Trial By Fire

“You fools!” thundered the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Virtual Reality (VR) headset that he used whenever he had to thunder but did not have a real crowd of fools in front.

Spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country as soon as he had uttered these words. Youngsters engaged in arson and protests against the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces that has replaced traditional recruitment methods for non-officer cadres, stopped in mid-stride while trying to hurl a stone or brick at the police barricades. Throwing their projectiles on the ground, they moved forward and hugged the closest member of the police force and exchanged sweets that had magically materialized.

It is alleged that these spontaneous celebrations were instigated by coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, as were the outbreaks of violence when the scheme was announced a few days back. Owners of coaching institutes that mattered to nobody even if they existed, were blamed for voicing their opinions on the scheme, in violation of that holiest of unwritten rules of democracies according to which an opinion, if at odds with the opinion of the government, tantamounts to being anti-national. Particularly when it is regarding a scheme that was introduced “without parliamentary approval or gazette notification” and “quashed the century-old army selection process and imposed impugned Agniveer-22 scheme in the country” as a petition filed in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the scheme says.

But try telling that to the protestors. And the celebrators.

“Do you know our Prime Minister has been ranked number one in the world on calling the people fools?” said one protestor to another, while biting off a piece of the ‘laddoo’ in his hand, and looking reverentially at the message on his phone that announced this new ‘fact.’

Of course, “You fools” is not something he said. What he did say was, “Some decisions and reforms might appear temporarily unpleasant but benefit the country in the long run.”

“Shame on you for not knowing this simple fact, you overgrown morons, especially for the reforms introduced by my government,” was also not said by the PM during this speech.

Corporate leaders, some of them bidding for large government projects, have handled their responsibility with aplomb. They have come out vocally in support of the scheme and said they will hire Agniveers, how the people taken in under this scheme will be known, on priority. Apart from the priority of hiring women and people with special needs and people from low-income backgrounds and people from rural areas and many others that they have announced from time to time. One feels for them. A corporate leader’s job is never finished.

When asked, “is that a commitment?” by a reporter, they said in unison, “Read our lips. As we said, there is a large potential for employment of youth in the corporate sector. If that is not a commitment, we don’t know what is.”

Leading universities of the country have been quick to respond and have started to rebrand their programmes. The Bachelor of Arts (BA) will henceforth be called the Agniveer BA. The Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) will henceforth be known as the Agniveer B.Com. Agniveer B.A. (Honours) and Agniveer B.Com. (Honours) programmes are in the offing. Master’s programmes are expected to follow suit.

Corporate leaders are licking their chops gleefully at the unexpected windfall the new scheme has brought for them in the form of talent. The Agniveer talent is proven to be better than the current talent available, since it is based on a government-in-power announced scheme and not tested anywhere, even in the form of a pilot scheme. What more could a software development company want if not a young person who can handle a machine -gun? What better resource could a bank ask for if not a young person who can do a hundred push-ups while whistling the tune of “Saare Jahan se achcha?”

These skills are so useful that no established corporation appears to have made an effort to either evaluate new hires on these skills during their existing recruitment processes or upskill them during the training phase. But, how could they? Their leaders do not have the smarts of either the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister to have suddenly decided on the new, well-thought-out programme, sidestepping parliament where questions could be raised, delaying well-intentioned schemes.

On top of the government-minted Agniveers, they will have access to Agniveers from many leading universities across the country. Graduates are delighted that their degrees, that were not considered job-worthy, and forced them into an expensive and almost equally job-unworthy MBA programmes, had become hot property overnight.

With great ideas, one really cannot say how far they can go. Agniveer B.Tech. from IIT Delhi anyone? Or, an Agniveer MBA from IIM Ahmedabad?

The CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces) like the Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will get the privilege of absorbing some of the 75% rejected, sorry, not absorbed in the armed forces, population of Agniveers. There will be an additional 10% quota for this group in addition to the quota they already have, since a developing, transparent, free, open, equal, merit-based, progressive, democratic society should keep building up its quotas of reservations for reasons other than economic disadvantage. Since the training required for handling civilian situations is identical to the training necessary for handling armed forces of enemy nations, the two have been kept separate all these years.

The scheme is of a transformational nature and will significantly boost the capability of the forces. Such schemes should not get bogged down in financial calculus. Hence, it is also expected to deliver savings in the form of reduced outlay for pensions of service-folks. Pensions to politicians are of course important for national security, even for truncated terms, and must, hence, continue, so that more transformational schemes can be introduced.

Chiefs of the three forces, were nowhere on the scene when the scheme was announced by bureaucrats, in an expansion of their roles, are being paraded in front of an incredulous public to sell it, a job so far done well by the National Security Advisor (NSA).

Like all schemes that meet with opposition, it appears that we have a brave PM to introduce such transformational change at the cost of political goodwill. With two colluding nuclear-armed states as adversaries and perhaps the longest unresolved borders, one hopes he is.

