Sunday, August 15, 2004

The World on My Table

Last week a man came into my life and offered me the world. I thought over his offer for a while, but then refused. He insisted. I shook my head, firmly. Rejected, but undaunted, he walked on to the woman behind me. I heard him repeat his offer, and convince the woman of its viability. Well, he certainly wasted no time on me. "Easy come, easy go," I reflected.

Let me clarify. The "world" was actually a map…printed on waterproof cloth. And the man in question was a salesman on my bus, who boarded at a red light and spoke to all the passengers at length, expounding the qualities of this "ispecial" product. What I liked about him was his aggressive salesmanship. Getting on the bus with rolls of such sheets tucked safely under his armpit, he lost no time addressing us bhais and behens with his sales pitch. In a sing-song voice he listed the numerous advantages of this product, standing at the head of the bus. We could use it as a tablecloth, a study-tablecloth, as a kitchen-tablecloth, as a waterproof sheet under infants’ bed sheets, and even, in a real fix, as a makeshift umbrella over our heads to keep dry. Also, he added, lowering his voice that extra octave, we’d have a pretty good knowledge of geography in a few weeks. I was amused at a vision of studying off my tablecloth, instead of from my books! No way you could let your mind wander!

But I was brought back to what he was saying -- pulling the cloth in opposite directions, he demonstrated its inherent "untearability" for the next five seconds. Needless to say, he did not neglect to inform us that he was selling this stuff at about a quarter of the company price as a special favour to us! And then came the punch line of his sales mantra. Wagging his finger like a severe teacher, he informed us, "Now, I don’t have too many pieces of this product, so I’m afraid I can’t give this to all of you. So those who are interested please raise your hands while remaining seated and I’ll soon be with you."

About three people bought the twenty-rupee tablecloth-cum-waterproofing-against-all-sorts-of-liquids. One of them, while fiddling with change was reprimanded, "I don’t have all the time in the world, you know." Having made his sales for this particular bus, he smiled at the driver and conductor and stepped off the bus at the next stop. Taking with him the continents and oceans as the rest of us headed home to our boring, bought-over-the-counter tablecloths.
(This was published in the Times of India under the title "On Top of the World", on 13 May 2003)

No comments: