No News, Good News?

Thankfully, I am not alone in not receiving signal customer service from the humongously large business community as described in the previous post. My wife receives it too.

She holds some shares of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), India’s largest private company that, primarily due to our laxity, have continued to be held in physical format, and not dematerialised (demat), as most of her other shares are.

Dividends on physically held shares have been sent as physical dividend warrants (or cheques) to be deposited by the beneficiary in his/ her account and cleared through the banking system, as against shares held in a demat format, which get electronically credited to the beneficiary’s bank account, in general, a much more efficient system.

As a continuously well performing company over several decades, RIL has paid dividends regularly. As individual investors, tracking payment of dividend by a company and its eventual receipt in the form of a dividend warrant, is not an activity that has been done very efficiently by us. A review of her account over the last five years showed that credits of RIL dividend were sporadic. We then compared with RIL dividends received in my account, as I also held RIL shares, in demat format, which confirmed that several were missing.

As we set the motion of recovering the missing dividends in progress, the fun and games began. 

Second week of February, 2019

We start from a logical enough place, the RIL website, which provides contact details for investors with shares in physical format:

Karvy Fintech Private Limited (Formerly, Karvy Computershare Private Limited)
Tel: +91-40-67161700
Toll Free No: +1800 425 8998
E-Mail: 
rilinvestor@karvy.com
Website: 
www.karvyfintech.com

We were unable to reach the number provided after several attempts. After a few rings we get a helpful automated message, “Sorry, there is no reply from the number you have called.” Clearly, we would have failed to grasp this had the automated message not been there. Last checked on 17th August, and again on 19th August at 12:39 PM. Results consistent.

Being logical people, we next visit the website of Karvy Fintech, www.karvyfintech.com, as again thoughtfully provided on the RIL website. The Karvy website boldly displays on the top of their Homepage, Call Us Toll Free 1800-425-4034. Surely RIL has chosen them as registrars for a good reason.

On this number, we are welcomed by a message, “Welcome to Mutual Fund services at Karvy.” Pressing buttons on the IVR takes us deeper into the MF domain. It seems resolving issues faced by RIL investors in not Karvy Fintech’s primary job. Cannot say about bigger, but they seem to have other fish to fry as well. If we are not buying Mutual Funds, what business do we have calling them anyway?

14th February, 2019

Unsuccessful in reaching Karvy on the phone numbers provided, we resort to sending an email to ‘rilinvestor@karvy.com,’ helpfully, would you believe it, provided on the RIL website again.

“…I have not been receiving information pertaining to payment of dividend for at least two years now. Kindly look into the matter and remit the due dividend at the earliest to HDFC Bank account no. 9999999999.”

They think of everything, don’t they, these RIL guys. They knew that calling the number provided will yield no results, neither will the Karvy website address, hence an investor will want an email ID. Not for nothing is RIL India’s biggest private company.

6th March, 2019

Send out a reminder to the earlier mail. Prepare drafts of the next three responses we will send after not receiving a response for the previous email.

Digging deeper into the website, we locate a list of Service Centres provided under the URL: https://www.ril.com/DownloadFiles/InvestorRelations/RIL_investor-service-centers.pdf

Forward the same email to ‘ircdelhi@karvy.com,’ the email ID provided for the centre in Delhi. Thank you RIL for providing another go-to centre for getting our issue resolved. Another one from where we will never receive a response.

Continuing to dig deeper, we go over to the Karvy website once again, and discover a Chat option. We launch a Chat window that gets answered. Hurray! We have contact! Chat agent advises us as follows:

“We request you to follow the below mention documents.Please send the following physical documents to Karvy Fintech Pvt. Ltd., Karvy Selenium, Tower B,  Plot No. 31 and 32, Financial District, Nanakramguda, Serilingampally, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, PIN – 500032:
1)    A request letter which is duly signed by holder.
2)    Self attested copy of PAN Card.
3)    Self attested copy of address proof like Aadhar card/electricity bill/telephone bill/bank passbook copy.On receipt of the correct documents, it will be processed within 30 working days.”

7th March

Not ones to dither in the face of potential financial loss, we put together the documents asked for and send the packet via Speedpost, consignment no.  EH550948992IN.

30th March, 2019

No response received from Karvy. Exercising caution, and not wishing to burden the administrative machinery of RIL and Karvy and more than we need to, as they must be having many important things to do, rather than worry about handling customers or investors, we decide to track the consignment and find that the last update on the tracker is as of 8th March, out for delivery. The poor delivery person has been out for delivery for 22 days? We hope we did not inadvertently address the packet to some location on Mars. Peeved, we shoot off an email to the postal department to an email ID we find on the website, nsh.delhi@indiapost.gov.in.

(Note: though the delivery issue got resolved, I have not received a response to this email till the date of writing this post).

