Don’t call us, call customer care

January 29th, 2013

Can you call this a moment of truth? The moment I realized my bag had slipped out of my hand and that it was too far for me to catch it, however hard I tried? I could see the bikers speed away into the dark with my deep purple bag, and my world in it.

“My bag”, is all I could faintly utter and felt an emptiness hard to explain once I began to assemble the contents in my mind, while trying to chase the almost flying bike. The black phone diary, which had thousands of numbers of bureaucrats, businessmen, economists, ministers, MPs, and even film stars, collected painstakingly over many many years, was gone, I told myself, almost stopping to breathe. Some of those numbers were not meant for dialing ever, but for embellishment of the diary. I trusted this black book more than anything else, believing that it would never let me down, even if the phone was lost.

Also remembered how my friends had pulled my leg when I spent time organizing phone numbers in that black diary while on a holiday to Lansdowne, a small hill station not very far from Delhi. Many of them, who later called to mourn the lost bag and its contents, told me that they remembered the phone diary with much fondness!

Even though my mind was stuck on the phone book, I knew I had lost many other things too. Counted the cards, six of them. “Why on earth were you carrying those many cards,” was a voice I heard from somewhere, and chose to ignore it.

Immediately after calling 100 for cops, I dialled the relationship manager of a bank. He, who calls a dozen times a week asking me to invest in some scheme or the other, offered me some out-of-the-world advice. He asked me to call the customer service, which meant waiting for several minutes before connecting to the right fellow and getting down to business. It didn’t matter to him that the snatcher could well have shopped with the newly acquired debit cards! After a few seconds of screaming at him, the relationship manager agreed to help, perhaps putting on hold his dinner or movie or both!

Oh, but another bank had offered the card protection service some time back. While I had subscribed to the service, the number wasn’t saved on my mobile; hold your breath—it was neatly written in that black phone diary, which I had lost.  Once the number was arranged through calls to colleagues, all the cards got blocked in a jiffy, and I was grateful even in the midst of sorrow that I didn’t turn away the bank exec who had introduced me to the “virtues” of the card protection service.

Getting the cards re-issued was another experience altogether. For some reason, none of the banks entertained me at the branch for re-issuing credit cards. The standard answer was, “call customer service”. For settling the debit card issue, most banks promised to get the job done in three to five working days, with varying degrees of indifference towards the customer. There was one bank however that stood out. After a few minutes of queries on the kind of card that one held, this banker handed me two envelopes—one had the fresh debit card and another the PIN—there and then.

Cash, PAN card, identity cards, cheque books were all there in that bag. All that can be handled over a period of time, I consoled myself. Some things however are irreplaceable, still trying to figure out what else was there in that not very large bag.

Besides the phone book, there was also a hand-written letter with colourful sketches and signs all over, given to me by a young colleague who was joining another media organization. I had read it many times but wanted to keep it for good. There were other precious pieces of papers too, some with scribbled verses that one had kept for reading again, sometime later. But that time may not come.

Still hopeful that I may just get back some of the things, maybe the phone book, the letter, the papers, I asked the cops at the police station whether there was any chance. “If a good soul gets any of the things and posts it, only then will you get it. Otherwise, no….”

While the cop’s reply broke my heart one more time, it’s time to look back and laugh over it. My sister reminded me it was a ‘Coach’ bag that she had got from some place and that the replacement must be a very local one for sure. My mother wanted to know if I was talking on the phone, as usual, while someone took my bag away. My colleagues wanted to know how exactly the bag was snatched. A friend, when he heard about the incident that very night, just laughed aloud as if I had cracked a joke.

But the best one was from a cop who was around while I was filing my complaint—when I mentioned PAN card as one of the lost items, he asked with a straight face, “which bank?” If nothing else, at least he cheered me up that sombre night last week!!'t call us, call customer care digg:Don't call us, call customer care newsvine:Don't call us, call customer care reddit:Don't call us, call customer care Y!:Don't call us, call customer care

Delhi isn’t so heartless after all

January 1st, 2013

While several clubs and hotels across the country announced they were boycotting the New Year celebrations, protestors sitting at Jantar Mantar for days didn’t make any such declaration. On the New Year’s eve, hundreds of students, professionals, media persons and others including children braved the Delhi chill to shout slogans, be heard by the authorities, sit around for hours and light candles, just like they have been doing ever since the un-named girl was brutally assaulted in a Delhi bus and then died in a Singapore hospital.

