Tag, you’ve had it!

“7208052999 on call missed a giving by balance Fastag Bank HDFC your check can you now customer dear.”


No, this is not a new language I am promoting.

Try calling my favourite HDFC Bank’s service numbers and I assure you that you will be able to hear, read, repeat a sentence backwards, as I was able to, after hearing the same message 23 times (OK I could be off by a few percentage points) during a 6-minute call. And when I say call, what I actually mean is “call” in the widest sense of the term. Because I did not speak a word.

The first time the message was voiced, what I heard was, ““Dear customer, now you can check your HDFC Bank Fastag balance by giving a missed call on 7208052999.”

And thereafter it all went south.

Now, mind you, this is HDFC Bank we are talking about. One needs to be pretty sharp and alert when one initiates a call to them. It is not for the weak. Your intelligence will be assaulted from multiple sides.

Like mine was.

Just about a minute into the call I was told that I was 3rd in the queue and my wait time was expected to be 1 minute.

“Good ol’ HDFC,” I said to myself as I gulped down my coffee waiting for a call executive to address me over the phone any moment.

I swatted away a few of the identical messages while I waited for the executive. I would have swatted away 4 or 5 of them when I was told that I was 6th in the queue and that my wait time would be 1 minute.

I had a suspicion that even though 6 was a bigger number than 3, the movement was not in the right direction. But good ol’ HDFC took care of that for me by telling me that my wait time had not changed. Solid as a rock HDFC. Never waver in their statements. More than a minute after they told me that my wait tome would be one minute, they had made sure it was still one minute, position in queue be damned.

After another minute my position had become 3rd once again. Reassuringly, my wait time was still one minute. The repeated message was beginning to get jumbled up by this time.

Another minute plus and, guess what?

My position in the queue? It was 2nd.

And wait time? One minute, what else? Surely you could guess that.

And just as I had begun to clear my throat in anticipation of speaking to a human, the call ended.

Yes, ended.

I checked my phone; the total duration had been about 6 minutes.

What is a loyal customer to do in such a case?

What else, call again. I called their number 1-800-120-1243, that appeared listed as ”Shopnservice” on my phone. This call was made at about 4:50 PM on the 9th of March.

And HDFC Bank did not disappoint.

At the 1 minute 20 second mark, I was told that my queue position was 1, with a wait time of…you will not believe it; 1 minute.

At 2 minutes and 32 seconds I was 3rd in the queue.

At 3 minutes 43 seconds I was 3rd once again.

At 4 minutes 58 seconds I was still 3rd.

And at 6 minutes and 8 seconds I was 1st in the queue.

And each time my wait time was advised to me as 1 minute.

Is there any wonder that HDFC Bank is identified as a systemically-important institution in the nation today. Solid as a rock. Wait time…always 1 minute.

Just as I was preparing to do a celebratory lap around the house for reaching the 1st place in the queue, the call disconnected.

Before I forget, Fastag is the universal stored value card for paying road toll in the country and can be issued by multiple organizations, one of them HDFC Bank, all linked to the national system.

Why would I need to call the Fastag helpline?

Because I needed to ask them to refund the value in the card as I sold the car on which it was affixed.

Should I call a third time?

My hands are trembling. Can I handle more excitement for the day?

“Tag, you’re it” is passe.

Update on 19th March:

The world is changing. Last weekend I received a call from someone (sorry I have forgotten the name) apologizing for the inconvenience, explaining that other customers also faced similar issues (not sure how that helped me?) and assuring me that the account would be closed and the money refunded soon. He was also quite specific and said by Thursday. Brave man! He asked if I could confirm once I had received the credit.

I was out of town and said I was not in a position to take down his number and make a note. He offered to call back to recheck.

Looks like HDFC Bank now hires people who can converse and even understand what a customer says. As opposed to people dumping their apologies and vanishing. Are they trying to take the fun out of banking with them??

I received a call yesterday from the gentleman once again. He apologized for not calling on Friday and asked if I had received the money. I check my account and voila, it was there! What is one to do now?

HDFC Bank does seem to have some sensible people is what I can make out.

New Book – Organizational Development Essentials

I am happy to announce the release of my new book: “Organizational Development Essentials You Always Wanted to Know.”

This book is a ready reckoner for people who would like to know more about the subject of Organizational Development (OD) but do not know where to start.

It seeks to provide an understanding of the still relatively new and evolving discipline along with its key characteristics, core values, and goals. In order that it is not confused with some other disciplines like Change Management and Human Resource Management, a distinction is also drawn between them.

The book builds the theory of OD around the concept of constant change and suggests that organizations need to move from change that is thrust upon them to change that is planned, with the help of OD interventions.

The book also discusses the 5 stages of OD interventions – Entry, Diagnosis, Implementation, Evaluation, and Institutionalization in detail. The discussion is rounded off by discussing the OD practitioner’s core competencies, skills, ethical issues, and knowledge required as well as the expectations the organization has.

The book is an ideal pick for managers and leaders in organizations who wish to acquaint themselves with all the aspects of OD. It will be a useful guidebook for students and help them explore the field of OD for a prospective career.

This book is produced in collaboration with Vibrant Publishers and constitutes a part of their Self-Learning Management Series designed to help students, managers, career switchers, and entrepreneurs learn essential management lessons.

As a reminder, my earlier books, that also appear on the top right section of this blog, are:

a collection of satirical stories set in the workplace,


a detailed guide to the world of business process outsourcing (BPO).

Thanks to the valuable insights provided by my longtime blogging friend Jacqui Murray on her blog, the URL behind these images should take you directly to your local Amazon bookstore where you can know more about the book and, of course, buy it if you find it interesting.

If you get to read any of them, please do try and leave your comment/review/feedback either on this post or on the online bookstore where you bought it.

Thank you!

Return of the Native

It has been an open secret all these years.

One that the Microsofts, Citibanks and Googles of the world, as well as the Londons, Singapores and Dubais, are unlikely to ever catch on to.

That Indians migrate overseas for the well-being and development of the nation, India, and not for seeking better opportunities for themselves and prospering in a jurisdiction with equal opportunity and an effective rule of law.

The secret came to light during the speeches made by leaders at the recently concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, or Overseas (or Non-resident) Indians Day when they exhorted NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) to do their duty for the nation. The nation that allowed them to go forth and succeed. You don’t get such opportunities in many places. In countries like the US, Sweden and New Zealand, one could even contemplate staying back and succeeding.

Held on the 9th of January, it is now one of the key events in the Indian national calendar, and a pivotal strategy in the nation’s development ever since independence, even though the official marking of the day only began in 2003.

The day chosen is the return date of arguably the nations’s most famous overseas Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, from South Africa in 1915. Gandhi had become an NRI in 1893 to do service to the nation, by representing Dada Abdullah Jhaveri, the Durban-based private merchant of Indian origin, in a legal matter, as a lawyer. It is another matter that, stung by the treatment meted out to him by the British government, and to Indians in South Africa in general, he stayed on to fight for the rights of the Indian community, returning to India only in 1915.

The day celebrates the contribution of the overseas Indian community to the development of India by asking them to contribute to development. It seeks to strengthen the bond between India and the global Indian community. It is a day celebrated with great pride and enthusiasm by the government as well as the diaspora, the ones who get invited to attend.

Who exactly is an NRI?

The narrow definition is an Indian citizen residing overseas.

The broad definition includes a citizen of any country other than Bangladesh or Pakistan who had (a) at any time held Indian passport or (b) he or either of his parents or any of his grandparents was a citizen of India by virtue of the Constitution of India or the Citizenship Act, 1955 or (c) the person is a spouse of an Indian citizen or a person referred to in (a) or (b).

Phew! Anyone left? That is broad as broad gets.

To keep things simple, the broad section of the definition was carved out into a separate category known as a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) which was later merged with another category known as the Overseas Citizen of Indian Origin (OCI) created later for the same reason – simplicity.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the official theme of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2023 was “Diaspora: Reliable Partners for India’s Progress in Amrit Kaal.” The theme focuses on the importance of the Indian diaspora in the development of the country. It is important to note that for every edition a new theme is chosen to celebrate the day.

Undoubtedly a staggering amount of effort must be going into developing the theme for such an important event every year, or every two years now since 2015!

The results are visible. The theme for the virtual event in 2021 was “Contributing to Atmanirbhar Bharat”.

See what I mean.

In order to fully appreciate the effort and creativity, as well as the wide subject coverage while determining the theme of each edition, it is necessary to go further back.

For the 2019 edition, held in Varanasi, in the Prime Minister’s electoral constituency, the theme was the out of the ordinary “Role of Indian Diaspora in building New India”.

This was a revolutionary change from the “Redefining Engagement with the Indian Diaspora” that had been agreed upon as the theme for the 2017 edition hosted by Bengaluru.

I will not be surprised if the topmost minds in the country, or in any of the 110 countries where NRIs live, have already put on their thinking caps and are hard at work to decide the theme for the next version of the event scheduled for 2025.

At the latest edition, Pravasi Bhartiya Samman awards were conferred by the President to chosen NRIs for their distinguished service to India as well as their countries of residence. It was not immediately clear if the country of residence agreed that the service provided to them was, indeed, distinguished.

The Prime Minister commented on people emigrating in earlier years owing to the stifling policies of previous governments run by other political parties and marveled at the resilience of NRIs as they continued to emigrate owing to the stifling policies of a new government and a new party.