2nd April, 2019

March turns into April, as it invariably does, whether dividends are paid or not. No response received. Not easily disheartened by the lack of delivery confirmation on the Indiapost website, and knowing the government departments’ penchant for building citizens’ character by making straightforward transactions equivalent to drawing teeth, we initiate another Chat session with Karvy. This time taking care to save the Interaction. Chat ID ‘3455’, Agent name ‘Mutharak Nithin.’

As per established procedure, we are Initially told that documents had not been received. After providing the consignment no., receipt was confirmed and we were advised that: “The documents will be inwarded in 7-10 working days.” Inwarded apparently meant ‘scanned and uploaded.’

Heave a sigh of relief. India Post, as we had believed, was only trying to do some harmless character building by keeping us in the dark about the packet.

22nd April, 2019

First week April turns to fourth week April. Chat being the only channel that has elicited a response, initiate another session. This turns out be Chat session no. 6568. And, guess what, the agent name is ‘Mutharak Nithin.’ Either they have a very efficient agent or they ask all agents to change their name to Mutharak Nitin if they wish to work for Karvy.

I was told that “We have given request to the banker for the printing of the dividend warrants and we have not received any update from the banker.” The agent also sent a file listing details of unpaid dividend per their records.

27th May, 2019

As no update received, and now unable to connect on Chat, it seems they finally managed to synchronise, and block equally efficiently, all channels of access available to customers, we send a follow-up email to rilinvestor@karvy.com, the email ID that had shown no signs of life on earlier occasions.

And, not leaving anything to chance, we send the same email to another email ID that we find on the Karvy website that has been provided as the contact ID for issues pertaining to Corporate Registry, which is what we believe our issue was, einward.ris@karvy.com.

28th May, 2019

Wonder of wonders!

An email is received from einward.ris@karvy.com. In a helpful composition, they ask us to provide all the information that we had already provided earlier in the Chat the transcript of which we had attached to our email.

Peeved, again, we send out an immediate response to this email complaining about poor service and delaying tactics: “Over a month has elapsed since my last communication on Chat with Karvy re. unpaid dividend. Now even unable to connect with Karvy on chat.”

Receive another, possibly automated, response. Thankfully, they don’t ask for the information once again.

3rd June, 2019

Manage to connect again on Chat through a crack in the edifice that they perhaps forgot to block. This Chat no. is 5166. Agent name is Executive. Understandable. We know lots and lots of people by the name Executive running around in India. I think Mutharak Nithin left.

The agent goes through the process he has perhaps been taught.

He says that documents not received.

We give reference of earlier Chat that had confirm receipt of documents.

Then he says the documents received were only for ECS updation (whatever ECS means).

We politely request him to refer to an even earlier Chat that had listed the documents required for the purpose, and politely also request him to verify that the documents we had sent were the same.

Under the onslaught of logical arguments, he caves in. He signs off with: “We will check with the concern team and get back to you soon.”

Soon…

1st July, 2019

Enough is enough.

The time had come to let RIL and Karvy know who is boss.

We hit paydirt. We find a ‘grievance management framework’ on the RIL website. This is surely to fix employees who refuse to pay heed to customers. Under the URL: https://www.ril.com/InvestorRelations/GrievanceManagement.aspx,

we find the consoling words: We have outlined a framework to ensure a smooth and transparent procedure for interacting with our investors. Our values exude in all our interaction and are enshrined by the principles of corporate governance at Reliance.

It must be an effective framework, as it did not provide any clues to an investor as to the action he can take in case he has an issue which is not being resolved or responded.

We locate the ‘Nodal Officer for the IEPF Authority’ on the URL: https://www.ril.com/InvestorRelations/Investor-Contacts.aspx

Shri Sandeep Deshmukh, E-Mail: investor_relations@ril.com

We write in our best, understated manner, as he is likely to be a responsible, senior person. One does not needlessly tick off senior, responsible persons.

“Despite taking up the issue in Feb 2019 and regular follow-ups since then, I have been unable to get an update on the issue of pending dividend of the last few years. On account of inaction from Karvy, I have been constrained to compile a chronology of events for further action, which I am attaching with this mail. Approaching you as this contact information has been provided on the company website for investor grievances. I hope you are able to resolve the issue for me.”

The rest, as they say, is history. We went off on a month-long vacation. When we returned in early August, guess what? No response had been received.

In the interim

While all this excitement was unfolding, it seems we missed an email from RIL dated 29th May, which a review of unread mails revealed. Hold your breath.

Will there be a happy conclusion to the sordid saga of unpaid dividend?

Will we be unable to write a blogpost detailing the twists and turns?

An examination of the email put our worries to rest. It pertained to unclaimed dividend for the last few years, initiated from the email ID investor.relations@ril.com, and signed by Sandeep Deshmukh, the name provided on the website, writing from an email ID only marginally different, a ‘.’ In place of an ‘_’.

