Patriotic Tourism

China is fast opening up as a credible alternative. Finally.

Not that I have any issue with Pakistan, despite political antagonism between the two states. I believe they have a similar set of ordinary, toiling, striving, dreaming, hoping human beings as any other place in the world, trying to make life comfortable for themselves and for their near and dear ones, living under the yoke of a successive set of incompetent, egotistic rulers with hidden agendas.

Of course, why any right minded Indian would want to go to Pakistan remains an issue. Similar topography. Similar looking people. Similar food habits. And they even speak the same language. So much so that when they play cricket, the Hindi-based messaging system that both Indian and Pakistan players deploy so effectively against other teams, becomes futile. Were it not for the  histrionics necessitated by the need to prove patriotism, a cricket game between the two would be a quiet one.

But, like it or not, so far Pakistan has been the only option for Indians. For travel. Or, to be more specific, for being threatened with forced travel. In other words, deportation. Not by authorities. But by that responsible and informed, self-appointed judge, the common man. The needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man.

And if you are not one who agrees with him, the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man, that is where you must go. Pakistan.

Over seventy years since independence from the British, and still only Pakistan as a deportation option? In this period India has sent satellites into space, beaten Australia in Test cricket on their home ground and moved on from being a socialist state to a free market economy. But Pakistan. Still only Pakistan for deportation. Have you no shame? Or imagination? Or sense of responsibility? Have you not heard of market expansion? Or abundance of choices a free market provides? What will the world say? Though in times of no travel as enforced by the Covid-19 epidemic, travelling anywhere, even Pakistan, might sound like a refreshing change, it is apparent that the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man has shamelessly neglected his duties.

And it is not that opportunities haven’t presented themselves.

Where were you when North Korea apparently made several attempts to assassinate South Korean leaders? Or when the Rangoon bombing happened? Or when tunnels were found under the DMZ? Or when they announced their first nuclear weapons test? Or when the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk? Or, even as recently as the assassination of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur airport?

Even though they never directly or indirectly threatened the sovereignty of India, could you not have at least threatened to deport anyone to North Korea?

Where were you when this country became a point of contention during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, bringing the world to the brink of a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Yes, Cuba. Where exactly were you when Cuba was suspected of being involved in a broad range of military activities, from Guinea-Bissau to Syria to Laos, to Sierra Leone to Cape Verde to Mozambique and many other places?

Even though they never directly or indirectly threatened the sovereignty of India, could you not have at least threatened to deport anyone to Cuba?

Or, when a western power initiates military activity in any part of the world to promote peace?

How much nicer, civil, developed, would it be to say, “As you have not forwarded any random unverified forwards proclaiming the bravery of India’s soldiers which will likely be contradicted by other accounts tomorrow, you have been found guilty of being unpatriotic and will be summarily deported. Please pick your choice of deportation destination out of North Korea, Cuba, USA, France, Venezuela and Pakistan and call our Contact Centre for further instructions.” Is it not better than blandly saying, “Go to Pakistan?”

In keeping with the developed world, perhaps throw in a group discount. One unpatriotic Indian will be deported free with every five. And some Amazon vouchers.

Finally, and thankfully, a credible option has emerged in the form of China.

After the Doklam standoff a few months back, the engagement between the Chinese and Indian troops in Galwan valley in Eastern Ladakh continues to be a see-saw battle. Even though the physical engagement ended several days back, the tables continue to turn every few minutes with the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man contributing newer and more creative accounts of bravery of the Indian troops and treachery of the Chinese, while the unpatriotic keep asking the government for specifics of the engagement.

Things have come to such a pass that even Shri Vipin Rawat, Chief of Defense Staff of India, has had to modify his game plan because of the threat posed by China. If needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man is to be believed, instead of working with the troops and their officers, he is honing his writing and social media skills to ensure that India emerges victorious. As a start, he, seemingly, has penned ten sentences about the Indian Army and is now in the process of making them viral through various means. The pen is mightier than the sword. This will certainly catch the enemies off guard.