A majority of them would have hopped parties on this day any other year, but this time they were planning and plotting where to go next with the protest, without making a fuss over skipping New Year celebrations. People of Delhi, which has often been described as soul-less and heartless by those who have made this city their home, have in some ways shown they can feel too. And that the ’spirit of Mumbai’ may as well be that of Delhi!

During the process, the political class (including the young leaders) has alienated itself from the ‘ordinary’ people, who in turn have emerged as ‘extraordinary’ in their will to carry on the protest against the authorities for not caring to make things safe for women.

Jantar Mantar, a regular protest venue quite close to Parliament and many buildings housing some of the key ministries, resembles a home that has just lost a member.

True, the place has turned into a virtual TV studio for dozens of media companies, and the many shops and dhabas selling anything from dosas to tea are doing brisk business. Armed cops are around in big numbers too, just in case agitators get out of hand. But it is the gentle moments that this protest may be known for, despite all the cutting words used in the slogans and speeches. For instance, late Saturday evening, on the day the victim died, a group of protestors got boxes filled with chips and biscuits for those who had gone without any food for hours. They offered the goodies to the cops too, who looked sheepish about it.

Even as the government initiative to launch a much hyped helpline service for women failed for many hours before it could finally start, FM radio, mostly known for its commercial interests, showed its soft side after the incident. Many FM stations remained sensitive during the past few days, with the messages and also the music they played.

And, New Year parties are not the only celebration that people of Delhi are staying away from. Already an international embarrassment with the UN raising the issue of security for women in India, some schools and colleges are even talking of boycotting participation in the Republic Day parade.

While the protest has spread out to thousands of nooks and corners of the country already, the all-India bandh, scheduled for January 3, may also be useful in making the city of Delhi and all of India a safer place for women. isn't so heartless after all digg:Delhi isn't so heartless after all newsvine:Delhi isn't so heartless after all reddit:Delhi isn't so heartless after all Y!:Delhi isn't so heartless after all

A cancelled trip, a journo’s woe

November 16th, 2012

“PM is not going to Japan tomorrow.” On any other day, that statement wouldn’t have hit hard. But on Wednesday afternoon, when the spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs broke the news to a waiting group of journalists, each word weighed heavy and untrue.

How could the PM call off such an important visit just a day before his scheduled departure? While the MEA gave reasons -— fast-paced internal developments in Japan—- a journalist, who was part of the media delegation accompanying the PM, had a pointed question. “So, what happens to the trip starting November 15?” The MEA official’s reply was stern: “Like I said, the PM is not going to Japan at this point….” That was enough to silence all those present, with their suitcases packed with woolies to beat the Japanese chill.

One had sensed something was amiss with the way briefing was re-structured at the last minute. Four officials walked in late, indicating there were ‘developments’. Nobody uttered Japan till the first part of the briefing on the PM’s Asean trip to Phnom Penh was out of the way. Then came the bombshell -— both sides have decided to defer the Tokyo meeting due to internal developments in Japan. Elections may be announced there on Friday, the day the Indian PM and his Japanese counterpart would have discussed bilateral issues!!

The scheduled ‘bandobast meeting’, a regular usage before any such high-level visit, was not spoken about at all. With the PM’s visit shortened to three days, from six earlier, accompanying journos began busily changing their plans too. Attempting to hide their sorrow at Japan being dropped from the itinerary, some said it was good that the long flight was off their back, others were heard talking about more pressing assignments in India at this point. I too told my friends and colleagues that I was happy to sleep some extra hours in the morning than reach airport that early.         

Three-day outing to Phnom Penh for the Asean summit is still on, one hopes…. But, there has been a rush of emails and calls, ever since Japan was removed from the plan. People who cared called to say they were sorry I was not going to go to the land of the rising Sun. What a missed opportunity, an email said. Even when I tried to remind them that I would get to see Cambodia at least, not many  sounded excited. “Why didn’t they cancel Cambodia instead of Japan,” was the best I heard!