I went into a trance listening to the PM and found myself fondly recollecting the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas held in the Prime Minster’s electoral constituency in 2019. Inaugurating it he had said, “People of Indian origin are in leadership roles in country, such as Mauritius, Portugal and Ireland.” To put this in perspective, Shri Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, the PM of Mauritius, a person of Indian origin, was the chief guest for the edition.

I had swelled with pride at the thought of how we would never let such a thing happen in India. We will never allow a person of any foreign origin to even settle down peacefully, leave alone handling a public office. It is a testament to the tenacity and courage of the diaspora, I had added to myself, that they have been able to assume leadership roles in other nations who did not have ancient civilizations they had to protect from the corrupting influence of foreigners.

He even sought out the ‘hotel motel Patel wallas’ who run more than half of America’s motels and suggested, “Whenever you get a guest in your hotel or motel, why don’t you put a few slides of India on TV. When the guests turn on the TV they will be able to see what India is.”

I am not privy to the impact this had on the business of the ‘hotel motel Patel wallas’ but it has revolutionized business in India. Each time someone in India switches on his South Korean TV, he/she gets to view, for free, a one-minute video on the achievements of the nation. Whenever someone sits in a Japanese car, the display panels are all aglow with Japanese script. Only after a minute they transition to English or Hindi. No extra charge.

His appeal to every NRI to persuade five non-Indian families to visit India with a visa on arrival waiting for them, seems to have been taken up widely. Foreign tourist arrivals in 2019 went up by almost 3.5% over 2018. In each of the previous 10 years, they had been going up by a larger percentage over the previous year. Isn’t it unfortunate that we don’t have Italian neighbours asking us to visit Italy with a visa on arrival waiting for us instead of waiting in the long queues for a Schengen visa? If only previous governments had had the foresight…

Dear NRIs, whatever else you may or may not do, at least give us your money.

Nation Building

“Are we of no service to society?”

The office bearers of the Medical Council of the nation had no response when the question was posed by participating doctors at a recent meeting.

Neither could the bar association come up with a convincing reply, even though its members were known to have all the answers in the most complex cases including rape and murder. The simple question asked was, “Does the nation think that we are a burden?”

The Institute of Chartered Accounts, with their ears to the ground, have cancelled the upcoming annual meet for fear of difficult questions being raised.

Voices of discontent are being heard from every nook and corner of the nation, from sanitation workers, from government employees, from pilots associations, from electricians, from cab drivers, from software developers, from managers, from the managed, from vice presidents and CXOs, from farmers, and everyone else you can think of.

Losers! All of them.

Except the people behind micro, small and medium enterprises, or MSMEs.

Their lives are about to change. No question about that. In fact, they may already have, since the video was released at least a couple of days back, if not more.


Yes video. Who would have though lives could be changed with a single video. But then, that is what leadership is all about, is it not? Thinking the unthought. Doing the not-done. Going to places not gone before.

What is the big deal in spending other people’s money to demonstrate leadership, you might ask. After all, the government collects billions in taxes. Spending a few thousand on hiring an agency to create a video will not even be a rounding off error in the government’s accounts.

And that is the beauty of this video. It has not been created by the government. Why should creating goodness all around be the sole responsibility of the central government? Is it not up to us to participate in nation-building?

Creating a video is nation-building?

Yes, it is, if the video has a soft tonal quality to it, mainly black-and-white footage, indulgent smiles, a slow tempo with soft sounds, smooth, slow voiceover, camera panning indulgently, and the national flag flying in slow motion, what is it if not nation-building? Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself. The voice-over is in Hindi but with the help of English sub-titles, people not familiar with the language should also be able to follow the script.

Isn’t it amazing? What a message? Never before seen or heard anywhere. “…they are working tirelessly for their country, although in silence. Their tribulations are frequently unheard of. They make mistakes along the way, but they always come back stronger.”

After all, who has ever worked tirelessly for their country in silence? Or, whose tribulations were unheard of? Or, who have made mistakes but come back stronger? Isn’t it important to highlight these unique characteristics?  


So, how will this help? Will it help MSME business owners get better prices for their products and services?


Will it reduce competition and help them sell more?


Will it help them reduce the cost of production?


Will it help them pay better wages?


Will it help them make more money?


OK. Will it reduce atmospheric pollution in Delhi? Or, make politicians truthful?

No and no.

So, how exactly does it help?

I cannot believe you are so narrow-minded. Always looking for proof. Always asking for data. Only interested in actual benefit. Is it not enough that intelligent, educated, smart people have made it a priority to forward this video again and again and feel great about their contribution to nation-building? And I am not talking about MSME owners only. I am talking about everyone. Would it not make them feel proud to view such a video that even has a CTA, a call to action, of asking viewers to be respectful towards MSME owners. Where they don’t have to do anything; just watch and forward and build nation, watch and forward and build nation. Repeat, ad infinitum. Sometimes with added comments such as, “For the first time an Indian government released video for businessmen. What a video! 😊 Do watch it.”