We salute you sir. Actually, in all fairness, we salute the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man, the great warrior of the social media world.

I, and many others like me, have been in the cross-hairs of the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man. Because I pay taxes, and try to do so honestly. Because I maintain cleanliness. Do not litter. Even before the present Prime Minister announced the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in 2014. I ask questions.

For the needing to publicly demonstrate patriotism common man, who had no way of knowing that cleanliness and hygiene were desirable behavioural traits since the Prime Minister had not revealed it earlier, and has been tirelessly extolling the PM’s vision in introducing this revolutionary concept that nobody else could have thought of, this surely amounts to treason. Following before 2014 the vision revealed by the leader only in 2014? Am I mocking the vision of the leader? Asking questions? Let us not even go there.

Now I go and shoot myself in the foot again by not forwarding unverified messages extolling the bravery of soldiers. What was I thinking?

China, here I come.

Queueing Theory

“As an important person, I am entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi and cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn. Hence, I did not bother to reach here in time, knowing I could take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit. I can play the ‘victim’ card, or bulldoze the off person who dares to object, to get ahead.”

He had actually said, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?”

I had cleared the queue to enter the terminal building, and the queue to drop my checked in bag, for my flight to Bangalore in the morning, the previous Sunday, and had entered the third and last queue, for the Security Check, before I got in to the queue to show my boarding card to the airline staff at the gate, followed by the queue to enter the bus that took us to the aircraft, followed by the queue to enter the aircraft, when he had uttered these words.

And he had almost edged past me completely, assuming, I assume, that all was good, and that I should be grateful for the privilege he was according me, of letting him pass, when I had made my move and blocked his path. “Please come in queue. My flight is also about to take off,” I had said firmly.

Clearly not used to such a response, the gentleman appeared lost at first, but quickly composed himself and said, matter-of-factly, “But I will miss my flight.” Apparently, it was my problem that he was going to miss his flight.

“If you are in a hurry, please ask the airline staff to help you speed up the process.” I was in the mood to be logical and reasonable. I also looked around to others in the queue, hoping they would support my logical stance. But they were engaged in other important tasks to save the world, peering into their mobile phones.

“But the airline staff said they cannot help me with the security process,” he said, agony of that slight writ large on his face.

“So it becomes my responsibility to flirt with the possibility of getting delayed myself and letting you go through?” I responded, bringing all my years of experience writing satire to bear upon that single statement, hoping to shame him to the point of withering away, while appealing to the baser instincts of others, as, by this time, the sight of two adults engaged in a quarrel of sorts had ensured that a small crowd had gathered around us, leaving their places in the queue. It was a relief to know that watching a spectacle live is still more important than saving the world on a mobile screen.

“What time is your flight?” someone asked the other gentleman.

“7.45,” he responded.

“What time is your flight?” the same person asked me.

“7.50,” I responded, holding up my boarding card.

“So let him go through then. His flight is before yours, is it not?”

The others joined in the chorus. I wilted under this onslaught. He quickly stepped past me flashing a smile of victory that said, “Take that you idiot.” As many others had left their positions in the queue, he was able to quickly get through to the Security Check station.

Failure to learn fast has never been one of my weaknesses. Though chastened, almost three seconds later, when the next person came up who was late for the flight he had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, and made his move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” I was ready. I shook his hand, wished him a pleasant flight, and requested the person ahead of me in the queue, to let him pass.

As I kept flagging people past me in the queue, and as people who were late for the flight they had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, kept making their move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” my mind wandered off to those happy days at the Well Known Institute of Management in Western India (WIMWI), and to Professor Tripathi’s class on Production and Operations Management, over thirty years back. “Single queue multiple server,” I was hearing him say, “is the most efficient form of queueing, that optimises wait time for the customer and idle time for the server.”

But man keeps pushing the envelope. New discoveries are being made every day. Little would Professor Tripathi have known, that even before he retired from WIMWI, there would be an even more efficient way of queueing; of people showing up late and cutting the queue.

