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27 December 2009

Coffee with the Clocks

Thursday morning and I’m out in the city sitting at a “designer” coffee shop situated at the busiest metro rail station in New Delhi. I’ve decided to spend my weekly off with an old friend, and we’re headed to Chandni Chowk for an eating spree. Realizing that I’m unusually early for the appointment today, I end up caffienating on a couch by the café window. I’m taken over by a malicious sense of satisfaction seeing so many people rush off to work as I snuggly sprawl back on the black leather sofa, perhaps an eternity of working weekends have caused a revival of my childlike vengeful nature.

While I lounge enjoying my steamy hot Americano, I notice an equally steaming billboard on the platform outside promoting ORAL pleasures of different sort (in coffee flavor of course). The ad shows an Indian couple on a bed, half draped in silken sheets affirming the company’s yet to be scientifically proven hypothesis that “coffee tastes better in bed”. Surprisingly the ad doesn’t seem to be producing any head turning effect; in fact people aren’t even giving it a glance. As the next metro empties at this busy junction, a swarm of office goers walk past the giant billboard completely overlooking it –almost as if to say “Thank you but we’re Indians. We don’t prefer condoms, and coffee?.. are you kidding!” Incidentally India is a country of 1.2 billion people, largely tea drinkers.

Bang opposite is another titillating billboard for a global inner wear brand, showing four grown up men, disrobed to nothing but a pair of boxers, sitting on a locker room bench, doing suggestive gesticulations with balls. Footballs of course. Obviously there is nothing serious about all this cos they’re “Just Jockeying”.

I start to think if we as Indians have become a lot more permissive to bold advertising. Back in the early days rubber marketers would sell the rubber by showing a picture of a couple holding hands on a beach against the backdrop of a setting sun, anything a bit more suggestive could easily have offended the Indian sensibilities. We’re in a different era now, and sex is no longer a taboo for us, be in on the silver screen or the ad world.

A glance back at my watch to reaffirms my notion of passed time. Time inevitably brings in changes to the ways of the society, and one can spend countless moments wondering how things will change in the future. My stimulated mind leaves me convinced that coffee tastes just as good anywhere. The friend arrives and we leave on a modernistic train to reach our destination – Chandni Chowk-the Old city.

21 November 2009

Whiff of Seduction

Since afternoon I’ve caught myself a few times gazing at Gayetri, the petite salesgirl at the perfume counter. I think I’m really attracted to those juicy pouts of her, right below her chiseled nose that effortlessly sniffs one fragrance after the other, letting her describe each aroma with colourful adjectives. When she keeps her long curly hair open, like she has them today, she looks like the charming empress of her own magical fantasy world of nasal pleasures. Hope that stout son doesn’t ask her to tie them up today. I’ve caught her a couple of times staring at me too…maybe she knows I’m interested..maybe she’s interested too!

Gayetri possesses a special talent in gift wrapping, and often comes handy in the store. Her nimble fingers can magically transform any boring perfume box into a painstakingly picked enticing gift of a lover. I don’t think any of the other girls could match the finesse she has in wrapping up those boxes… I don’t think I could match it! I wanted to tell her so much.. so badly… that if she was good at wrapping up gifts… I had a hidden talent too… I am good at unwrapping things.

P.S: When eyes meet and sparks fly, imaginations can go for a wild run. (I’m still trying to tame mine)

08 November 2009

Line of Control

It’s the festive weekend before Diwali. The store is jam packed with punters doing their last minute shopping before the festivities begin. By 4 pm my stomach starts growling with hunger, it’s a strange irony: we work for food, yet at times work comes in the way of food. Once the rush subsides, I grab my sandwich and sneak upstairs to the back room for a quick bite.

As I begin to make the most of my express lunch I find Raghu sitting comfortably in one corner delightfully savoring his 5 course home cooked meal. In his early forties, Raghu is the old soldier of his territory, the shoe section. He’s known to have worked as a door to door salesman selling encyclopedias and dictionaries but funnily enough it didn’t help to polish off his own English terminologies. With his grey hair and outdated views he’s a purple cow of sorts within the store’s squad of young sales assistants.