Now, what does one do with the shopping list for Tokyo, the most interesting being the hair pin that the local girls wear, that was handed over by friends and family? Some precious moments were also spent on what to eat and drink, of course sushi topping the list, once in Japan. A fat book on all things Japan was already in my travel kit, which must be altered fully now. The CDMA phone, that was rented for use in Japan, must be returned too.

I’m also worried about the lunch invite, that I may have to forego now, at a Japanese restaurant in Delhi. The deal was that I would narrate the Tokyo tales to a friend over a Japanese lunch once I was back from the trip. Should one look for a Cambodian joint in the city, instead? cancelled trip, a journo's woe digg:A cancelled trip, a journo's woe newsvine:A cancelled trip, a journo's woe reddit:A cancelled trip, a journo's woe Y!:A cancelled trip, a journo's woe

Tireless crusader, lost cause?

August 27th, 2012

More than 10 years ago, when I was not in Business Standard, I got a visitor in the office one afternoon. The visitor introduced himself as an NGO person and told me that he was working on fighting corruption in the Income Tax Department and gave me a bunch of papers with survey findings and statistics on the subject. Since I found the data interesting, I pursued the story, which got published.

Ever since then, the visitor stayed in touch with me for various other things that his NGO was working on. I found him to be passionate about his work and made it a point to support him in all his endeavours. He even came home a couple of times to discuss issues related to either corruption in the food distribution system or the need to have an effective RTI system or some such thing, as he counted me as a friend and perhaps saw a streak of activism in me.

What I thought was striking about this man was that he was always looking for solutions to so many social problems, and that he was reaching out to people the hard way to convince them that his work needs to be recognized. There were times when I felt that the conferences or workshops that he was organizing may not draw many eyeballs, but had never had the heart to tell him that. I too wanted to encourage him when he was trying to do good.

Interestingly, after several months of knowing him, came a turning point. I still remember the day when I was escorting him out of my office after he had come to invite me for one of his events. He stopped suddenly to tell me that I should know his real identity. I thought it was some joke. But he introduced himself the second time to me—this time as Arvind Kejriwal. Earlier, I had known him by another name, which he didn’t want me to repeat…. He reasoned he had to hide his identity earlier as he was still in the rolls of the Income Tax Department while he was trying to expose the people there.

Today when I was watching him on TV agitating in the VVIP areas of the capital while police was using teargas to control the crowd, images of Arvind Kejriwal, as I had known him through the years, kept coming back to me in a rush.

Till his last big rally a few months ago with Anna Hazare at Ram Lila Ground, I had gone and supported him and also defended him and his cause in so many arguments with friends, colleagues and family. This time, I only watched him on the screen, not sure what future he’s looking for himself and whether he has changed from the time I had met him first years ago. crusader, lost cause? digg:Tireless crusader, lost cause? newsvine:Tireless crusader, lost cause? reddit:Tireless crusader, lost cause? Y!:Tireless crusader, lost cause?

Why even 9% growth won’t make India incredible

June 18th, 2012

The Economist wrote last week, `Farewell to Incredible India’, referring of course to the country’s latest GDP growth numbers. Although 5.3 per cent is quite a fall from the over 8 per cent range not so long ago, these numbers may not completely reflect the India story.

The haunting picture of 20-year-old Neelam holding her baby in a Delhi hospital told a story about what was wrong with India, much more than the GDP growth figures. Neelam’s 23-year-old ailing husband died at the hospital earlier this month after waiting eight hours for an ambulance, which would have shifted him to a speciality centre. The ambulance never turned up and Neelam’s family could not afford to hire a private vehicle. Even at 9 and 10 per cent GDP growth, Neelam’s story may have been the same.

The current water crisis in the capital city is yet another India story that never seems to change. Along with hours of power outages, water becomes a rare commodity too in peak summer. Neighbouring states are caught in power play and politics, while the citizens rough it out. There’s no evidence to show that GDP numbers (whether it’s incredible India or not) have any bearing on how water and power is distributed to the people of India.

To make it worse, some of our ministers want to unsettle things that appear to be on the right track. HRD minister Kapil Sibal, who by the way also holds the telecom portfolio where much needs to be done, has decided to turn things topsy-turvy for the IITs. He’s prescribing a different entrance exam pattern for the IITs because he and some other like-minded ‘intellectuals’ think that is the best for the country. Others are watching this India story, perhaps with greater interest than the GDP numbers!

