Hello, am I talking to Mr. Mithal?
Yes, you are. Who is this?
Good morning sir. I am calling from Country Bank. The Medical Insurance Policy issued by Regional Insurance Company of India (RICI), that you have purchased through your Country Bank Credit Card, is coming up for renewal next month.
Yes, I am aware. I did receive the renewal notice.
Sir, the policy will be automatically renewed on its due date. Please ensure you have sufficient credit available on your Card so that the premium debit can go through.
Sure. I will.
Sir, as I can see on your account, you and your wife are covered to the maximum limit allowed. However, your children are only covered for half the maximum permissible limit.
Yes, I am aware.
Sir, in today’s world, where emergencies can arise any minute, and where medical costs are rising, we would like our customers to be secure.
Thank you. I am touched by your concern for my security.
Sir, we at Country Bank would like to suggest that you increase the coverage for your children as well to the maximum permissible limit.
Thank you. As the recommendation arises out of your concern for my well-being, should I assume that there is no increase in premium for the suggested increase in coverage?
Sorry sir. It is not like that. There will be a nominal premium increase for the increased cover. Shall I go ahead and tell you the revised premium for the enhanced cover?
No, thank you. There is no need at this point.
Fine sir. I understand you don’t wish to know the revised premium. Shall I then go ahead and process the enhanced cover?
No. I don’t need it.
Sir, we understand you are a busy person and do not wish to get involved in procedures and administration. We have made it very easy for our valued customers like yourself. As a Country Bank representative, I am authorised to take your instructions on this phone line. This call is recorded and will be available for future reference in case of need. Shall I go ahead and process the enhanced cover for your children?
No. I think I have already told you.
Sir, at Country Bank, we respect your time and decisions. We have recently introduced a Life Insurance Policy that also provides cover for Permanent Disability. In today’s world, where emergencies can arise any minute, and where medical costs are rising, we would like our customers to be secure. Would you like me to go ahead and issue this policy for you, sir?
No, thank you. There is no need.
Sir, we have made it very easy for our valued customers like yourself to buy a new policy. As a Country Bank representative, I am authorised to take your instructions on this phone line. This call is recorded and will be available for future reference in case of need. Shall I go ahead and process the new policy?
No, thank you. No need. Actually, hold on a minute!
Yes sir! Yes sir! I am so glad to hear that sir!
That reminds me. I want to remove my older son from the Medical Policy.
But why, sir? I strongly suggest you increase the cover for your elder son.
No. Please cancel cover for my older son.
Sorry sir. For cancellation you will have to visit the bank.
But why? I thought you said you were an authorised representative of the bank and could take instructions on this phone call, which is recorded.
Sorry sir. I cannot take these instructions. We are authorised representatives only for selling to customers. For all other cases, we are a vendor.
So, how do I cancel?
For that, sir, you will have to visit the bank.
OK. Can you help me with the nearest location I can go to for this purpose?
Sure sir. I believe you are located in Gurgaon.
Sir, as I can see from the system, the only centre of the bank that handles cancellations globally is located in Alba Mons.
Nice name. Is that the name of the building? Can you tell me the full address please?
Right sir. It is located on 40.4 North latitude and 109.6 West longitude and is in the Tharsis region.
Tharsis? What on Earth are you talking about?
It is located on Mars, sir.
I hope I have been able to help you, sir.
Meanwhile, If you are interested in buying theatre tickets, or cricket gear, or a yacht, or anything at all, please do give us a call. As authorised representatives of Country Bank, we will be able to do it for you instantly, on this recorded line.
Hello, sir. Are you there sir?
Sir, as there has been no response from your side for thirty seconds, I am authorised to disconnect this call. We wish you a pleasant journey to Alba Mons. Buy buy!
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:
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?
Every time I look, the world seems to have changed. When I looked recently, I found that I was being assaulted by curated products and services from all sides. Not products and services. Curated products and services.
Like onboard a recent domestic flight where I was offered a curated food selection that I had to pay for. Curated omelette. Curated bread roll. Curated fruit bowl. Curated cup of tea. It was a morning flight else they might have offered curated rice and curated ‘daal’ and curated chicken curry as well.
