The best gift a man could give...

This is a true story.

For the last one year I have been working in an Organisation known for its wacky advertisements. For some reason we associate the awesomeness of the ads with the awesomeness of the company. So when I got placed for this firm, I envisaged long discussions with the CEO over cups of coffee in an air-conditioned office about how I, an MBA from one of the top colleges in the country, could make the brand better.

There is a reason why they call it Sales and Marketing and not the other way around. It is supposed to tell you how your career is going to shape up. So it is going to be sales first.

Sales. My women friends liked the sound of it, probably coz it has the word 'sale' in it. Now who doesnt like a real good sale? But a sales job, as I found out soon, was very different from what I had expected. There were no air conditioned rooms, and there was only thele-ki-chai, and no coffee. The only discussions I had were with shopkeepers and Sales officers.

So, while Sales Officer as a job title sounds swanky, it is not. It essentially involves taking orders from each shop in a market. They earn only a fraction of an MBA would earn. In fact, even 5 years ago, my first salary at an Engineering firm was higher than what these guys make today. These guys are usually graduates with a degree in arts or something, that too, through distance education. Most of them are in their 30s and have a family to support. You ask them why didnt they study and you get different answers...

Paise nahi the ammi-abba ke pass... (Mom and Dad didnt have money)
Do baar fail hogaya tab ghar walon ne padhai chudwa di... (I failed twice, my folks asked to give up studies and work)
Behen ki shaadi ke liye job join kiya, aage nahi padha... (I started working to pay for my sisters wedding.  )

Some of them are intelligent, you feel bad for them. You wish you could help them in some way, maybe lend them some money every month. But then there are so many of them. In Mumbai alone I work with 8 different Sales Officers. There is no way I can lend money to each of them.

With time, you learn to accept the status quo. Maybe you studied hard and so you are here. Maybe it is not all because of being born into a family who knew the importance of education. You soothe yourself. For the time being.

Below the Sales Officers work the Sales Representatives (SR). Sales Representatives are the scum of the earth, or so they are treated. They are essentially courier boys, only worse. They work the hardest. There are times when I get tired walking in the market. I take a rickshaw. The SR walks 4 times as much as I do and cant afford a rickshaw. Heck, even a bus ticket costs 10% of his daily wage. I have had a bottle wine in Paris that cost more than what a SR makes in a month.

One such SR is Ramesh. I just realised, I dont even know his last name. That is how unimportant he is.

I have worked with Ramesh. He carries billboards, posters and then pastes them wherever I ask him to. The first thing I ask him, as a rule, is if he has had something to eat in the morning. He always says yes and when I offer to take him to a restaurant, shyly accepts.

He is shy, timid. He has sudden bursts of anger, frustration actually, over long work hours, over low pay, but like the sweat on his brow on a hot summer afternoon, he quickly wipes it off and puts on a cheerful face. Ramesh is short. He barely comes up to my shoulder. I walk quickly from shop to shop, my sports shoes dont let my soles get tired. He barely manages to keep up with me, his all season shoes, tattered in places, make me think how uncomfortable they might be. I slow down...

On that particular day, we had a plumbers' meet. It is what you think it is. It is a meet where plumbers come, we get a chance to tell them about our new products in the plumbing range and then we feed the plumbers dinner, everyone's happy, everyone except Ramesh. It was 8.30 in the night and the meeting that was supposed to start at 7.30 has yet not begun. Say hello to Indian Strechable Time.

"Yeh Deshmukh sir (Deshmukh is Ramesh's boss) ko yeh meet aaj hi rakhna tha...(Why did Deshmukh sir have to hold the meeting today?)" Ramesh said to me taking me to a corner.

"Kyun, aaj kya hai? (What is special about today?)" I asked.

"Aaj jaldi jaana hai na... (I have to leave early today)" He said, the worry lines on his forehead became more prominent.

"Kyun? Why?" I asked.

He smiled shyly.

"Aaj humari anniversary hai na... (Today is my anniversary)"

I don't know what I found cute, the fact that he actually wanted to go home early to his bride or the way he said it.

