Sunday, May 29, 2011

India against corruption - Corruption saaku, Jan Lok Pal beku

It was a hot Saturday afternoon at the National College grounds in Basavanagudi, Bangalore. The Sun was unusually blazing on the crowd that was gathering fast. The huge ground was dotted with people decked up in bright white T-shirts that said "Corruption saaku, Jan Lok Pal beku", which when translated to English means, "Enough of corruption, we want Jan Lok Pal". 

The atmosphere was charged...there was lot of activity...volunteers distributing T-Shirts, drinking water, butter milk, badges against corruption and some collecting donations...a band playing music on stage...public slowly milling about and finding seats. I felt as if I am being drawn by some invisible force at work, a force that was subtle but nevertheless powerful and so confident. 

As the crowd waited for Anna Hazare to turn up, I got into conversation with Arpit, a young volunteer who works for Deloitte. We felt that, of all the places, the setting of Bangalore itself for this afternoon was a little ironic especially because the karnataka state Government was perceived to be one of the most corrupt state governments in the country! Or was the venue, on the contrary, very apt? For this place also boasts of one of the most cosmopolitan educated populace! I exchanged numbers with Arpit who I also learnt was part of the movement from its cubbon park days. 

Kiran Bedi was the first speaker of the afternoon. In chaste Hindi, she recounted the days of the movement's inception. When Arvind Kejriwal (credited to be one of the chief brains behind the Jan Lok Pal bill draft now) came to meet Bedi in the October of last year (news of CWG, Adarsh society and 2G scams were hot then), Bedi decided to act against corruption. She, along with Sri Sri Ravishankar, Baba Ramdev, Arvind himself, Swami Agnivesh and Anna Hazare filed a FIR on 14th November against the corrupt. That was the first time, the police even accepted and registered an FIR.

 She said that corruption at three levels - politics, bureaucracy and business - needs  to be fought. When she said that out of every 100 rupees the Government spends, 84 gets corrupted out, it was disheartening.

Swami Agnivesh, the next to speak, hailed Anna Hazare as the symbol of this movement against corruption. He declared that, it is neither the Maoists nor the naxals that are the country's biggest internal security threat; it is the corrupt whose black money is stashed away in numerous banks outside the borders.  

Arvind Kejriwal patiently and in common man's lingo, explained the salient features of the bill. He ran the crowd through some difficult times the team had to go through. Asked to declare their assets and give sources of donated money, Arvind and team swung to action and put up all the information demanded of them in no time, online. "Un ke paas paisa hai, resources hai, lekin hamare paas sirf sachaai aur irmaandari hai", he said. He then requested the crowd to investigate and come up with a list of 50 most corrupt people in every state. This list will be the first one, the Lok Pal team would act on, he promised. 

Anna Hazare was the last person to address the crowd. He was not very charismatic but something about his unassuming nature and sincere words connected readily with the crowd and it lapped up all his words like a hungry animal. He reiterated that his crusade is directed only against the corrupt. "I have only a pillow and a plate; I live in a temple; I don't even remember some of my relatives' names and I don't have any bank balance; I have led a very clean life that no one can ever point any finger at me..." Drawing from his own experience, he said "Thorns are laden in the path of social work, but once that short path is traveled, there would be greenery all around"

He exhorted the gathering to practice purity in thought and word, lead clean lives and indulge in sacrifice. "Happiness comes from within. If you want to be happy, make others happy" It was reminiscent of something traditional, something rooted more in a strong sense of values. If that is what the society needs now, it is time we embrace it! 

The gathering started to dissolve when one of the volunteers announced that approximately 49000 rupees was donated by the public that afternoon to the movement. It would go towards meeting the expenses of logistics involved in organizing the afternoon's gathering.

Corruption saaku, Jan Lok Pal beku

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Do we really know best??

"One can only know one's strengths when one is dead and people get chances to write obituaries", a senior HR manager said in the course of a get together arranged today, addressing all the junior managers working for the Bosch group in India. 

This got me thinking... In life, many a time, we tend to think that, when we decide, we decide best. It is borne out of the desire within each one of us to exercise control over our destinies in some small measure or the other. But, the moot point is, do we really know what is best for us? If yes, why do we think that something that is decided for us by others won't be good in the long term? 

This senior manager also alluded to the Johari Window, seeming to suggest that there is a "blind spot" in all of us. Its only that in some of us, this window is small and the "arena" is large. In this case, there is a concurrence of sorts -We seem to appreciate the decisions of others since we think, we would have taken the same decisions! When the "blind spot" is large, alas, we get deceived by believeing that, since we only know ourselves best, we alone are entitled to chart our future. 

