Friday, March 25, 2005

The funny queue system

Suppose you are at a shop (not a mall or department store) and the shopkeeper is handing over the articles you ask for. Even while you are buying things, in a very poor attempt at multitasking, the shopkeeper simultaneously attends to customers who have come after you. What irritates you the most is the fact that all those who came after you would have left, while you are still at the shop!

The raison d'etre is strange. The shopkeeper doesn't want anyone to be standing idle. Not surprising, since we in India don't have a system of queue. We don't know how to stand in a queue. Lack of patience or sheer lack of civic sense?

The shopkeeper thinks, if people are made to wait in a queue they may just go to another shop. So, at all times, there are some half-a-dozen people jostling for the shopkeeper's attention. Or in other words, the shopkeeper ensures that all the customers are 'engaged'.

You had it, if you have a lot of things to purchase. Suppose you have 10 things to buy from that shop, and while you are getting them, if, say, six people come after you, each of them buying just one article, then, all six would have left the shop, even while you are still stuck there having bought just four.

Probably, the shopkeeper's logic is that making six people wait in a queue and incurring their wrath is a far greater sin than making you extend your shopping time by a few minutes.

And, once I was made to look like someone from Mars, when I gently suggested to the shopkeeper to attend to me only after he was through with the person who was already there before me.

My worst experience was on Thursday. I was at a shop on CMH Road to buy geyser and fan. I reached the shop around 11.45 am. Only the owner of the shop was there, since two others had gone on some errand. And, to my horror I was stuck there till 1 pm, while so many people who came after me bought whatever they wanted and left. Every time I protested, the harassed shopkeeper, profusely apologising, said, "Just a minute, sir." When I asked, "Why you are attending to people who came after me, when you are not through with me," he said, "Sir, I have to show you the full range of fans fans and geysers, it will take time, is it not.."

I had already learnt that there is no point in protesting against deep-rooted customs and traditions, which have withstood the test of time. Learn not to take offence.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

It's time to move on...

It is time to move on... to a new house, by the end of the month. So it's back to going over virtually everything in the house; wondering whether to discard them (meaning donate to some charity or throw them) or carry them to the new place. Whether shifting to a place 1000 km away or just 4 km away (it's the latter here), the efforts at packing is almost the same; and also the efforts at unpacking at the new place. Barring our house in Thiruvananthapuram, this is the house where we have stayed for the longest: six years.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Vacation in Switzerland for Rs 5,000 only

A few days back a well-known club in Bangalore, of which I am member, invited me for a presentation on their newly opened travel and tourism wing. The caller -- after a 60-second breezy introduction (of which I understood nothing) -- said that after the presentation I could claim a gift voucher which would entitle me and my family to a week’s holiday in Goa or Rajasthan or Chennai (including stay in a 5-star hotel) for something as low as Rs 5,000 or so.

A familiar script. Some three years back, I got a similar invitation from a travel and tour operator. The first time I ever got such an invitation. But I couldn’t make it for that.

Then, a year back, I got another similar call. This was the second time. Just out of a curiosity to know what this is all about, I said yes. But by then, my friends had warned me that this is a trap. You will be lured saying you can go on vacation any where in the world for a very less amount. It is just to get members enrolled. It works on something called timeshare, which I have still not understood fully. Since they said the offer is valid only for that day, I said, I can’t say yes. For the time spent and the trouble spent, they gave a small gift.

So, when I got that familiar invitation a few days back, I straight away said no, I won’t be interested. She (the caller) said I just needed to come for the presentation, get my doubts cleared up, and that there was no commitment to join or take up any offer. Then I said I would be in the office at the scheduled time. Then she rescheduled my time to Sunday (today 11 am). After a day’s thought, I decided to go... for a second time... for one and only reason: Anyway a trip to the club was planned. And, who knows, for club members there may be some concession! And, there wasn’t any thing better to do on a Sunday morning!

But, my hopes of this presentation being different were belied. The same script. One sick guy tries to get friendly to you by cracking jokes and making desperate attempts to be funny. When he began asking personal questions, I almost lost my cool and said, "That hardly matters, why don't we get with the business.”