Thankfully, it bore no reference to any of our emails or Chats over the last few months. In any case, we had written to Sandeep Deshmukh only on 1st July. Even he, senior and responsible official as he would no doubt be, could not have responded a month before we wrote to him. To further allay any other concerns we may have harboured, it boldly stated at the bottom:

This is a system generated Email. Please do not reply to this Email.

And so was born this blogpost.

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Khul ja SIM SIM

The last few weeks have given me an opportunity to sample signal examples of customer service from some of the largest names in retail businesses in India.

Airtel, for instance, one of India’s largest mobile services providers.

Sunday, 7th July 2019, around 4 PM (all dates and times in IST)

My mobile stops working. I panic as it is Sunday and I am slated to travel to the US for an extended period the same night. I call the helpline and am given to understand that I would need to visit an Airtel store to get the SIM (a small electronic chip that goes inside a mobile device and is an integral component of mobile telephony on GSM networks) replaced. Fortunately, there is one not far away from my house that is open on Sunday. I go to the store in Galleria Market in DLF Phase 4.

The attendant gives me a new SIM and says it would be operational in a few hours. I give him my Driving Licence as ID proof. He says that my picture on the Licence was slightly unclear and it could pose a problem in approval. In any case, if not accepted, he would get a response within two hours, their TAT for the service. He said he would track progress of the case and let me know later. As I was travelling overseas I also asked him to activate a month-long International Roaming plan after asking him if I should wait for the SIM to be active first. He said I could get the Roaming plan activated right away as the SIM would soon start working.

On my enquiring, he also told me that in the worst case, if the SIM does not work, I would not be able to get it changed while I was in the US.

Sunday, 7th July 2019, around 7 PM

As the SIM had not started working, and as I was unable to reach the attendant in the evening, I call the Airtel helpline again who tell me that no case of SIM update was registered with them for my number.

In the meantime, I get an email from Airtel confirming that the Roaming pack costing Rs. 3999- has been activated. Activated on a number that is inactive. Hmmm.

I manage to speak to the attendant later that might, perhaps after 9 PM. He says that ‘he could see on his end’, whatever that means, that the request has been registered and the SIM would start working as soon as I reach overseas. I do not have any choice but to rely on his word as I have a flight to catch just a few hours later.

Thursday, 11th July 2019, 9:09 AM

I am now in the US. Gingerly switch on my phone. Worst fears realised. Neither my old nor the new SIM is working. And I am here for more than 3 weeks. Unable to call as SIM is not working, I send an email to Airtel with a sequence of events, and further:

“…In the meantime, you are probably also charging me for the roaming pack for the US, while you have not been able to get my SIM to work. Can you please ensure that the SIM is working in the next 12 hours. If you are unable to do that, please ensure that I do not get charged for the Airtel roaming pack for which I have no use if the SIM does not work. A confirmation of the above request will be greatly appreciated. You will need to communicate with me on email or WhatsApp as the Airtel SIM is unable to connect to any service.

Friday, 12th July 2019, 7:03 PM

Receive email response from Airtel:

“This is in reference to your email informing us about not being able to use SMS service on your Airtel mobile number 99930XXXXX post SIM change. I have gone through your account and found that your mobile number is active on a different SIM 899100090169066YYYYY.”

(My feelings: Thank you Airtel for keeping me informed about another customer who I neither know nor care for, while you try to get my number to work.)

The email went on to tell me many more things about the other customer’s SIM which I will not bore you with here.

Friday, 12th July 2019, 9:57 PM

Touched by their desire to tell me about the status of issues of other customers, I write back to them:

“Your understanding is incorrect.

  • Which part of my mail did you understand as ‘not being able to use SMS service on your Airtel mobile number 99930XXXXX’?
  • Whose number are you quoting in your email? It is not mine.
  • I am already in the US. As my SIM is not working, neither old nor new, I cannot send you an SMS. You can only communicate on WhatsApp and Email.
  • In my earlier email I have already specified the name of the location I went to and where I was given the new SIM. I don’t know why you are asking again? Can you get necessary details from them and not me. If they have been deficient in collecting documents, I cannot answer for that. I believe I have given a copy of my Driving Licence.”

Can you pls refer this request to someone who can read an email and understand the issue.
I repeat my earlier email:

…”

Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 3:46 PM

Another email response, in keeping with elite standards of promptness (response received after 5 days) and accuracy (still talking about another customer’s issue):

“This is in reference to your email regarding delay in activation on your Airtel mobile number 99930XXXXX. I apologize for the inconvenience caused. Your feedback will enable us to enhance our services and service experience. Let me assure you that action will be taken to ensure that this is not repeated. I have checked our records and found that the services of your are active with effect from 14-07-209 and working fine. You may check your current plan benefits or change plan online via My Airtel App. To download the app, click http://www.airtel.in/5/nv.

Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 3:54 PM

The same email again with an added line:

“////Please ignore the previous mail”

Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 3:56 PM

Another email from Airtel:

“This is in reference to your email regarding delay in activation on your Airtel mobile number 98104XXXXX…

I have checked our records and found that the services of your are active with effect from 11-07-2019. Please restart your mobile and start using the services. 

(My feelings: This is not fair. I want to know the status of issues faced by other customers. Why are you telling me about my issue? You have ‘found’ that my services are active from 11th July. However, I don’t ‘find’ that to be the case. What do we do now?)

We noted that the International Roaming service is already active on your number. Please restart your mobile and start using the services. Please try using a different handset and see if the issue persists.”

(My feelings: Since I asked you to ensure deactivation of International Roaming service, very kind of you to confirm that the service is active on my number.)

Friday, 19th July, 5:40 AM

I write back.

“I disagree. Service not active. I have tried switching on and off multiple times. Also tried multiple handsets. Even saying they are active from 11th July seems like an excuse knowing I will not be able to visit a store to dispute as I am already overseas. Besides, considering I visited your store on the 7th, is 4 days the turnaround you offer for Airtel customers.

Basically I am off the network now for ten days already and seems will be so till 4th August when I am back in India and can go to an Airtel store.

Once again, please disconnect my Roaming pack as it is useless for me as you have not been able to get it to work. Please ensure I DO NOT GET CHARGED FOR THIS LACK OF SERVICE.”

Saturday, 20th July, 11:45 AM

Email arrives from Airtel.

“We have activated International Roaming (IR) service/smartpack on 98104XXXXX with effect from 20/07/2019.”

(My feelings: Thank you for activating a service that I wanted you to deactivate. As you seem to deviate from the beaten path, I hope you will pay me for providing this service, instead of the norm of the customer paying a provider.)

Saturday, 20th July, 11:46 AM

Email from Airtel.

“I’m writing to you regarding your email about deactivating international roaming pack on your Airtel number 98104XXXXX. We’ve deactivated the international roaming pack International Roaming @3999 Unlimited Incoming – 30 days pack-Zone B  on your number. we understand not being able to use the services when in roaming has inconvenienced you.
 
Further, I also understand your perspective and rental to be paid on non usage of International roaming services. Please note that we are dependent on the international roaming operator to provide usage details. Currently we are unable to provide the usage details as International roaming usage depends upon the inputs received from other operators and we will receive the same with delay.
 
Hence the usage is verified by us and post successful validation the billing will be processed. However, the usage and charges will be made available on 09-08-2019 which is your bill generation date. Hence, I kindly request you to write back to us after post bill generation i.e, on 09-08-2019.

(My feelings: Finally Airtel has an employee who can do two things together; 1. Read customer communication, 2. Understand customer communication. When did things change? I can sense the prospect of an interesting blogpost slipping away.)

Saturday, 3rd August, around 3 PM

Back in India. My first conscious action, despite the jetlag, is to go to the Airtel store again. With the same issue; SIM not working. Find the same attendant who had attended to me on 7th July. He gives me another SIM and asks for an ID proof for which I again hand over my Driving Licence. I had also taken a photocopy of my Passport but he says because they use an online tool for issuance of SIM an original document is required. He then proceeds to take a picture of the DL which I suppose could not have been done with the PP copy.

He promises resolution in 15 minutes, which become 20, then 30 and then 2 hours. Not willing to let go, I busy myself in the marketplace and bought things I do not need and come back to him several times. Finally, after about 2 hours, he advises that Airtel has rejected my DL as ID proof as my picture was unclear.

Saturday, 3rd August, around 7 PM

I go back with my original Passport as ID proof. He takes it and gives me yet another SIM and proceeds with the transaction once again. He also asks me to sign another form and gives me yet another SIM, just in case the first request does not work out. On my asking why could he not directly go to the second process if that was more reliable, he says that that takes longer, hence we should stick to the first one. He says the TAT is 2 hours and I should have a working SIM by 9 PM. I put the first of the two SIMs in my phone.

Saturday, 3rd August, 7:24 PM

Email from Airtel:

“We have received your request for change in SIM No. from 899100090180337AAAAA to 899100090180469CCCCC for the above mentioned number. The same has been registered via Reference no. 21-2085434224032 and will be processed shortly.”

Saturday, 3rd August, 9:32 PM

Email from Airtel:

“Update on SIM change for your Airtel Mobile 98104XXXXX , Order no. 21-2085434224032: The SIM has been changed from899100090180337AAAAA to 899100090180469CCCCC. If you have not requested for SIM change, please call 121 immediately.”

