Godman

Who will the common man turn to for curing his incurable diseases brought on not by infection or bacteria or parasite, but on account of the afflicted having incurred divine wrath?

Where will thugs and goons, and others with low self-esteem, congregate and seek solace in each other’s company while carrying out their business?

Who will the politicians woo for putting in a good word for them to swing the popular vote of blind followers in their favour, without having to do any work?

Whose charitable trusts will wives of senior politicians patronise?

Where will religious followers stockpile firearms, petrol bombs, Molotov cocktails and acid bulbs for throwing on law-enforcement officials when they try to do their job?

What will happen to the illicit arms manufacturing industry? Will it impact the growth projections for the economy; as recently as yesterday OECD has projected a 6.6% growth rate for FY 2016?

Where will fanatical followers keep innocent women and children hostage for the protection of one individual?

Who will rich businessmen patronise with the unaccounted for part of their wealth in return for seeking favours with politicians?

Will law-enforcement officials now need to go back to the dark days of relying only on murder and rape cases to get recognition?

Who will the common man blame for mistreatment after having gone inside private property without being invited?

These, and many other, disturbing questions are the subject of hushed conversations all over the state since 9 PM last night when news of the arrest of the latest Godman to capture popular imagination, wafted in through invasive news channels who cannot seem to mind their own business even under physical danger, and reported on the week-long siege of the “ashram” (hermitage) by law-enforcement forces seeking arrest of the Godman, braving armed attacks by the private army of the “sant” (saint).

Being in the same state, barely 200 km from the hub of activity, the seismic tremors felt in Gurgaon are particularly strong. People are conscious that the world, as we have known it, may never be the same again.

But every dark cloud has a silver lining. Such is life.

Difficulty in comprehending the spoken word, inability to articulate a response, a fixed, vacant stare and low level of education being understood to be the primary qualifications for the role of Godman, shivers of hope are coursing through veins of the downtrodden in the state, who see an opportunity for a lucrative career in the space recently vacated. People need Godmen. Many, many of them. One of the important items in the Job Description of Godmen being indulgence in illegal activities, causing them to go out of circulation after a period of success, we need to have others always ready to step into the vacancy.

What they don’t know is that many of them will eventually get disqualified because the position also requires the additional qualities of a thick skin and the ability to act without remorse for personal gain. They may be forced to stick to their honest professions like electrical repairs, plumbing, gardening and cleaning. But then, such is life.

Our Godman claims he saw a vision of Kabir, the 15th century poet, mystic and sage. As we all know, in 2014, that is more than adequate reason for people to throng to him and make him wealthy beyond his known sources of income.

Since last night, there have been reports of visions being seen of Rahim, Surdas, Meera, Tulsidas and Ravidas by people across the state. Competition is heating up. And we are only talking 15th century poets, mystics and sages here, approximating to the period Kabir lived in, whose existence and work is backed by historical records. Step a little beyond history, into the vast mythological space (the line between history and mythology is always thin and constantly shifting), and we have a constellation of over six hundred million and one (remember we added Sachin Tendulkar a few years back) Gods and Goddesses to choose from. Our Gods and Goddesses are suddenly a busy lot, having to appear in visions of over a billion people. At one God to two people, it is a ratio stacked against the Gods. We need more.

As keeping women and children hostage and using your private army to battle law-enforcement agencies is a stressful activity at the best of times, immediately after arrest he was taken away for a medical checkup.

Call Control

Last week, I published Call Flow, a post about a real recent conversation with the Contact Centre of a big bank. An interaction that left me none-the-wiser and frustrated.

In order that more customers are not left dis-satisfied, I have made an attempt to modify the interaction to look like one that I would have enjoyed. I hope you enjoy reading it as well.

Voice on phone (VOP): Hello, am I talking to AM?

Me: Yes you are.

VOP: May I know your Date of Birth (DOB) please?

Me: Why do you need my DOB? Are you writing up my horoscope?