“Buddy, that snack won’t help you survive the evening surge, here, have some rice” shouts Raghu from the corner.
Being a social recluse, I’m a bit hesitant to unwarranted tête-à-tête, but on this occasion I find myself giving in to the aroma of hot rice and curry.

“I could eat all of this you know” I say cheerfully putting another spoonful of rice in my mouth. I see Raghu watching me sympathetically, his face showing a contentment one would get from feeding a starved street child.

“You live alone in the city, don’t you? I remember when I was your age, I was a solitary soul myself, surviving on cold sandwiches. Life’s much better now though. You look old enough to get hitched, why don’t you settle down?” His expected advice is no shock to me; I’m a bit immune to unwanted matrimonial advisory now. Here in India, if you’re hungry, lonely and over 24 – it’s time to get a wife.

“It’s only a matter of finding the right girl sir; you wouldn’t know an eligible single girl willing to marry a salesman, would you?” comes my cynical reply.

“Here, show your hand, let’s see what your lines have to say about your future.” In his keen enthusiasm, he draws my right hand towards his range of vision, forgetting that it is still a greasy memento of the delicious meal I just finished. I look into the glasses which cover his eyes, eagerly waiting for my future to be revealed by a shoe salesman cum palmist.

“Oh, you’ve got a really long life line kid, but too bad your fate line is fatally broken at places” he tells, adjusting his glasses. I’m sure that isn’t something to be excited about. Life is going to screw me, and to top it, it’s going to screw me up longer. “Don’t be disheartened kid, life may try to play up a few pranks on you, but eventually you’ll be a stronger man , look at me, I had my share of conflicts and struggle too. On the positive side I see a love blossoming for you in the very near future.” He says as he gets up to leave.

Love? What’s that supposed to mean? Is he talking about love making...the kind of love that blossoms and withers on my bed every other fortnight? Or that indescribable, deep euphoric feeling that poets write about? Whatever the case may be but surely Raghu aint no Nostradamus, and after all even this great French astrologer is best known for his failed prophecies. My father once told me that “The future lies in your hands and not in the lines etched on the palm of the hands.” I like to believe in the idea of fate... but only when I’ve failed to achieve something which I really wanted.

I get down to the shop floor and get back to work but the thought of Raghu’s prophecy keeps tossing around in my mind; for the first time I am eager to find out what the future holds for me. I wonder if I’ll still be eating cold sandwiches next Diwali and whether I’ll still be selling clothes.

16 September 2009

Some days I’m alone... Some days I’m lonely

The rain god wants to play generous this monsoon it seems. It’s been pouring incessantly since the last 2 days. Bollywood has long romanticized such weather in its clichéd rain and dance sequences but I find this weather rather depressing, and it makes me feel miserable. By lunch time I realize that another slow afternoon at the store beckons, time refuses to pass, I contemplate if it’s me who’s feeling sluggish or the needles in my watch have gone lazy. I climb up the stairs, shove open the store door, and turn up the kettle. The store is a dingy stuffy corner room, smelling heavily of decomposing cardboard cartons, the air is almost suffocating on a humid day like today. Stacks of cardboard boxes lie against the two walls of the room, some unpacked and some still packed with fresh merchandise for this season. Despite its shabby appearance the store offers a refuge from the loud music that reverberates on the shop-floor.
I rest myself on a carton next to the table and light up a smoke allowing the nicotine rush to relax my over worked brain cells. A nihilistic thought dwells in my mind as I find myself struggling to answer the question emerging within my head. “Why do I feel alone despite being amongst so many people?” I think as I pour coffee in my mug. Maybe I know the answer - It’s because I’m invisible, no not physically, but the real me remains ever hidden. I’m nothing but an animated part of the store’s furniture. Nothing but a number on the company’s records. Nothing but a salesman

09 September 2009

Pick me Up!