He then draws up lots of scenarios about possible (not even remotely probable) vacation plans. Which country would you like to visit, you want veg or non-veg, two-bedroom house or three bedroom...? I said these make no sense, since these are purely hypothetical cases. My choice is as good as yours, I told him.

I told him to tell me how much I will have to pay for visiting all these countries of my choice. He said I would have to pay an annual maintenance fee of Rs 5,000 for making use of the facilities in the foreign resorts.

Just pay Rs 5,000 every year and you mean I can stay a five-star resort in any country of my choice? Yes, he says. I just couldn’t believe it. How does the economics of this work, I ask him.

He then calls one of his bosses who tells me, “We have 7.5 million members across the world. That’s how we are able to offer you these services so cheap.”

The club obviously doesn’t have 7.5 million members. If at all that guy was saying the truth, it will be combined figure of all affiliated clubs. Who knows the truth?

As he was keeping on telling that “this is free, that is free”, I told him to tell me, for what will I have to pay. So he came to the actual membership cost: Something like Rs 1.47 lakh. I have to pay Rs 10,000 today itself and pay the rest in two years, which comes to something over Rs 5,000 per month.

Is it not attractive? I said, of course, attractive. That guy must have been salivating! Then I said, “If I pay Rs 10,000 now plus 5,000 or so for maintenance every year, you mean I can go on a five to 12 star vacation to any foreign country?" He said, yes again.

I said, it is simply impossible. The economics of this is unconvincing. He once again came back to the 7.5 million members thing. What about airfare, stay, overhead expenses, so many things…. I could have understood, some concession. I said I just can’t believe this.

What other doubts you have, he asked. The guy was keeping on telling me that this offer is valid only for today. It is a well-known marketing trap. So I pounced on that. I said, I need at least on day to think over this. Even if we have to buy a fridge we weigh various options... So, why only today?

He had a reason. “We offer this only today, because this is an offer that is coming exclusively to you. We don't advertise, we don’t let people walk in any time of the day and pick up the membership. We can't afford to do that.”

I said, “You picked, say 10 of us, for this offer. Don’t include any more. Just allow a couple of days for these 10 people only... Why should we take a decision in such a hurry.” Then he called some other boss. I told him, “If you have 7.5 million members and thus you can easily offer these services dirt cheap, why are you sounding so desperate to sign me on to this?”

This is pure luxury that you are offering. I don’t need to vacation in Switzerland to live. Then he said, it is a good recreation. I said it is up to me to see what is good. What we are talking about are desires in life, and not needs. So I will have to think a lot before opening up my purse.

He had no answer. He just smiled. Then came the last call. He said, “If you are not interested we can cancel the offer to you. But later if ever you feel like becoming a member, even if you are willing to pay many times over the present amount, you won’t be able to.

I said, I would have no regrets.

Then, one more bait. At the time of giving the gift he said, “Would you like a gift travel coupon or ice-cream cups... You can pick up a complimentary coupon with which you can have a five-star vacation in Jodhpur, Goa or Chennai. The amount you be around Rs 5,000 or so for the entire family plus taxes. You can see the facilities, come back, and then decide. No commitments again. You can come back and even say NO.”

I said I'd prefer the ice-cream cups.

I also decided I will try to find someone who has taken a similar membership. As luck would have it, there was a friend of mine at the exit, who had also come to the club. After explaining why I had come there, he said, he was a member of another similar company. I asked him, how is it possible... all that they are offering... My friend said, “It’s all crap, I was actually trapped... You need to have lakhs to enjoy those foreign vacations... I am just losing the annual membership fee.”

So that was it. Twice is enough. No more such ventures. But still I would like to see someone and find out how much I will have to actually pay (even as a club member) to go on a week’s 12-star vacation to say Switzerland...

Friday, March 18, 2005

US says no to Modi

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi can't enter the US. I don't know if an elected Indian constitutional head ever has been denied visa in this manner.

Modi is a democratically elected constitutional head of an Indian state. He even registerd a thumbing victory in the election that was held after the Gujarat riots. The US is a paragon of everything even remotely linked to democracy. So, is it not only natural it should fully recognise Modi's credentials, even if they have a difference of opinion ?