More importantly, had India felt that the fall in GDP growth number was actually so alarming, the ruling party alliance (UPA) may not have nominated its finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as the Presidential candidate. And if it did and if the economy was that bad, the government would have certainly found a solid replacement for Mukherjee by now. But so far the top name doing the rounds for the FM, if Mukherjee were to move to Rashtrapati Bhavan, is that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. At least for the time being.

Does that mean that the ruling government has come to realise that it needs to focus on the quality of life of its people, rather than be ruffled by GDP numbers, to make it an ‘incredible India’? even 9% growth won't make India incredible digg:Why even 9% growth won't make India incredible newsvine:Why even 9% growth won't make India incredible reddit:Why even 9% growth won't make India incredible Y!:Why even 9% growth won't make India incredible

Much ado about a non-issue

May 2nd, 2012

Last week when the government showed red light to screening of `The Dirty Picture’ on TV, it brought back memories of the I&B ministry’s long tryst with censorship.

In the case of Vidya Balan-starrer Dirty Picture, I&B ministry recommended several cuts before certifying it for night viewing on TV, though the movie had won the national award. Quite an irony, many pointed out.

But one of the most hyped-up cases of censorship in recent times was that of `The Da Vinci Code’, a Hollywood flick based on a bestselling fiction by Dan Brown. The film drew flak in many parts of the world especially from the Roman Catholic Church because of its controversial theme, but in India the movie kept the government machinery busy for days together, and how.

About six years ago, when the controversy was at its peak, P R Dasmunsi (the then I&B minister) invited top representatives of Indian churches along with bureaucrats, ministers and MPs to watch Da Vinci at the Mahadev Road auditorium in the capital on a hot evening. Dasmunsi also watched along. It was a big mission as this one show was going to determine the fate of the Hollywood movie in India.

Members of the media waited in large numbers, both international and Indian, outside the auditorium, which usually screens films for MPs, ministers and VIPs. Will Da Vinci be screened in India or not, was a question bigger than any other government policy at that point. And media was waiting for an answer to that question.

Despite the long wait, at least spanning four hours, the reply from the people who had watched the film together and had even taken two breaks to discuss the pros and cons of Da Vinci hitting the Indian screens, was: talks are still on and a decision has not been taken yet.

The release date was quite close, and the world was watching the drama in India. After several more high-level meetings across Lutyen’s Delhi, the decision came. The film was to have a prominent disclaimer that it’s a work of fiction, and an `A’ certification.

Da Vinci Code was released in Indian screens without any cuts, though it missed the release date by a few days, after much ado and many ministers, and bureaucrats losing precious work hours over a non-issue! ado about a non-issue digg:Much ado about a non-issue newsvine:Much ado about a non-issue reddit:Much ado about a non-issue Y!:Much ado about a non-issue

Twist in the Telenor tale

February 6th, 2012

Some 15 months ago, Norwegian telecom operator Telenor, that partners real estate group Unitech, had dismissed the possibility of cancellation of licences as a “mere speculation”. The same company is threatening to exit India now, after the Supreme Court order cancelling all the controversial 122 telecom licences falling under the alleged 2G scam. How times change!

In November 2010, Sigve Brekke, Telenor Asia head, had told a group of Indian reporters that cancellation of licence was a hypothetical question and that the Indian government had scrutinized in great detail about the company and its investment in Unitech Wireless. “We entered India with a clear understanding that everything is okay,” Brekke had said then.

The Norwegian telco has since then faced much trouble in the Indian market, including row with its Indian partner over the rights issue and of course arrest of Sanjay Chandra, who had to step down as the Unitech Wireless chairman over his alleged role in the 2G case. The court order on cancellation of licences and a fresh round of 2G auction have now turned Telenor’s India plans topsy turvy.

So much so that Telenor chief executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas told a foreign agency in Oslo two days ago that exiting the Indian market was an option before it.

