A day in the life of a Salesman...

[Long post with lot of Hindi references]

When I was in engineering, the only time I would touch a foreign author book was in the first week of the semester. Preferably someone with a German sounding name like 'Weiss', 'Scharf', 'Kuchen'.. Okay the last one I made up, it means 'cake' in German. Ah, how I miss German bakeries, which they just called 'bakery' in Germany.

As the sem progressed we would shift to local authors, with a preferably rural sounding name like 'Waghmare', 'Gaitonde' etc. Their English sucked but they managed to send the theories across. As the sem came to an end, with our professors realising there was so much to be done in such little time, we were given 1204 pages of assignments. I still havent figured out how come sem after sem, our professors managed to mismanage everything. During the exams, one book, maybe calling it a book is an overstatement, it was just a few pages stapled together with the words 'Jigar's Last years papers' on it. I still havent figured out who this 'Jigar' guy was, but by God, kya Jigar paya tha ussne...

Things changed at MDI. I remember the nights I spent reading Marketing Management by Kotler. I like that book. I just couldnt shift to an Indian author. That was how awesome it was.

I dreamt of drafting out marketing strategies. I would have a bunch of guys under me whom I would bark out orders to.. I would be loved by kids and women and respected by the men. (Yeah, I can be silly like tht..) But that never happened.

I am not good with networking. I was never the guy who would make friends with seniors and ask them what to expect from a corporate job. I didnt see it coming.

In my interview, the interviewer obviously impressed by my CV asked me to review my decision to join the company. "You might be too soft for this..." were his exact words. We were only 2 minutes into the interview. I said I was super confident and signed the papers. My interview took 3 minutes. Probably the shortest interview of all time.

There is a reason it’s called Sales & Marketing and not the other way round. It is an indication to how your career is going to pan out. And then it started. I had to be a salesman to be a good marketer. My previous boss, a marketing guru himself, had told me this. How difficult could this be? I remember thinking.

I was given the biggest territory in India to sell stuff to. It happened to be in the heart of India. Old Delhi. Ajmeri gate, Delhi gate (which is not the same as India Gate as you ignorant Mumbaikars might think), Chawri Bazar, Chandni Chowk... These areas had been glorified in Yash Raj type movies. I know the readers who have never been to these areas are thinking Parathas and kachoris, pretty girls in shiny salwar suits and white doves doing a masakali... But no, that’s not how these areas are. There are no pretty girls to be found, parathas and kachoris are too greasy for one’s taste and no doves to be found here either.

It's 10 in the morning. I stand in the middle of the road, looking at the expanse of shops on both sides of the road. One can stand in the middle of the road here, it is Delhi, you see! I see the cycle rickshaws packed with cartons of hardware tools, paints, silicon sealants, saw-blades. I look at young boys carry these cartons into impossibly narrow sublanes, where rickshaws cant enter.

I enter the first shop. Shopkeepers are such characters. Talking to them can be fun at times. They come in all shapes and sizes. All levels of education, knowledge and wisdom or the utter lack of it.

“Namaste” I say. I like this greeting. Our generation has forgotten this basic Indian way of greeting someone.
“Arre sirrr! Namaste. Kaise hain. Aaao Aao, baithiye...” He says.

I like to start with the most welcoming shopkeepers.

“Colours saare hain?” Says another shopkeeper whom I visit. He is referring to the colours of the steelgrip tape my company sells. This is his way of greeting. A cup of tea is placed before me and we drink tea while discussing colours, pricing, competition etc.

I move on to the next shop and pass by a foreigner couple. They have a book with the title “Indien” on it. They are Germans. I feel a sense of belonging for some reason. I wonder if I should go talk to them in broken German, say hi!. I decide against it. Men all around catch 360 degree stares of the girl, esp her legs. She’s wearing shorts, a grave mistake.

I catch two street urchins, rag pickers really, eye the girl. No, not her legs, but the kit-kat that she’s having. The younger one looks at the older one. The older one says-

“Abbey koi nahi, bachpan mein bahut khaya hai.” (I have had lots when I was young.)

He is no more than 10 years old. It makes a dent in me somewhere.

There are all kinds of shopkeepers. Some of them are innocent, some have half cooked knowledge, some are plain horny. Most of them know what places I have lived in, and almost always have questions about it. Every week, there is a new question.

“Aaj-kal bahut thand ho rahi hai Delhi mein.” He says.
“Haan.” I say.
“Germany mein bhi thand hoti hai?”
“Matlab Delhi jitni hoti hai?”
“Nahi. Aur zyada. Barf padti hai.”
“Kya baat kar rahe hain sir!”
“Haan. Minus 15 tak temperature jaata hai.”
“KYA?” He almost jumps out of his chair.
“Sir,” I can sense the mischief in his voice, “Fir itne thand mein unki ladkiyaan itni chote kapde kaise pehenti hain?”
“Unke body mein auto heater hota hai...”