Soon, the only two people standing behind me were two greying ladies, who looked like they were foreigners. I looked at them pityingly. It was clear they did not have the benefit of good education. Of modern theories of queueing. They may have good communication skills, good interpersonal skills, respect for people, but theories of queueing? With such a gap in their knowledge, how could they hope to get ahead? At least in queues in India.

As I continued to be the last but two in the queue, having moved barely a few inches from the time I had entered, I realised that I will miss my flight if I did not clear security in the next five minutes. Being a quick learner, as I have perhaps mentioned earlier, I stepped on the accelerator, alternating between playing the ‘victim’ card and bulldozing my way through the few uneducated souls who dared to object, scythed through the queue, and reached the Security Check point. I had a flight to catch, after all.

Not to be left behind in demonstrating their speed of learning, the Delhi airport authorities decided to resolve the issue of delays in the Security Check queue by creating a separate fast track queue for important persons, entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi, who cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn, who do not bother to reach in time, knowing they can take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit, by playing the ‘victim’ card, or bulldozing the off person who dares to object.

It is remarkable what can be achieved with a little effort, some imagination and a lot of resolve. In as short a period of time as a week. The Security Check queue presented a transformed look yesterday, which, again, was a Sunday. The regular queue was clear as a crisp February day in Gurgaon. One could see miles out to the security personnel swatting flies as they waited for the next passenger to show up.

Meanwhile, all passengers stood in the fast track queue, along with everyone else who was flying out from Delhi at that time, beneficiaries of Delhi airport authorities alacrity in implementing a solution, continuously moving ahead of others in the queue, even as the others kept moving ahead of them.

 

Sign Language

“But then, when will I cut them?”

I had forgotten it was my responsibility to ensure he was able to. Cut them. Blame it on old age.

The question had been asked by the young man sitting next to me and, in all likelihood, triggered by my saying, “this is not the place to be cutting your nails,” after my initial “perhaps you should be doing this at home,” had apparently gone unheard.

The trigger for my statements, in turn, had been the act of this young man casually taking out a shiny nail-cutter, spreading a newspaper on his lap, and starting to carefully chip away at his nails, taking care, as a responsible adult, to not leave any vestige of the activity in the surrounding area. Inside a train on the Delhi metro network, that I now take every day to get to my place of work. And back.

And, after the second statement, since there could not have been any doubt who I was speaking to, as there was nobody else cutting his nails in that coach, or in any other coach is my guess, he had left the nail on the middle finger, perhaps as a fitting hint, half-cut, and looked at me and asked the question. Crossly if my interpretation of his look is reliable.

Then he had looked away, perhaps not noticing my discomfiture as I did not have an answer to his question, and allowing me the luxury of a sigh of relief. But then he had looked right back at me and asked, “Where does it say?”

“Where does it say what” I asked right back, now composed.

“That I cannot cut my nails here?” He had not wasted time. When he had looked away from me, he had quickly scanned the coach to check if I had any basis for my unreasonable demand. Of requesting him to not cut his nails.

I was the deer in the headlights now. I sheepishly looked around, desperately searching for some sign of a sign behind which I might have hidden. I need not have. The young man had done his homework. There was a sign prohibiting sitting on the floor. There was a sign prohibiting smoking in the coach. There was a sign prohibiting eating and drinking. But nothing prohibiting the innocuous act of cutting nails. One’s own.

But he was a reasonable young man. He saw my discomfort and offered me a lifeline. “Has the Prime Minister asked the people to stop cutting nails inside coaches of the Delhi metro in any of his ‘Mann ki Baat’ episodes?”

The nation knows that the Prime Minister had asked countrymen to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. How else could we have known that we ought to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. I recalled, with some guilt, that even from the ramparts of the Red Fort, from where the Independence Day address is delivered, the Prime Minister had so far made no mention of not cutting nails inside coaches of the Delhi metro. How could anyone be expected to know that cutting nails is not be done in the coach of a train on the Delhi metro rail network.

As soon as the train stopped at the next station, I got off, though my destination had not arrived. I was unable to face the young man.

