I am... Pannerselvam

Occupation: Chocolate salesman and pigmy agent

Location: North Bangalore

When Pannerselvam says he’s been a chocolate salesman for a good 27 years of his life, it’s quite difficult to place him in our superfast world. Who sticks to a job that long anyway, one would wonder. It’s also easy to pick something off the supermarket shelf, but we will rarely have time to wonder who made it appear there.

But there isn’t anything else Pannerselvam would rather do. A native of a village near Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, he’s lived in Bangalore since 1979. “My uncle got me into this business when I was 23. Till then I was working as a helper in Peenya industrial area, after I completed my SSLC.”

His routine hasn’t changed much over the last three decades. Chocolate manufacturing companies make sure their fare from Mumbai, Chennai, Pune and Mahabaleshwar reaches the depot from where agents pick their chocolate stock. This of course reaches him after he makes a bank deposit. “Each day I go to about 60 shops — paan-beeda shops, small hole-in the-wall stores, provision stores — on my tricycle distributing over 16 varieties of chocolates. I worked for a large agency for over 20 years, now I’ve gone independent… I’m the boss,” smiles Pannerselvam. Large chain stores and supermarkets buy directly from the manufacturers, eliminating agents like him, he rues. That’s one big change in his business that isn’t a good sign, he says. Also, chocolate manufacturing companies would give them loans; now he has to invest on his own, to acquire stock.

Malleswaram, Vyalikaval, Sheshadripuram, Vasanthnagar, and New BEL Road is his turf. “One day I cover one full area. In a day I cycle about 30 kilometres easily,” says the 50-year-old Selvam. Any cyclist will tell you that Bangalore’s roads are unkind to them. Selvam has to handle the heavy storage unit he cycles around with. “Yes, every other day, someone or the other screams at me from behind saying ‘Why are you so slow? Can’t you get a delivery van?’ But with profits growing smaller these days, I cant afford to buy any petrol vehicle. Who will pay for petrol every day?”

Selvam’s vast and established network of shop-owners work on that one ingredient that is hard to come by these days — trust. “I deliver the chocolates, but I may not get paid immediately. But I know I will get my money. Nobody cheats,” he flashes a big confident smile. It’s this same trust that brings him customers as a pigmy agent. For those who haven’t heard this old-world term, that’s a bank agent who collects small deposits from customers from their doorstep each day — a microfinance scheme from banks to encourage small savings.

“I have been a pigmy agent for 10 years now. From 10 a.m. to about 4 p.m. I’m busy delivering chocolates. Then from 6.30 p.m., I go about as a pigmy agent for Padmashri Credit Cooperative Society, collecting savings from many of these shops at the end of their day of business. The minimum deposit is Rs. 25. After a minimum of six months, they can get lump sum back to use to fund their children’s school fees etc.” Selvam gets a three per cent commission on these collections — something that supplements his income and helps him save up for his daughter’s marriage and the education of his two sons.

Selvam is grateful to his former employer Manjunath, who helped him through his rough patches in life — in fact he handed over his pigmy business when he couldn’t pay Selvam a high salary, and also helps him now by offering free godown space. That, for Selvam, is the sweetest memory of his career.