Though the American action is hurting, it is another occasion for introspection. Wasn't the Indian pride already hurt when Gujarat burnt, when it was widely acknowledged that Modi did pretty much nothing to stop the mobs. No one had gained anything out of the whole episode.

Coming to think of it, the denial of visa wasn't so much of a surprise. What ever be the context of the riots, it was one incident that gave India a very, very bad image abroad.

Indians abroad, generally in the US, are more patriotic than Indians at home, may be because they are away from India. They are mostly BJP supporters. But post-Godhra, Modi gained lot of enemies in the US. This action of the US is also linked to the strong lobbying by anti-Modi (not anti-Indian) lobby in the US.

Personally, I don't think Modi deserves so much of sympathy over this. We feel bad that an Indian leader has been denied entry to the US. But just like the riots, this too has a context to it, is it not?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Highway battleground

Can you imagine a government bus driver being pulled up and challaned for traffic violation? An SI dared to do it. Result: a highway on Bangalore outskirts erupted like a war zone yesterday.

Like for any such incident, versions vary. After the driver jumped a redsignal, he was stopped and the SI got him sign on a paper. Apparently, the driver's ID was confiscated. The driver, in fit of rage, went to the next junction, parked the bus in the middle of the road, and went to gather his colleagues.

Meanwhile, vehicles piled up, and morning office goers, who were getting impatient, got on to the street; and targeted vehicles. A police vehicle that reached there was overturned and set afire. Plus damage to other infrastructure. In the end, to recover some Rs 100 or so, lakhs of rupees worth of material was lost!

One, people have no sense that public property is, in effect, their own property. Two, our giant-sized egos overshadow civic responsibility and discipline. For many of us, obeying traffic rules is a matter of shame rather than duty.

People in power should play fair and lead by example. To some extent the good will trickle down to the lower end. To straighten out diehard violators, systemic loopholes will have to be plugged.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What is success?

Don't we play around with this word so irresponsibly? Success in what? Isn't it so relative? Isn't it so personal? This word and its wrong usage by friends, teachers, parents and just about everybody has played havoc with people.. from children to elders... No one just notices it, that's all.

It all starts at home and school. This is the time. The exam season. CBSE, ICSE, state syllabus, class annual exams... from 12th standard down to.... nursery? The pressure is unbearable. A wanton murder of creative minds. A child with 90% is supposedly "more successful" than another with 60%. Maybe true, in a very narrow sense. Just in the context of that examination, which has nothing to do with the Test of Life.

And many parents and teachers make it out as if the 90% kid has conquered the world. That in turn sets off a series of complexes, not just among the small group of students who have undergone that particular test, but also among other children, who get a false concept of success.

The children's quiz programmes and other kids talent contests shown on TV do enormous damage in household after household. It's so different when kids come on stage. It's not like college students or adults. Haven't we seen parents tell their children: "Look at that kid on TV... You aren't half as good as him..." The damage, parents so silently and unintentionally inflict on their children in such a manner, is so enormous and its repercussions are long lasting. It is so far an undisputed scientific fact that the ability of adults to manage crises is a reflection of their formative years.

Not that you shouldn't care for your kids. Or, let them fail in exams. The point is: nurture what is divinely gifted to the child, rather than ignore it in a torturous pursuance of something that is just not in her. Don’t make her feel she is a failure, even before she has seen the true world.

Not just children. Teenagers, youth and full-grown adults: all are in a vicious pursuit of a misplaced sense of success. Designations. Money. Perks. Material possessions. Unfair comparisons with others. It's perfectly okay if people are happy in their pursuit of success. But mostly, they are not. A wild goose chase, in the mistaken belief than "pursuit of success" is the same as "pursuit of happiness".

A few years back, executives of a multi-level marketing company approached me and lectured me on how successful I could be if I joined them. Networking marketing. How I could be in the business of spreading happiness, without selling anything. How I myself and my family could be happy, how I could realise my dreams, how I could be free of all encumbrances (because money will keep flowing in, like royalty for a writer)...

