Friday, October 03, 2008

Sales and Service.......दारावरचं पाव्हणं .....

Many moons ago, when business was something you did because your family was entrenched in it, and no one went and acquired degrees in it, I used to think that marketing was selling something you enjoyed to people who came to you and asked nicely.

By and by , I realized it was all about convincing people about things; and never mind if they didn't have any use for the item. Still, there continued to be an iota of suspicion in people's minds regarding smooth talkers, and i remember my mother soundly telling off someone who came selling some oil at our door once, and spouted so many erroneous properties, that after listening to my mother he must have resigned and gone back to school.

Today, the type of things that are marketed door to door, have increased in variety.

The top prize has to be the guy who comes with a huge bag of nonstick and semi stick pots and pans. He asks for your old ones and then offers you 50% off on the new ones. These guys always come on a holiday and/or weekend, and it's always around the time, when you have finished getting lunch ready and are just sitting down for some light reading or television, waiting for the family to turn up. Notice how they never land up when you are about to fry the onions a golden brown, boil the milk, or throw mustard seeds into hot oil. If you have a female relative visiting then, it's as if he has hit the jackpot. Good sense has a habit of disappearing at such times.

Then there are old bearded semi grandfather types, who arrive with a fitter younger assistant, whose job is to simply carry rolled up carpets on his head. They manoeuvre themselves to the top most floor via an amazingly small elevator, without crushing the carpets. Ring your bell, and put on their most benevolent smile as they address you as behenji(sister) or beti(daughter) and convince you that you simply need a carpet immediately.

Kashmir,Persia and other details are casually bandied about. They are indefatigable as they roll out each piece, and quote totally outrageous prices. The rule of thumb for me is to always start bargaining at 50% of the price. I have stopped entertaining these folks, after a spot on the carpet suddenly gave up its color while being cleaned.

The latest addition to the lot, are the smooth talking chaps who come to sell intellectual stuff, like dictionaries and encyclopedias. They all have a secret predilection for Websters, something which continues to amaze me. It doesn't matter if you have left things halfway in the kitchen, and your hands are full of dough that you are kneading. It doesn't matter if they have disturbed you while are sneaking up on a well deserved nap. These guys, who sometimes arrive wearing suits and ties, will often offer a small dictionary free with a very thick large one. The minute you open the door, their verbal performance kicks in. I have often acquired a totally unrequired dictionary just to get rid of these guys.

Then there are very traditionally dressed women, with a child always on their hip. selling big and small brooms for housecleaning. They are probably the most successful sellers, as their sheer variety, and homely approach , and a request to buy one more, always elicits a positive response, along with a sweetmeat or fruit for the child, who probably wonders if all aunties are always this nice......

But sometimes, the intention is questionable, and happens when the individual is selling a "service".

Many years ago, when my parents were in their early eighties, in Pune, a few grandchildren-graduations in the US loomed on the horizon, and my father's passport was sent off, by post, for renewal. Here in India, a police clearance facilitates a quick renewal. Normally, for folks my father's age, this is an automatic thing. They check things with your neighbors, and personal visits are never made unless properly preplanned and required.

Not this time. Some new police recruit wanted to make a quick buck.

My father, an inveterate writer, whose hand now had Parkinsonian tremors, was in the midst of writing an angry letter-to-the-editor , and dictating stuff to a student who came daily to help.

My father was hard of hearing.

The bell rings.

Normally, for two old folks living alone, most visitors are known. This time the student went to open the door, and returned with a policeman in uniform.

My father motioned him to sit. Continued dictating.

"I've come to ask you some questions", he said, trying to sound pompous. "Police verification for passport renewal".

My father holds up his hand. "Shhh. Wait, let me finish what I am doing. Sit " And waves him to the sofa.

The police guy restlessly looks around for some magazines. He finds religious, and health magazines . Keeps them away.

"Do you have a newspaper ?" he asks. My father holds up a copy with a pair of scissors, that he is using, to cut a news item,
which has made him angry about something, which he is attaching to some letter.

"Wait", says my father.

The cop has never had to sit still so long. Several minutes go by. He glances around.

"Can I put the TV on?"

"Absolutely not", roars my father. The TV with its huge emphasis on serials with crime, films, and many things considered harmful by my father, was a sore thing with him. News was what you watched, if at all.

The cop had never been treated this way. Clears his throat.

"I need to ask you some questions" he says. It has already fallen on deaf ears as he is sitting on the side my father cannot hear. My father holds up his hand, and gives the guy a look that headmasters give to their errant students.

"What was the name of your primary school ?" the guy asks.

At this point, having just climbed a bunch of steep stairs, my mother came in from the temple and was absolutely aghast to see a police chap sitting in the living room, and my father merrily carrying on his work.

The primary school query was a new one. She was convinced the guy was up to no good, and asked why he had come.

" Why do you want to know about his primary school ? Who sent you ?

The police chap stands up, twirls his mustache, clears his throat and launches into what he thinks will be something that will intimidate my mother Passport check. Questions. Correct answers required. Fee .

(he cooked his own goose with the last item)

She drew herself up to her 5 foot 2 inches. "We have travelled with passports since the last 40 years. Renewed passports several times. Physical restrictions made us do this by mail this year. But then no one has asked such stupid questions about primary schools of a person going into his 83rd year. And we know, there is no fee payable here. We have the original fee payment receipt."

"Give me your badge number" she said. "I will call the Inspector "

And she walked to the phone. Didn't have the faintest idea about the Inspector or his name.

My father just glared at the cop, shook his head and waved him away, imperiously.