End Game

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has entered its third month. Though I was following the developments closely at the start, interest has since flagged. However, questions are rising.

“14 Ukrainians including a pregnant soldier have been freed in the latest prisoner exchange with Russian forces,” apparently stated by Ukrainian sources as per the newspaper I read today morning.

A few days back, and I don’t remember the name of the town now, the Russian army reached close to a town they wanted to capture and opened up a path for people to exit.

Whatever happened to the good old playbook of reckless killing and pillage, I wondered. Is this what happens in a war?

But I jump the gun.

What happens then, I wondered, when I read about the exit path for people to leave the town.

Presumably the civilians go to the next town, wait for the Russian army to reach, threaten the town and its residents, and open up a passage for exit to the next town?

Or, perhaps the evacuees do not stop at the next town and simply seek out the nearest border to exit to another country?

But what is the big game plan of the invading army?

Is it to raze all structures to the ground?

Is it to rid the landmass of its present population?

Is it to pick and choose locations to join Russia, then withdraw, and hope nothing has changed?

What is the game plan?

Concern for civilian lives is appreciated, though I wish it was for all lives. Unfortunately, this concern seems to be only a patchwork attempt at face-saving. There are daily reports of civilian lives lost, like this one today, “Moscow has turned its focus to Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture the capital Kyiv in a nine-week assault that has flattened cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 5 million to flee abroad.”

So much for rules of war, if there are, that both armies have to abide by. But, why could these rules not be extended to a blanket ‘no armed conflict’ rule? Would that work any worse than the present rules? By the way, did the Taliban sign off on them?

And if the big idea is to bomb the agricultural fields and vacant buildings and factories without any human beings, into submission, would it not be better to earmark a desolate piece of land, and the air and space above it, as the designated ‘war zone’ instead of inflicting collateral damage on the global GDP by destroying stuff and killing people?

The battle of Kurukshetra in the epic Mahabharat holds a lesson for all of us. The great battle was fought between the Kaurav and Pandav armies on the plains of Kurukshetra, about a hundred miles from Delhi. The blind king Dhritrashtra, too old and inform to fight, could continue to live comfortably in his palace far away from the battlefield, with Sanjay giving him a running commentary on the unfolding battle.

Where can this place be? How about Siberia, since Russia is one of the antagonists in the current conflict? Or the Australian outback? What about the Sahara desert? Greenland? The Amazon rainforest? Nations that have a score to settle would need to reserve the place in advance. For a fee. Since we live in a GDP-driven world, imagine what it might do for the economy of the host nation?

The United Nations will work out a cost-sharing formula between the adversaries in advance, lest that become the reason for another conflict. Hopefully they will be better at it than at preventing and resolving conflict.

But I jump the gun. Once again.

In my early understanding of the conflict, it seemed that Russia was concerned at Ukraine’s attempts at gaining entry into NATO, as that would bring NATO warheads to its doorstep. And that it had given fair warning that such ambitions should not be entertained. Leaving alone the argument about independent nations deciding their alliances and fate themselves, one wonders what Russia would do after subsuming Ukraine (assumed since it is the much larger and much better armed adversary). Would Poland, then, not become a neighbour? Would it then dislike having a NATO member on its doorstep once again and take suitable action? Would Germany be next? Is there any satisfactory end in an armed conflict?

But that is conjecture.

What is probably fact is that Russia has sent blind soldiers to Ukraine.

The other day, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken and defence secretary Lloyd Austin crossed the road into Pushkin Park in Kyiv, wearing their sharp business suits, dodging Russian tanks, for tea with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky among the elm trees. Later the same day, President Zelensky hopped over to the Ostannya Barykada, a bar inspired by the three Ukrainian revolutions since 1990 – the Revolution on the Granite, the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, for a drink in the evening with UN chief Antonio Guterres. Many other leaders are said to be on their way to meet him. Video calls no longer work.

Only the Russian troops don’t seem to be able to find him.

And I cannot seem to be able to find the reason for the senseless loss of life.

The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was recently reported as saying that “progress has not been easy” even though negotiators from both sides talk every day. I can imagine. It has only been 67 days.

Still looking for the reason, I looked up the stock price performance of two of the larger arms manufacturers. And yes, there are big corporations in America that are not called Google and Tesla and Amazon and Apple and Meta.

What did I see?

Lockheed Martin went from USD 386.46 on 18th February to USD 441.71 on 28th April.

Raytheon went from USD 93.37 on 18th February to USD 98.08 on 28th April.

In the same period, the NYSE composite index went from 16392 to 16032, while the NASDAQ composite index went from 13751 to 12871, both in the opposite direction.

The war started on 24th February, 2022.

I wonder how and when it will end.

Truth Be Told

“Which word I uttered did you construe as conveying that?” The words were uttered in an even tone but the menace was palpable. If this was a comic strip, icicles would have formed around the speech bubble.