“Can you please pick up your cup, sir?” It could no longer be considered a request, considering the tone it was spoken in, even though a ‘please’ and ‘sir’ had been inserted in the sentence. It was the flight attendant, looking cross, almost shouting at me. Passengers seated around had stopped eating and were looking in our direction, hoping for entertainment on a flight with no video screens. Apparently, she had said it thrice already, as I was informed by a co-passenger.
On seeing the curated food on offer, my mind had wandered off to the good old days of flying. Though, on the back of the recent experience, no sane person would qualify them as the ‘good old days of flying’. Tell me which airline served curated omelette on a morning flight? No sir. Not one. Or curated bread roll? Or curated tea? Or even a curated fruit bowl? Flyers had to make do with uncurated omelettes and uncurated fruit bowls and uncurated bread rolls and uncurated cups of tea. Still want to call them the ‘good old days of flying’? Not me. No wonder we did not have to pay for them. Some mysteries get solved only when enough water has flown under the bridge. In the harsh glare of looks from other passengers, I picked up the cup from the tray in front of me and the attendant splashed curated tea into it and walked away.
Flipkart and Amazon are passe. What is not are curated shopping websites. These websites, as I read online, tap in the time of people and showcase them products selected wisely which saves a lot of time and also leads to the discovery of hidden gems floating around the internet. Curated web service offers effective personalized shopping experiences to make shopper’s shopping more enjoyable. And they, I understand, are able to do this because they are curated.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? The traditional shopping websites must have been putting mascara under electronic products and mobile phones under books. Just to ensure that visitors waste a lot of time while searching for a product. And what about their Vision and Mission? I bet one of the statements in there somewhere would be, ‘To make the shopping experience hell for our visitors and ensure they never come back’. They aren’t curated, are they?
Though I never quite understood the meaning of the word, in my own objective and rational manner, I had associated it with something classy and exclusive. The reason perhaps is that my main exposure to the word had been in connection with ‘curated’ exhibits and ‘curated’ collections in museums in Europe. Like The London International Surrealist Exhibition curated by a group of artists and poets including Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Andre Bréton, Man Ray and Paul Éluard. Like the Russian Art Exhibition (Erste russische Kunstausstellung) in Berlin that featured Russian Constructivism and curated by artists David Sterenberg, Nathan Altman, and Naum Gabo.
No, not based on visiting and experiencing those exhibits in museums in Europe, but reading about them online. Cannot clearly recollect if those were curated or not. The online articles silly, not the museums and their exhibits.
Uncomfortable with indiscriminate application of a word I associated with class and exclusivity, I lost no time in trying to find out more about it. To my utter shock and surprise, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defined curated as: carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized or presented.
The pieces were starting to fit in. I was realising why businesses had to start curating products and services. Clearly airlines in the ‘good old days’ merely carelessly decided the menu for a flight, and presented it in a disorganised and thoughtless manner. Because, like other uncurated businesses of the time, they were running a business that was trying to make its customers unhappy and lose money for its owners as fast as possible. And stores would have made it a point to stock random items that were of no use to their customers so that they rapidly went out of business, paving the way for curated businesses to emerge.
Simply put, the avenues it opens up boggles the mind. Imagine buying a curated 42 inch flatscreen curated TV of a known brand. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated 42 inch flatscreen TV of the same known brand. Or a curated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. As opposed to? As opposed to an uncurated Sniper RUSSIA FIFA World cup 2018 Football, Size 5, Red colour. Simply put, the human race has risen above challenges threatening its existence and found a path to progress on.
I hope you liked this specially curated post. I must stop here. Need to run to Delhi to buy groceries as my neighbourhood green grocer has refused to supply me ever since I told him I will buy from him only if he stocks curated potatoes, onions and tomatoes. He doesn’t get it. I hope you do.
The country finally celebrated the success of its maiden mission to Mars, more than two weeks after the event. And how. One of the world’s largest e-commerce sites, that recently started operating in India, showed the way by launching its “Mission to Mars Celebration Dhamaka” (Dhamaka, for the Hindi unfamiliar readers, is equivalent to “blast”, in the celebration sense).