VOP: I am calling from TownBank. You called in a few days back and lodged a complaint.

This is the point at which the call segues into a delightful experience for the customer…

Me, in a cheerful tone: Now that you mention it, I did indeed. Thank you for reminding me. I hope you guys are spending hours of fruitless labour trying to dig-up irrelevant details about the transaction and some senior person is spending sleepless nights worrying about possible ramifications in case the issue becomes public.

VOP: (Silence. Possibly looking hither thither for supervisory support on the call. Or, feverishly churning the pages of the Training Manual to look for guidance on a suitable response.)

Me: Before I forget, can you please give me your DOB.

VOP, after a brief pause: DOB? Why do you need my DOB?

Me: It is a part of my verification process.

VOP, in a cautious, hesitant tone: What verification process?

Me: Shame on you. Does the bank not train you on the importance of verification for the purpose of security. Don’t you know I need to validate who you are and if, indeed, you are calling from, and representing Townbank. After all, you called me.

VOP: Bbbbut, I cannot tell you my DOB.

Me: Permit me the insolence to ask “Why not?” Is this the respect you have for verification processes of your customers?

VOP, slowly, separating each word out: Because this has not been covered in our process training. In fact, I have opened our Training Manual on the screen. Nowhere does it talk about what to do when a customer asks for your DOB.

Me, in a tone dripping with condescension : I sympathise with you. You may have been taught the difference between Current and Fixed Deposit accounts. You have perhaps been taught how to calculate interest. You have certainly been taught how to sell insurance policies not needed by a customer. But you have been not taught what to do when you are asked for your DOB. Tch Tch. But never mind. I can teach you that.

VOP, perking up: You can?

Me: Of course I can. Who do you think I am, anyway? I am a veteran customer of Townbank who has lived through hundreds of interrogations about his DOB, Dog’s name, Make of car, and many other pertinent questions for no apparent valid reason.

VOP, now sounding impatient: Then please do. I want to learn how to tell you my DOB.

Me: Of course you do. It is an essential life-skill in today’s world. Listen to me carefully now. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Slowly exhale. Open your eyes (this is a critical step before moving onto the next). Then get up and walk to the nearest coffee machine. Don’t pour yourself a cup of hot coffee. Now walk back to your workstation. Settle down and try to forget the aroma of coffee in the pantry. Then, shake yourself out of the stupor and tell me your DOB.

VOP, still cautious, and after a moment’s consideration: Thank you. That seems to be a simple enough process. I think I can handle it. Bbbbut, nobody has ever asked me for my DOB earlier.

Me, indignantly: You still have the impudence to tell me that? I cannot be held accountable for weak security practices of other customers of Townbank. You need to choose your customers with greater care.

VOP, grasping the lifeline: Yes sir, most certainly. I will convey this message to my seniors.

Me: Will you now tell me your DOB or do you leave me with no option but reporting you to your manager for failing to perform your assigned duties in a satisfactory manner?

VOP: Please don’t. I will do what you say.

Me: Tell me the name of your Manager, alongwith email ID and mobile no. please.

VOP: Sure sir.

Me: Why don’t you email it to me? And, while you are at it, please also send me a scanned copy of your appointment letter issued by Townbank.

VOP: Appointment letter?

Me: How the hell do you expect me to know that you are employed by Townbank?

VOP: Of course sir. I did not see that.

Me: And a letter signed by the HR Manager stating that you are still in the employ of Townbank.

VOP: Sure sir. I understand the need for that as well.

Me: Good. I am glad you are finally talking sense. Once you have sent me all that, you can call me back and tell me why you had called me in the first place.

Of course, we would not get to discuss my complaint about which he had presumably called. But I would be a more satisfied customer. What about you?

 

Call Flow

A few days back my mobile-phone rang.

Voice on phone (VOP): Hello, am I talking to AM?

Me: Yes you are.