“Does that mean that you are against the Kashmiri Pandits, who have suffered so much?” was the query from a reputed reporter upholding the noblest traditions of media reporting, of asking irrelevant questions, that had elicited the response from John Abraham.

This question had been the natural outcome of Abraham’s silence on the earlier question asked by the same journo, “What do you think of Kashmir Files?”

Kashmir Files, incidentally, is the name of the commercial movie directed by a private individual that, according to some, lays bare the ‘truth’ behind the atrocities against the Pandit community by another community in Kashmir leading to a mass exodus in the eighties and nineties. The truth that the director was able to lay his hands on, that multiple governments formed by multiple political parties at the centre, could not unearth. That no enquiry commissions or judicial cases or military action could unearth in the last thirty years.

In fact, going by the reactions, it seems our political leaders had no idea about the ‘truth’ till the movie was released, as they appear to be quite effusive in praising it. I think we are in good hands. Immature leaders might have taken issue with being upstaged by a private individual with perhaps no access to government archives and records, presenting a ‘truth’ that they could not. But mature leaders take it in their stride and shower praise where it is due. On a private individual who has made a commercial movie.

Several states, it appears, have also exempted the movie from entertainment tax, in order that more people have access to the truth presented by a private individual in a commercial movie. Seemingly a better choice for entertainment tax exemption than ‘83,’ a movie about India’s unlikely victory in the World Cup of cricket in 1983, that, arguably, put India on the path to leadership in world cricket, that released around the same time.

But then, ‘83’ did not need a director to unearth truths that no government could access. The truth it presented has been known to everyone interested in cricket for 39 years. It is only a feel-good presentation of that truth. So, on second thoughts, how can one justify entertainment tax exemption for such a movie? Good it did not get it.

But I suppose I am guilty of doing to Abraham what the journo did to Attack; of ignoring him.

It was clearly the most pertinent question as the occasion was of Abraham promoting his upcoming movie Attack. He should have come prepared to answer questions about Kashmir Files. What was he thinking?

“What do you hope to achieve with Attack?”

“Will Attack be a suitable movie for families to watch together?”

“How do you keep yourself physically fit to execute the demanding action sequences in the movie?”

“What advice do you have for youngsters who come to watch your movies?”

Such questions are passe when there is an unrelated commercial movie in the ecosystem directed by a private individual that claims to lay bare the ‘truth.’ They need to be consigned to the dustbin. When you come to participate in a promotional event for the movie Attack, you must, as a journalist, ask for the producer’s views on the unrelated commercial movie. Quite simple.

And Abraham should have come prepared to answer questions about Kashmir Files whether the name of the movie he was promoting was Attack or Defence. Quite simple.

In any case, who is he trying to fool? Does he not know that there is also an interpretation for silence?

The Kashmir Files director is expected to announce the commencement of his next movie, Taiwan Files, to unearth the mystery behind Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s plane crash and disappearance in Taiwan in August 1945, followed by Tashkent Files, to unearth the mystery behind the death, apparently of cardiac arrest, of then Prime Minister Las Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent in January 1966.

The judiciary is considering keeping the execution of death sentences for heinous crimes pending till the same private individual has been able to craft a commercial movie on the case, so that there is no chance of an injustice. The trial of heinous crimes may be entirely done away with.

The possibilities boggle the mind. The common man will finally get a Bollywood commercial movie directed by a private individual to provide the answers, beyond doubt, that governments and commissions have failed to. Most importantly, the answers that he wants.

K is for…..Kings

The remarkable wit of Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’s son…

The Tree of Life

By Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’sson

19th March 2020

This is posting a page I did near the start of my journey into the unknown as it were, when I set up this site. I am still struggling with the Ukraine issues. It is certainly not all cut and dried and Zelelensky certainly looks dodgy to say the least.

In the meantime here is a piece that may amuse those who know something of the history of Britain.

K is for…..Kings

10th July 2020

…and queens. Well not many queens. Of England that is. The internet indicates eight who ruled, but Lady Jane Grey wasn’t crowned. And Mary of William and Mary was only crowned, along with her husband, by a bishop. So not sure that counts, strictly speaking.

Anyway, I thought I give the full list of monarchs and my alternative history, somewhat à la mode 1066. Thank you Sellars and Yeatman.

View original post 3,649 more words

Course Knowledge

“It is quite clear the government has opted to focus on the long term, instead of the short.” I decided to take the bull by the horns and fired the first shot on the par four first hole that curved left.

The ride to the course had been a study in silence, both of us perhaps lost in thought about the future of the nation, like all responsible people who have the weight of the nation’s affairs on their shoulders and not that of the state or city or locality or household.

Pat came, “You know I am concerned about manufacturing. For all that the government claims, will India be able to live up to its potential in manufacturing?” demonstrating, by starting a new line of thought, that he was in fine form as he lined up for the putt that would give him a par on the first hole.

