Printers, Targets, and a Scooter

"Come here!" commanded the Seth (as all North Indians were called in Madras) and walked briskly towards the cash counter.
By the look of it, he was, perhaps, the proprietor of the jewelry shop.

I was jubilant. Is he taking me to the head of his IT department? While coming in, I had noticed a sign that read "EDP" in the nearabouts of the entrance. I may be close to clinching my first deal with this wretched company, I thought to myself!

The last three months on my maiden job had been ridden with disappointments. I had reluctantly joined "Fifth Dimension Technologies" as a sales executive, at the urging of my brother-in-law. The money wasn't great. The salary of 1,500 rupees a month barely helped meet ends.

My job was to sell printers, computers, and networking equipment to pawn brokers, jewellery shops, and family-owned fancy stores in Madras. These were the early nineties. Very few big companies bought computers, let alone small establishments. To make matters worse, there were a hundred resellers vying for the same clientele.

My boss, Chacko, was the sales manager for Madras, and a driven guy in his thirties. He had one good look at me, on my first day at work, and had me shadow one of his "senior" sales executives - Muthu Kumaran, an all of nineteen-years of age, high-school graduate, who was part-timing to get his bachelor's degree in commerce.
After four years in one of the "top 10 engineering colleges in India", it was left to Muthu to chisel the chip off my shoulder and bring me back to reality; and he did it with elan!

I didn't want this gig. I was not cut out for sales, I had concluded. Not that I was cut out for anything.

But, I had decided, even while in college, that I wanted to pursue a career in computer programming. Unfortunately, this was not the millennial India that we know of now. In the early nineties, there weren't too many companies offering programming jobs, and none at all for Metallurgical engineers.

While the matter of being unemployed did nag me on occasion, I was, in general, unflustered about my situation, and decided to wait it out till someone brought the programming job to my doorstep.

One day, a couple months after my return from college, someone did arrive at my doorstep. It was my brother-in-law. In what seemed like a well-rehearsed "shock and awe" move, he accosted me with the entire extended family, like the climax of a Sooraj Barjatya movie. He gave me a dressing-down for whiling away time and for showing "no aim and focus".

He didn't stop with that. He gave me a job offer that I couldn't refuse.

After the guilt-trip that he had taken me on, I decided to give the sales executive gig at "Fifth..." a shot. It gave me some pocket change. Plus, the job could be a happy compromise to stay close to a career in computers, I had thought, smiling cleverly to myself.

My brother-in-law gifted me his old Bajaj Chetak scooter (a two-wheeler was a prerequisite for this job).

"Be careful, it is a very good vehicle" he said. I wasn't so sure. It guzzled petrol and oil like it were eight months pregnant, weighed over a ton, and constantly veered to the left, near-missing many a curb and pedestrian.

This was three months ago.

For twelve weeks or more, I rode the Chetak far and wide, exploring corners and crevices of Madras that I never knew existed, trying to peddle a frigging TVSE dot-matrix printer, to someone that would care to buy.

At the end of every week, when the sales execs submitted their weekly status, Muthu, my sales "buddy", reported spectacular results while I returned empty-handed. He sold printers and computers like it were sundal / murukku in Marina beach, and consummated new prospects with his left hand.

"Super da! This is how you do it" Chacko high-fived him, glancing disparagingly at me. I took the blows on my chin with admirable equanimity.

Now, three months after I had been on the job and made a thousand cold-calls without opening my khata, I finally, may have had my moment of reckoning!

The Seth walked towards the cash counter...

Just when I thought he was taking me to meet his EDP guy, he took a slight detour and went straight to the front door. He walked out with me, stood at the doorstep, and pointed upwards to a sign at the entrance, right under the Goddess Lakshmi insignia that read, "Sales reps not allowed".

"You can't read?" he asked.

The Seth went back into the store to attend to his business, leaving me at the doorstep with feelings of embarrassment and shock. I walked down Thambu Chetty Street in Parry's corner, my morale low, shoulders drooping, eyes looking into the distance, with Ilayaraja's BGM, playing situationally in my mind, to accentuate my pathetic mood.

I put down my papers the next day.

"I don't think this is the job I was looking for, sir. This is not why I studied engineering," I told  Jayaraman, one of the partners in the firm, asked me the reason. That was, perhaps, the first (and the last) time I felt any semblance of pride for the engineering degree that I had acquired.

"I know. Probably not your sweet spot. But I am glad you at least tried. Good luck!" he said and wished me well.

It would be months before I landed a stable job, but my first job did two things for me: taught me to ride a Bajaj Chetak and brought me back to the ground.

So, what was your first job like? How long did you stick around?

COMING SOON! In The Whirlpools of the Koel River - by Virinchi B Srinivasan

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