I should have known better. Walking down the platform I was reminded of my interaction, just two days back, with another youngster. This youngster eating in the coach. Did I already say there were signs prohibiting eating and drinking inside the coach? This young lady was eating right under the sign when I pointed this out to her, earning the response, along with a ‘puppy dog eyes,’ expression to go with it, “So when will I have breakfast?” I had looked away, shame-faced, at not thinking about such obvious issues. I may not have been her parent, and she might have been physically a full-grown, independent adult, but clearly I had not thought about when she would have breakfast.

And had continued eating her aloo parathas and pickle which the entire coach knew was of mango, seasoned in mustard oil.

The entire coach now also knew of this old chap who was poking his nose in other people’s affairs. “Can’t you get a mobile phone for yourself?” was the unsaid chorus. “Then you can join us and be brave and nationalistic and patriotic and send out forwards here and there on your mobile, when a criminal incident, usually a murder or rape, catches everyone’s attention and gets reported in the media. But following simple to understand, day-to-day rules in public life? Where do you think you are? Canada? Singapore? In fact, if we discourage breaking simple to understand, day-to-day rules in public life, it might well stifle out more serious crimes that have the potential of catching attention and allowing us the opportunity to be brave and nationalistic and patriotic and sending out forwards here and there on our mobiles. Whose side are you on?”

And that had not been an isolated incident either. A day earlier, I had pointed out the sign to another young man seated next to me and about to bite into his carefully packed sandwiches, to which he had, again with a ‘puppy dog eyes’ expression to match, had pleaded, “I am feeling very hungry.” But, this young man had packed his breakfast and kept it back in his bag. He must be a loser.

I had walked up the stairs and reached the ground level of the station. My mind was made up. I was going to see the station in-charge and request him to put up fresh signs inside train coaches so that decorum is maintained. ‘Do not shave in this coach,’ ‘Do not wash clothes inside this coach,’ ‘All cooking activity inside this coach is prohibited,’ in addition to ‘Do not cut nails inside this coach’ were some I had on my mind. And, of course, ‘Do not rape inside this coach,’ and ‘Murder is not permitted in any part of this coach.’ That would teach them, I hoped.

And that is not all. I would also request him to take away the existing signs like ‘Eating and drinking is not permitted inside this coach,’ since they are not followed in any case.

More pleasant rides on the Delhi metro await us.

Customer Loyalty

While trying to clean up my mailbox, I came across an email from an airline that I had, apparently, left in my inbox without any action, like Delete, which I often resort to in haste and sometimes repent later at leisure. The subject line of that email is the title of this post.

This airline had come into being with a lot of fanfare several years earlier, promoted by a flamboyant liquor baron. I used it occasionally, circa 2010, around the time of this email. For the record, this airline is now out of business, apparently on account of its inability to pay mounting debts.

I now recollect that when I had received this email, I was more than a little confused and of the view that the subject line did not do justice to the content, or perhaps the content did not do justice to the subject line. In my confusion I left the email parked in the Inbox, to be read and disposed of in a more relaxed frame of mind. It came to my attention today when I was trying to clean-up my Inbox. And it confused me all over again.

From the subject line of the email, I gathered that the email was sent with the objective of building loyalty amongst its customers, like me. But after reading through the email several times, I was not at all sure. But it could just be me and my sceptical outlook. You judge for yourself.

Presented below is the complete email, with my interpretation of a particular section in parentheses, in green italics, immediately after that section. If you delete the content within parentheses, it becomes the complete original email received by me. To avoid ruffling feathers more than need to be ruffled, we will call is ABC Airlines.

The Email, then:

Dear Sir, As one of our most valued guests, I share with you our commitment to building a stronger ABC Airlines.

(We have not been able to do it in the several years of our existence. However, we assure you that now we are committed to doing it. Of course, we are informing you because we believe our building a stronger airline will be of tremendous interest to you, as it will make all of us at the airline, richer, and make no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

Since inception, ABC Airlines has stood for the best in air travel in the Indian skies. As we navigate through one of the most turbulent times, we remain strong, committed and driven.