Equally respectfully, I did not even acknowledge the concern by stating, “with frozen squids becoming cheaper, it could well be the inflection point our fishing industry has searched for in vain in a vegetarian nation,” as soon as I had teed off on the par three second, landing just beyond the green on the right.

“With X-ray machines becoming dearer, could we be deferring the cost of curing a sick nation down to future generations? After all, many people may not be able to go in for a more expensive diagnostic X-ray which could lead to incorrect diagnosis and wrong treatment. For that matter umbrellas are becoming costlier. Does it not mean more people getting wet and falling ill?” The concern was writ large on his face as he walked down the fairway on a glorious February day to hit his approach shot. We were already on the fourth. Time flies when one is having fun.

“Let us take cryptocurrencies,” I began, without any preamble to clarify why one should take them or where one should take them. “Since the government has had no role in their creation and trading and the profit and losses arising from them, it is such a great idea to tax the income from any virtual digital asset. This looks like the shortest path to Amrit Kaal,” I said, mentally patting myself for remembering to throw in the great new era recently invented by the government, over and above the sacred texts, as I teed up for a drive on the next hole, which was the stroke index one hole of the course.

It gave our deep conversation a new twist. He was well prepared as he did not react and added, just as we were sitting down for a quick snack before proceeding to the back nine, “Gatishakti can be such a gamechanger. Like so many initiatives in so many years past that could have been such gamechangers.” In fact, I realized with some shame, that his preparation extended to years past as well, as he had alluded to them with such conviction and fact.

I could only offer, “I wonder why nobody thought of Parvatmala earlier? I mean yes, plans have been made around developing ropeways in the hilly regions, but why is it that it had to be left to this government to call it Parvatmala, mountain garland if we translate it literally. One can only conclude that since they could not call it Parvatmala, the earlier governments had no intention of developing ropeways in the hilly regions.”

“With services activity slowing down, would it not be important for normalcy to return before needless consumption can improve?” It was said with a distant look in his eyes. He had, obviously, seen his ball lose momentum, veer off track and drop into the bunker while trying to climb up to the green.

“If the government is serious about balancing its books, it has to watch out for the pension figure, which is slowly creeping up and is now almost 4%,” I countered, not his point, as usual, but just countered. Anyone has a problem with that?

“What about the real estate sector I say? We are all customers of the sector with our little properties here and there. They seem to have been left in the lurch, to make do as last year. How unfair on part of the government. No needless policy change. No nothing.” He was getting excited and seemed to be warming up to the discussion. So much so that while my attention was on searching for my tee on the seventeenth, he added, “What about the common man? He does not deserve to be ignored. He is not a nobody. Why did they not change the income tax slabs and then change them back next year if no change was needed?”

I had recovered my tee, as well as my senses, but I had run out of answers. I clutched at straws which, in India, are either cricket or Bollywood. I said, “Taapsee and Tahir’s Loop Lapeta has been leaked online. It is distressing to know that some people don’t seem to have any scruples.”

It was obvious he had heard it as, like my earlier observations, he completely ignored it, and said, “Like all past years, at least 6 million jobs are being created. In 75 years, 450 million jobs must have been created as every government every year has been creating them. What is a government to do if people cannot stick to jobs? I think we should encourage population growth, else we will have to import people for these jobs.”

I heaved a sigh of relief as we both parred the par five eighteenth and packed our bags and readied to leave. It had been a competitive round and we had ended up even. I mean in the game. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. This being a two-ball affair, came to an end all too quickly.

The last two days had been tumultuous, as they are every year at this time. You may be able to run, just maybe, but you surely cannot hide. That is the territory that comes with having made it through to a much sought-after business school, even though it was around the Palaeolithic Age. The attending of the business school, not the Palaeolithic Age itself. And if you have worked for a big bank for many years after that, forget running too. People just seem to crawl out of the woodworks and keep making doggy eyes or popping the deep question “Well?” at you. Some are more brazen. They will even directly ask, “So, do you think the infrastructure investment spending of the government will have the desired results?” or “Is the time right for the introduction of a digital currency?” These are important questions that they must know the answers to, since they will all vote in the upcoming elections based on either their caste or religion.

I could see that my partner, a classmate at business school and later a colleague at the big bank, had gone through the same turmoil. His face now bore an easy smile against a grim look and tightly pursed lips at the start.

To be fair to the occasion and its organisers, the moment was not a surprise. The date is always known in advance. Every year. To be fair to me, I have my schedule mapped out for the day for many years. I always spend the day in going over the event and understanding its ramifications that I am always unable to. I was happy to know that my friend and playing partner had been doing the same.

It is an important occasion. Especially since these decisions and announcements can be made on any other day of the year as well.

We had risen to the occasion is all I can say. We had sparred with each other over four hours and successfully failed to understand and respond to not a single statement made by the other pertaining to the Indian Union Budget 2022 announced earlier in the week.