I received an email announcing the celebration, with a “Start here” button prominently displayed to convince the unconvinced. Call me a space nut if you will, but I wasted no time in joining the celebration. I clicked on the “Start here” button without wasting any time.
It was a revelation. Truly “out of the world”.
I could buy books to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy watches. I could buy Kindles to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy iPads. I could buy luggage to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy mobiles. I could buy T-shirts to celebrate the success of the Mars mission or I could buy toys. There was nothing that could not be bought. Brought tears to my eyes. I would never have imagined that the country’s maiden mission to Mars would enable me to buy so many things that I did not need for routine discounts. I am only now beginning to grasp the enormity of the achievement of the Mars mission. I had taken it as a routine scientific mission to Mars to discover new things, validate theories and generally look for ways to further man’s knowledge and frontiers. But it was, clearly, much bigger. Thank you aaaaaa.in.
I placed my order for the shoes and T-shirts that I did not need. I was not going to hold back from celebrating this important milestone in the country’s space endeavours. But before clicking the “Buy” button, I carefully scanned the site for any hints of support for the Mars mission or for future endeavours of the Indian Space Reasearch Organisation (ISRO). There were none. I heaved a sigh of relief. I could buy without fear of paying extra. Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong supporter of the Mars mission. But paying extra for stuff I don’t need? No way.
Expectedly, many others have started walking down the path so selflessly blazed by aaaaaa.in, and launched their own celebrations to mark the historic achievement.
Builders have started asking people to buy property to celebrate the Mars mission. Car-dealers have started asking people to buy cars to celebrate the Mars mission. Restaurants have started asking people to eat more at their establishment to celebrate the Mars mission. TV manufacturers have started asking people to buy TVs to celebrate the Mars mission. There is no stopping the patriotic fervour now.
In fact, in tune with their global aspirations, businesses are understood to be looking for global events to celebrate.
Expect builders to ask people to buy property to celebrate Marin Cilic’s first US Open (tennis) win. Expect car-dealers to ask people to buy cars to celebrate Chelsea’s victory over Arsenal in the English Premier League football. Expect restaurants to ask people to eat more at their establishment to celebrate Stefan W. Hell, Eric Betzig and William E. Moerner being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Expect TV manufacturers to ask people to buy more TVS to celebrate the reduction in the US fiscal deficit.
Ffffffff.com, India’s homegrown e-tailing behemoth, and the main competition to aaaaaa.in, went a step further. It launched its own celebration, “The Big Billion Day”.
Billion Day? Rings a bell?
Could they be celebrating the country’s population crossing a billion? Perhaps, but that happened several years back.
Could they be celebrating the presence of more than a billion stars in the firmament? Perhaps, but that has always been the case, even though no e-tailer may have celebrated it.
The distance between Earth and Mars? Possible, given the current flavour, but factually incorrect as the distance is less than a billion.
What else could it be?
It was reported that the company has recently raised a billion dollars for their expansion. Could it be that? Nah, too obvious.
Satisfied that there was no logical explanation for calling it the “Big Billion Day”, I eagerly logged in. It was bound to be fun. With lots of stuff to buy and lots of discounts, what else could it be?
Unfortunately, soon after the “Big Billion Day” dawned, the site crashed. The collective anguish of a billion shoppers could be heard on Mars. The promoters have sent out an email apologising for depriving folks of the joy of shopping for stuff they don’t need and for failing to add to their own wealth.
It was not enough. It could never be. The government has been forced to step in to investigate. They have promised to include the right to shop for stuff that I don’t need, at discounted rates, in the Fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution, and protect it through suitable legislation.
The right to shop for stuff that I do not need, at discounted rates.
One of the greatest discoveries of the modern world. Worth protecting.
I don’t watch much TV. Never have. Only occasionally watch sport or movies, with perhaps an odd Newscast thrown in. Even sport has gradually been squeezed out as my teenage sons’ interest in football has pushed my cricket-watching opportunity to a window of time when I am either not at home or asleep.
