Baby and the Bathwater

Regulators have done what they do best. Regulated. Without taking any responsibility for the creation of the problem they are trying to solve.

The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of the Environmental Pollution – Prevention and Control – Authority (EPCA) to ban diesel generators in and around Delhi, including Gurgaon.

Makes complete sense, does it not?

After all, people, fools that they are, have been increasingly resorting to buying and using diesel generators to run everything starting from lights and fans gradually progressing to increasingly heavier power-consuming gadgets like geysers, TVs and air-conditioners because they have had a regular, assured supply of grid power throughout their lives. Fools that they are, they have generated the means to, when possible, make investments in equipment like diesel generators, to provide for themselves and their dependents, a more comfortable life, at least to the extent a reliable supply of electricity can provide. In Gurgaon, a condominium without a captive diesel generating capacity is like an oxymoron, a self-contradicting phrase. Such an animal does not exist.

To be fair to them, the regulators have been fair in their failure. They have failed to provide an assured supply of power to households just as efficiently as they have failed to provide assured power to industrial establishments and to shops and establishments. The only place they seem to have failed in failing is in providing assured power to themselves. Chief Ministerial houses, Legislative Assembly buildings, and other Institutions serving the common man, for example, are often a beacon of brightness in a sea of darkness during power failures, at least in the minute or two it takes for standard diesel gensets to kick in.

It is not that we have not made progress. Far from it. During my growing up years in a small town in the northern part of India, circa seventies, there were power failures as well. However, during those days, and we probably have to blame our lack of development for the situation, they were often planned and predicted well in advance. For example, the Department of Electricity would announce that our area would have a power cut from 7 AM to 10 AM every day for the next three months.

What did that mean?

It meant that there was a power cut between 7 AM and 10 AM. And, for the rest of the time, electric supply would be uninterrupted, barring the occasional thunderstorm that brought down electric poles or uprooted trees that fell on overhead wires. Even then, we could call a number provided by the department who would be patient and provide an indication of when we could expect power supply to resume. Before Call Centres were invented.

And the elders would hold out promise of a ‘bright’ future, with uninterrupted power supply just around the corner, with the commissioning of projects like the Bhakra Nangal dam for producing hydroelectricity. That has turned out to be an endless curve with nary a corner in sight.

But we have made progress, as I alluded earlier, and it is there for all to see. Today, no such information is available. Power supply can be switched off at any time, at least in Gurgaon, many times a day, in keeping with the vision of successive governments to keep the populace on a high level of alert for any eventuality. Like an earthquake, or tsunami, or war, that can strike unannounced and requires immediate response, a power outage can strike any time and requires immediate response. What better preparation for an earthquake, tsunami or war? In the event a sudden power outage happens in Tokyo or Chicago or Frankfurt, who are the people who are the calmest and seem equipped to handle the situation? The Indians who grew up in India. Try it out.

Of course it needs to be done in a hurry. Since successive governments could not provide an assured supply of electricity over half a century, since they failed to see the rising usage of diesel powered generators over half a century, the common man needs to ensure he is equipped to handle the situation in fifteen days.

The same order also requires the RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) to provide electric heaters to security staff. Which they can presumably run on the fresh air that will be available as a result of the Order.

“We want no electricity outages in these locations,” Ms. Sunita Narain, the well-known environment activist and a member of the EPCA, has demanded. Of course, as a power-positive society that has been repeatedly throwing away excess power, that should not be a problem to implement. Nobody had asked for it, it seems.

But wait. What about the economy, silly? Has anyone thought about the impact this will have on the GDP? Caused by people no longer buying and running a gadget that they should never have needed to buy and run. It will need to be a brave person who will give Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, our Finance Minister, the bad news.

But what is a government to do? People want clean air, don’t they? Well, they asked for it.

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The Quest for Home – Virtual Book Launch

I am thrilled to announce the launch of her new book by my long time blogging friend and popular author Jacqui Murray.

The Quest for HomeQuest for Home

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind her African homeland, leading her People on a gruelling journey through unknown and perilous lands. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that her most dangerous enemy isn’t the one she expected. It may be one she trusts with her life. 

The story is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, the one destined to obliterate any who came before.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man makes his way across Eurasia, fleeing those who would kill him. He must be bigger-than-life, prepared time and again to do the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

This is Book 2 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga (Genre: Prehistoric fiction), and is available at:

Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU

About Jacqui and how to reach her:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2020, the final chapter in the Crossroads Trilogy.  

Amazon Author Page:        https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog:                                       https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram:                             https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:                                http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:                                http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:                                   http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:                                 https://jacquimurray.net

Jacqui will be visiting blogs September 16th – 30th to chat about The Quest for Home. She answers some questions about the book here.

  1. What’s the relationship between Xhosa (and Homo erectus) and animals?

Early man had no idea animals weren’t simply another intelligent creature who spoke a different language. Why would they think differently? Man wasn’t the alpha in this environment. Mammoth or Sabretooth were. Man thought he could learn from these animals and become stronger. He respected them.