It’s hard to tell whether Telenor is seriously considering the exit option. In fact, soon after the exit news was splashed all over the media, the company’s publicity department came out with a statement giving out quite a contrary signal. “Telenor Group wants to be clear that the Uninor operations are continuing. Our intention is to fight to protect our lawful investments in the country,” it said.

For Telenor and other foreign telcos, India is a market they cannot skip, whatever the odds at present. And they know it too well. The long term business opportunity in India holds much promise. The young population in the country, a growing middle class and disposable income, and an entire rural belt that is yet to be captured in a big way for mobile telephony–all this should compel foreign telcos to stay on in India.Given the saturated telecom market in the US, Europe and many parts of Asia, it is India that will continue to be of interest to the foreign players.

As for the plight of the foreign telcos, which had picked up stake in the new licencees, perhaps they should have done better research before entering partnerships in India, a top executive in an Indian telco pointed out.

Bharti chairman Sunil Mittal recently said in Davos that telecom sector’s fine story is over. But the second part of the story may have just begun. As some experts are arguing, the 2G clean-up was necessary for India at this point. in the Telenor tale digg:Twist in the Telenor tale newsvine:Twist in the Telenor tale reddit:Twist in the Telenor tale Y!:Twist in the Telenor tale

Vacation merry-go-round

December 27th, 2011

I’m about to go on my year-end break, but not before sharing my experience in the run-up to the holiday.  The exercise began quite early, I think sometime in October, and what a journey it has been already.

Influenced by a friend, who had just returned from a Coorg holiday and had described the place and its people with such fascination, I decided Coorg would be our year-end holiday destination. My family protested, saying nothing could match Christmas in Shimla.

Since one has been to Shimla so many times and in so many seasons, it’s started feeling like a second home. Imagine carols at the Shimla mall with the church bells in the backdrop, the long walk to the Centre for Advanced Studies known for its history, architecture and scenic beauty, the ice-capped Himalayas from the windows of the majestic Peterhoff hotel (our favourite place in this hill station), and the fragrance of the pines…. Just when we were ready to make the bookings for Shimla, I got another valuable suggestion from a friend: try Kashmir, he said.

Since I have never visited the Valley, the idea sounded good. So we began our search for the cheapest flights to Srinagar and checking out the road route to Gulmarg. It would have to be a longer trip than Shimla because there was more to travel and see. Also, there was no guarantee that flights would take off from there, especially if weather turned bad. Suddenly, Kashmir wasn’t the best option in winters, even if one was told that militants were unlikely to strike when weather was treacherous!

If one must take a longer vacation, why not Andaman & Nicobar islands? The corals, the music of the tribals, the blue-green sea, the cruise—all of these were discussed at great length on the dinner table, after which I was assigned the task of finding the best deal through the online planners. Two weekends went by just comparing the hotel tariffs and flight tickets. Should it be via Kolkata or Bhubaneswar? Direct or break journey? By the time we found an answer to all these questions, it was too late for us to get hotel rooms. All full, is the answer we got from everywhere.

Okay, all is not lost, we told ourselves. Anyway, Andaman is not really the best destination during Christmas, we consoled each other with much wisdom. To catch the spirit of celebration, what can be better than the North-East or maybe Goa, we thought aloud. By this time, we had inched quite close to Christmas, and the tariffs and the ticket rates had sky-rocketed.

These were times of economic slowdown after all, and we must spend judiciously, we decided. Why go to Goa or the North-East if we could go to Bangkok or Singapore with that much or maybe a little more? Just when we were about to surf the travel sites for the best deals to Thailand and Singapore, the phone rang.

A cousin was coming from Canada with her husband and teenage children. Let’s go to Rajasthan together, she started. And don’t forget to include Taj Mahal on the itinerary.

We sprang into action as such requests are not made everyday. Hotel rooms booked, transport fixed, and the phone rang again. The cousin and her family could not fly out of Canada as the Air India flight from Toronto had developed a technical snag and the carrier had to order parts from Mumbai! An email followed soon after: Reschedule all the hotel and car bookings to Rajasthan…. 