But that is a lie, is it not? It is issued by MSMEX, which is a private company. It claims to be an “experienced MSME edtech company with highly qualified staff to help companies grow in their industry and attract more visitors online” and aspiring to “serve 10 Million MSMEs Worldwide.” I might aspire to have 100 million readers of my books. It makes me aspirational, yes. Nothing more and nothing less. Not a representative of the Indian government.

Again fact? Again data? Again truth? How does it matter? You can never be a patriotic son of the soil. How does it matter that it has been created by MSMEX? What matters is that people think it has been created by the Government of India.

How does it matter? How is it any different from the many commercials made by companies that tug at your emotional strings in an effort to make you buy something? While I have nothing against them using emotional appeal in their commercials since it is up to the buyer whether she chooses to be convinced about the message or not and opens her wallet, calling it nation-building is rich, is it not?

By evoking guilt companies make you spend money on things you don’t really need. What is that if not nation-building? Keeping the wheels of the economy moving.

Like the true leaders they are, the government has noted the simmering discontent after the release of this video, and instructed all industry associations and all representative bodies of doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, sanitation workers, government employees, pilots, electricians, cab drivers, software developers, managers, the managed, vice presidents and CXOs, farmers, and everyone else you can think of, to make a nation-building (read emotional) video for their members so that they can feel good while watching it and contribute to nation-building by forwarding it again and again.

An opposition party has gone a step further. Recognizing that making such videos creates so much good for the whole nation, they have decided that if voted to power, they will ban all other professions and jobs and trades such as doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, sanitation workers, government employees, pilots, electricians, cab drivers, software developers, managers, the managed, vice presidents and CXOs, farmers, and everyone else you can think of, and ensure that each individual will, henceforth, only be a maker of emotional videos, creating everlasting goodness.

The head bows down in reverence.


Dear Mr. Das, 

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

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

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

My email of 17th October: 

“Dear Kulwinder, Mr. Das, 

Received following text (SMS) yesterday: 

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

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

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


Ankur Mithal” 

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

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


Ankur Mithal” 

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

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

“Dear Sir, 

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

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

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

Thanks and Regards, 

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


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

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

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

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

“Dear Sir, 

Greetings for the day

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

Thanks and Regards, 

Rahul Das” 

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

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

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

2. Kindly ensure they are not levied again. 

Thanks and regards,

Ankur Mithal 

You Asked For It

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

Your information has been updated

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

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

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

Thank you for your Card Membership.

American Express Customer Care”

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

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

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

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

To Contact Us

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

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

American Express Banking Corp.

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

DLF City Ph II, Gurgaon – 122002

Thank you for using American Express Online Services”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your information has been updated

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

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

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

Thank you for your Card Membership.

American Express Customer Care”

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

But I am in a quandary.

Does this qualify as a request that I made?

Should I call back immediately?

Have I just caused the initiation of an endless loop?

Pro Bono

Excuse me for feeling privileged, or entitled, as some like to say.

I believe businesses that deal with consumers, or individual customers like me, reserve their choicest services for my exclusive use.

OK I exaggerate. Exclusive is a little over the top.

My recent experience with Payoneer, that describes itself as a “financial services company that provides online money transfer, digital payment services and …” has only served to confirm my suspicions.

There is some business consulting and freelance writing work I do with a couple of overseas businesses. When you work on a commercial basis, there is a financial angle that becomes a part of the deal. A European client prefers to remit the money to me through Payoneer, one of the many ‘fintech’ companies that have emerged in the last few years, giving a run for their money, pun unintended, to the seemingly change-resistant big old banks.

Being in India, which is an exchange-controlled environment, where one cannot freely buy and sell foreign currency, receipt of foreign currency requires some regulatory compliance. The one that I daringly got involved with Payoneer for is the obtention of the Foreign Inward Remittance Certificate (FIRC). In simple terms, once you have an FIRC mentioning you as the beneficiary, it is certified that you were responsible for the receipt of that amount in foreign currency, resulting in boosting the foreign exchange reserves of the nation. You also become eligible for certain relaxations, like Goods and Services Tax (GST) compliance for such receipts.

The saga commences with my email of 27th June to Payoneer, after a reasonably fruitless phone conversation that yielded no results.

27th June – My email

Hi, I have not received FIRCs for the last 3 months.
Can you please make them available.

30th June – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting us. My name is Adrian from Payoneer Customer Care.

We apologize for the delayed response.

We are aware that it might be long for you, and we would like to reassure you that we do everything we can to improve our timeframe.

We have taken note of your request and we are delighted to assist you.