I countered most of what they said. I must have been a difficult customer for them. They even sent a very senior guy (who is supposed to have made it big in Australia). He was at his persuassive best. I asked them how they could just presume... for example.. that I don't like serving my boss in my office... How could they presume I am unhappy and discontented. I asked them how could they define so authoritatively that making endless amounts of money is the only criterion of success in life...

But, finally, I joined them, not because I was convinced of what they told me. I told them I would join “to see how the stuff looks from inside, since you have spoken so much about its greatness” May be because of my prejudice, I was disgusted, and I quit within three months and got a refund of whatever I had paid...

But the dirty thing about it all is: they try to make you feel that ... if you don't take up their offer to join their marketing team, or quit later... you have a very pessimistic approach to life; you are not a go-getter, you are full of negative thoughts, basically you don’t want to be a success in life.

I have no complaints with Network Marketing and all the good they are doing. I hated their presumptions and persuassions. Be what you are, let others be what they are.

A year later, one of those guys came home, to see if I had a change of mind... Listening to my philosophy of life... he fled. But he promised to keep in touch. He hasn’t. He won’t, since I have a "negative influence” on him. Actually it’s quite positive for me, and him!

Success is how good you are as a human being,
how useful you are to other human beings,
how well you do those little things that make such a huge difference to people,
how well you can square up to a challenge,
how well you can take one step back and take two steps forward,
how well you can resolve a crisis,
how well you look at the long term and not the short term
how well you can smile even in the face of adversity,
how well you can bring a smile on the face of others too.

how happy you are... how peaceful you are with yourself.

Everything else is just a means to success, and not a success in itself.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Why is it so difficult to do good?

I had a childhood friend dropping in at home today afternoon. We were classmates from nursery till tenth. The last time I met her was three years back. And, that itself was some 10 or 15 years after school. So, it was once again an occasion to go back in time.

She is in the process of relocating from the US to India. Whenever you run into a friend who is working in the US or has been there for some time, the conversation inevitably veers into comparing India and the US: the pluses and minuses of the two systems.

One thing I have heard very frequently, and from my friend today too, is the difficulty to get things done here in India. This friend of mine has been trying to get an animal welfare project off the ground in Coimbatore. She said she has been running from pillar to post to get things moving. Even at her work here she has to do lot more of paper work, get them cleared, etc compared to in the US.

She said in the US, on the contrary, if you want to do something good, it is so easy; sometimes all it takes is just a phone call. Of course, it is a different story if you have ulterior motives. Some months back a doctor friend, who keeps going to the US to meet his children who are working there, told me if there is any civic complaint just call up the official, and he personally looks into the matter and sees to it that the problem is redressed. Can't imagine that happening in India.

Here for example, it is next to impossible to get many well-meaning things done. Suppose the residents of a locality (like a residential layout) want to pool in money and get the the road tarred, or set right some civic problem. Theoretically, it should be easy. There shouldn't be a problem since the funding is by residents themselves. But, I don't think the corporation would let you do such a thing. But, the government will easily give permission to put up loud speakers and hold rallies or other functions.

Why are our priorities so misplaced? Why is it so difficult to get good things done in our country? Don't we boast of so many great things, as a country, as a society, as people? Why is it our great cultural values don't get translated into reality in our day-to-day lives?

Thursday, March 10, 2005

End of an era: Dan Rather signs off

One of the most celebrated, more often controversial, journalists, Dan Rather, has had his last day as the anchor of CBS Evening News, after exactly 24 eventful years, on Wednesday, March 9. We in India do not have a counterpart for Rather in TV, nor for Rather's predecessor, Walter Cronkite, who was described as the "most trusted man in America".

Interestingly, blogs played a significant role in Rather's departure. Rather's nemesis was a report that cast doubts on President Bush's service in National Guards during the Vietnam War. Among the first to cast doubts on the authenticity of Rather's report was Powerlineblog, among many other blogs. And, the rest is history as they say... Rather had to say on TV: "I am sorry." His departure is widely linked to the misreporting, though he nor CBS says that.

CBS coverage

BBC report on Dan Rather signing off
Dan Rather's farewell text
BBC report on the Changing Face of US News
CBS report: Dan Rather: a reporter remembers

Monday, March 7, 2005

How secure is IT Park, Whitefield?