(Even if you had not come to know of it from other sources, we want to ensure that you, our loyal customer, is aware that we are navigating through turbulent times, so that you can think twice before giving us your business, which might give us the opportunity to navigate through even more difficult times, and allow us to remain stronger, more committed and more driven. Especially as it makes no difference to you whatsoever as you will continue to have options of other airlines to fly with.)

We will emerge, stronger than ever before. Our key mission remains, placing your experience at the heart of our operation. We are committed and expect to continue to:

• Provide safe and reliable service. I assure you that we have full confidence in our aircraft fleet, and will not fly an aircraft unless we are completely sure that it is safe to operate.

(Though in the past we have not had full confidence on our fleet, and have flown aircraft without being completely sure that it was safe to fly, we assure you we will not do the same again. Promise.)

• Operate our flight as per schedule and on-time.

(Now we are going to. As stated earlier – Promise.)

• Provide competitive fares across cabin classes and markets.

(We thought the in-flight video of our boss asking in-flight stewards to treat you as a guest in his house would be enough to charge you a premium. We may even have got away with it on occasion. But now that we know that the premium service of the boss’ video has turned out to be inadequate, we will offer competitive rates.)

• Ensure that our guests continue to earn and retain their elite tier status and that the Frequent Flier Miles earned by our guests remain secure and intact with Frequent Flier Club.

(We had planned to wilfully downgrade the tier status of guests, and also to arbitrarily reduce the miles already earned and accumulated. But we will defer this plan to a more appropriate time in the future.)

• Enjoy benefits with the Frequent Flier Club which is at par, if not more advantageous than what is on offer. Our schedule along with best fares is available at http://www.abc.com With your continued faith and our nerves of steel, we are confident in restoring our position of excellence in the Indian sky.

(We have confused even ourselves with our first statement here. We think what we are trying to say is that you will get benefits with the Frequent Flier Club, which you are already getting. And that is a great privilege which is why we need to call this out in our email to you. Further, we have understood from our experience that the one key attribute required to succeed is “nerves of steel”. Not knowledge, not experience, not customer service, not operating excellence, but “nerves of steel”. We have got all employees grafted with this key attribute. So now, as a logical conclusion, we are bound to restore our position of excellence in the sky. Which we have never held in the past. You may also need them (nerves of steel) if you fly with us, we might add.)

My team joins me in thanking you once again for your loyalty and patience.

Unquote

After having read through the email section by section, I feel bad for the investors and management of the company.

Is this a sincere but misguided effort at building customer loyalty?

Or is this a planned and meticulously worded effort at eroding whatever little customer loyalty remained?

Or is this an email which actually helps in enhancing customer loyalty, which I suspect was the original purpose of the email?

What do you think? This could be used as a case-study in customer communication.

 

Travel with Rohin

I have travelled all over the world these last few years.

Vicariously.

Through my friend Rohin who is an avid traveller. Actually Avid sounds too tame for him. Animal, Fearsome, might be better adjectives to describe his Travel bug.

What’s even better is that he chronicles his travels on his Blog on Blogspot, our poor cousin of blogging. As I invariably fend off the green-eyed monster reading it, I am sharing a link that should take you to his latest post about his travels to Slovenia, Croatia, et al, as Blogspot, it seems, does not allow direct sharing onto WordPress.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

http://rohin-arora.blogspot.com/2018/06/slovenia-lake-bled.html?

 

Cause and Effect

On 15th April, the Delhi government took the decision to introduce the odd-even scheme for another fifteen days. Once again, private vehicles with an odd-numbered licence plate can run only on odd days and, even-numbered ones only on even days.

It appears the scheme has been reintroduced at the first available opportunity because the original odd-even scheme, introduced in January for fifteen days, was a resounding failure and did nothing to solve the problem it was introduced for, that of reducing atmospheric pollution in Delhi.

But what it did do during those fifteen days in January, as our leaders have discovered, is that it seemed to have resulted in some reduction in traffic on the roads. Quite against the run of play, it seems. Now who would have guessed that if you prohibit half the cars from coming onto the roads, the number of cars on the road will reduce.

