alternative) cases. And the same ‘via Kalyan’ route used to be taken for the journeys back to Pune.

Those days (and even today), I was very particular about getting a window seat in train journeys. I used to love sitting by the window, the wind hitting on my face, watching the sceneries outside zooming past. During one such journey to Jamshedpur (Tatanagar Junction being the main railway station serving the steel city) by Gitanjali Express, when the train had just crossed Rourkela, the words ‘Kharab se kharab chai piyo…’ fell on and into my ears for the first time. The shrill and piercing voice was of an old man (must have been in his 70s back then), who kept repeating the line. The words literally meant ‘drink the worse than the worst tea’. The pitch intrigued me…why would someone sell something clearly stating that it’s bad? What was even more surprising was the fact that almost everyone was buying tea from him and actually seemed to be enjoying the tea as they took their sips from the bhads (earthen cups). Curiosity got the better of me, and even though I wasn’t feeling like having tea at that time, I bought myself a cup of it from the old man. If I were to define that tea in one word, it would be ‘Awesome’; and if I was given the liberty to define it in a phrase, it would be ‘Awesomeness at Rs. 2/-‘. The tea was in complete contrast to his pitch. Guess the old man had innovated and implemented some kind of ‘reverse psychology’ to sell his tea.

The whole thought process behind the concept of ‘reverse psychology’ is quite interesting…that by pushing for the opposite of what one wants from the other person, the other person chooses to do what one desires. Very often parents use ‘reverse psychology’ to get their children to do what they want them to do. For example, a mother may tell her son to continue watching TV instead of studying for his exam on the very next day…she does so in the hope that the boy will actually do the opposite.

I haven’t seen the old man in recent times. For me, he remains the inventor of the ‘reverse psychology’ pitch, who perhaps didn’t get the recognition he deserved. But fact remains that he made a good product and sold it well. The ‘Kharab se kharab chai piyo…’ pitch is nowadays used by every second tea seller, especially in the Eastern routes of Indian Railways. And the old man’s strategy still works.

This self-critical form of selling products and services is not only being used more frequently, but is also becoming widely successful. In today’s world where every brand is aspiring to become the ‘best ever thing created’, such ‘reverse psychology’ strategies by many companies / brands come as a breath of fresh air. These brands tend to connect well with their customers who appreciate the transparency and the brand’s alignment with its core values. As a result, several brands are today treading the self-deprecation path as a strategy targeted towards refining the customers’ experience with them.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Vijay Shekhar
Vice President at Concept Public Relations
With over 23 years of experience as a communications professional, Vijay has always been on the consultancy side of the table and has worked on a wide slate of accounts spanning across sectors. He holds a B. Com and an MBA (Human Resources) from the University of Pune.

Vijay likes to watch old Hindi classic films and listen to old Hindi film songs, and has an enviable collection of both of these. He enjoys reading autobiographies and biographies, and also short stories, his favourite authors being R. K. Narayan, Munshi Premchand, Leo Tolstoy and Guy de Maupassant. Vijay also has a hobby of collecting news clippings (from newspapers and magazines) of important events across the globe…events that can be truly classified as ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Front Page News’.

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