Grim news on Bangalore papers today. The city may have escaped a deadly attack by terrorists. There is a grimmer news that is not splashed -- there is nothing to suggest that the city is no longer on terrorist-hit list; or that the city won’t be.

To get an idea of the popularity of Bangalore just search for “Bangalore” in Google News or Yahoo News. There is a continual reference to the city in foreign newspapers and magazines; and most of the references pertain to IT.

This is not the first time Bangalore has shuddered under terror threat, though this is the worst news so far. A year back or so, intelligence agencies had been tipped off that Bangalore and Mysore are soft targets for terrorists. This time we have proof in the form of a diary of one of the terrorists (three of the gang were killed in Delhi on Saturday night) that mentioned the name of IT firm Polaris as a target. One person had even visited the office in Bangalore to get a map done.

At least this should wake up the govt and police here. For example, it is so simple for anyone to walk into the IT Park in Whitefield. The last time I went there was some 7 or 8 months back. I don’t know if things have improved. I doubt. There are lot of private security guards all around. No one checked my credentials; nor I found anyone else being checked. It looked like anyone could walk around without being questioned in the basement of the building. I think you are stopped only the reception of a particular office inside the huge building. That is no deterrent in today’s scenario.

During the couple of times I went there, I was quite surprised at the slack security there; at least not to match the hype about the place. May be yesterday’s development will spur someone into action.

Friday, March 4, 2005

Steve Fossett the Great!

There is one thing that stops me from grumbling (or cribbing, as we commonly call here). It's efforts like that of Steve Fossett.

What an amazing effort by a 60-year-old man! Flying around the world... some 37,000 km. All alone. Non-stop, and without refuelling. He hasn't really slept during the 67 hours, except for a few minutes.

When I saw the live telecast on BBC of GlobalFlyer, touching down at Salina airport, I was overtaken by a strange feeling... A feeling, that yes, willpower and power of endurance can triumph over adversity...

The flight wasn't without tension. He lost fuel, and he had to take that crucial decision on whether to abort the adventure and land at Hawaii, or continue. He opted for the latter. How brave!

Another similar effort was that of astronaut
John Glenn in November 1998. He was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. He repeated the effort by going back to space 36 years later, at the age of, believe it or not, 77!.

When you feel depressed, feel like grumbling and cribbing that nothing is going right... just remember people like Steve Fossett and John Glenn!

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Rustic charm

Bangalore is a city of one-ways. On more then 100 roads, big and small, you can’t drive back the same way you go. Because of the switch, I am quite confused about the roads in the city. I am told most people are.

Yesterday, I was on Hosur Road, opposite Johnson Market. I was returning home. I had to take a right turn, and I landed on a path I had never taken. I was totally lost on this alien road. So, at a junction, I asked a guy sitting to the left of the driver of a small transport van the direction.

This guy didn’t look educated; his dress (whatever I could see) was dirty, probably after unloading a truck-full of whatever. I expected a curt reply. I even thought he might guide me on to a wrong road. Don’t we have a tendency not to trust such rustic, unimpressive guys; and we always seek the impressive and suave people?

I was totally mistaken. He had a smile on his face. He told me the turns to take. At every junction the vehicles stopped, he looked back in a very reassuring manner. And, I smiled back at him, and within minutes we seemed to be communicating so well: all non-verbally. It looked such good fun; because even from that distance I could sense genuineness in his demeanour -- and, a refreshing contrast against disgusting images of urbane arrogance.

After a couple of kilometres or so when I could make out my way, I pulled up to the left of the truck, and shouted a big “Thank You Very Much” with a Big Smile. And, I overtook him.

As I drove, I thought about his guy, and his concern and sensibility. I wondered about the stereotyped images we have about people like him. There was absolutely no need to keep track of me. He could have just told me the direction and just forgot about me.

We are so sceptical of such people. We go so much after the exterior. This was not the first time such a thing was happening to me. Yet it was a surprise to me, when he was so kind.

Whether one has intrinsic qualities of kindness, sensitivity, humility, etc, can’t be judged from his or her educational qualification, dress, or such external attributes.