Fates, however, conspired a few days back to give me a share of the TV that I had not received in many many years. And I came away thoroughly impressed. While I have been busy not watching, TV has progressed beyond the mundane. It has become educational.
One of the most stirring debates I have seen was between two women on TV that day, on whether bathing in natural milk is more beneficial for the skin or bathing in bathing-cream manufactured by a private company is. I sat engrossed. As the debate between the two heated-up, a secret area in the room, behind the plush sofa they were sitting on, opened up, with, eat your hearts out, two tubs lined up side by side, with a gleaming tap running fresh milk into one and an equally gleaming tap running bathing-cream into the other. And, as normal women would do upon a secret area in the room they were having a heated debate in, opening up and displaying two tubs full of milk and cream, they jumped in and luxuriated.
It was edge-of-the-seat stuff. I sat transfixed. What would the answer be? Not only did I not know the answer, I had never even realised that that was a question one could ask and hold a debate on. Such was my ignorance, I hate to admit.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, I always thought it would be milk. But, guess what? It was the bathing-cream manufactured by a private company that turned out to be the winner. And, to put the issue beyond doubt, they even showed each other their hands immediately after their respective baths. Milk is overrated.
In a land where women routinely bathe in tubs full of milk and bathing-cream manufactured by private comapnies, this was a useful comparison. I am sure numerous women will benefit. Apart from me, of course.
I have seen youngsters use Deo-sprays for several years, mainly my own teenage sons. Never really understood the purpose. Till that fateful day again when I watched TV.
Firstly, I learnt how it should be used. The hand with the spray should be held away from the body in a manner suggesting that the arm has muscles developed to a degree that makes it impossible for it to be bent and the hand, at the end of the arm, brought any closer to the body. Then, one should press the nozzle and start spraying and moving the arm in a graceful circular motion all around in a manner that some of the droplets might accidentally even fall upon the sprayer’s self. Moreover, the entire operation is to be conducted only when a number of people of the opposite sex happen to be passing by. Till then, the holder of the spray to mouth inanities either in an unbuttoned shirt or even without one.
But, I am being superficial here. Let me get to the real point. I actually learned that all other Deo-sprays are full of air. There is only one which has actual Deo. It must be correct. Because another Deo ad came on soon after and said exactly the same thing. About all the other Deos. The other reason we can be certain it is correct is because immediately after spraying oneself in the manner described earlier, the sprayer immediately received tremendous attention from members of the opposite sex. Two of them won’t lie, will they? In fact, the second ad even clarified that the other Deos were full of gas. I wish I was more attentive during the lesson, I mean ad, and checked out which gas it was. Cooking gas prices are going up. Maybe we can use Deo-sprays instead to light a fire of a different kind.
What’s more, the benefits are not limited to education, which, at times, can be theoretical. Watching TV that fateful day has helped in finding solutions to real-life problems as well.
After so many years of married life, my wife and I have settled into a comfortable routine. She shoots down my suggestions without hearing them and I, hers. With the result that our household infrastructure, be it the fridge, the washing machine, or the stove, has grown old and often stops working. But whenever a suggestion is made by one party to replace something, it is immediately shot down by the other.
I was thinking about the fridge door, which has been refusing to shut, when a housemaid came onscreen, and started talking about the family she was working for, their spending habits, their food preferences, and lots more. I was lost in my thoughts of the fridge door and the beer bottles standing in the door and not getting cold, and barely paying attention till the time she said, “when madam says buy, sir says no, when I say buy, sir goes click-click”, indicating that the purchase immediately gets effected on an online portal.
I sat up and pressed the Rewind button. Nothing happened. I had been watching TV. But it did not matter. I had got my answer. My prayers had been answered. The solution had been found.
Now, I must confess that she did not look like a regular Indian housemaid, with her sharp side profile and dress sense. But since she said she was, she must be. This was an ad after all. One has to believe what ads tell you.
I have put out an ad for a housemaid. Including the preferred side-profile and dress-sense expectation.
I now look back on all the wasted years. Years spent not watching TV. There is no saying how much more knowledgeable I would have become if I had put those years to productive use. And we could have hired the housemaid a lot earlier.