VOP: May I know your Date of Birth (DOB) please?

Me: Is that why you have called? Are you writing up my horoscope?

VOP: No sir. I am calling from TownBank. You called in a few days back and lodged a complaint about a transaction on your Card.

Me: Look, I have gone through the Terms and Conditions listed on your website. Nowhere is it stated that a customer needs to provide his DOB while lodging a complaint about a transaction on the Card.

VOP: No, sir, you don’t need to provide your DOB while lodging a complaint.

Me: But you just asked me for it, didn’t you?

VOP: I did, sir, but that is not because you lodged a complaint.

Me: But you just said you are calling because I lodged a complaint. If that is not the reason, then why have you called me?

VOP: I did sir. I have called about the complaint you have lodged with the bank.

Me: There, I already told you so. In fact, you said so yourself not a minute back. Then why were you denying it?

VOP: I was not sir.

Me: Not what?

VOP: Not denying it.

Me: Not denying what?

VOP: Not denying that I called about the complaint you have lodged.

Me: Now that that is clear, I trust you don’t need my DOB.

VOP: I do, sir.

In an almost imploring voice, VOP said: Can you now please tell me your DOB?

I resisted the temptation to rush back to the “Look, I have gone through the Terms…” part of the loop. Instead, in a conciliatory tone, I asked: But, why do you want my DOB?

VOP: That is our process sir. For security purpose we need to verify we are talking to the right person.

Me: But you called me, didn’t you?

VOP: Yes sir.

Me: Why did you call me on this number?

VOP: Because that is your number available on our records.

Me: If that is the case, why do you need to verify?

VOP: That is our process sir. It has been honed over years of frustrating and unproductive customer interactions in over a hundred countries. (The second sentence I heard but he did not say).

Me: But no other bank asks me for this information when they call.

VOP: We cannot be responsible for weak security practices of other banks.

Me: What if I don’t give you my DOB?

VOP: I am afraid I will not be able to share an update regarding your complaint.

Now, I am a reasonable man. When in a situation where I have no way out, I promptly climb down from the high moral ground, which is what I did in this case. After all, what was the point in preventing the caller from doing his job.

I gave him my DOB, my anniversary date , my home address, the make of my car, my dog’s name and the number of clubs in my golf-set, in rapid succession.

VOP: Thank you, sir. This call is to update you that we are looking into the issue and will respond soon.

Good thing I shared my personal information when I did. I would have been deprived of the update otherwise.

Big Billion Day

The country finally celebrated the success of its maiden mission to Mars, more than two weeks after the event. And how. One of the world’s largest e-commerce sites, that recently started operating in India, showed the way by launching its “Mission to Mars Celebration Dhamaka” (Dhamaka, for the Hindi unfamiliar readers, is equivalent to “blast”, in the celebration sense).

I received an email announcing the celebration, with a “Start here” button prominently displayed to convince the unconvinced. Call me a space nut if you will, but I wasted no time in joining the celebration. I clicked on the “Start here” button without wasting any time.

It was a revelation. Truly “out of the world”.

I could buy books to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy watches. I could buy Kindles to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy iPads. I could buy luggage to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy mobiles. I could buy T-shirts to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy toys. There was nothing that could not be bought. Brought tears to my eyes. I would never have imagined that the country’s maiden mission to Mars would enable me to buy so many things that I did not need for routine discounts. I am only now beginning to grasp the enormity of the achievement of the Mars mission. I had taken it as a routine scientific mission to Mars to discover new things, validate theories and generally look for ways to further man’s knowledge and frontiers. But it was, clearly, much bigger. Thank you aaaaaa.in.

I placed my order for the shoes and T-shirts that I did not need. I was not going to hold back from celebrating this important milestone in the country’s space endeavours. But before clicking the “Buy” button, I carefully scanned the site for any hints of support for the Mars mission or for future endeavours of the Indian Space Reasearch Organisation (ISRO). There were none. I heaved a sigh of relief. I could buy without fear of paying extra. Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong supporter of the Mars mission. But paying extra for stuff I don’t need? No way.