Before the season collection hits the rack at the store, it is laid out before the most important contributors in the value chain.. that’s us .. the sales assistants. The entire range is revealed for scrutiny to a few lucky store representatives from each store at the Annual Collection Preview held at the company headquarters in Mumbai. The two day retreat is an excellent opportunity to break away from the monotonous store routine and indulge in some cross cultural, intra occupational flirting.
“Yeah, its sheer size is so big, and it does get a bit too hot and sweaty, but once you’re there, you’d love it!”, tells Shonalika, the Bengali girl sitting next to my right, answering queries about Kolkata to the Chandigarh store guy on her right. “I’d love to see it then” replies the enthusiastic punjabi sales attendant. Considering the window of opportunity closing for me in Bengal, I turn my head to the left, and with a fresh mind, focus on trying my luck on a dark beauty by my left side, However there’s only one problem – I’m not very good with conversation starters.
I try to remember some subtle, suave pickup lines I read at a “one liner t-shirt shop” in Delhi but it’s in vain. “You, me, whipped cream, handcuffs. Any questions?” or something similar will certainly not land me in bed with her so it’s safer to take it slow, I ponder. I try to think of things that we could have in common; perhaps we could talk about that. Then it occurs to me – Why don’t I talk to her about the one thing that brings us here to Mumbai – our business.
“How’s the business doing down south?” I ask innocently as she gives me a disgusted stare. “I mean Bangalore” – I try to defend myself but I can see that it’s too late. I really suck at starting conversations, and I’m even worse at holding on to meaningful conversations, perhaps the management could offer a training program for creative pick up lines.

26 August 2009

Clothes Maketh A Man

A young man walks into the store. He must be in his early twenties, however that’s not the first thing I notice about him. It’s his bright orange shirt with cream trousers that catches my first glance. Dressing is definitely not this guy’s expertise cos only a dork would wear such clothes. A smart, beautiful girl accompanied the bloke, whom I presumed to be his girlfriend. She sports a stylish blouse on a well fitted pair of blue jeans…if my guess is correct then certainly her choice for clothes is surely way better than her choice for men.

“Show me some trousers in thirty two that go along with these shirts”, says the man, taking out two fine cotton shirts from a shopping bag. “Certainly sir, I’ll just get you a few trousers for you to try on”, I reply. “You better make it fast cos i’m in a rush” he yells as I walk towards the men’s section.

“Sir, this is one of our finest trousers this season, and it will match perfectly with both your shirts” I pitch holding a striped Italian wool trouser. “I can see for myself, you just show me the trousers, and cut your crap” says the obnoxious chap. I plunge in faded enthusiasm, and take a step backwards, while the lady with him shows clear signs of embarrassment. He walks into the fitting room and returns in a refined disguise. “This looks fine I suppose”, he says to the lady as she nods with her worthy approval. “How long will you guys take to alter it?”, “Sir, the tailor usually takes an hour’s time, but since you seem to be in a rush I’ll get it done in thirty minutes” I reply and accompany him to the cash counter.

I bill the garment, swipe his credit card and dispatch it to the tailor for the adjustment. The trouser was complementing the shirts thoroughly, unlike the couple themselves. I look at the lady as if to compliment for her expertise in dressing which she acknowledges with a smile. “You better have my trousers ready in thirty minutes, or I’ll want my f***** money back” says the man and walks out of the store. My first impressions were correct, the guy was indeed a jerk, I think to myself as I walk back towards another approaching customer. Good clothes can make a man look good, but they can’t transform the jerk that he is.

27 June 2009

The Lone Dummy

Amidst the smothering emptiness and quietness at store, I think to myself whether the slowdown in my life is related to the ongoing economic slowdown that has gripped the world. The store is so much calmer these days, and my tubby store manager is equally stressed seeing the receding number of footfalls at the store. I stand right next to the summer collection of formal blazers, not one has left the store yet, I guess there haven’t been many interviews lately.

The changing rooms are all vacant and the clothes are all neatly folded on the shelves, yet I’m not too happy. While the financial crisis keeps the shoppers at home, the sun keeps the window shoppers away from the store, and the cash registers have been starving for months now.

In the thick of all the bad news, I’ve got at least one reason to be happy. I’ve found a new friend at the store these days, and we both share an eternal passion for fashion. The only worry is that I do all the talking as she’s more of a listener. Today she was dressed in a A-line purple evening dress by Manish Malhotra. She looked stunning! .. Even without a head.

