Disclaimer: I got a copy of this book from the publishers on behest of the author for an honest review of the same.
So when Manu first reached out to me, asking me to review a “humorous novel about a failing start-up based in Bangalore”, three words struck me. Humorous. Start-Up. Bangalore. How could I refuse?
A very quick racy read – giving us a tongue-firmly-in-cheek look (or “thumb-firmly-up-the-ass, as the protagonist of Sales Room is wont to say) about a start-up based in Bangalore doomed to failure. The Sales Room brings to fore “all the action inside the ‘sales room’ – a no-holds barred parda-fash (the expose for those not familiar with hindi) and a behind-the-scenes look at all the levers and triggers that work behind running a start-up – all this from the scathing sarcastic point of view of a 26-year old engineer – with B-School aspirations – and a firmly unforgiving outlook on all the malpractices that keep sales in an IT Firm afloat.
Chock-a-block with astute observations about the sales process – especially all the dirty secrets in the cupboards that come pouring out in buckets-full - Manu probably bases this on an auto-biographical sketch. But those hanky-panky idiosyncrasies that lend colour to all the familiar characters we would typically see in an IT firm is a riot to read about. His writing lends them credence, a three-dimensional realism that resonates with the readers.
So the hoi-polloi who make up the general populace at an IT Firm? You know them. You walk past their cubicles. You see them puffing away at that small stub of a cigarette like its going to spark one last innovation that will change their lives. You seen them slink away from the coffee machine furtively avoiding their bosses eyes. Manu here presents them in full techni-colour. Complete with footnotes:
The one-track mind boss obsessed with positioning his products as “premium” in spite of a clear lack of quality and his hatred of B-school grads bordering on psychosomatic antipathy and his blind buff confidence that often lands him in a soup. Check.
The hyperventilating investor boss as the “Face” of the disgruntled senior management who loves venting out his frustration of being bossed over by his wife at home – by screaming at everyone else. Yes. Based out of the land of dreams, America. And screaming down the hierarchy at the “bloody” Indians for being non-competent at selling and thus making the investors some money. Check.
The multi-ethnic dreamy writer who heads the marketing division and can’t wait to get out – frustrated by the pseudo-intellectualism around him and the constant bull-shit piled on by the stupid boss. Check.
The engineering head who doesn’t know his C from A and B. [ For the non-engineers, C is a programming language. Yes. It is.] and who gets by clearly by a term, we corporates call “ass-licking”. Check.
The frustrated whiney bottomless pit of neediness Engineer. Who loves his rum too much. And who is probably the only exception to the “Chain of Screaming” [ ie the chain is broken at him and doesn’t get passed around anymore] – Check.
Throw in a couple of ladies. Yeah. The Good looking dumb chick with no lines who keeps the morale up in the office. And of course the bimbo with bazookas to keep something else up. Check.
And top it all off with the narrator. A twenty-six year old “tam-brahm” vying for an admission in the top 10 B-schools of the world and now back for the second stint in a firm that is like a Broken Arrow. Loose cannon without any direction or focus.
With such a load of characters from your everyday walk of life [especially if you are like me. In marketing operations for an IT Product firm where I deal with such guys day in and out] you know you have a top-class entertaining book. Manu throws in case studies one after the other about how sales ought NOT to be done for an IT start-up firm. It ought to be a cult classic with the sales folks around in India – the last chapter being a nail in the coffin of this fictional firm. I did think Manu walked a tightrope in terms of making it sound funny and yet keep it believable. Especially the excessively annoying habit of the narrator to get into lurid descriptions of the female anatomy to convey his frustrations at the inept boss. Some situations are seriously funny while some come across as just too exaggerated to be true. But hey, you never know. Selling in India, as the author puts it, is a completely different ballgame. If I were you though, a reader in the “sales room”, then I would pay attention to those last chapters. Rajesh, the first-person narrator spewing some wisdom after having played a non-committal role being just a mirror-image and mouth-piece for his quirky office-mates. And yeah – being set in Bangalore, Manu deftly captures the everyday scenes and minutiae that make up this silicon valley of India.
There definitely was another drawback but it could be a personal matter. The fact that while Rajesh’s background is alluded to ( his father being a Secretary of State?) we never really are privy to Rajesh’s thoughts. He comes across as a cold unsympathetic SOB with only a CYA [ Cover Your Ass. In other words, be self centred. And ensure your boat floats.] policy for most decisions taken in a firm. So yeah, your main narrator is this unemotional unattached chap who gets wet dreams about..well just about anything female and walks on two legs. Could be a turn-off but Manu’s easy flow of events and the humour helps ease things a bit.
Overall, I ain’t crooning that this is going to be your mantra to selling – but it forms a powerful medium giving us a “dekho” into the ever-turbulent sales room where all the decisions that could kill or maim the economy takes place. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s daft. It’s tongue-in-cheek. It’s irreverent to the core. And no, it’s not about selling.