Expectedly, many others have started walking down the path so selflessly blazed by aaaaaa.in, and launched their own celebrations to mark the historic achievement.

Builders have started asking people to buy property to celebrate the Mars mission. Car-dealers have started asking people to buy cars to celebrate the Mars mission. Restaurants have started asking people to eat more at their establishment to celebrate the Mars mission. TV manufacturers have started asking people to buy TVs to celebrate the Mars mission. There is no stopping the patriotic fervour now.

In fact, in tune with their global aspirations, businesses are understood to be looking for global events to celebrate.

Expect builders to ask people to buy property to celebrate Marin Cilic’s first US Open (tennis) win. Expect car-dealers to ask people to buy cars to celebrate Chelsea’s victory over Arsenal in the English Premier League football. Expect restaurants to ask people to eat more at their establishment to celebrate Stefan W. Hell, Eric Betzig and William E. Moerner being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Expect TV manufacturers to ask people to buy more TVS to celebrate the reduction in the US fiscal deficit.

Ffffffff.com, India’s homegrown e-tailing behemoth, and the main competition to aaaaaa.in, went a step further. It launched its own celebration, “The Big Billion Day”.

Billion Day? Rings a bell?

Could they be celebrating the country’s population crossing a billion? Perhaps, but that happened several years back.

Could they be celebrating the presence of more than a billion stars in the firmament? Perhaps, but that has always been the case, even though no e-tailer may have celebrated it.

The distance between Earth and Mars? Possible, given the current flavour, but factually incorrect as the distance is less than a billion.

What else could it be?

It was reported that the company has recently raised a billion dollars for their expansion. Could it be that? Nah, too obvious.

Satisfied that there was no logical explanation for calling it the “Big Billion Day”, I eagerly logged in. It was bound to be fun. With lots of stuff to buy and lots of discounts, what else could it be?

Unfortunately, soon after the “Big Billion Day” dawned, the site crashed. The collective anguish of a billion shoppers could be heard on Mars. The promoters have sent out an email apologising for depriving folks of the joy of shopping for stuff they don’t need and for failing to add to their own wealth.

It was not enough. It could never be. The government has been forced to step in to investigate. They have promised to include the right to shop for stuff that I don’t need, at discounted rates, in the Fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution, and protect it through suitable legislation.

The right to shop for stuff that I do not need, at discounted rates.

One of the greatest discoveries of the modern world. Worth protecting.

Driving Skills – 4; Traffic Signs

In Hindi movies, cops dutifully arrive after the hero has thrashed the villain black and blue and rescued the damsel in distress, basically to put the villain away and tie up the loose ends like towing away vehicles damaged in the car-chase at the end, apologising to the people wrongly charged earlier, and other key events in the narrative.

After much of the traffic rules have been rewritten (see Driving Skills – 2 and Driving Skills – 3) by yours truly, the Surface Transport Authority has gotten into the act and finally updated archaic traffic signs to reflect the current reality and ensure that their interpretation is aligned with the understanding people have of a particular sign or signal.

Well, better late than never, we say!

 

Drive at 50 Or under 50 Or over 50

Drive at 50
Or under 50
Or over 50

 

Free Parking

Free Parking

 

Short-cut to destination

Short-cut to destination

All vehicles prohibited Except yours

All vehicles prohibited
Except yours

Check for cop If not visible, GO If visible, STOP

Check for cop
If not visible, GO
If visible, STOP

 

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

Prepare to speed up and cross before the light turns red

 

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

Stop. Wait for cross-traffic to move on Red light.

 

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop, Wait or Idle

Stop. Do not cross at this point. Jaywalk on any other part of road.

Stop. Walk at your own risk.