The guy simply did the fastest about turn and disappeared , before my mother could give a piece of her mind to the police station about vague chaps being sent over for unnecessary visits to elderly folks.

The student who came to transcribe the letters, had just had a lesson, on how crime never pays. And how never to take grandparent types for granted.

He also learned how to stay with it, after observing my mother seeing the matter through with the station in charge, who apologized. Don't know what happened to the cop who tried to make a quick buck.

Sometimes, some "services" at the door , like this have an unexpected reward. The "friendly" cops subsequently kept a watchful eye on our house, and no one ever tried selling anything there after that.


  1. Lol:), hats off to ur mother !, these policemen need more of her tribe.
    I never believe in salesmen tribe, seen many of them who are fake.

  2. Lol:), hats off to ur mother !, these policemen need more of her tribe.
    I never believe in salesmen tribe, seen many of them who are fake.

  3. What a wonderful story. Your grandparents sound like they are strong willed, intelligent people with a lot of character! Good for them!

    We don't have door to door sales people any more. When I was a little girl, it happened more frequently (and always with dictionaries and vaccums). Now, the salespeople are on TV - always the "infomercials" ~ they target people and pull them in with false claims. Have you ever watched a salesperson's arms and hands? Typically (at least in the US on TV), the sales person is always pulling you in, by waving his arms forward and inward. Big voice, big arms, big arm movements - once you recognize it, it's almost funny to watch it in the future.

  4. Interesting. Enjoyed reading this story.

  5. I loved this story. I can't remember when a person ever came to my door selling something. It sure has been a long time ago. People, especially older people, who are home alone during the day would probably not open their doors here. I bet that cop never even thought about stopping by your parents place again!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Suranga I want to meet your parents!
    Salespeople (note the political correctness) aren't nearly so colourful in Australia. We may get a mobile phone salesman or a Jehovah's Witness. Maybe a child with his father seeking a donation for cancer research ...

  8. The political correctness didn't last long ...

  9. LOL !!

    That was a neat episode and wonderfully narrated that i read till the end at such a speed that i am not accustomed to ! I wanted to see what happens to this police man !!

    The earliest of 'requests / offerings' at the doorstep that i can remember of are the neighbourhood gurkhas ( who i used to revere) and able men and women who came masquerading and marketing disabilities !

    They used to get a thrashing at home...and those memories stay ! :)

  10. Love reading about life in India.
    What gastronomical delights could I use as an alternative to curry to persuade R to visit the Taj Mahal ?

  11. I am easily gulled by sales people of every type and description. So I admire your parents' way of dealing with them very much. Incidentally, once I saw a notice in front of a apartment in Kolkata, "DOGS AND SALESPERSONS NOT ALLOWED'. Made me feel really bad.

  12. Good post! Please convey our applause to your Mom. I had a similar aunty who did not care about anything and was very bold in telling what she felt. People were very scared to walk into their house. Though she was diabled in her last years, her voice still controlled everyone who tried stepping into their house. Some sellers really do not bother about our privacy in India. When we lived there we used to keep our gates locked and they used to irritate us more by hitting the gate iron rods. Here they have so much of privacy and there will be warning in front of door elders houses. Here in major cities we have the nuisance of people coming and dropping leaflets. Some houses carry boards and stickers warning them as well. Your post took me to few old memories.

  13. Renu : Thank you. These days we need to be very careful of whoever appears at the door too...

    Aleta Thank you. Just a little clarification. It was my parents, not my grandparents ! And I will certainly now pay attention to the infomercials on TV; never observed them in detail before for hand movements etc....

    Vivek Patwardhan Thank you. (Actually, this was a typical characteristic of elderly types in Pune; still holds true too :-)

    Judy Thank you. I guess the cops thought twice before trying to fool my folks into anything, after this experience.

    June Thank you. I guess you can only "virtually" meet my parents. As of 2006, they are no more. But are alive through the wonderful memories......

    Kavi Thank you. And yes, I know about the door to door, abled cum disabled types who come , with a paper requesting donations and stuff. We have our share of those too. My parents didnt have too many of this type, possibly because they didnt live in a apartment complex, where its easy to disappear ....

    Barbara Thank you. have left a mail for you on your blogsite...

    Sucharita Yes, I have seen a similar notice too. Maybe this cop (that visited my folks),should be visiting these folks..... but do be careful yourself when you open the door to strangers these days....

  14. balaji s rajan : Thank you for your comments. My parents are no more, and Oct 3 being my fathers birthday, I was just thinking about some old memories. (And the blog happened)....

    I think many folks from that generation are and were like that. More power to them, and may we all learn something there ....

  15. What a neat story! I could completely visualize your father shushing that cop and your mother giving him the stern eye. How very true that people of that generation had their priorities right. My grandfather was very much like your father. I think of him often and relive such memories.

    BTW, you forgot the Aquaguard fellas!

  16. globalindyan,

    Nice to see you back on the Blogs.

    Thanks for reminding me about the Aquaguard guys. I resolutely do not have an Aquaguard, and am a continuing challenge to several generations of these Aquaguard types who prowl around our area.

    Incidentally, with all the education that we have these days and all the facilities in life and communication, I think my parents generation is still one-up on us as far as dealing with life in concerned....

  17. Thank you for visiting my blog. I never would have known about yours otherwise.

    Your story is so funny. I am still laughing. I would love to have known your parents.

    We had a lot of door-to-door salesmen during the Great Depression but no more. I think they have to purchase a license and it is no longer profitable.

  18. That's some gumption indeed :) The cop must not have experienced anything like this before, and after :)

    I've always admired door-to-door sellers for the sheer hard work it can be, most times that is.

    The post made for enjoyable reading.