  1. What one characteristic would you say allowed Xhosa to survive in a world populated with Sabretooth Cats, violent volcanoes, and predatory species who liked to eat man?

 Really, with our thin skin, dull teeth, and tiny claws (aka fingernails), Xhosa had no right to survive against the thick-skinned mammoth or tearing claws of the great cats of that time. But she did. The biggest reason: Even then, Xhosa and her kind were problem solvers. They faced crises and came up with solutions. Where most animals spent their time eating and sleeping, Xhosa had time left over. This, she used to solve problems.

To me, that thoughtful approach to living, one no other animal exhibits, is why we came to rule the planet.

Here’s wishing success to Jacqui Murray and The Quest for Home.

 

Value System

As reported in the New York Times on 19th August, 2019, “Chief executives from the Business Roundtable, including the leaders of Apple and JPMorgan Chase, argued that companies must also invest in employees and deliver value to customers.”

And if you don’t believe that such a day would ever dawn, CLICK HERE for proof, sorry URL. Is there a difference between the two?

And Pepsi and Walmart too. And not just employees and customers, suppliers too will be dealt with fairly and ethically. “While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.

The Business Roundtable, incidentally, is a lobbying organization that represents many of America’s largest companies.

Revolutionary, isn’t it? And not a moment too soon. It is important these views are articulated because such things have never been done in the past.

After all, in a competitive world, driven by free-market principles, a business could be successful without delivering value to customers. What businesses in the free-market driven world do is not deliver value to customers. And no competitor would be ready to step-in and deliver value. Nor would customers notice the absence of value. 

The reasons customers buy from businesses are well known. At least from what we may call successful businesses. They buy because they don’t get value. They buy because they are forced to; they don’t have choices. They buy only things they don’t need. They buy because they are weak-willed with a low self-esteem and unable to withstand relentless messaging of big companies that tells them they are losers if they don’t have the product. If customers queue up overnight to be amongst the first to buy a device in the morning, it must be the fault of the maker that the offered device does not deliver value.

After all, in a competitive world, driven by free-market principles, a business could be successful without bothering to invest in employees, or worrying about their aspirations. That is what businesses in the free-market driven world do. And no competitor would notice. Nor would their employees.

The reasons employees work for a business are well known. At least for what we may call a successful business. They work for a particular business because they have better opportunities elsewhere. They work because their qualifications make them suitable for better jobs. They work because they prefer the risk of a monthly salary over the security of self-employment. They work for the enrichment of the employing business and not their own compensation and advancement. They work so that they can walk out on a whim if they get a better opportunity. This is why jobseekers claim they cannot find jobs and businesses claim they cannot find employees.

After all, in a competitive world, a business could be successful without treating its suppliers fairly and ethically and destroying value for them. That is what businesses in the free-market driven world do. And no competitor would notice. Nor would the suppliers. 

The reasons suppliers work with a business are well known. At least for what we may call a successful business. They work for a business because it treats its suppliers unfairly by paying less than what has been contracted and agreed. They work because the business will pay much later than the timeframe for payment agreed in the contract. They work because they don’t salivate at the prospect of large future orders from that business. They work because they don’t dream of some day making their business as big and successful as the business they are supplying to. They work because they are forced to. And a situation where a big company is a supplier to another big company, or a small company, just cannot exist.

The rising global discontent over income inequality, harmful products, domination that hurts competition and unethical practices cannot be the fault of our lawmakers whose job it is to ensure equity and fairness and justice. It must be the fault of business corporations since they are not representatives of the people voted into office to safeguard the interest of the common man. Since they have been able to establish themselves as a force in the world of business earning a lot of money, they can be trusted to create value for customers, invest in employees and deal fairly and ethically with suppliers. And work for the upliftment of the downtrodden in society. And world hunger. And global peace. And environmental conservation.

Can someone please tell me why we spend billions on elections in India, and in many countries around the world. If it is the large business corporation that is going to deliver value to customers, invest in employees and treat suppliers fairly, and work towards global peace and world hunger and environmental conservation, why exactly do we need elected representatives? 

In an explicit rebuke of the notion that the role of the corporation is to maximize profits at all costs that has held sway over the last hundred years, leaders of the Roundtable have ruled out obvious options like cutting executive compensation, or paying higher taxes, or increasing wage levels. They believe that their noble ideals can be achieved without doing any of these. They believe that their noble ideals can be achieved without doing anything.

But I am being unfair. It is not without doing anything their ideals will be achieved. After much deliberation, and as an example to the world of their commitment to achieving their ideals, the Roundtable has developed a Vision Statement for all members which is to be prominently displayed in the CEO’s office:

‘The purpose of our corporation is no longer to advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, we will create value for customers, invest in employees and deal fairly and ethically with suppliers. We vow to protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses and foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect. We will work for the upliftment of the downtrodden in society. And world hunger. And global peace. And…’

And now that the problems of the common man have been effectively solved by the Roundtable and its members, our political leaders are counting the days to the next election when they will be able to tell us how they will solve our problems.

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.

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?