We headed back warm in the thought that the nation, as well as the two of us, were now well prepared for the challenges the world was likely to throw up, including people making doggy eyes or popping the deep question “Well?” at you. Even for the more brazen ones.

The time has come

Life imitates art.

And governments imitate private corporations.

Now light years ago, I started working life as a Management Trainee at a global, UK-headquartered bank in Mumbai, a bright eyed and bushy tailed graduate from the Well Know Institute of Management in Western India, or WIMWI, as referred to in case studies. Upon getting the first role with responsibility, after an initial training period, a Management Trainee became an Assistant Manager. In due course, and with some good performance evaluations, one could become a Manager, and thereafter, a Senior Manager. The world beyond a Senior Manager was too far and too dim to worry about at that stage.

Management trainees joining the big American banks of those days, went from Assistant Manager to Manager, then to an Assistant Vice President followed by Vice President. Perhaps there too, the world beyond Vice President was too far and too dim to think about.

As realisation of this unfairness dawned, the bunch of Management Trainees in our bank were up in arms, to the extent well-paid and well-fed youngsters can be up in arms against a desirable to work for corporation. This ‘upping in arms’ was usually a whisper in the ear of the boss after a monthly report had shown signs of an improvement in performance, or as a joke with the HR Manager when he was sufficiently drunk.

I cannot be sure about the other participants in this ‘upping in arms,’ but I don’t think we were very serious about it, nor did we ever believe that it would happen.

If ever a war was won without a shot being fired, this was it. A few months later the bank had adopted the structure of AVP and VP after a Manager. It was a heady feeling. Not a paisa increased in our salary. Not a single benefit changed. Even the dark abyss beyond Senior Manager, which everyone secretly hoped to reach fast as that is where the serious money apparently started, got pushed back further away by a step. It was a victory that we savoured for many months.

Many years later I came to know that my WIMWI classmates who had joined American banks were fighting for a Senior Manager designation that they did not have. But it was after a few drinks. I cannot be certain.

It was our secret. It was our victory. Though I departed for other pastures after some years, friendships formed in the first job endured. At a recent meeting with some people from the bank, I learned that management trainees can now go all the way to Senior Assistant Certified Business Corporate Vice President, though it might take 86 years. I was glad to know that youngsters have so much to look forward to even before they reached the point of serious money.

I was reminded of this history when I read the headline in today’s newspaper that screamed “Indian Railways redesignates post of ‘Guard’ as ‘Train Manager’ with immediate effect.”

I looked up from the newspaper, refocused my gaze, and read it again. To my amazement, the headline had not changed. Indian Railways, India’s largest employer, and that counts for something, clarified that the move, being demanded for some time, would result in a “dignified designation for them without any financial implication, so that, they can also lead a respectful life in the society.”

Further, it seems that “The demand was raised as the designation ‘Train guard’ had become outdated and in society people commonly draw reference that he/she may be a guard in some private firm etc..”

Clearly, all those who answer to the designation of a ‘guard’ in some ‘private firm etc,’ belong to a species that deserves our contempt and scorn. Thank you, Government of India, and thank you, Indian Railways, for making that clear.

I was overcome with emotion, thinking about the thousands of people designated as ‘guards’ toiling away at their jobs who would now be able to lead a life of dignity toiling away at the same job for the same pay under the same working conditions.

And that is not all. “An assistant guard will now be called assistant passenger train manager, and the goods guard will be called goods train manager. Senior goods guard has been re-designated as senior goods train manager, senior passenger guard is now senior passenger train manager.” Trust the government to go the whole hog.

“Manager, huh,” I said to myself, looked away from the newspaper and wondered how much time would be allowed to pass by the government before making the move to the vice president structure.

There were questions on my mind as I have a train journey coming up soon. During past train journeys I have met various people working for the Indian Railways, such as the people who keep the cabin clean, those who serve refreshments and the obvious ticket checker, but never the erstwhile ‘guard.’ I was left wondering if the person serving the refreshment would take umbrage if I called him ‘bhaiya’ (brother in Hindi) which has historically been acceptable in all situations, or would I be better off addressing him as “Assistant Manager In-cabin Passenger Nourishment?”

It is another matter that the opportunity of meeting the ‘Train guard’ has been taken out of my hands, for no fault of mine.

Word gets around. One man’s meat is another’s poison.

The lady who works in our house is on leave today. Her phone is switched off. My wife is wringing her hands. We can anticipate the issue. For once she believes I am better placed to solve the problem, with my long years in large corporations. Our neighbours seem to be faced with a similar situation. Another chapter is about to be written in the struggle for the development and recognition of the disadvantaged, that has gone from servant to maid to house-help over decades, with no change in duties or benefits. Clearly it will no longer be enough. The time has come for a new name to be called by.

The residents’ society has called an emergency meeting to decide upon the new designations for the help. I did not know this, but the email also said that the society guards are not at their stations and are engaged in a heated discussion in a corner of the society and words like ‘Director,’ ‘Manager,’ ‘Founder’, ‘Evangelist’ have been heard issuing from that direction.