After verifications, I confirm that you have received by email the FIRC’s corresponding to the last payments.

Please check the notification emails sent to download the documents, or you can contact your bank to provide them to you.

Thanking you for your understanding and cooperation.

For any further information, do not hesitate to contact us.

Silly me. He is right. For payments listed on my Payoneer account I have the FIRCs. My issue is the payments not listed on my account. Going back with a response on his ability to confirm what I have received and what I have not received will need to wait.

1st July – My email

Thank you for your response. I will disagree. 

Sharing an example: I have received the following message yesterday re. a transfer:

(payment message enclosed)

I confirm the credit in my account. However, this transaction is not reflecting on my Payoneer account. Neither is the FIRC. There are many other transactions not reflecting.

Can u help.

5th July – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting us. 

Your request is not clear as you keep providing us in this case with different information. 

The screenshot you provided us does not match your request for the FIRC, as the email you are referring to is not regarding FIRC but when the withdrawal should arrive to your account. 

Once you clarified the request we can review is and assist accordingly. 

Have a nice day!

Silly me again and even more. How dare I confuse them.

5th July – My email

Sorry that you found it confusing. Here is a clarification:

In your message dated 30th June you stated: “After verifications, I confirm that you have received by email the FIRC’s corresponding to the last payments.”

In my message dated 1st July I disagreed with the above statement. I provided your message dated 30th June as an example to challenge your statement. I meant to say that my account is not showing all payments sent to me through Payoneer.

The question, once again, is: Please tell me why the payment of Euro XXX, as per your message enclosed with my response on 1st July, is not reflecting on my Payoneer account.

Call me impatient. Call me foolish. Not receiving a response for 4 days induced me to open up another front in the battle. Imagine one of the parties in a battle locked in a hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, suddenly finds that the same person is coming at them with a raised sword from the left. Would you not be unnerved? To their eternal credit, Payoneer remained unfazed and responded with an email which still gave no evidence of trying understand or solve my issue.  

9th July – Chat transcript (Pleasantries have been deleted)

Ankur Mithal: I have received an email from Payoneer for a transfer
Ankur Mithal: I have received the funds in my bank account in India. However, the transaction does not show in my Transaction History on Payoneer.
Paulo: Hello, how are you?
Ankur Mithal: Payoneer mail dated 1st July
Ankur Mithal: Amount Euro XXX

Paulo: Thank you.Please stay on the line while I investigate this case on your account
‘The file Payoneer email of 1 July.docx (232.09KB) was received.’
Ankur Mithal: Sure. I have sent you a screen print of the email from Payoneer on 1st July.
Paulo: As long as you received the payment, then there is nothing to worry about

Ankur Mithal: OK. So here is the problem. I need an FIRC certificate for the payments I receive in any foreign currency. For payments listed on my Payoneer account, Payoneer has made an FIRC available that I can download. For money received after February, remitted through Payoneer but not showing on my Payoneer account, how do I get the FIRC certificate? 
Paulo: Hold on
Paulo: I will forward this matter to our support team for your request. Kindly wait within 24-48 hours for updates via email
Ankur Mithal: All right. Thanks for your help.
Paulo: You are welcome
Paulo: Anything else I may help you with today?
Ankur Mithal: For the moment this is all. Depending on the response I get there could be other queries. Thanks.

9th July – Email from Payoneer

Hello, this is Maia, Payoneer’s Supervisor. I hope this email finds you well.

Please find the attached FIRC documents per your request.

Thank you for your patience and have a good day.

The FIRCs turned out to be for the payments till February. I had already received these FIRCs. But at least they promoted me. I am now getting an email from the supervisor.

9th July – My email

Thank you for your message.

Why exactly am I being sent these two FIRC documents? Did I ask for them? Would you be kind enough to please share my request asking for these two FIRC documents please.

16th July – Email from Payoneer

Thank you for contacting Payoneer, this is Jes one of the representative from Customer Care. I will be more than happy to assist you. 

Our sincere apologies for the inconvenience and for not getting back to you sooner. We are trying our very best to answer all of these the soonest we can.

I understand that you have inquiries regarding the FIRC document. Rest assured that I will do my best to assist your concern.

Upon reviewing the account, it appears that we have sent you the FIRC document as per your request. 

We appreciate your patience and cooperation in this case.

Should you have any questions, please let us know. Feel free to reply to this e-mail, or contact us via phone or chat so we can continue to assist you. We value your business and we make sure to support you in any way possible.

Thank you for doing business with Payoneer. Have a great day.

16th July – My email

Thank you once again for responding without bothering to understand the issue.

Can you please share with me a copy of MY REQUEST where I asked for THESE FIRCs. I have asked the same query in my earlier email as well but it appears the query has been ignored or not understood.