13 May 2009

God's Gift

Within moments of starting the sore sunday shift today, a teenage girl wearing a pink polka top walks into the store. She’s looking for a present for someone. “Someone special ma’am?” I enquire. She tells me it’s for her mother, I suggest her a bottle of perfume, and lead her to the fragrance section. After sampling a few perfumes she settles for a nice Hermes fragrance with jasmine and vanilla overtones.

“That’s a really nice fragrance ma’am, I’m sure she’ll love it”, I politely compliment her choice while making the invoice, “Is it her birthday today?” I ask.

“Oh, no, its mothers day today, so I thought it’ll be nice to gift her something”, says the girl.

As I put her perfume in the shopping bag, I start thinking about my own mother, the woman who taught me how to stand on my two feet, the woman who taught me to be strong in the most difficult moments and never give up in life. (and the woman who bought all my underwear till last year) I haven’t called her for weeks and spend most of my free time royally ignoring her emails and voicemails. A sudden fit of guilt hits me and I dial home. Mom answers and I realize that her voice is something I’ve been wanting to hear for decades. Suddenly her complaints and to do lists do not seem so bad...

Happy Mother’s Day Mom. Love you

PS: The girl in pink top, thanks! Hope your mother liked your gift…

07 May 2009

Shopaholics Anonymous

Sales assistants love shopaholics, even if they are ugly, one eyed, and have stinky breath. We remember their names, sizes, colour preferences, contact details and we even wish them on their birthdays. One of my colleague has a diary with numbers of ‘devoted patrons’ which comes in very effective in stretches when the sales turn lean, and targets become tricky. With a short phone call, he lures in the compulsive shopper straight from her home to the store (well, I don’t know a male shopaholic yet!). All he needs to do now is to bring in some ‘Fresh Arrivals’ from the backroom storage to the shelves and play the perfect host to the store loyalist, a few shopping bags later, both him and the customer are happy, and so is our store manager.

Here are few pointers to discover if you are a shopaholic based on my knowledge:

  • If shopping accounts for more than your food, house rent and electricity costs put together
  • If you think the best place to go for a date is a mall, you could even drive your car to the mall blindfolded from your house.
  • Your dreams often involve buying expensive articles of clothing. If you dream about those red stilettos on sale at the store or the black evening dress on the window display at the mall last week you’re surely a shopaholic!
  • Your homepage is set to Ebay or
  • Your wardrobe could easily qualify as the national museum of fashion history, it is a blatant testimony of your impulsive indulgences over the years.
  • Stepping into the footwear section gives your heart palpitations; images of stilettos, sandals and slingbacks are like porn to you. (in other words, shopping gives you multiple shopgasms!)

03 May 2009

Welcome to the store...

I’ve been here at the glamour house for more than a year now. . 15 months and ten days to be precise… It’s the longest time I’ve spent with any employer. I still remember my hesitation when I’d taken up this job.. it wasn’t a dream job by any measure.. but when destiny is intent on stumbling you even before you learn to walk properly, you cant do much.

Last year, when I had joined, I could barely differentiate between a shirt and a trouser; women’s clothing was a totally alien territory to me. How was I going to give fashion advice to customers, when I struggled to strike a harmony with the clothes in my own wardrobe? Luckily Shalini came to my rescue, she had been at the store for a while then, and knew the store inside out. She and I became good friends; Shalini shared her knowledge and experience with me, and supported me like a well fitted lycra bra.

Shalini now supervises the sales staff, and is occasionally called in to train the dozen odd novice sales guys who join the store every month. I now walk around the store with a badge of “Sr. Customer Sales Associate” though my job description is pretty much the same! Folding clothes, getting sizes, making invoices, and playing barbie with the pretty female shopaholics..its all in a days work for me.

Our posh store offers chic, upmarket merchandise on its two floors. The finest Italian cotton shirts, the warmest merino wool pullovers, the most elegant evening dresses, exclusive designer creations, classy Nappa leather handbags and wallets, gold plated accessories, and french fragrances to satisfy all your fashion cravings.

The valet takes your car keys, the gate security opens the glass door, and I warmly welcome you to the store. Wipe off your sweat, relax in store’s cool air, and enjoy the music being played, while I help you transform the way you look. A world of materialistic utopia awaits you...