Uncertain times seem to lie ahead.

Your suggestions on possible designations will go a long way in enabling more people to live a life of dignity.

Did someone say, “What’s in a name?”

Dear HDFC

Dear Mr. Das, 

Absolutely delighted to know that my company’s Current Account continues to be charged a quarterly Service Charge of Rs. 2400 which, after adding the GST presumably, amounts to Rs. 2842, despite assurances to the contrary. The latest instance is on the 18th of October, 2021.   

HDFC Bank had assured me that the issue would be taken care of and that I would not need to worry about it again. This had been communicated via its representative Ms. Kulwinder Kaur, who, I was given to understand, was my ‘relationship manager’ in HDFC Bank. I must say that I had interpreted a ‘relationship manager’ to mean that she would be looking after my interests. But one lives and learns. 

My last communication with Ms. Kaur, copied to yourself, was on 17th October, when I had received a text message from HDFC Bank, advising me of the impending debit, which, apparently, went through on the 18th.  

My email of 17th October: 

“Dear Kulwinder, Mr. Das, 

Received following text (SMS) yesterday: 

‘HDFC Bank A/c xx3986 is charged with Rs. 2400 (excl. GST) for non-maintenance of Avg. bal in SEP 21. Maintain req. bal. to avoid charges. Details: refer website’ 

As per email of 8th July enclosed below, a request has been given to HDFC Bank to attach this account to my Imperia relationship so that these charges stop being applicable.   

Can you please advise why these charges are being debited again in October and kindly reverse all such charges levied from 8th July onwards under advice to me. 

Regards, 

Ankur Mithal” 

The email of 8th July referred in the above email is also reproduced here, as I understand HDFC, being a big bank with millions of customers, may not be able to retain and track interactions with customers more than a day old: 

“Thank you Kulwinder. Please add Workready Knowledge Solutions to my relationship. 

Regards, 

Ankur Mithal” 

My confirmation was in response to an email received from Ms. Kaur the same day. She had confirmed that the Current Account of the company would be added to the relationship I had with the bank which would mean that the service charge would no longer be applicable. She had said she would send me an email regarding the same. All I had to do was send an email back in confirmation and the needful would be done.  

Her email of 8th July which is copied to you, of which the subject line reads: Consent for signing up for the Imperia Premium Banking Programme

“Dear Sir, 

Thank you for giving your valuable time to discuss your banking relationship with HDFC Bank.  

I am delighted to invite you to sign up for our Imperia Premium Banking Programme*, where we provide you with a host of exclusive services for a truly peerless banking experience. 

(Note: The rest was a summary of the features and benefits which I have omitted from the extract) 

Thanks and Regards, 

Kulwinder Kaur
Imperia Relationship Manager
Phone Number : 9888809465
HDFC Bank Phone Banking Number : 011-61606161 

Supervisor 

Mr.Rahul Das  – Relationship Banking Head, Phone # 9911760117and email ID : rahul.das5@hdfcbank.com 

Mr.Abhishek Gupta – Branch Head , email ID : abhishek.gupta@hdfcbank.com” 

She did. And I did. But HDFC Bank did not. 

You had replied to my email on 18th October and said: 

“Dear Sir, 

Greetings for the day

Surely will get back to you after speaking to Kulwinder on this as she has been moved to a new role 

Thanks and Regards, 

Rahul Das” 

Your inability to ‘get back’ perhaps bears out my point about HDFC Bank’s inability to track customer correspondence more than a day old. But then, if you had attended to it efficiently like some companies try to, it would have taken away the pleasure of this totally unnecessary correspondence. 

Anyway, as it must be difficult for the bank to understand the objective of this email, let me articulate it here: 

1. Kindly reverse the service charges of Rs. 2,832 debited in the account of my company on 11th April, 8th July and 18th October, 2021. 

2. Kindly ensure they are not levied again. 

Thanks and regards,

Ankur Mithal 

You Asked For It

I broke out in a cold sweat as soon as I read the email:

Your information has been updated

We have completed your request to change your address in our files from 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAON* to 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAOM*. If this is correct, you do not need to take any further action and can disregard this email.

*Note: In order to protect the security of your account, the complete address is not listed above.

If you did not request this address update, please call us immediately using the number on the back of your Card.

Thank you for your Card Membership.

American Express Customer Care”

Now, it has long been one of the many peeves of mine that I have not been hacked and whether I was not important enough to be targeted. But when it actually appeared to have happened, on 22nd September, time-stamped 11:16 AM, I broke out in a sweat. A cold one too, before I forget.

It was thoughtful of the company to have not listed the complete address in order to protect the security of my account. I believe they compressed the air out of the address text since the address mentioned in the email is all that is needed for anyone to reach it, should they desire to. Never one to follow a good practice without a struggle, I masked the address.