I have asked my son to call me as soon as the ad-break begins when he is watching football. Learning never ends.
Our leaders and administrators have left no stone unturned to ensure that development taking place in the nation is inclusive and that no section of society is left untouched despite the fierce pace at which it is taking place.
Children’s needs, particularly, have been given primacy, and rightfully so. After all, they are the future of our society and will take forward our proud legacy. If we don’t set the right example for them, we will likely impede the development and growth that is the result of many generations of hard work.
“Car = Development” is a well-known mathematical equation. “Bigger and more gas-guzzling car = Bigger development” is another one of mankind’s universally known mathematical equations. With the increasing number of vehicles on the road thanks to the all round development, the city traffic is already so chaotic that children are unable to cycle around on their own. To ensure that the hard-earned fruits of development are not dissipated, administrators have suspended all attempts at intervention through regulation or management of traffic. Children can heave a sigh of relief as the dark days when their parents could ask them to run errands on their bicycle, or run across to their friends’ house, or cycle to the playground, are over. They can now be driven around in the comfort of a car, a privilege denied to earlier generations.
It is a testament to the vision of our leaders that the playground space lying unused since children are not able to access it, is being used for even more development. That of gigantic malls. Malls – temples of a developing nation. Malls – the magnificent testament to man’s insatiable desire to buy more without need.
Instead of the rough and tumble of the outdoors, children can spend the entire day (probably their entire life soon) in the bowels of these magnificent creations called malls, a milestone in the development of mankind. Why even try to go to the playground when you can drive a bumper car, or skate in the temperature controlled confines of a mall. And dig into fresh fast-food when hunger pangs strike.
And development does not stop here. Education has got a huge fillip as a result of development of malls. Plastic models of flora and fauna, almost like real, complimented by audio-visual presentations, are being used to teach children about the world outside. They can touch a model and feel what an ear of corn might look like. It is hoped that this education will help them cope with the world and avoid nasty surprises like coming across a real ear of corn in real life. Paintball competitions are being organised inside malls to teach children the important skills of strategy, attack and defence, learnt on the playground or on the street by earlier generations. Without malls where would these skills be learned?
The Opposition has picked-up a few stray cases of children playing outdoors reported in some sections of the media, and blamed the government for half-hearted implementation of a key initiative. The government has responded swiftly and promised to bring in legislation to make it mandatory for industries to locate polluting plants near open playgrounds so that these grounds become unplayable for children for ever. Most readers would recognise that industry’s ability in this respect is second to none, the dead river passing through the capital city being an example of quick and effective implementation. Till such time the grounds become unplayable, security guards will be deployed to ensure that they are used only for inclusive developmental purposes like marriage parties and religious discourses.
Time for some shameless self-promotion. Oops!! I meant book promotion.
Leadstart, the publisher of my book “What happens in office, stays in office” (image in the margin on the right) has launched its own website for selling books. My book is available for Rs. 136.50 (30% less) with no delivery charge, till 28th Feb. In case you are buying, use Promo code: LPWHIOSIO1. Use link: http://www.leadstartshop.com/Products/Lead-Publishing-Fiction-Fiction/Leadstart-Publishing-Pvt-Ltd/What-happens-in-office-stays-in-office/pid-2223987.aspx
I guess this will only work for deliveries in India. Also, the Promo code will only work on the publisher’s site to which the above link leads.
Of course the book is also available on Amazon.com in the US, sans the publisher promotion, on: http://www.amazon.com/What-happens-office-stays/dp/9381836493/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347797270&sr=1-2&keywords=what+happens+in+office%2C+stays
A few weeks back another review of the book was carried by Friday Gurgaon, a popular weekly newspaper in the eponymous town (Gurgaon), that I have not shared earlier on this blog. Here it is, followed by the link to the newspaper’s webpage with the review:
It started out as a normal head of state visit to another country, with billions of taxpayer money being spent for promising co-operation in a wide range of spheres.
However, it soon turned into the most unlikely, and most productive state head visit in history.
It is no secret that a somnolent economy and rising unemployment were the two issues that had been dogging the government of the most powerful nation in the world. With the elections over, the President lost no time in getting down to serious business, like scheduling state visits.