At least not the Delhi CM, alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). How, then, can one blame the Delhi government for not knowing?

Displaying maturity and foresight far beyond any political mandate, Delhi’s political leadership has decided that atmospheric pollution, a raging issue just three months back, does not need to be solved any more. Till, of course, it becomes an unsolvable issue once again next winter, requiring drastic measures that don’t work. Which gets solved once again by the onset of the following summer, creating bigger problems to solve.

As is the case this year. Freed from the yoke of solving the pollution issue, as summer is now raging in Delhi, the government has reintroduced the odd-even scheme, this time to reduce traffic on the roads. Like atmospheric pollution, traffic needs to be reduced only for fifteen days. Of course, as with all good schemes, it has been reintroduced because of pressure from the public.

Quite a handy scheme this odd-even is turning out to be. First it is introduced to reduce atmospheric pollution which it does not. Now it is introduced to reduce traffic on the roads. Wonder what else it can be introduced for? For solving the issue of the plunging water table? For providing food to the poor? Poor performance of Delhi Daredevils in IPL? European refugee crisis?

One wonders if any other scheme will ever be required…

The big question everyone is asking is; what will the scheme solve this time. Last time it was introduced to solve the pollution issue and ended up reducing traffic on the roads. As this time it has been introduced for reducing traffic on the roads, it cannot be expected to reduce traffic on the roads. One wonders what it will really solve. At every corner tea-shop, in every metro coach, people are busy guessing the problem that the odd-even scheme will solve this time. Radio jockeys are having a field day running contests for people to guess the problem the odd-even scheme of April 2016 will solve.

There is really no saying what a decision of the government might end up solving.

A senior minister in the AAP government in Delhi, who had taken it upon himself to treat all women of visibly foreign looks as being of questionable character and personally led police teams to raid their homes, is preparing to start these raids once again.

“We don’t know what we might end up solving,” he looked somberly into the horizon and stated, while putting on his helmet in preparation for the raid later in the night.

In Gurgaon, or Gurugram now, always eager to copy from Delhi, transport authorities are busy breaching medians on busy roads, contrary to the once popular belief of reducing criss-crossing traffic to smoothen the flow.

Their response to enquiries from the media is, “We know it will solve something. As of now we don’t know what. But we will tell you as soon as we find out. Meanwhile, expect more central medians to be breached.”

The political will to take decisions without thought and logic is back.

“I have no idea what, but I might have solved something today,” is the new war-cry of members of the Delhi cabinet.

For more details of the odd-even scheme, go to post titled ODDities and EVENtualities.

Train of thought

I have been invited by a friend from college days to his hometown for his 50th birthday bash next week. He lives in a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

I hooked up with another college friend living in Gurgaon, who was also invited, hoping that we could travel together.

“We have the option of going on the 14th night by train which reaches at 4 AM in the morning on the 15th. Or else we could take a flight on the 15th,” I confidently updated him as I had done some research on the tickets.

“Flight? To where?,” came his response, aware as he was that this small town did not boast of an airport.

“Bhopal”, I informed him. “It is then a 3 hour drive from Bhopal to his town.”

He said, absent-mindedly, “Not sure if we should take the train. The night will get messed up. We won’t be able to sleep properly if we have to get off at 4 AM. And, if that happens, we will not be able to enjoy the celebrations later that day.”

He seemed to have a point. I added, nodding, “And we could also end up messing up the night for the person who will pick us up from the station at that unearthly hour.”

There was silence at the other end of the phone line. Suddenly, the phone crackled again, “Most likely it is a poor taxi driver. And, it might disturb the sleep of his wife as well who may be getting up to ensure that her husband at least gets a cup of tea before he leaves home.” He sounded concerned. He had clearly been thinking about what I had said.

I could see where he was going, and added my concern, “What about their children? Their sleep could also be disturbed on account of the commotion in the house. Most likely they live in a small house. They may need to miss school that day.”