I asked him how long they had been married. "17 years," he said. He had a daughter who was in the tenth standard. He said he was going to make sure she does not turn out like him and goes to college. She is very intelligent he told me. He told me about his son. His son wants to be a cricketer. Cricket bats are expensive, he said.

I wondered how he manages a family on that salary. He must live in a slum. My mind wandered. Does he have water supply or do they have to collect water from a common tap? Are the toilets shared too? I felt bad. Sure, I knew how people lived in Mumbai, only, I never thought I would be working so closely with one of them.

I wondered what special he would do on his anniversary. Will he take his wife to a restaurant, a small one of course? Or will they watch a movie in a single screen theatre? Or will they just walk down a quiet road, just talking?

I asked him - "Toh aaj plan kya hai?"
"Mandir jaake aayenge...(We will visit the temple)" He said.

It seemed so pure. I had never thought one could do that on an anniversary. I had always thought of it as a western concept. But this was so Indian and so very beautiful.

"Aapki kya love marriage hai?" I asked.
"Nahi bhai, arranged." He said.

Deshmukh then came in, harried. He wanted Ramesh to fetch a few things from the market. One of our distributors was supposed to come to the meet. This distributor guy is one of the most annoying people I have met. But it is customary to welcome the guest with a bouquet of flowers. So, Ramesh, the all weather guy, had to fetch them from the market. Deshmukh handed Ramesh 200 rupees and asked him to get the best bouquet he can get. I wondered if it hurt Ramesh, that even a bouquet cost more than what he made in a day. How would you feel? But there was no time. It was 9 and the meeting had already started.

Ramesh ran, forgetting everything about his anniversary. He was back just in time with the flowers. I presented the flowers to the distributor. His ego was satisfied. He left the bouquet on the chair.

Once the meeting was over, Ramesh was ordered to keep the chairs back in place. All 80 of them. I started helping him, he tried to stop me, saying that I wasnt supposed to do it.

Around 11, we managed to wrap everything up. Ramesh picked up the bouquet and the three of us started walking towards the station to go back home. I was gloating in the glory of the success of the meet. I was too self absorbed to not understand why Ramesh had picked up the bouquet.

The train arrived on the platform, Deshmukh and I entered the first class compartment, while Ramesh fought his way into the second class compartment, all the while holding the bouquet close to his chest, with his trademark smile on his face.

I thought about what his wife would say when he presents her with the huge bouquet. Would he directly give it to her? Or will he shyly ask his daughter to give it to her mother? Will his wife blush, even after 17 years of marriage? Could all the diamonds, eating out in fancy places, costly gifts that rich men give their wives, ever match a bouquet of flowers and a visit to the temple? Isn't this, the best gift a man could give?

Dedicated to all the Rameshs out there... The unsung heroes of the FMCG industry...

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12 letters to the editor:

    On August 17, 2012 at 9:09 AM     
    eskoo said...

    Brilliant. Very touching

    On August 17, 2012 at 8:06 PM     
    Harish said...

    It is a heart wrenching world of the DBSRs out there. The ones who have been working for 20yrs, who earn the company its actual revenues get a meager 1/10th of the salary of the newest MBAs. Sad, but True..

    On August 17, 2012 at 9:35 PM     
    Janani said...

    beautiful. love your writing. Janani.

    @eskoo: Thank you

    @Harish: True man... That's how it is and nothing can be done..

    @Janani: Thank you :)

    On August 19, 2012 at 9:12 PM     
    lIl hIgH said...

    Really well written. I am sure some relatively rich guy would be looking at even our lives and would be feeling sad for us when we are busy living it. Since its a true story hopefully you have changed the names :).

    On August 21, 2012 at 1:09 AM     
    Anonymous said...

    Very nice and touching.

    On August 22, 2012 at 3:00 PM     
    Sarika said...

    Loved it.. Beautiful!!

    wow :)

    wow :)

    On August 26, 2012 at 8:27 AM     
    Anonymous said...

    Ur words beautifully described d way u felt d pinch n made us feel exactly d same... Brilliantly put!!

    On October 1, 2012 at 3:52 PM     
    HT said...

    mast lihilas!!

    Lovely post... Man...
    I liked it a lot...