Unless they are referring to their cleverness in changing the city from Gurgaon to Gurgaom. That should fool the hackers and information stealers.

But American Express is a thoughtful provider. They think of everything. Below the email they even mentioned:

To Contact Us

Please do not reply to the email for any enquiries – messages sent to this address cannot be answered.

Kindly contact our Customer Service Representative on the numbers mentioned on the back of your card or alternatively you can write to us:

American Express Banking Corp.

Cyber City, Tower – C, Bldg. No 8, Sector 25

DLF City Ph II, Gurgaon – 122002

Thank you for using American Express Online Services”

Completely sensible. Sending an email to a customer and telling him that he cannot send an email back. He can either call a customer representative or send a physical mail (snail mail for those who cannot picture physical mail) to their thoughtfully provided address that they even had the presence of mind to not hide, thankfully signed off as ‘American Express Online Services.’ If you cannot send a physical mail to an online service, where will you?

But I ramble. I think it is the sense of relief after the call that I made as suggested by them. I made the call at 11:56 AM and it lasted 8 minutes and 37 seconds, the metadata to serve as breadcrumbs for retrieval in case American Express ever decided they are not happy with me.

The call was answered and I was politely advised that it could have been initiated by the KYC team.

After a moment of reflection upon receiving this immensely useful piece of information, I could only say, “Hmmm. So?”

The young man, to his eternal credit, remained unfazed. He returned in a few moments with another representative on the line, this time from the KYC team. His name was Saket. Saket said, “You don’t have to worry, sir. Based on your KYC (Know your customer) documents our back-office team did a realignment of your address. I think the city name was corrected.”

Upon more reflection I said, “’change your address in our files from 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAON* to 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAOM*’ sounds like you have changed it to Gurgaom. I believe the correct spelling is Gurgaon. I know political parties keep changing city names, but I have not heard of it changing to Gurgaom.”

“Don’t worry, sir. It was done by the backend team. You don’t need to do anything.”

“In that case, thank you for sending me this email asking me to call in case I had not initiated this address change request. Everyone’s time seems to have been put to some good use this morning as a result.”

“I am sorry for that sir. It is an automated process, you see.”

“Ah, automated process,” I said to myself and ended the call, as that explained everything. I could be faulted for believing that was the end of it. But was it?

A few minutes later, when I peeped into my inbox once more, there was another email sitting in my inbox from americanexpress@alerts.americanexpress.com, time-stamped 12:05 PM. I could feel the sweat, the cold one, beginning to form, as I clicked on it with trepidation. It said:

Your information has been updated

We have completed your request to change your address in our files from 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAOM* to 999 Housing Society Name, Colony Name, GURGAON*. If this is correct, you do not need to take any further action and can disregard this email.

*Note: In order to protect the security of your account, the complete address is not listed above.

If you did not request this address update, please call us immediately using the number on the back of your Card.

Thank you for your Card Membership.

American Express Customer Care”

My faith in large corporations remains unshaken. As you can make out, their processes are pretty strong and can be repeated endlessly, even if there is no need for them. Once again, they seem to have pressed the air out of my address in order to protect the security of my account.

But I am in a quandary.

Does this qualify as a request that I made?

Should I call back immediately?

Have I just caused the initiation of an endless loop?

Lifelong Learning

Did you know that smoking is injurious to health?

Don’t beat yourself down if you didn’t. How could you? Had Siddharth Shukla, the 40ish year old recently deceased actor, died ever before?

May he rest in eternal peace! Om shanti!

And since this was the first time he died, there was no way our venerated tabloids, journos and writers could have told us what we needed to learn from his death. QED.

We all know that the common man does not learn about the dangers of smoking from the mandatory warnings on cigarette packs, complete ban of cigarette advertising and government advertising communicating the horrifying consequences. He does not. He waits for an article in some barely-read tabloid to learn that smoking is injurious to health after Siddharth Shukla has died.

And here I was, thinking that only sporting events play this important role in our lives.

No, not winning and losing. Not displaying the limits of human endeavour either. But learning all the things we couldn’t otherwise have the foggiest about. Like the recently concluded Olympics that have been a great knowledge-imparting event. I wish the 2021 Olympics had been held in 1976, so that I could have learned all that I learned at a much earlier age.

Like what?

Like in a competition some will win and many others will not. Some might even be second and third.

Did you know that? Answer truthfully. You can lie to the world but not to yourself. This must be life-changing for the millions who play tennis and golf and everything else, knowing they will never be Roger Federer or Jack Nicklaus. And to think that they have been playing the sport just for their love for it all along. Shame on them.

Like one should learn from one’s failures.

Really? The one common thing I have seen in the (at least) thousands of people I have interacted with in my life is their steadfast refusal to learn from their failures so that their life can go downhill like a runaway toboggan. Lawyers, doctors, students, army men, politicians, priests, I believe all are guilty. Who has ever learned from failure? Isn’t one of the driving forces of human life as we know it the refusal to learn from failures?