Despite a strong flow of emails, phone still not working. Too tired to protest, I let it be.

Sunday, 4th August, 9;46 PM

I am out of town the entire day on the 4th, coming back around 7 PM. The phone remains stubbornly not working. I have planned to go to the store again the following day, a Monday.

At 9:46 PM an email arrives from Airtel:

“We have done below updation for your Airtel Mobile 98104XXXXX with effect from 04-Aug-2019
Deactivation
1) SMS Barring”

On a whim, I switch my phone off and on.

“Odyssey, this is Houston. Do you read me?”

“Hello Houston, this is Odyssey. It’s good to see you again.”

Wood for the Trees

I spilled my morning cup of tea. Once again. This time caused by the startling news item; ‘Capital will get 11 city forests in 2019-20.’

Leaders are leaders. They will do. Like create 11 city forests from scratch. Whereas commoners will read newspapers and spill tea. Is it any wonder that we are commoners whereas leaders are leaders? It is possible that it is so because we neither attended the ‘How to become a leader in two easy weeks” course offered by a leading business school nor read the bestseller ‘The real and actual truth about Leadership which nobody told you’, which the leaders did neither.

And, in leader-like fashion, no details based on which questions could be asked, were provided. And, in true commoner-like fashion, it set my mind racing with possibilities.

Would we plant saplings while chanting an ancient Vedic mantra that would cause the sapling to become giant banyan trees in two easy weeks? Or, would we inscribe the name of a certain God on each seed which will give it the power to become a redwood tree in two easy weeks, and thereafter carelessly scatter them in the wind, which will spread them to different corners of the state? Or, have we finally been able to access the magical powers contained in the waters of a river descending from its heavenly abode in the Himalayas, with which we will water barren patches of land and make them magically productive to raise full-grown trees in two easy weeks?

Is there anything our leaders cannot do? Producing not one, not two, but eleven forests in a city that regularly tops the charts as being the most polluted in the world.

But, most of all, my mind was racing with the worry that all our efforts of the last few weeks to save the environment for future generations had been exercises in futility, given that now forests could be produced on demand. Or, at least in two easy weeks, by our political leaders.

The last few weeks had been a time of excitement and frenetic effort on account of the World Environment Day, marked on the 5th of June. Of telling everyone else what “we” should be doing to protect the environment for future generations. And, in turn, being told by others what “we” should do to protect the environment for future generations.

Saving the environment for future generations can be a back-breaking task. Especially when you have to tell others what they should be doing by to save the environment for future generations. And others have to tell you what you should be doing to save the environment for future generations. All the while using the pronoun “we” to make it sound like you are in it with them. Like, “we should plant more trees” which means “you should plant more trees”. Particularly in areas we have no control over or where it cannot be done. In someone else’s house, for example. Or, on road surface.

The “we” that is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as ‘used as the subject of a verb to refer to a group including the speaker and at least one other person’ is uniformly defined by savers of the environment for future generations as ‘used as the subject of a verb to refer to a group necessarily excluding the speaker and including at least one other person’.

And there were many unique ideas that were generated as a result of these conversations and debates in separate discussions in different groups.

We should plant more trees, was the unique solution provided when it was realised that the temperature had breached the highest ever summer temperature recorded in Gurgaon.

We should plant more trees, was the unique suggestion made when reports of the water table falling to inaccessible depths started trickling in.

We should plant more trees, was the agreed unique solution on a day higher than the normally higher than permissible air pollution levels were recorded.

We should plant more trees, was the unique conclusion reached when the twin hazards of waterlogging along with an inability to recharge the water table on account of rapid concretisation of open ground, in light of the approaching monsoon, were highlighted in a TV report.

Four different problems. One solution. If ever the billion plus population was ranged behind a solution it was this. Why worry about identifying a problem when we know the solution.

There are other things I am beginning to understand now. Perhaps our leaders always knew.

Imagine a scenario where every inch of land where trees could be planted and survive has been planted. Surely, for a nation where the government has an annual USD 400 billion budget, with more than ten times the number of people available per square mile to do the task as compared to, say, the US, this cannot be a difficult task. Of covering every piece of eligible land with trees. Especially when it seems that planting a tree entails neither cost nor effort and that we should be casually doing it while brushing our teeth in the morning or just before spilling a cup of tea reading startling news.

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when the mercury touches a new high next summer?

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations each time the government allows clearing of a vast swathe of protected forest to build premium housing?

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when the next factory that will leech chemicals into the ground is set up?

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when we need to pave more open ground and build roads, underpasses and overbridges to accommodate the space needed by larger, gas-guzzling vehicles with a single passenger each?

If every inch of eligible land has been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations each time we instal one more air-conditioning unit that threatens to drill more holes in the ozone layer?

If every inch of eligible land has been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when we find, to our utter astonishment, that our rivers are not rivers but open sewers?

