Bombay was home to my first job. I made a majestic 4,500 Rs. a month for being a "Marketing Engineer" - a fancy title for what really was door-to-door field marketing and "cold calling".
It was no piece of cake. "Apna business card rakh doh, we'll call you if needed" was the most common response from most office receptions. That was probably the mildest form of rejection compared to harsher ones in rare cases.
My office was in Malad (E) near the train station and it had a grand total of three people. One boss and two "Marketing Engineers", including yours faithfully.
Rathod was my co-worker and was senior to me (by about two months) and he would usually be dictating day to day activities, like what offices or what region of Bombay to target etc. Atul, who was my boss, was roughly around the same age as me and his main business was digitizing manual Engineering drawings. We are talking late 1990s when CAD / CAM technology had just picked steam.
Atul's marketing franchise was more of a side or a second business, if you will. The idea was to sell CAD/CAM software licenses of a US based company to various types of Engineering / Consulting firms in the Mumbai region.
Rathod told me to cover South Bombay, Central Bombay and Navi Mumbai areas while he would cover Western suburbs. "That's very convenient" I said in my mind but did not challenge him.
Some target companies were big corporate sized like Shapoorji Pallonji and Hiranandani while some others were small boutique offices often in a small one or two bedroom apartments in a residential housing society. I remember one potential customer even had a make shift shade in an old closed factory somewhere near Byculla, and based on the information we had, they were already making millions from clients in Australia and Malaysia.
I learnt my first professional lesson in Bombay - don't go by what you see on the face value. A company or an office may look miserable, dingy and non-fancy, and yet they could be roping in moolah hand over fist.
We had to cover it all. Any company that had the word Architects or Landscape or Electrical Drawings or HVAC or Structural Engineers was fair game.
After initial hiccups and warming up on the job routine I started to discover and enjoy Bombay. Some days I would take bus from Anushkatinagar to Colaba, some days to Dadar T.T Circle and some days to CBD Belapur. I covered the length and breadth of that patch on a daily basis.
Most days I would look at the Yellow pages, and take a wild swing of where I want to land and just start my day. There was no structured or strategic way for reaching out to potential customers. No printed or predetermined list of potential clients or appointments set in advance. I was on my own and I enjoyed that freedom of going to any place of my choice. It was basically shooting into the dark..
I had special bias for Chembur / Ghatkoper area though because the food options there were great and it was closer to home. I used to have lunch at Punjabi Ghasitaram Halwai or some Udipi place owned by a Shetty.
In South Bombay my favorite was to have Bombay Chatni Sandwich over at a street vendor followed by a sumptuous dose of sweet Lassi. The total cost of that meal would come to less than 15/- and yet it was satisfying and filling to the core. Also the cost was way within my DA limit.
Most people who surrounded the Sandwich stall were people in tie and formal office clothes enjoying their mid day meals. I am assuming they were all in the field Marketing and Sales.There were no cell phones then, but I used to notice a small black pager hanging from peoples belts and trousers. Of course I did not want it or missed having it.
As I started getting baked into the Bombay life, I started enjoying the finer nuances of the city life. For instance, it was always nice to take a bus from its starting depot. More often than not you'll find a vacant seat. Finding a seat on a BEST bus was a privilege and a matter of chance. I used to be super impressed by the BEST conductor and the way he would navigate the crowd and keep it all straight in his head in a moving bus. It was an act of extreme skill with multi-tasking and even heroism at times.
Soon I started mapping BEST routes and bus numbers in my head. I realized that to survive and thrive in Bombay you have to know its transportation system well. Mumbai's transportation system whether BEST or local trains was a world in itself and once you mastered that system, you ensured yourself a smooth ride every time - no pun intended.
(Very rarely I remember a BEST or Local train miss it's schedule timing by the way.)
Noble winning laureate V.S Naipual famously wrote "Bombay is a crowd" - in his book. I think 'Bombay is a crowd full of characters' is what he meant.
As I started visiting various offices - big and small - I started meeting and observing various characters. Just for the records my conversion strike rate was at 0% for first 9 months in the job; as in I could not make a single sale.
Once a Bengali procurement officer from an Architecture firm in Belapur asked me to show a demo of my product. After watching the presentation for about 5 minutes he asked me to stop. "Aap Calcutta chale jao, you'll find all the latest and greatest software there. In Bombay they are using all old Software for Architecture designing.." There was no point arguing with him and like a typical Mumbaite I "moved on". I left the office and took a bus to Sector 17 in Vashi. Another place where I could find a ton load of great restaurants for lunch.
If you are thinking I was using my marketing job only as an excuse to find great food places in Bombay, you are only partially wrong.
In the Fort area I visited many Parsi / Muslim owned companies. One such company was of famous architect Hafeez Contractor. His office was unique in many ways and I sat at his front office waiting for someone to give me a chance to show our CAD/CAM software demo. But after about an hour or so, I was politely asked to leave.
I worked in this company for little over a year before pulling the plug and moving on to a different field altogether. In that one year though, I discovered and rediscovered many places of Mumbai. Stretched my zone to cover even areas like Pedar Road, Worli, Stantacruz etc. (My favorite view of Bombay is the road overlooking Haji Ali. It is mesmerizing)
From plush South Bombay area to the new and upcoming Belapur, Bombay was and is truly the "Maximum City". The city that taught me professional work ethics and importance of being on time, which I may dare say is rarely found in other cities of India.
Bombay was and will always remain special...Salaam!
Post Script : I did finally manage to sell one software package. An aging Architect from Chembur bought our software license for a princely sum of 100,000/-. A huge amount in 1997..This was also a big win for our company! I was paid 100% bonus for this. That means an extra 4,500/-.. that I splurged on - you guessed it - Food and Drinks.
Image Credit : Sumon Malik, New Bombay