Two requests:

Once again, please share with me a copy of my request based on which you sent me the two FIRC documents (refer Maia’s email of 9th July in this email trail). If it was sent randomly, without my asking for it, you can just say it was an error and maybe even apologize.

The FIRC I DO WANT is for the payment of Euro XXX on 1st July. For your reference and ease, a copy of Payoneer’s email advising me of the payment is attached. 

I do hope this email will reach someone who can bother to read and make an effort to understand a customer’s issue BEFORE responding.

The wait begins once more.

Will they read my email?

Will they read AND understand my email?

Will they read, understand AND provide a coherent response?

Will I get the FIRCs that I am looking for?

And, most importantly, if a client offers to pay through Payoneer, should I offer to work pro bono?

Public Policy

“What? You must be kidding. There’s gotta be a mistake. This can’t happen.”

Though I could not hear what had been said as the speaker had plugged the headphone wire into his mobile and the other end in his ear, I could sense that my one-seat-away-on-account-of-social-distancing neighbour in the Delhi metro coach was beginning to get excited. My Indian ears perked up as another opportunity to pry into someone else’s affairs presented itself.

After a brief gap, when he was apparently listening to the person on the other end of the phone connection, he said, “You mean they are not a non-profit. That is news. Do you know what you are saying? That the sole purpose of their existence is not to selflessly serve people like you and me and that they need to earn money. I am shocked. Why did nobody tell me earlier? I am sure there is a mistake.”

After a few seconds of silence, when the voice on the other end presumably became active, he erupted, “Like hell I will agree with their updated policy. That too for free? That is rich. This is India, my friend, India! Not some first world country where these things are allowed to happen with impunity. There are laws here, OK. Laws. We don’t follow them but we have them. These companies cannot do whatever they feel like. Remember, we live in a society driven by the rules of a free market.”

During the silence that ensued while he was presumably listening to the voice on the other end, I could not help but admire his nationalism.

“Over my dead body! Next, they will ask for permission to use my phone number. Like hell I will give them permission. Do you have any idea what this number is used for? I use this number when sales people in Delhi malls beg me to fill forms with my personal information so that I can stand a chance to win a lottery. This number is the one I register with on online websites that promise to teach you tricks with which one can become rich overnight. It is personal and confidential. How can it be shared with a company whose service I am using.

It was a powerful argument. I could hear the silence on the other end.

“Just what do you mean by that? What if I did not read the T&Cs when I signed up? What if WhatsApp and Facebook already have my personal data and are using it for commercial purposes? Does it mean that whenever they ask me to agree to something, I should do it without protesting on ethical and moral grounds? No means no. I will not agree. I will not sell my soul and self-respect to a monopolistic foreign nouveau imperialist capitalist plutocratic hegemonistic…”

There was a pause. Perhaps for catching breath after the effort of stringing together so many important-sounding words together.

“…company,” he finally found the word to complete the sentence, and submitted to the voice for a few seconds, before standing up and bursting out, “Why should I move to Telegram? Or Signal? Just why? Have I done something wrong? Am I a criminal that I should seek refuge elsewhere? After this call, can you message me the URL for downloading Telegram and Signal?” He was a man of principle.

Though I could guess about the subject of this conversation, the last couple of sentences confirmed it. It was about the recent action by WhatsApp, the messaging App, of asking users to agree to their updated Privacy Policy, or lose access.

“Look, I don’t expect the common man to understand or appreciate. But I am a responsible employee of the Indian government. I can. Do you know that even for official matters I don’t use my official government email ID and instead use my personal gmail account? Even my bosses cannot see what is going on. Beat that for privacy and security.” He had continued with his principled stand.

For the first time I looked at his face. My eyes perhaps betrayed my respect and admiration as he immediately frowned and looked the other way, and, after a brief pause, continued. “What? You don’t know the changes made in the new policy? Even more reason to not agree. These companies are trying to make changes without even asking or telling us. We have to resist.”

After a brief period of “hmm”s and “OK”s, he was on the warpath again. “Let them cancel my account. I don’t care.” He paused, looked up as if in deep thought, as a realisation of the impact slowly dawned.

His voice came out softer. I had to strain my ears to keep up. “Bbb…but how will I communicate with my mates from school receiving and forwarding random messages? More importantly, how will I claim it is so wonderful to be connected again on WhatsApp? We may be connected on Signal or Telegram, but then we cannot claim that it is good to be connected on WhatsApp, isn’t it?” A dispassionate, objective analysis if there was one.

I could sense it was all getting too much for him. His eyes had turned a shade of red while he was still speaking. He could speak and think at the same time, that was certain. He could not take it anymore and started sobbing. “How will I send condolences? How will I wish people on their birthdays and anniversaries? Do you think I have the time and energy to call or personally greet people who I love so dearly? What will happen to my connections if they stop receiving my Good Morning messages with pretty flowers? How will I show my patriotism to my connections? How will I receive and forward messages that I have no clue are fake or real? How will I waste time in meetings? How? How? How?” His plaintive cries rang out in the coach.