Just as well that records on historical attempts at planting trees in lieu of projects causing environmental damage, and their survival, seem to be dodgy. Else, we may have to start holding people accountable. Where money is to be made, one cannot do that.

At least, “we” can plant a tree and save the environment for future generations.

Selling Skills

The ability of Indian businesses to change their business strategies in response to the pulls and pressures of the marketplace has never failed to surprise me. From moment to moment. Businesses in India are a flexible lot and standard bearers for the free market.

The truth of this statement is never more apparent than when one goes to a retailer to buy something. Like I did yesterday. To buy an electric box. The one that you instal on a wall and on which you mount the sockets and switches you need. Where the front panel is visible, almost flushed with the wall, while the rest of the box is inside the wall, with all wires and connectors.

For readers unable to follow my intensely descriptive, well, description, this is what it might look like:

electric box

I went looking for electric box made by, let’s call the company Fraser to avoid giving free publicity to the real name, even while some company by the name of Fraser gets free publicity. Fraser suited us as the other electric boxes in the house were of the same make which meant that the look and feel of electric boxes across the house would be similar, and my wife and I had a good opinion on their durability and functionality,  though the reasons for selecting Fraser are not really important in the larger scheme of things, namely this post.

“Fraser does not make electric boxes.” Stunned silence followed the statement from the salesperson at the first shop we enquired. My mind went blank and my eyes glassed over. Images of electric boxes around the house, embossed with the name Fraser, flashed in front of me. Had I unwittingly become a participant in a grand contraband operation of an epic scale lasting decades, considering at least twenty such boxes in our house were labelled as Fraser, and bought from different stores at different points of time?

“Any more,” the salesperson added, to soften the blow, perhaps moved by the shock, if not awe, on my face, and fearing he might have triggered a heart attack.

“But how is that possible?” I argued feebly, the foundation of my existence shaken by the opening comment, since I had bought the last one just three months back.

“I am telling you.” As a clincher in a series of objective, reasoned arguments, this one has few parallels in Indian retailing. Or Indian anything for that matter.

The pride of place, though, in the world of objective, rational, reasonable statements, in the world of Indian retailing, is taken by the magnanimous, sweeping statement that dates back to the time when one had to get a physical warranty card issued while purchasing a covered item, typically an electrical or electronic appliance or gadget. “Ajee hum baithe hain naa” that translates to “Hey, we are sitting here”, with a grand wave of the hand dismissing you the customer’s request for a warranty card as meaningless and cheap since ‘they were sitting there’. With a sheepish grin at having missed such an obvious point, I would walk out, since ‘they were sitting there’, without the warranty card.

I miss those days. Of walking out of a retail outlet with an expensive electronic item, and without the warranty card since ‘they were sitting there’. Of going back for repairs if needed and being asked to pay for the repair since I did not bring the warranty card that I did not have since ‘they were sitting there’ and the ‘they’ did not recognise me any more. We look upon digitisation and globalisation as a solution for all our problems. Rarely do we stop and think about what we are losing as a result. Experts opine that diversity in languages is fast disappearing as a result of globalisation.  I claim first-hand experience of the same. “Ajee hum baithe hain naa” is one phrase that has been lost to the world. Globalisation is to blame.

A close second was “ajee hum kahan jaa rahe hain?” that translates to “where do you think we are going?” Another objective, rational response to the customer’s, “Can you please give me the warranty card for the TV I have purchased?” This has been known to be used by retailers when the situation was such that a mere “Ajee hum baithe hain naa” could not do justice.

Back to the electric box.

I reeled under the impact of the news and clutched the counter for support. But rational and objective people like me don’t give in easily. There had to be a logical explanation. I gathered myself and walked out of the shop along with my wife, in search of it. The logical explanation, as well as the Fraser electric box.

“Fraser does not make electrical equipment,” boomed the shopkeeper’s voice in the next shop as I went about asking for my favourite electric box brand. “They never have,” he said in a tone of finality, much like judges of yore breaking the nib of their fountain pen while pronouncing a death sentence.

I reeled again and had to sit down on a chair. The change of Fraser’s business strategy all of a sudden was too much to handle. Ten minutes back the strategy of Fraser had changed from making electric boxes to not making them. All of a sudden, and without warning, the strategy had now changed to not making any electrical equipment. That too with retrospective effect. It was not fair.

Perhaps sensing my delicate condition under the impact of this revelation, which was confirmed as fact when the shopkeeper said, “I am telling you,” he quietly said to me, “The best one in the market at this time is Sparta (name changed to avoid giving free publicity to the real name).”

Not sure of anything anymore, I feebly said, “Can I take a look at one?”

He brought it out and cheerily said, “You happen to be in luck. We have just a few pieces left.” I smiled feebly at this turn in my fortunes. I was the desert traveller who, on the verge of collapse from thirst, had found his oasis.

