Kickstarting woes

The Sales Room
R T Manu Ramesh
Frog Books
2014,
pp 196
Rs 145

The Sales Room by R T Manu Ramesh has at its centre a start-up and a young and supposedly ambitious salesman called Rajesh Iyer.

Oregon Software Technologies is the start-up in question — a fumbling, bumbling firm that seems to have no idea what it’s doing, especially when it tries to market its own software. Whatever Oregon has managed to sell its dwindling list of clients is riddled with bugs and faulty coding. Added to its incompetence is the firm’s belief that lowering prices of its software would be a fallacy. Pricing its packages at twice the rates, its competitor does pave the way for disaster, time and again. 

Besides, Oregon has a habit of projecting itself as bigger and more influential than it actually is. The start-up is also, as the narrator Rajesh explains at the start of the book, now owned by a cricket star and his Bollywood star daughter. A young woman who might “...settle for the high profile liquor baron’s son...”

Unfortunately, The Sales Room suffers from poor writing, little or no characterisation, and a staid, unconvincing plot that tries too hard to be funny. The language used in the main narrative is contrived, almost forced, lacking the flow to make it truly lighthearted or conversational. Rajesh Iyer, the protagonist, is as scattered a character as they come, and nearly every character in the book seems to have a similar personality. There are a few moments of originality, like when Oregon’s CEO Venkatesh Iyengar or Venky tries to balance his meetings with the phone calls his wife makes at inopportune moments. Yet, overall, characters appear one-dimensional and very close to caricatures. 

Conversation is stilted at times, unconvincing in others. There is also a tendency to include abbreviations and their full forms in brackets in conversation, making the dialogues seem peculiar. Editing errors and missing punctuation only add to the confusion. For example, on page 81, Rajesh describes a reaction thus “...it almost made me wretch.” Or page 35, “Your” in place of “You’re.” Only the CEO appears to have any shades of uniqueness. His aversion to B-schools and his unwillingness to listen to anybody but himself gives him a cast of originality.

While the book claims to be a ‘satire’, its observations on human nature and the quirks of an ambitious start-up do not offer convincing insights — instead, The Sales Room in many places strains to portray what it thinks it portrays. Rajesh Iyer, a self-confessed unmarried ‘bloke’, is also curiously obsessed with porn, a man who sees each woman as a potential bedmate. The narrative is also replete with profanity and references to the human anatomy that they grow tiresome after a point. Is it really necessary to elucidate Rajesh’s fantasies on every page? The constant, incessant dreams this young man has of the female body, even the female voice, border on the disturbing. Whatever sense of humour The Sales Room thinks it has, is very little. 

Oregon’s story could have provided the basis for an interesting plot. And yet, a start-up alone cannot a plot make. Rajesh’s obsessions overshadow Oregon itself. 

A change of narrative voice on page 113, where the narrator briefly becomes ‘Girish’, could have been intriguing. Yet Girish sounds almost exactly like Rajesh. Reams of advice and book excerpts in the later chapters, thinly disguised as dialogue, read like essays. It may have been a clever ploy to have the ideas spread across the voices of different characters, but with every character struggling with his identity, this does not come across effectively either. The Sales Room had its chance. Rid of the poor editing, the slapdash language and overmuch focus on the tribulations of a single bloke, it could have been a little easier to read.

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