Like associating and spending time with like minded people, those who can support you and uplift you when you need it most.

I wonder if such a drastic change in lifestyle will be possible for human beings? After all, we all know that we like to associate with people who are the antithesis of what we are. People who like to pull us down every living moment of our lives. Who rejoice at our failures and mope at successes. These are the people we hop over to the pub for a drink with. These very same people are the ones we share our most personal and precious moments with. Show me a human who is close to people who support and uplift him when needed and I will show you a Martian.

Like discipline is required for success and that many athletes get up early and work long hours to achieve success.

Who cares about discipline in the real world? The humble newspaper vendor who has to begin his day well before sunrise to pick up the newspapers and distribute them? The call centre agent who works the night shift because her employer handles calls for a client from the other side of the world? Or even the rickshaw puller who used to show up at our house, day after day, come rain or shine, to take my sister and me to school when we were kids? We went with him for several years and never once did he fail to show up. How would these poor folks know about discipline unless someone really intelligent gleaned it from the Olympics and wrote about it?

All these learnings, and all from just one single tabloid. Boggles the mind.

But they seem to be old fashioned. Publishing learnings that are meant for everyone is a dead giveaway.

Take another tabloid, for example, that has published learnings from the same Olympics, not for everyone, but only for children. Absolutely unique ones, only applicable to children.

Like in a competition some will win and many others will not. Some might even be second and third.

Like one should learn from one’s failures.

Like associating and spending time with like-minded people, those who can support you and uplift you when you need it most.

Like discipline is required for success and that many athletes get up early and work long hours to achieve success.

Never heard of them. Have you? I don’t blame you.

These really intelligent people have whetted my appetite. I wonder who will be the first to publish 5 learnings from the Tokyo Olympics for 27-year-olds. Or 55-year-olds. Or 3-year-olds. Or 5 learnings from the Tokyo Olympics for 27-year-old females born in September with a college degree in computer science. An avalanche of learning is about to hit us.

But I digress.

I now realise that sporting events do not have a monopoly on teaching us stuff that we already know. And why should they? We are in the highly developed world of the twenty first century. All major societies have rules against monopolies, enabling the largest technology companies to have gotten so big offering their unique services that nobody else does.

Celebrities, or celebrity deaths to be specific, are equally useful for the foolish common man to be taught lessons by some of our venerated tabloids and journos and writers, that they would otherwise have had to live without. That itself has been a learning for me. As has happened in the case of actor Siddharth Shukla’s untimely death.

Like what?

Like one should not over exert. Apparently hard work does help but our bodies need rest as well. Makes complete sense as I just finished reading a lesson from the Olympics: “Discipline is required for success and that many athletes get up early and work long hours to achieve success.” I will rest as well as work long hours. Elementary.

Like genes are important. We need to know about the health of our parents and grandparents and take care of our health accordingly. Makes sense as I just finished internalising another lesson from the Olympics: “Everyone has it within themselves to become someone or something magnificent (or at least better than we are now) with a ton of hard work and focused determination.” I can do it but I can’t do it. Simple. There was a bonus lesson hidden in this one; I am useless whichever way I am, because I can at least become better than I am now. Wouldn’t you pay for these lessons?

I can already visualize fingers gliding across keyboards and producing an article on ‘Five lessons on resolving conflict between five lessons from a sporting event and five lessons from a celebrity death.’

All for the foolish common man, who just does not seem to learn. Olympics have been held for over a hundred years to produce lessons for him. Celebrities have been dying, some young and some old, for centuries, producing lessons for him.

5th September, marked as Teachers’ Day in India, has just gone by. On this day, we should be celebrating our venerated tabloids and journos and writers for teaching us these life lessons and making lifelong learners out of the common man.

My new video tour of London

I am a longtime follower of Stephen and his always interesting perspective on places and things of historical or common interest. He conducts tailored tours around the UK. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, tourists have dried up all over the world, severely impacting his work and income. In his own words, “Given the total lack of tourists still in London and my now approaching almost 19 months with no work or any form of government support, I’ve been busy working on my latest video tour.” But it seems he has many ideas up his sleeve, like this video tour he has created. London in particular and the UK in general are a wonderful holiday destination, to which I can vouch from my own experiences. This video might be a great way to get to know London, or to get to know it better, the Stephen Liddell way.

Stephen Liddell

Given the total lack of tourists still in London and my now approaching almost 19 months with no work or any form of government support, I’ve been busy working on my latest video tour.

This one is based on my original 3 hour walking tour and visits just about every famous sight in Westminster (London) though it turns out with no crowds or tourists, I do this tour in just under 2 hours on this video.

I filmed this tour back in November 2020 at the very height of lockdown and at a time when London usually looks quite beautiful, with the colourful autumnal leaves falling in the parks and the white stone buildings coming into their own as they do in the winter months.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

It’s all filmed on a 360 degree camera so you can scroll around in every direction as the…

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