He stopped. Everyone in the coach was looking at him. It was perhaps a common issue they were all struggling with at that moment, but he had articulated everyone’s innermost feelings. I realised I was not the only one listening in on this conversation. I wanted to hold him and express my support but the Covid-19 protocol was in operation. I could only watch him while he cried himself out. It seemed to calm him down. He blew into a handkerchief. He was able to speak in a more composed tone after that.

“They have my age? OK.” The voice at the other clearly had been active. “Sex…Music playlist on Prime…OK…Sounds good…Netflix serials I am watching,” he was perhaps repeating what he was hearing on the phone. “Location…Milk delivery time…Blood group…Bank account number…Bank account password…What I had for breakfast today…Breed of my dog…Childrens’ vaccination schedule…Websites searched…Tax returns filed…What? They know my golf handicap…That is not fair…Credit history.”

There was a pause again.

“Is that all? If this is the only data they have, I have no problem in accepting the new policy, whatever it be.”

The voice was perhaps active again as he seemed to nod his head occasionally. “There, what did I tell you? If, as you say, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has said that they are collecting personal data to improve their services, it must be true. He is a good man. After all, he runs a large company. It must be a non-profit like all large companies. And his sole objective must be to provide us free services and protect our interests. By the way, when are we getting free Tesla cars?”

Without waiting for a response, he added, “And why not? Do we pay for Google? Do we pay for Facebook? Do we pay for WhatsApp? We sign-up without reading the T&Cs and use. Why should we pay for Tesla?” as he got up to get out of the coach.

Everyone in the coach was smiling. Having just accepted the new WhatsApp policy, they were perhaps busy choosing the colour of their free Tesla car.

Tuning In

Another sensational high profile suicide or murder?

Or is it yet another ghastly rape?

Or, could it be the discovery of another wrongdoing by Bollywood, like being involved in making movies that people like?

Of course, the unmasking of another attempt at influencing the presidential elections in the US cannot be ruled out either.  

These were the thoughts uppermost in my mind as I sat down and dug my eyes into the newspaper report headlined “Cops summon three over TRP scam.”

“At least three channels have manipulated TRPs,” the article quoted the Mumbai Police Commissioner, confirming my worst fears. Concerns for the law and order situation started running through my mind, painting dire doomsday images. Who cares about whether Rhea procured drugs or not, when channels are busy manipulating TRPs. “There is a need for further understanding the situation,” the same article also quoted Karti Chidambaram, a Congress MP. Challenge that for a sentence laden with meaning, if you can.

I made some surprising discoveries.

There are a few businesses in the, well, for want of a better alternative, business, of TV programming. In an economy that operates on the principles of a free market? Can you believe it?

These businesses, being businesses, try to increase revenue and keep costs under control so that their investors can generate handsome returns. Ever heard anything as preposterous?

These private businesses have collaborated to form a body known as BARC, short for Broadcast Audience Research Council, which also comprises of advertisers, ad agencies and broadcasting companies. BARC is a private body, classified as non-government company. One of the things BARC does is collect TRPs, short for Television Rating Points, a proxy for popularity of different programmes based on time spent watching them. This is done through installation of measuring devices in 40000 TVs. 40000 installed devices that represent 200 million households and 800 million individuals. Isn’t Statistics a life saver? Or a money saver? Depending on whether you are an individual or a business organisation.

These businesses, the ones creating programmes for TV, let’s call them channels, vie for an advertising (on TV) pie that is estimated at about INR 300 billion (USD 4 billion) annually. As the potential gains are substantial, it has always made sense for everyone involved to keep the 40000 households off the gravy train. The 40000 households that, by sharing their consumption data, make these revenues possible for TV channels, and enable spenders to believe they are doing it scientifically.  

Channels are interested in high TRP ratings as that will lead to more advertising revenue. It has been argued that they have offered financial incentives to participating households to tune in to certain channels. It seems offering financial incentives is a crime. I am wondering if I should cancel the Smartphone I ordered on Amazon yesterday. Mr. Bezos could get into trouble for offering a financial incentive. It was at a handsome discount. I am in two minds.

The spenders, or businesses who spend on advertising on TV, are represented on BARC, and are also private businesses who don’t have to worry about the financial situation of farmers in rural India, or hardships faced by migrant workers during the onset of the pandemic. They have not been forced to take decisions based on BARC data. They choose to. Hence, it must be an issue of national importance that ratings have been manipulated.

