Saturday, August 28, 2010

From the Diary of a Sales Manager

During the good years spent selling biscuits, cake, hair oil and what have you, I was lucky to have toured a better part of the Country. From the beautiful hills of Himachal, to the small villages of Gonda, Basti and Sultanpur district in UP, and the desert land of Rajasthan – I got to see it pretty much all. The journey was adventurous by any stretch of imagination, with never a dull moment or a new experience each time I packed up my bag and set off…

One such adventure that remains etched in my mind, dates back to 1993. As Area Sales Manager, I used to travel to Rajasthan frequently. On one such trip, we decided to travel to the very interiors of Jodhpur – the most beautiful and enchanting part of Rajasthan – once part of the Marwar region.

We set off in a van laden with Britannia biscuits – the distributor, his team of two, and one Company colleague. The Van was well designed, with three sections – the front part for the driver and his aide, a middle section for the salesman complete with a folding table and racks to stack the stock and sales registers. The last part stocked the material.

After a hard day’s work –essentially trying to introduce branded biscuits to the rural folk who never seemed to have heard of these, we called it a day at about 5 pm. Sales had been indifferent but this was not unexpected, and the van was still laden and heavy with unsold stock. We turned back towards Jodhpur which was 4 hours away. We bought beer and settled down in the middle section, to have a party of sorts, after a good day’s work.

About 15 minutes into the journey, when we had barely hit the highway, there was a loud sound, and the van tilted towards its side, almost overturning. With good presence of mind, the driver brought the vehicle to a halt. We got down to our surprise and horror, we saw that the rear wheel had come off while the van was moving, and therefore had spun off into nowhere.
There was not sign of the four nuts that had held the wheel in place. There was initial relief because there was no accident, but clearly there was a crisis, considering the time of the day, and the work at hand…..

The spare wheel was brought out. And the classic solution to the old riddle came in handy. We had to take out one nut from each of the three other wheels and use them to fit the spare wheel. All four wheels would have to be held with three nuts till such time as help was sought.

The problem was – it was dark now. And on a small road in the middle of nowhere, dark means pitch dark ! We stopped a truck passing by and borrowed his match box. Then burnt newspaper after newspaper, to keep a fire on, to get light. Finally a kind car driver passing by, provided (literally gave away) his torch.

The spare wheel now firmly in place, the next mission was to find the wheel that has spun off on its own. Five of us spread out over a distance of about two kilometres either side of the parked van, and searched for the wheel on both sides of the road – in pitch darkness. After what seemed eternity, but was actually two hours, we did find the wheel, and were on our way.

The time was 11 pm now. Fifteen minutes after we had started, we came across a roadside Dhaba. We were in a funny state – obviously very tired, a bit drunk, from the beer we had just about begun to enjoy, and very, very hungry. Stopping and having dinner before we set out for Jodhpur was the logical choice. The driver meanwhile took the van to a tyre repair shop to see how he could secure the wheel further.

Dinner over, we started off for Jodhpur. And since the very typical Rajasthani dinner was very heavy, everyone was instantly sleepy. But to express solidarity with the poor driver, we decided to take turns sitting by his side, so he could also remain awake. I opted for the first ‘watch’

Keeping awake was a challenge and I was struggling. Suddenly the distributor who had made himself comfortable in the middle section let out a shout, asking the driver to stop. The van seemed to have swayed or so his weary and slightly intoxicated brain seemed to imagine. We all got out once again, keeping our fingers crossed and praying. Anything God but not that same problem again.

Turned out God was kind enough in some way. The wheel hadn’t flown off. But the three nuts had disappeared. For all practical purposes we were back to square one!

We surveyed the surroundings. We were again in complete wilderness, and somehow, the environment and the time of the day, made it seem a little scary now. Here we were, in on a road passing through miles of empty, barren land, no signs of any habitation, no light, and lots of money and stock of value.

Somehow – this time – we gave up! The situation was just too hopeless. Three of us climbed up to the roof of the van. That was our bed, and the open sky was now our roof. And everything else was up to God Almighty….

We must have dozed off for a couple of hours before the vague awareness of the first light brought us around. Within minutes a plan was made. Three of us would hitch a ride to the nearest City of Jalore, which had been our last stop the last evening. From there we would organise transport to Jodhpur. The driver and his helper would organise repair for the van.

The first vehicle approaching us - a kind truck driver headed towards Jalore accommodated us. First success of the day !

But you never know what trouble to expect when. While sitting cramped in the cabin of the truck where there were five instead of three, I got this incredible sensation to go to the toilet.

The very heavy dinner, laced with pure ghee had to take its toll, and this had got discounted in course of the events of the last few hours. The sensation soon turned to a torture, when I finally got off the truck. Cornered to a wall, the only practical solution was to organise some water and head off to the jungle…after all this also had to be experienced first time in life.

Just then Providence intervened. A very kind passer by pointed to a Dhaba where here confirmed I could find a toilet, as well as make arrangements to hire a jeep to go to Jodhpur.

The incredible feeling of relief when I locked myself in that dirty toilet of a roadside Dhaba, and just let myself go, is hard to describe. Suffice to say, I have never overcome with such a nice feeling when visiting a loo!

The bonus that came our way was an early breakfast, and a jeep waiting to take us to Jodhpur. We reached Jodhpur at just before noon.

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