He was quick to understand. He said, “And if they have exams going on, as many schools do in December, they might have to miss an important exam.”

I was horrified. I said, “Noooo… That means they may have to fail the grade. They might be forced to repeat the year. Not only that, they will become the laughing stock of their peer group, and outcasts in the junior class they are forced to join.”

He said, slowly, weighing each word, “And       that     could      be     their     first     step      towards      juvenile      delinquency. They could get into acts of petty crime in order to show their defiance to the world.”

I said, “And small acts of crime, if unchecked, eventually lead to bigger acts of crime. Encouraged by their small deeds of crime, they may even run away from home to a big city hoping to make it big in the world of crime.”

“Can you even imagine what their parents would go through if that happens? They may have been able to handle petty acts of crime and bring them back in line, but surely their running away would devastate the parents”, he rightly pointed out.

“It could lead their mother into a state of permanent depression. Perhaps even an early death. The father would probably neglect his work and run around looking for his children. And that road eventually only leads to the bottle,” I said.

“The children, meanwhile, having somehow reached the big city, might have to face the harsh realities of life. They may have to beg for food on the streets,” he suggested, as if from experience. I knew where it was coming from. I shared that experience with my friend.

“And who knows, they could become eager recruits for one of the many crime syndicates who keep looking for recruits for their cause all the time,” I said, trying to objectively look ahead, based on extensive knowledge on the subject from years of watching Bollywood movies, especially about twins separated at birth or in the local fair.

“And one day, having achieved a modicum of success in the underworld, they might return to their town to look for their parents. Finding their mother dead and father gone to waste could only incite hatred against the world, for causing such untold misery and pain to them and their parents, and motivate them to take revenge,” he said confidently.

“And, as we know, anger can cause a dropping of your guard and lead to mistakes. In such a state one can become blind to dangers. They could invite the wrath of law-enforcement agencies, leading to either arrest or elimination in an encounter,” I added.

Even the thought of such a possibility was too much to bear.

He asked, “Do you want to be responsible for the untimely death of two school-going children and their mother, and the father going to waste over drink?”

I responded, “No, do you?”

“Not at all,” he responded without a moment’s hesitation. My chest swelled with pride. There was a reason he was my friend.

We decided to make informed, responsible choices. We decided we will not go by the train that reaches at 4 AM the next morning. We decided to take the flight, narrowly averting the calamitous chain of events we could have triggered had we taken the train.

Home sweet home

“But why can our airports not be as good?”

The booming voice that emanated from the vicinity, starting this polite conversation, even before I had settled down in my seat, suddenly had a calming effect on me.

I had been overseas for almost two weeks and home-sickness had set in. I was looking forward to getting back. Though I had finally set-off for home, the changing of flights at a foreign airport, hopping onto an intra-airport train to switch terminals, with language-induced confusion over gates thrown in, had left my nerves jangled. I was so out of sorts that I wasn’t even sure if I had taken the right flight.

But as soon as I heard those calming words, I knew that I was on the right flight.

For the first time I looked at the burly person spilling out of the economy seat next to me. We were on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Delhi. I wondered if it was safe to argue, considering I was going to be sitting right next to him for the next five hours.

Throwing caution to the winds I defended. A few days outside the country will do that to you. You lose reason and become inclined to take risks disproportionate to return. Like defending your country in the face of huge odds like a muscular gentleman sitting in the economy seat right next to you. No reasonable person would dream of doing such a thing inside the country. “Have you travelled through the spanking new Terminal 3? It is as good as any in the world”, I offered.

He glared at me, sensing that the conversation was not going in the direction of a normal country-bashing duel whenever two faithfuls meet.

He raised his arm. It must have weighed as much as all of me. I braced for the blow.

But the blow did not come.

Like a nimble boxer, he had quickly changed tactics.

“I am coming from Manila”, he said waving his raised arm to the right and a bit to the back, as if asking me to look in the direction of the arm’s movement to catch a glimpse of the receding Manila skyline. From Kuala Lumpur.

“I see”, I said, and for good measure added “That’s great”, looking into the screen in front of me.