Three days after the ordeal, the cousin is finally on a flight to New Delhi, along with her family. Keeping my fingers crossed, looks like holiday at last. Jaipur, Ajmer, Agra—3 cities in 3 days, as a friend pointed out. After crisscrossing the country and a bit outside in search of a good holiday! merry-go-round digg:Vacation merry-go-round newsvine:Vacation merry-go-round reddit:Vacation merry-go-round Y!:Vacation merry-go-round

2011: Year of corruption & unrest

November 9th, 2011

Countdown  to 2012 has truly begun. Apart from the various Gmail and Facebook status updates signaling arrival of the new year, e-commerce daddy Amazon has officially ushered in 2012 by announcing the top 10 books of 2011, already. One had expected the latest biography on  Steve Jobs to  top  the list, but it’s on the 8th spot. ‘Art of Fielding’ by Chad Harbach has been ranked the number one book of the year.

The Amazon list got me thinking. What are the top 10 things that kept India or Indians engaged through the year? 2G scam, A Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, Kanimozhi, bureaucrats and business tycoons filling up the Tihar Jail, Anna Hazare agitation to press for the Lokpal Bill and the people frenzy that went with it, CVC controversy, rising prices, Sonia Gandhi’s undisclosed illness, the buzz on Rahul Gandhi taking on the Congress reins, a non-functional Parliament session after session, policy paralysis turning a catchword, Mamata Banerjee toppling years of communist rule in West Bengal, and on a lighter note—the Khans continuing to rule over Bollywood, though Big B showed his mettle once again with his incredible show at the latest season of KBC.

That’s much more than 10, and let’s not try to rank them. But, the connect is interesting. Most of these names and developments would fit into one of the two heads: Corruption or Unrest.

Does that mean nothing positive happened in India all through 2011? Quite sure, that’s not true. But, we’ll keep  the good things for another time.

And what about 2012? What should be our wishlist? A scam-less India, lower food prices, job for all, a decision-making government, accountability for all (Lokpal or not), movies worth watching, real news on TV rather than hours of shrill talk shows, life beyond 2G….And please don’t bring back the pesky telemarketing calls and SMSes. Let there be peace in 2012. Year of corruption & unrest digg:2011: Year of corruption & unrest newsvine:2011: Year of corruption & unrest reddit:2011: Year of corruption & unrest Y!:2011: Year of corruption & unrest

Tele-marketing calls, I miss you

September 30th, 2011

This was one day many of us have been waiting for. Yet, when the day passed by, my cellphone looked so under-used that it was unbelievable. As old habits are tough to change, I kept checking my handset every minute to see whether a gym had sent me a message to shed weight, or if a real estate firm was asking me to buy some fancy flat. But each time I was disappointed to see the blank screen. The pesky messages, the ones we hated with all our heart for disturbing and distracting us, were actually out of our lives now.

I was surprised that I was actually missing those SMSes. Suddenly I wanted quick information on travel, health, insurance, property, deals and discounts, and much more. The vacuum was unsettling and I clearly had withdrawal symptoms. Well, I was not alone, many of my friends told me they too felt the same way. The unexpected peace was tough to handle.

This is despite our sustained effort to banish these marketing calls and messages from our lives. More than two years ago, I had signed up for the do-not-call registry service, and had persuaded all my family members too to get enrolled for it.  But it didn’t work. I lodged many complaints with the authorities, but the pesky calls and messages continued to pour in. We made comparisons with America, on how the system had worked there, and carried on….

So a typical day began with an invite to buy a house in Noida or Greater Noida and ended with a ‘hurry up’  alert for a bungalow in Gurgaon or Faridabad. In between, there were dime a dozen messages on online discount stores, fitness schools, and  even on courses to hone communication skills, all through the day.

Without lines like “are you scared of speaking in public”, or “lose 5 kg in 15 days” or “book a flat in 3 days to avail a discount of 15 per cent”, the day appeared dull and incomplete. Till somebody reminded me that it may be just a short spell of silence, as marketing companies were already working out ways to side step the rules and invade the private space of you and me once again. And, the telecom companies are sure to help the marketing firms as these unsolicited calls and messages mean  big money to them. If an important  minister is disturbed again, like Pranab Mukherjee was last year by a  pesky caller, another round of regulatory action may follow. calls, I miss you digg:Tele-marketing calls, I miss you newsvine:Tele-marketing calls, I miss you reddit:Tele-marketing calls, I miss you Y!:Tele-marketing calls, I miss you