 

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Prevent pedestrians from crossing here

Keep moving

Keep moving

 

In the unlikely event you took your hand off the horn…

In the unlikely event you forgot

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Speed up and reach the narrow passage before the other vehicle

Overtake from left Overtake from right

Overtake from left
Overtake from right

Expect other vehicles to give way to you

Take way here

This sign has been taken out of circulation

This sign has been moved to the museum

 

These are the signs of our times. Look forward to a smooth ride on Indian roads…

Good Food Guide

As soon as I sat down to read the morning paper my stomach started growling. Straining my olfactory senses to understand the reason for this insouciance and not finding any, I picked up the morning paper once again, disappointed. I soon discovered the reason for the grumbling.

On the last page, which is where I start, and gradually work my way towards the murders, rapes, political somersaults and bombings on the front page, was a small item about a popular Mediterranean restaurant that was celebrating authentic Nepolitano pizza through the Nepolitano pizza festival. My stomach had apparently reached the item before my eyes had.

Now, any Bollywood movie will tell you that any word in English with an “o” sound at the end is Italian.

What? Haven’t you heard of Al Pacino? Or Robert De Niro? Even Shahrukh Khan knows them. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge” in which, to save the heroine from the clutches of Italian police, he stops his flaming red Ferrari and says Al Pacino and Robert De Niro again and again?

What? How do I know they were Italian police? Because they understood Shahrukh Khan’s Italian.

The festival, according to the paper, promised to be a culinary delight with authentic Italian recipes and freshest ingredients.

This restaurant was worth a visit, I promised myself. They seem to be quick learners and are pressing the right switches, I thought. They would have obviously seen food festivals which promised culinary delights with un-authentic Italian recipes and stale ingredients coming to grief and were ensuring they do not repeat the mistake.

Call me fussy it you will, and you may put it down on my banking days where I spent many years double and triple-checking small transactions while missing out the big ones, but I always do a thorough verification before I commit myself.

I looked up the Oxford dictionary. Online of course. There it was. Neapolitaine. Calmed me down, Confirmed that the cuisine on offer was authentic.

How did I know?

Because, in the restaurant’s offer, Nepolitano was how it was spelt, which was incorrect. Surely you would have noticed that. Self-respecting Italians cannot spell in English. It was spelt incorrectly, so the cuisine must be authentic. Any more questions?

We Indians are fussy eaters. We enjoy a variety of cuisines from around the world with the same “garam masala” and “haldi” (spices), softened in the same mix of onions and tomatoes and cooked in the same vegetable or mustard oil. But we know our authentic cuisine from the unauthentic. We can read after all. We studiously avoid any restaurant which says unauthentic cuisine, be it Kashmiri, Italian, Lebanese, or any other. It is a principled stand.

But one thing I must say. Cuisine is increasingly becoming uni-dimensional. While one has the choices of many cuisines, all you see around is restaurants offering authentic cuisine. It is always “authentic Andhra coastal cuisine” or “authentic Hyderabadi biryani” or “authentic Gujarati thali”.

I wonder if I will ever get to eat at a restaurant offering authentic unauthentic cuisine??

For now, I made my way to the Italian restaurant offering authentic Italian cuisine. To make it as authentic Italian as it could get, I had even decided what I was going to order. I would go for leg of lambo and dal makhnio with naano.

Eat your hearts out!

Driving Skills – 3

This is the second set of guidelines I have put together for promoting equal opportunity and experience on our roads, the motivation for which came out of my experience of driving my son to school one morning, which is captured in my post titled “Driving Skills – 1”, a few days back. The first set was published last week and can be accessed on “Driving Skills – 2”.

I will begin this set addressing an issue that vexes a lot of road-veterans, that of basic courtesies being lost; like giving way to traffic on the right, dipping your headlights at night on an undivided stretch of road when you see an oncoming vehicle, giving way to traffic coming uphill, slowing down when driving through puddles, etc.. Not only are they not practiced, the drivers of today do not even seem to be aware that such courtesies exist.