Hahahaaa... we laugh...

I visit a shop with owned by a sardar. One of them 50 years old, and his son around my age.

“Paaji, Fevibond le lo. Scheme chalu hai.” I say. Fevibond is an adhesive we make. It is, like most products we make, a market leader in its segment.
“Chaloji, 2 peti behjdo.”
“Nahi nahi, 4 peti le lo. 2 aapki 2 meri.”
“Chal yaar, 4 bhejde bas.”
Now greed takes over me.
“Nahi paaji, 5 hi karlo na, round figure.”
“Oye, chad yaar... Itna fevibond bechke mujhe kya James Bond banana hai...”

Hahaha... we laugh. The son leaves the counter to pick up something from the godown at the back. A pretty foreigner in a pink Indian kurta walks by. Paaji, all of 50 years, cranks his neck to watch her. I look at him. He smiles. I smile.

He looks around to check if his son is around, he’s still in the godown.
“Sirji, kinni soni lagdi hain gori kundiyaan Indian dresses mein, nahi?”
“Haan. Woh toh hai.”
“Aacha, sirji, ek baat batao, yeh gori ladkiyan patate kaise hain?”
“Arre bahut easy hota hai. Aur ek baat bataun paaji? Unko Sardar bahut pasand hote hain.”
“Kya sacchi?” He asks wide-eyed, almost sorry that he hasn’t tried his luck yet.

I take advantage and write down an order of 5 Fevibond cases.

Most of these shops are run by Father-sons, I visit a Haryanvi father-son.

Kya baat hai bhai, last time scheme cutke nahi aayi?” says the father in a way that I found threatening at the start, only to learn that this is his “loving voice” when I heard him get angry at one of his workers. There was no female in the worker’s family tree who wasn’t brought into conversation.
“Kyun, kya hua?”
“Arre maal aaya hi nahi toh scheme kategi key?” says the son, probably slightly more educated than the father, but equally crude.
“Ruko, mein call karke poochta hoon distributor ko...” I say.
“Haan, phone lagao uss bhen ke ****, mad****, uski bho@#$%” says the father.
“Poocho usko, maal kyun nahi bheja maa ke %%^^ ne, Bhe$%%# uski, $$%@!” says the son, as if the adjectives used by the father weren’t enough.

This, when the distributor and the Harvanyvi shopkeeper are best friends!! The ways these guys express love, I tell you! I make sure things are in place. And I leave, my vocabulary now richer.

On my way to another shop, I get stuck in a human traffic jam!!! There are so many men all around, I cant move for a good 20 seconds. I manage to wiggle my way out of the lane. My shirt by now is not as crisp as it was in the morning. My face is covered with a layer of dust. I wipe my face with a handkerchief.

The next shop I visit has a rate error in one of the bills for something he ordered last week. The rate is different only by 3 paise. But because of the sheer volume he ordered, it makes a difference of 3000 rupees to the final bill. Swords are unleashed. I take a step back. He pushes me a little, I push him back harder. Verbal volleys, fingers wagged, business sense brought into conversation, logic and rationality discussed. He settles down. I settle down. Tea is ordered.

Real men are animals inside a suit. The better the man, the better hid the animal. The better the man, the fiercer the animal. Mediocre men, who fail to recognise real men, suddenly settle down scared, once the real man unleashes the animal within.

I walk back, tired from all the talking, walking. I sit on a bench outside a tea stall, sipping my fifth tea of the day. Evening has set in, but there is no visible reduction on the hustle and bustle. Suppliers, rickshaws stacked with cartons, runners, customers who have parked their Mercedes at Ajmeri gate moving from shop to shop to get the best price. Such different people all working in the same market. From someone who earns 3000 rupees a month to someone who earns 500 times that. All of them fighting for their place in the market.

Then I see them stop, or at least slow down and gaze up at the telephone wires above. I see them smile. I crank my neck. A baby monkey is playing with his mother. He jumps on her tail, pulls her hair, hangs from the wire, all under the watchful eye of his mother. Everything slows down. Everyone has a smile on their faces.

His mother soon realises the undue attention her baby is attracting towards them. She picks him up, much to the chagrin of the baby, who protests like a kid who has to leave the playground when his mother comes calling. Soon they get hidden behind a crevice in an old building. Sanity or insanity, depending on how you see it, returns. People join other people flowing in the river of humans. But the smile refuses to leave. Both theirs and mine.

I wonder what am I doing here. All the degrees, all the hardwork, the talent... what does it boil down to?

Then it hits me –
What is life but a scrapbook whose pages you are trying to fill with photographs of memories? At the end, if you have a photograph each day that will stick in the scrapbook of life, you, my friend, have lived...

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