He had seen some signs during the last visit but, since, like any respectable state head, he was grappling with many other serious problems at the time, like people who wanted solutions and an opposition that wanted answers, he had not paid much attention. But now, with elections just over, and there being no need any more to provide solutions or answers to anyone, these issues started taking centrestage, because of which he lost no time in in scheduling a state visit to the large democracy.
On his instructions, and in an effort to look like “everyman”, the trip planners had included activities that a common man would do, and planned to make him unobtrusive. As unobtrusive as a posse of six armoured limousines in a land of cycle rickshaws and scooters could be.
The first of these was a trip to the local mall where he would hang-out at a coffee shop and talk to people without ordering anything from that shop and having other customers wait for the coffee they wanted to order.
His entourage of six bullet-proof cars drove into the underground parking lot of the mall, like any common man. The President’s eyes popped out when he saw that when his car stopped at the entrance to the parking lot, no ticket came out of the ticket machine next to the driver’s window. The driver stuck his hand out but nothing happened. The driver then looked at a person sitting in a small cubicle just ahead of where the car was standing and nodded his head briefly. The person in the cubicle nodded back, and punched a key on a keyboard with flourish. As if by magic, the ticket came out. The driver took the ticket and moved forward, only to stop immediately else he would have crashed into the boom-barrier. There was another person standing next to the barrier who looked at the driver. The driver looked back. There was a moment of awkwardness. Then the driver relaxed and nodded his head. The standing person smiled and pressed a button and the barrier opened. The driver moved forward.
The President relaxed and smiled. His memory had not failed him. He took out his notepad and quickly made some notes. This was important. He could not trust any other person with the details.
His joy was short-lived, though. When his entourage drove into the parking lot of the next mall, there was no attendant to pluck out the ticket from the machine and hand it to the driver. Was it an isolated case in the previous mall, the president wondered? Instead, there was a booth where one paid the fixed parking charge. There was no other person in sight. The President drooped in his plush seat in the car. He had built up hope from the last parking lot. He was in a despondent mood right through that mall. When his entourage was driving towards the exit of the mall, however, he saw a lonely figure standing in the distance, right at the exit of the parking lot. He sat straight again. He could sense hope once more. The person at the exit was checking the ticket receipts to ensure that the entry fee, without paying which the car could not have entered the lot, had been paid. And, in another bold step that showed the importance and necessity of the the job being performed, not to forget the highest level of decision-making skills, if the car-driver could not locate the receipt, he just waved the car on. He again took out his notepad and made notes.
He was amazed at the efficient use of resources inside the big supermarket he strolled into while at the next mall. He could see young men and women, apparently employed to work in the supermarket, efficiently avoiding work and chatting inside the aisles. The less work they did, the more people had to be hired. The more the people hired, the more their idle talking and even lesser work done. So it became a virtuous cycle of employment. He had not seen this kind of commitment to the cause of nation-building anywhere he had travelled.
What really freaked him out were the security guards manning the exit points of each shopping outlet. Even a shop twenty square feet in area had a security guard at the exit to prevent any cheating. These guards would stop a customer from going out of the shop till they had checked that he was taking out only what he had been billed for. And, this being done by people who could not even read or write; it boggled his mind. How had they managed to implement this, he wondered?
He watched them for a while, took out his notepad and made notes again.
In some of the shops, grocery stores and supermarkets for example, the average number of items on the bill of a customer checking out was over fifty, with most checking out with bags stuffed with bags laden on trolleys. Each security guard was able to do the checking in an average of three seconds. He was able to “take in” the fifty items on the list at a glance and then, even more magically, check the goods without opening their bags. The entire process was completed in under five seconds, for total customer convenience.
He took more notes, even though he did not need to. He was beaming by now. His mind was clear. His efforts had not been in vain. He would go back and implement the best-practices he had seen on this trip. He could visualise his country being rid of the scourge of unemployment. He could see grown-up men and women, in their new jobs, enthusiastically doing nothing. The rest of the trip he was floating on air. He did not need to make any more notes. He could see elevators with attendants to push buttons at the bidding of people travelling in them. He sensed the presence of attendants right next to automated vending machines, to take money from customers, push it into the machine, press the right button and handover the chosen item to the customer. He saw waiters carrying trays at self-service restaurants. There were a dozen parking attendants in every parking lot. He could go on and on.
