Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Hemantha Kalam - 10 'Where are They?'

Hemantha Kalam
Kalam - 10

'Where are they?'

The other day I was at this Medical shop / Pharmacy in Chennai. There were a couple of guys who were dressed shabbily and waiting outside the shop for their turn to speak to the Pharmacy management. Being friendly with the management I casually asked who they were and I was told that they were Medical Representatives and I was in for a rude shock.

My third maternal uncle Late J.S. R. Krishna was a Medical Representative. He represented Albert David Pharmaceuticals, a Multinational Pharmaceutical company, in India, for a long time.

Though just an ‘intermediate’ (less than a graduate) he could speak English quite well and always rode a motorcycle, initially a ‘Matchless’ and later a ‘Royal Enfield’. He was always dressed like a dude and being a good looking person he was the local idol to many and many pushed his bike when it did not start and pushed him to teach them bike riding when he did not start. It was not only my uncle but in those days almost all representatives were chosen to be like that, handsome, well dressed, well spoken and riding either the ‘Royal Enfield’ or ‘Jawa’ later ‘Yezdi’ motorcycles.

As long as he was a Medical Representative, I rarely saw him ill dressed and certainly never without his coat, ties and shoes, shined well. He was quite an emotional man and vacillated between being ‘unnecessarily kind’ and ‘unnecessarily cross’ with people.

The point I was trying to make was that we young guys just loved him for his attire and demeanour. Probably unknowingly that seed germinated in me and I always pitched in to be a marketing guy myself. Well, the long and short of it is that I like to dress well (I still do) and felt what other job could give me that luxury.

During the 1960s and the 1970s the job market in India was more for Bank Clerical positions and Sales Representative positions, especially for students, who were of economically in the middle and lower middle classes of families. They used to equip themselves with the stock needed for these jobs like a minimum graduate degree-B.Sc., Physics / Chemistry for Medical Representative positions and B. Com / B.A for Bank Clerical positions fortified by Typewriting and Shorthand.

Well I never really was good at anything and certainly not at Maths at all. So somehow, with my father’s support and the kindness of University of Madras, I managed to get a B. Com degree. But the hitch now is that guys who did were not eligible to be medical representatives. So my desires and dreams of becoming a medical representative were dashed.

I enrolled myself as a Ledger keeper, then a Depot Clerk and later just a Clerk though I was assisting in Marketing and Sales Administration positions with Godrej Soaps Limited. We did have many exceptionally well dressed and handsome guys who were representatives with Godrej Soaps Limited.

During this time, I realised my folly and enrolled for Evening Courses of Management from University of Madras and this time I excelled. When my guide Mr. James, Madura Coats Limited and the internal guide called over phone to congratulate me for my dissertation I was ecstatical – at last I qualified to be in Marketing.   
But the damage has been irreparably done. Like the Tamil Movie comedian Vadivelu says ‘my body was strong but the foundation remained to be weak’. It was only later that I could really become a Sales Manager, a Marketing Manager and finally a Managing Director.

Yes, I also realised my love for dressing well but again I used to vacillate between ‘dressing well’ and ‘dressing outlandishly’ depending on my moods and enjoyed both equally. In several organisations I have also been recognised as a ‘Well Dressed Male’ ‘Well Dressed Employee’ etc.

But coming back to the point, what happened to all those disciplined, well articulating, well dressed and handsome guys?

Today, the demand for software jobs is taking its toll and it is apparently becoming increasingly difficult to find ‘well qualified, well dressed, well articulating’ representatives-Medical or otherwise.

Without malice to anybody, I do have to observe that the present day’s representatives-especially the Medical Representatives cannot hold a candle to their predecessors.

I see people wearing, ill matching shirts and trousers, sandals in place of shoes, displaying unkempt / outlandish beards and stubbles, ties being tied without knowing how to knot. The personality is simply not there at all. Worst is that most of them do not know how to speak to Physicians, explain combinations, detail the medicines and potions even with the help of literature and detailing folders. I understand that pathetic though many 'graduates' cannot even read, write, speak English properly and more that they cannot even do simple arithmatic. 

The whole profession has apparently degenerated to just calculating on quantum than quality. What a pity? I do not envy the trainers of the Pharmaceuticals at all. And I do not envy the Physicians who now have to cope up with ill-informed, un professional 'detailing'.

Today the ‘representatives’ use tiny mouse-like vehicles and get lost in the crowd. No comparison to the distinct representatives of yore who could be seen from afar and who always used to create an awe making their opening gambits easier.

Where are those well dressed men? Where are those bikes? And where is that elegance?

You tell me! :-)

Till then, 

Krutagjnatalu (Telugu), Nanri (Tamil), Dhanyavaadagalu (Kannada), Nanni (Malayalam), Dhanyavaad (Hindi), Thanks (English), Dhonyabaad (Bangla), Gracias (Spanish), Grazie (Italian), Danke Schon (Deutsche), Merci (French), Obrigado (Portuguese), Shukraan (Arabic), Shukriya (Urdu), Aw-koon (Khmer), Kawp Jai Lhai Lhai (Laotian), Kob Kun Krab (Thai) and Asante (Kiswahili).

Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy

Chennai, India

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