As I do ever so often, I disagree.

Not only are these courtesies known to the drivers of today, they are actively practiced. To set the record straight, and to ensure that there is no ambiguity, the basic guidelines are:

  • give way to traffic on the right, when I am on the right; give way to traffic on the left, when I am on the left
  • dip your headlights at night on an undivided stretch of road when you see an oncoming vehicle which is mine
  • give way to traffic coming uphill, when I am coming uphill; give way to traffic going downhill, when I am going downhill.
  • when approaching a puddle of water on the road close to pedestrians or cyclists, slow down at first, then, without warning, speed up and drive through the puddle such that most of the collected water gets splashed on the pedestrians and cyclists in close proximity; if, at first attempt, the strategy yields limited results, drive around, comes back to the spot, and repeat until the puddle vanishes and becomes safe for future pedestrians and cyclists

A related courtesy is to give way to an ambulance that is in a hurry and is sounding its siren. While some of you may do this out of consideration for the injured and the sick, at all times, whatever be your motivation, be alert and step into the lane created in the ‘wake” of the speeding ambulance so that you can move as fast as the ambulance. Whether the ambulance is going in your direction or not hardly matters.

In addition to using seat-belts, that we covered in the last edition, drunk driving is another area where traffic policemen are trying to become safe by insisting on your driving only when sober. Resist efforts to drive sober. Keep handy “paan”, cardamom, mint and other aromatic condiments to disguise the smell of liquor.

Do you still eat while driving? Are you still texting while threading your way through a crowded, narrow street? If you do, you need to seriously consider if you should still be driving at your age? This is 2014. And almost the start of the last calendar quarter. If you don’t have a TV in the car for the driver to view while driving, you will, henceforth, not be eligible for getting a driving licence. Get one today.

“No Parking” signs discourage parking alongside kerbs. There are no signs discouraging double and triple-parking alongside illegal single-parked vehicles alongside kerbs. If other people can park alongside “No Parking” kerbs, surely you can double-park and triple-park. How do you think Call Centres operate transport for employees in our country and keep costs low at the same time?

If you had pulled over and stopped on the side of the road, and now need to get back into the moving traffic lane, pull out suddenly, without checking if someone is coming and without any prior indication. This can be done whether you are single or double or triple-parked. Only if you suddenly pull out into the busy traffic lane will you be able to ensure that the other drivers are vigilant and minimise future traffic incidents. We all have to shoulder these responsibilities from time to time. We cannot expect the authorities to handle everything.

Opening the driver’s side door into the moving traffic lane, without checking for oncoming traffic, could be used as an alternative to driving out, in case you do not wish to leave your hard-earned, illegally-parked spot.

It is unlikely that you don’t already know this, but all footpaths (sidewalks / pedestrian paths) have been converted into Free Parking zones, even though no notification has been issued for the same. If you still find any in existence, use them. For free parking. In most cases you will be assisted by illegal touts who would be available for renting out the public space of the footpath.

If the society has enable you to earn the money to buy a car, it needs to provide for parking it as well. You do not need to have a place to park before you buy a car. Of course, society does not give out brains and good sense. The government is mulling over a bill that will make selling a car to anyone who has the space to park it, illegal. If, perchance, you happen to possess a parking space for your car, ensure that it is utilised for another more important purpose like installing a generator, making flower-beds, or illegal extension of your house, leaving you no choice but to park on public space.

Drive like a banshee. If you don’t know what banshee means, don’t worry. Chances are that you drive like one anyway.

If all else fails,

  • hire goons with no self-esteem to shoo people out of the way of your car (while you sit inside wearing a white kurta-pyjama and a Gandhi cap)
  • buy a red beacon and a siren from Khan Market and instal it on top of your car

And, lastly, never ever follow a traffic rule because it makes sense and is the right thing to do and will make for a safer and more wholesome driving environment. Do so only if there if danger of being caught. You will never go wrong.