Saturday, September 16, 2006

The death of the salesman

Different professions boast of different core competencies. Doctors, for example, are extremely proficient in looking busy and walking at a brisk pace without their stethoscopes falling off their necks; they undergo years of training before they get this right. Architects cannot be matched when it comes to rolling tracing-paper and sharpening pencils; lawyers have that special gift of being able to rattle out a volley of inane expressions like “My Lord”, “ Your Honour” and “Prosecution rests its case” without spitting even once.

But, what about the traveling salesman? Yes, the wheeler-dealing, smooth talking, oily salesman? What special skills does he have in his armoury, you ask. Can he hold a candle to these stethoscopic docs, sharpening architects and filibustering, unsalivating lawyers, you snigger and ridicule in a tone dripping with unalloyed sarcasm and unadulterated contempt

Long, long ago, before you techies, nerdies, yuppies and other assorted puppies in the blogosphere were born, envisaged or even dreamt of, Uncle Raj began his illustrious career as a salesman and will therefore proceed to silence you critics.

What marks the traveling salesman from lesser professionals is the amazing ability to track down the best eating joint in any of hundreds of towns and cities in his territory. He alone has the trained nose to locate the roadside joint famous for its biriyani or that shop near the bus stand where the best masala milk is available after 9 pm.

Starting out as a salesman in Tamilnadu, I therefore knew where to pick up the best halwa in Tirunelveli, the cashew macaroons from Tuticorin (local legend had it that only the Fernandos knew the right mix of egg white, cashew, sugar, etc to give the macaroons that magical texture), peanut candies from Virudhunagar, Ooty vegetables from Coimbatore, mangoes from Thathachariar gardens in Srirangam, bananas from Namakkal, and hundreds of such rare delights.

Promoted and in charge of entire South India, the repertoire extended to mango jellies from Rajahmundry, banana chips from Cochin, pickles from Kovvuru, jackfruit papads and cashew supari from Mangalore (not to forget the Gadbad ice creams there), Kundas from Belgaum, the Maddur Railway station vada (such was the brand image that even when an outlet was opened on the highway, 3 km away from the station, the vada was still referred to as Maddur Railway station vada), the large-sized Tatte idlis of Tumkur, the mirchi bajjis from a roadside vendor in Bagalkot, pink sweets ( I have never bothered to ask what its called) from K.C. Das in Bangalore ( Strangely ,when I look for the same sweets in the many K.C.Das outlets in Kolkata, I don’t spot them).

As my canvas widened and I had the whole of India to cover, unimaginable goodies could be spotted in every nook and corner of the country. India, trust me, is a culinary cornucopia and is truly an epicurean’s paradise.

Later, foreign trips meant the mandatory duty-free shopping for Toblerones, Lindts and the Ferrera Rochers.

The salesman when he returned from a tour was welcomed warmly into the house by members of his family, his baggage quickly ransacked, the ‘eatable’ instantly removed and devoured. The salesman, therefore, was highly valued by society at large and his important role acknowledged and appreciated. He walked with his head held high.

Alas, times have changed, the world is flatter and the planes and trains are faster. Tirunelveli halwas made the previous evening reach Chennai the next morning and are sold out of Maruti vans as fresh stock; jackfruit papads can be procured from Nilgiri’s departmental stores round the corner, banana chips are ubiquitous, Ooty vegetables can be picked up in most vegetable shops, rossogolla tins of reputed brands can be spotted in many shops, and Toblerones and Ferrera Rochers are sold in paan shops.

Sadly, the salesman is therefore an unwanted species today, his skill set having become anachronistic and irrelevant. The notice that one sees today on the gates of apartment complexes ( “Sales people not allowed”) bears grim testimony to the fact of the death of the salesman.

10 comments:

VC said...

AWESOME post.

dazedandconfused said...

Very nice Raj. I spent my first three years in sales too. Your post reminds me of how once when I was in Cochin, I got a call from the Chairman's wife in Mumbai asking for a particular tea essence available in Cochin...

Of course, left everything and ran out to get it.

Shruthi said...

As usual, a wonderful, very well-written post. One that made my mouth water too, in the bargain

Anu said...

Absolutely enjoyable. I still remember the days when our father returned from his meetings or lecture tours with boxes of Belgaum kunda, Dharwad peda or Mangalore halwa. I am sure my mother also looked forward to sarees from Kolkota, Hyderabad and Kerala before they became available in the neighbourhood shops. Btw the salesmen have company. The same fate awaits the visitor from abroad. The once rare chocolates and peanut butters, lotions and perfumes are found in the shops next street, sometimes at much lower prices and no one is keen to help me unpack my bags:).

Usha said...

Yes, we used to envy our friends who had a travelling job too. Buut now who needs a salesman when you can do everything on the net. In fact people are employed only to sell things we don't need. Does that explain the board?
In an adaptation of an old saying i am tempted to say a good salesman is one who is dead. May his soul rest in peace.

raj said...

VC : Thanks

Shruthi : Thanks. Mouth-watering, eh? Btw, wonder where the expression ' mouth-water' came from?

D&C : Tea essence for Chairman's wife ? You got your promotion?

Anu : Thanks. You are right. Visitors from abroad have lost their 'glamour' to a large degree.

Usha, how cruel of you to condemn my entire species to death.

Usha said...

Oh no, you are mistaken. I was only reiterating your last line. And I meant that in today's altered scenario the old avtar of the travelling salesman is redundant.

Shpriya said...

Usha, true.>>the old avtar of the travelling salesman is redundant.<< "kazhuthila tie, kayila pai, vaayila poi"- an old salesman avtar used to joke about himself meaning " A tie in the neck, a bag in the hand and lies in the mouth". What might be the new avtar? :))

Viky said...

Ah!! Touche.

My father travelled all over India in trains. No sooner than a person mentioned a train did he reel off where it stops on its way, and what eatables are famous there.

He even suggests not to eat at place A, even though it is morning and breakfast time, because in an hour, place B will have better food and wonderful coffee to go with it.

Much fun they had, the guys of your generation. We are all stuck in a race to do everything faster, not stopping to smell the flowers on the way.

Raj said...

Usha : I see your point.sad but true

shpriya : Today's salesmen, alas, are telephone tigers. Much of today's selling is done on the mobile.

Viky : Yes, how right you are. we certainly had time to stop and smell the flowers, as you have put it. We could savour the small things, life had to offer.