Silence.

More silence.

Even more silence.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked, unable to contain himself any longer.

“Singapore”, I said, still looking into the screen.

Before I knew it, he had worked his way through my family history, how I had found the hotel I stayed in while in Singapore and how much I had paid for it, did I pay for it or was it paid for by someone else, was it a personal trip or charged to a company account, was it money accounted for or “black”, quickly and efficiently moving on to my monthly income, how much did my house cost me and whether I paid taxes on time.

With each invasive query, I was getting more and more relaxed. After two weeks in unfamiliar surroundings, I could almost smell the smells of home. It was just like talking to a stranger on the street or an unsolicited sales caller on the phone. The many pleasant conversations I have had were ringing in my ears even as I was talking to the person seated next to me. How much did the car cost you? What is the mileage you get? Did you take a loan to buy it? Which Credit Card do you have? What is the Credit Limit on the Card?

I must have dozed off because I do not remember any conversation about my criminal record and sexual orientation and stayed dozed till the plane was about to land.

As soon as passengers knew it was not a crash landing, which was almost 3 milliseconds after the rear wheels touched down, there was a rush to retrieve hand-carried bags from the overhead compartments. It was a sad sight. It seemed that a few days spent overseas in orderly surroundings, even standing in queues at times, had dulled their reflexes. I cannot recollect a single domestic flight I have ever travelled on where it has taken more than 2 milliseconds for passengers to retrieve handbags from the time the rear wheels touch down on the tarmac.

As we reached the arrival hall, we found that there were no “arrival cards” that are mandatory to fill before approaching an immigration officer for immigration clearance. Yep, this was the place I had to reach.

After some time an officious looking person could be seen sauntering towards the place where people were waiting, with a gleeful look, waving a sheaf of papers. Someone in the crowd noticed him and shouted. Fearing a lifetime spent in the arrival hall of Delhi airport, the crowd surged towards him to catch one of the elusive pieces of paper and clear immigration.

Perhaps because I was not showing any anxiety for the paper, he thought that I did not need it and hence sought me out and handed them to me and, in a noble discharge of his duties, asked me to distribute them around to others. Not one to shirk responsibility in times of need, I quickly took the three copies I needed, and, drawing from my years of experience working in corporates, found another capable-looking person and asked him to distribute them around to others.

After clearing immigration, I walked over to one of the stores selling duty-free stuff, before collecting my checked-in bags. Here, the last strand of doubt was removed. I was well and truly home.

I could see at least 15 attendants in a shop barely a hundred square metres in size. As usual, standing around, chatting with each other, telling customers what they could read themselves. I was in my element here. I asked one of them to bring me a basket. Then I kept pointing at stuff I wanted and the person kept putting it in the basket and carrying it around for me. Just six hours back I had not thought twice before carrying a basket of chocolates weighing almost three kilos around myself. I was ashamed to even think about it. I hoped nobody I knew had seen my behaviour. What depths had I sunk to when I was overseas?

As I sat in the cab I breathed a sigh of relief. I had reached home. In fact, in some ways, I had touched down before the flight had even taken off, when I had heard the words “But why can our airports not be as good?”

Oh, the places you’ll go

I have been in many places, but I’ve never been in Cahoots.
Apparently, you can’t go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone.

I’ve also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognizes you there.

I have, however, been in Sane. They don’t have an airport; you have to be
driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family
and work.

I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I’m not too
much on physical activity anymore.

I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to
visit there too often.

I’ve been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.

Sometimes I’m in Capable, and I go there more often as I’m getting older.

One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the
adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the
stimuli I can get!

And, sometimes I think I am in Vincible but life shows me I am not!

I have been in Deepshit many times; the older I get the easier it is to
get there.

Note: This is kind of a reblog. Came to me on email from my wife. Seemed like a piece which readers of my blog might like, with its gentle play on words. Have taken the liberty of using a Dr.Seuss title as the title of this post. And, to end, as the good doctor himself said:

“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

Death of unemployment

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…)