It appears that the government also bases its ad spend decisions on TRP ratings. One can never be sure, but it is believed that they were also not forced to. They could follow the established practice of ‘positive mentions’ of the government by a channel to allocate their advertising spend. Of course, it helps if the two are the same.

Perhaps the channels who are a part of BARC have signed a specific clause to not influence behaviour through financial incentives. Always a great idea to insert terms calling for unnatural behaviour into commercial contracts so that taxpayer money can be spent in unravelling them. And it must be treated as a crime, so that our perpetually understaffed and overworked police force can get involved, as soon as they are done checking on Rhea’s drug usage.

Just as well, though. Can you imagine the pandemonium it could unleash if left unchecked? Viewers having to watch a commercial for Dove soap instead of the rightful Pears during their daily dose of the ‘saas-bahu’ ‘soap.’ Or, being forced to watch a Trivago commercial during the news break when it should have been Makemytrip. Or, even worse, being exposed only to Samsung phones during IPL cricket matches. The common man needs to be protected.

So, it was for a good cause. I calmed down somewhat.

And, of course, it is scientifically justified. After all, science, and statistics, have helped in designing the system in a way that a few rogue households can poison the entire data. It is science, after all, which mandates that if more than 40000 devices are installed, the cost will go up and profit down. And science again which decides that the participating households should not be equitably compensated.

Such being the case, who can argue with the government getting involved.

I am looking forward to some honest and fair news coverage on the channels being probed for the TRP scam.

Our Books, My Stories

My stories made it to two books that have been published recently. Both are collections of stories contributed by different people, and related to their own life and experiences.

What is common between the contributors in the two books and in each book? They are all alumni of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the coveted institution of higher learning dedicated to business education.

In “A Chapter Out of My Life,” the contributors are drawn from different IIMs, from different cohorts in different years.

In “Reflections,” they are all a part of the same cohort, the batch of 1987, who spent the same two years at the IIM in Ahmedabad.

What is common between the two books? I believe I am the only author contributing to both.

Over to the books then. If you do read them, please try to leave a ‘Review’ on either Goodreads or Amazon or any place online you are comfortable with.

1. A Chapter Out Of My Life: Gems from the lives of ordinary people

A Chapter

This has been published by Salil Agrawal, a senior by a few years from IIM Ahmedabad and the founder president of IIMAGES which is a society of the alumni of IIMs. He has been instrumental in creating the ‘network’ impact of the IIM alumni and hence, in many ways, the most suitable person for putting together a book of this nature. The contributors have been drawn from different IIMs, from different cohorts in different years.

In Salil’s words:

“There are extraordinary people and then there are ordinary people. People like you and me. People who are accomplished in their own way and who have had interesting lives. But they are not extraordinary, they are not celebrities. Their stories do not get published even though they are very inspirational.

This book brings to you stories from the lives of nineteen such wonderful people. All of them are alumni of Indian Institutes of Management. They write about an experience from their life that made a difference to them.

These stories will be very useful for younger readers – management grads in the first few years of their career, students of management, those aspiring to do an MBA and also those planning to join the corporate world in the near future.”

Kindle edition on Amazon India (Rs. 49- with proceeds to charity): https://bit.ly/sllbk1

Kindle edition on Amazon US ($0.65): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B087XBMWBL

Paperback anywhere: still to be released

2. Reflections: Life Reloaded. Class of ‘87


This has been published by Sanjeev Kotnala, a classmate at IIM Ahmedabad, from the 1985-87 batch that graduated in 1987. The contributors are all classmates of ours. People who spent the same two years of their life in the hallowed precincts of IIM Ahmedabad, pursuing an MBA programme, amid the iconic exposed brick architecture of Louis Kahn.

Sanjeev is the founder of INTRADIA World and a Marketing and Branding professional devoted to enhancing potential and capabilities of clients’ team. He runs 2-day workshops on Ideation and Innovation and is a certified NLP practitioner and an ICF accredited life, Mid-life transition and Master Spirit Coach.

In Sanjeev’s words:

“Eighteen Authors, from CLASS OF 1987, IIM Ahmedabad, share more than 28 real impact stories from professional and personal life. These are small, compelling incidents that challenged their thinking, making an impact in their lives.

Read their ‘aapbeethi’ (self-experiences) as they transparently open up to allow you a behavioristic peek into their lives.

Yes, you can question their Approach and Learning, or maybe you could end up questioning your approach to life. Who knows, which incident here mirror’s your life and touches a chord? Why wait for Self Experience when others’ experience can help guide your approach.

What you gain from these stories presented in five sections; ‘Business’, ‘People’, ‘Encounter’, ‘Life’, and ‘Institute’, is all up to you. Happy reading.”

Kindle edition on Amazon India (Rs. 199-): https://amzn.to/2RsA3Ln

Paperback on Amazon India (currently out of print): https://amzn.to/36qDYg3