Normally I would have bought just the one piece that I needed. But I drank hungrily from this oasis. I bought several electric boxes from the shop, to quench the thirst that would perhaps never even arise. I thanked him profusely for coming to my rescue. Who says the milk of human kindness has dried up?

Curated

Every time I look, the world seems to have changed. When I looked recently, I found that I was being assaulted by curated products and services from all sides. Not products and services. Curated products and services.

Like onboard a recent domestic flight where I was offered a curated food selection that I had to pay for. Curated omelette. Curated bread roll. Curated fruit bowl. Curated cup of tea. It was a morning flight else they might have offered curated rice and curated ‘daal’ and curated chicken curry as well.

“Can you please pick up your cup, sir?” It could no longer be considered a request, considering the tone it was spoken in, even though a ‘please’ and ‘sir’ had been inserted in the sentence. It was the flight attendant, looking cross, almost shouting at me. Passengers seated around had stopped eating and were looking in our direction, hoping for entertainment on a flight with no video screens. Apparently, she had said it thrice already, as I was informed by a co-passenger.

On seeing the curated food on offer, my mind had wandered off to the good old days of flying. Though, on the back of the recent experience, no sane person would qualify them as the ‘good old days of flying’. Tell me which airline served curated omelette on a morning flight? No sir. Not one. Or curated bread roll? Or curated tea? Or even a curated fruit bowl? Flyers had to make do with uncurated omelettes and uncurated fruit bowls and uncurated bread rolls and uncurated cups of tea. Still want to call them the ‘good old days of flying’? Not me. No wonder we did not have to pay for them. Some mysteries get solved only when enough water has flown under the bridge. In the harsh glare of looks from other passengers, I picked up the cup from the tray in front of me and the attendant splashed curated tea into it and walked away.

Flipkart and Amazon are passe. What is not are curated shopping websites. These websites, as I read online, tap in the time of people and showcase them products selected wisely which saves a lot of time and also leads to the discovery of hidden gems floating around the internet. Curated web service offers effective personalized shopping experiences to make shopper’s shopping more enjoyable. And they, I understand, are able to do this because they are curated. 

Makes sense, doesn’t it? The traditional shopping websites must have been putting mascara under electronic products and mobile phones under books. Just to ensure that visitors waste a lot of time while searching for a product. And what about their Vision and Mission? I bet one of the statements in there somewhere would be, ‘To make the shopping experience hell for our visitors and ensure they never come back’. They aren’t curated, are they?

Though I never quite understood the meaning of the word, in my own objective and rational manner, I had associated it with something classy and exclusive. The reason perhaps is that my main exposure to the word had been in connection with ‘curated’ exhibits and ‘curated’ collections in museums in Europe. Like The London International Surrealist Exhibition curated by a group of artists and poets including Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Andre Bréton, Man Ray and Paul Éluard. Like the Russian Art Exhibition (Erste russische Kunstausstellung) in Berlin that featured Russian Constructivism and curated by artists David Sterenberg, Nathan Altman, and Naum Gabo.

No, not based on visiting and experiencing those exhibits in museums in Europe, but reading about them online. Cannot clearly recollect if those were curated or not. The online articles silly, not the museums and their exhibits.

Uncomfortable with indiscriminate application of a word I associated with class and exclusivity, I lost no time in trying to find out more about it. To my utter shock and surprise, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defined curated as: carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized or presented.

The pieces were starting to fit in. I was realising why businesses had to start curating products and services. Clearly airlines in the ‘good old days’ merely carelessly decided the menu for a flight, and presented it in a disorganised and thoughtless manner. Because, like other uncurated businesses of the time, they were running a business that was trying to make its customers unhappy and lose money for its owners as fast as possible. And stores would have made it a point to stock random items that were of no use to their customers so that they rapidly went out of business, paving the way for curated businesses to emerge.

Simply put, the avenues it opens up boggles the mind. Imagine buying a curated 42 inch flatscreen curated TV of a known brand. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated 42 inch flatscreen TV of the same known brand. Or a curated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. Simply put, the human race has risen above challenges threatening its existence and found a path to progress on.

I hope you liked this specially curated post. I must stop here. Need to run to Delhi to buy groceries as my neighbourhood green grocer has refused to supply me ever since I told him I will buy from him only if he stocks curated potatoes, onions and tomatoes. He doesn’t get it. I hope you do.

Patriot Acts

I think the society management team should cancel the DJ (loud blaring music that needs to be heard by people not participating in the event the DJ is playing in) during the Holi party that has been planned, as a mark of respect to the martyrs,” beeped the message on our housing society’s WhatsApp group.