He made a mental note of sending his entire team on a study-trip to this place.
Though he was sure his country’s unemployment problems would be solved, he was still troubled by one aspect; what was the genesis of this wonderful state of being of the large democracy? How had they discovered this miracle cure that they, the most powerful nation, had no clue of. He racked and racked his brain but could not come up with a convincing explanation.
He had a scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister the following day. He resolved to ask him this question.
(To be continued after the meeting of the President with the Prime Minister…)
Amid the din of rising disenchantment about the government’s inability to tackle the economic woes besetting the country, the cabinet met in secret today to approve the new policy for tackling the economic situation.
In a master-stroke, and through a simple declaration, the government has elevated shopping to the level of “national sport”, ahead of cricket, and hockey, which of course nobody knows about. The doors to the riches that only a few successful sportspersons, particularly of the cricketing variety, could hitherto aspire to, have now been unlocked for the common man. A democratic policy, if ever there was one.
This stroke of genius has taken the opposition by surprise. Everyone may not be able to play cricket, but everyone can shop. The opposition has not been able to call the policy discriminatory and one that panders only to the interests of particular group of society, and not society at large. The only criticism they have been able to come up with, so far, is that the government is blindly aping the West without heed to our culture, where, in many countries, shopping is already the national sport.
The logic is simple. The more shopping you do, the more the economic situation will improve. At least for the seller, if not the buyer. This way, even if half the country benefits, the government would have reduced the economic situation critics to half, from 100% of the population to only 50%. Merely through the act of a declaration.
And, even for the buyer, there is hope. The more he buys, the more he will need to borrow. The more he borrows the more he will contribute as interest income to the banks and financial institutions that are essential services in a modern economy and must be made and kept prosperous at all costs. If not, the government may have to resort to using taxpayer money to prop up these noble institutions. The stronger these institutions are, the more people will be able to borrow from them. Hence, buyers should consider this to be equivalent to a patriotic duty.
Spending more is also expected to have a salubrious impact on the work ethic in the country. The more you spend the more you will borrow. The more you borrow the more rich you will feel. The more rich you feel the more you will borrow to maintain a rich lifestyle. The more you keep borrowing the more interest costs you will need to service. The more interest you service, the harder you will need to keep working, well beyond your normal retirement years. The harder you work the more the work-ethic of the nation improves.
In order to give a further fillip to shopping, the government has also introduced a national reward scheme which is based on incentive points for the amount of shopping done. Weightages have been assigned to various product categories normally shopped for, based on how essential the products bought are to the normal person. All essential items like food will have a NIL weightage. Items like jewellery, fourth car, second house, racehorses, yachts, etc. will be in the highest weightage category. Other items like refrigerators, washing machines, clothes, school textbooks are somewhere in between.
In a rare moment of enlightenment, displaying their complete grasp of the situation and the reality of the modern day shopper, the privileges accorded to shoppers in the national reward scheme will be available even for shopping done online.
The reward scheme will be funded through a new tax that will be levied on shopping done henceforth (the committee disagreed on taxing past shopping), and almost seven percent of the money collected through this tax will be paid back in the form of rewards, after paying for the expenses of the bureaucrats and ministers engaged in administering this scheme, and after purchasing new SUVs for them and their teams, to enable them to smoothly handle this added responsibility.
The opposition has finally been able to find fault with the scheme. They have criticised the government for ignoring the interest of the armed forces, engaged in securing the boundaries of the nation. They have said that the armed forces will not have an equal opportunity of participating in this patriotic programme and contributing to the development of the nation, as they are placed in remote areas. This amounts to discrimination. They have asked that this scheme be placed on par with military service in terms of a patriotism index which they have suggested the government set-up. They have also suggested that all members of the armed forces be given a choice whether they wish to serve the country through risking life and limb in armed combat or doing shopping.