The reference, for the uninitiated, was to the terrorist incident on 14th February this year when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives laden car into a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the Pulwama district of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in the death of over forty personnel of the CRPF apart from the attacker.

And Holi, which falls on the 21st of March this year, is perhaps the most widely celebrated festival in India, after Diwali.

Though the tension has since eased off, for a few days, the nuclear powered neighbours had stood eyeball to eyeball, primed for escalation of hostilities. Ably led by politicians who, protected by hundreds of armed elite security personnel, were fulfilling their constitutional duty and ratcheting up the patriotic ante by making angry, threatening speeches and sending other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory for the nation.

Ably supported with minute by minute strategic guidance to the armed forces provided over WhatsApp messages to each other, by a vast populace just as willing to send other people’s children to die in a blaze of glory in the service of the motherland. Their job made twice as difficult by having to continue pursuing their regular money-making professions of selling flavoured, coloured sugar-water or a revolutionary, newly invented shampoo, in the service of the nation, even while providing this strategic guidance to the armed forces and telling them to “kill them in their own lair” and “they should know we will hit back”. All so brave. From the confines of their bedrooms and warmth of their kitchens.

And then, as soon as the situation had escalated, it eased off. Perhaps you can send other people’s children to die for the nation only for a few days at a time. Perhaps the untimely death of forty security personnel can only fuel patriotism for a few days at a time.

But the dovecotes had been set aflutter. Once more.

Why only DJ?. If we want to pay a tribute, we should cancel the entire party,” came the riposte.

A hush fell on the group. The bar had been moved up in a flash. “Sorry for the late response. Just got back after celebrating my husband’s fortieth birthday with some friends over drinks in Cyber Hub. Why Holi? I think we should cancel the Diwali celebrations. Would that not be more appropriate?” came the next message.

The bar had been moved higher yet. Diwali was at least seven months away. But it was the biggest festival.

And Eid and Christmas too.

Why leave out Budh Purnima and Gurpurab?

How much higher could the bar go?

Hey guys. Have you heard about the shooting in Christchurch? Over forty feared dead in a gun attack in peaceful New Zealand. What does the society plan to do about it?

Till I received the message I had not realised that it was our housing society’s responsibility to do something about the terror attack in New Zealand.

But that happened in faraway New Zealand. Why should we cancel the DJ for that?

By now apparently it had been accepted that cancelling the DJ would become the society’s main method of honouring the memory of the deceased.

You mean if our soldiers die in battle in Africa, you will not cancel the DJ for them? And I believe there were several Indians among those killed.

I agree. We have to get over our parochial mindsets. A life is important. We should show solidarity with the global community.

What about casualties of the civil war in South Sudan. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed in the conflict in the last four years. I think we should show that we care for them.

But we cannot cancel the DJ for both Pulwama and Christchurch, can we? Would that be the right way of honouring the memory of people who met an untimely death at the hands of a deranged fanatic?

More silence.

Sorry I had to travel to Bangalore for an important meeting. I think we should take out a cycle rally to honour the memory of those killed in Christchurch. I will be in a business meeting but my thoughts will be there with the cycle rallyists.

Guys, guys, guys, why are we not thinking of a candlelight vigil?

More silence. Possible struggle with internal shame for not having thought of a candlelight vigil to honour the martyrs’ memory.

What about the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008?

What about it?

Why don’t we cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those killed in that attack?

But that was more than ten years back.

So? You mean the people who lost their lives became irrelevant to us after a month? Or two? Is there a cut-off date to honour the memory of martyrs?

More silence.

Have we already forgotten that at least nine CRPF personnel were killed when Maoists blew up a vehicle with an IED in Chattisgarh just a year back? I don’t recollect cancelling a DJ ever for that incident?

You want to cancel a DJ for nine CRPF personnel killed? Nine? Do you realise we may need to start honouring every two or three or four poor people on the footpath run over by expensive SUVs driven by drunk drivers?

IS THERE A MINIMUM THRESHOLD IN TERMS OF LIVES LOST THAT QUALIFIES FOR RESPECT AND HONOUR?

The all Caps had its impact. “I am sorry. Did not mean to offend. Just wanted to clarify. I agree. We need to cancel the DJ to honour the memory of those nine brave CRPF personnel.

Silence.

The management committee of our housing society, I believe, has decided to book ten different DJs for the planned Holi party and then cancel them to mark different terror incidents.

Like religion, what good is patriotism if it cannot be made a show of or foisted upon others.

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: 12 Survival Tips for Writers

via #AuthorToolboxBlogHop: 12 Survival Tips for Writers

My guess is that many of the readers of my blog are writers themselves.

And, much like me, I have no doubt that as writers, you would be facing your share of difficult days for writing.

Sharing a post from my long-time blogging friend Jacqui’s blog that might help us through some of those days. She is a treasure trove of nuggets of information for writers.