Now comes the larger question of identity! When we ask ourselves who we are, what is the answer that we get. Depending on every individuals Johari mapping, the answer might be slightly different. Most of us would agree however with the fact that what we are is more often nothing but what we are perceived to be. It is from others' perceptions that we infer our own identities. If others perceive me to be a good listener, then I stand vindicated by thinking high of my own listening abilities. Vice versa, there is cognitive dissonance! 

By crediting ourselves with superior abilities of discernment, we hinder our own prospects of being open to accept negative feedback.  So, when somebody else appears even remotely to chart our careers, we instinctively revolt. The first thought is, how can he/she do that? What right does he/she have to do that? It is revolt, resistance and loss of control that we feel. We desire putting our feet down and respond in a stubborn manner. 

Every step that we take in life, can be looked at, from two perspectives. The first perspective is that if we are in a position, where we can exercise control over our steps, instead of just blindly believeing that we know best, it is prudent to consult others (relatives, friends and well wishers) whether they concur with what we think. The other perspective comes in, when we are not in control of these steps. In such a case, it is important to look at the long term - if, in the long term, there is a possibility of things working out to our satisfaction, it is better to suppress the rebel in us and learn to love the direction in which the steps lead us! As they say, one might as well enjoy sitting through a traffic jam if it is eventually going to lead us to our destinations!! The journey might be arduous, but it might well be worth it!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jumbled thoughts

Darkness gathers,
voices cease. 

Memory unwinds,
pain flushes up. 

Nostalgia torments,
heart flutters.

The sea beckons,
moonlight guides.

Familiar smells,
unfamiliar faces.

Untrodden pathways,
shattered dreams.

New responsibilities,
lingering self-doubts.

Lonely evenings,
jealousy pangs. 

Faraway lights,
phantom companions.

Lost opportunities,
unrequited love.

Attributed motives,
blurred vision. 

Casual goodbyes,
misty eyes. 

Long tunnels,
flickering companions.

Future vistas,
impressionable canvas.

Another day,
another hope!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ragini MMS - Spooky, scary and taut!

"They don't know it yet. It's a threesome", says the trailers of Ragini MMS. I wonder if such a campaign was necessary, because, even without getting cheesy like this, there was scope to create an interest among the audiences before release. 

Bollywood badly needs someone who is bold to experiment on offbeat themes otherwise it runs the risk of churning out mundane stuff. Of late, there is a serious dearth of good cinema, instead, what we get to see is either a popular star cast or just fancily packaged glamor! In the midst of this, if a movie that predominantly targets urban youth and makes no bones about its bold theme comes out, it can certainly grab attention. Based partly on a real life incident, this movie, Ekta Kapoor claims, is largely a work of imagination.

Horror is also one genre in which good movies are hard to come by, either because most of them take the cliched route or because they are too loud. Ragini MMS works; it manages to occupy a space that is very niche; it succeeds in building up enough suspense that when the background score gets dramatic for effect, the viewer really feels the jolt.

The jerky camera movements (Tribhuvan Babu) remind one of Love, Sex and Dhoka. The fresh pair (Kainaz Motivala and Raj Kumar Yadav), especially their thirst for adventure exemplified by the possibility of an exclusive weekend works in the beginning of the movie. There is a parallel moral angle that runs along the length of the movie which is perhaps the distinguishing factor - kudos to the lead pair and the director for treading that line carefully. In order not to hasten the shock component, the initial encounters with the spooky third inhabitant of the bungalow only serve to prepare the viewers for what is in store.

As the movie proceeds, helplessness, anguish, mystery, incomprehension alternate in good measure and make for a heady cocktail!! Worth a watch to get the adrenaline really pumping!

PS: Watched the movie on a single screen (REX cinema) and after a long time, it was an experience that I loved. With all the rows before us almost empty and being able to hear the screams of a bunch of girls sitting behind - 80 rupees was worth every penny!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Customer service as redefined by our leading telecom operators

Most of us like the Vodafone Zoozoos and the Airtel tune - signature elements of two of our leading telecom operators' advertising campaigns! Yet, how I wish these giants know how to spell "customer service"! 

Sample my experience - 

Vodafone -
I had a Vodafone number in Bangalore until April 2010. So, When I came back to the city exactly an year later, decided to get the same number back. I approached the Vodafone store in Koramangala to see if it was possible. A "Customer care" executive with a badge that read "Happy to help you" took down my request and said, there was a technical issue with the old SIM but I shall get my old number in a day's time. Exactly a day later, I went to the same guy. He said, "The IT department have not mailed me back" as if it matters to me! Another day passed by, still no progress! I decided to get a new number, perhaps that was a mistake I did...! 

Now the story with my new number - I got this number again at the same Vodafone store in Koramangala submitting documents for ID and Address proof that were verified by the staff there. One week after this new SIM was activated, I got a message that said, I needed to submit documents at the nearest store, else my outgoing calls would be barred. I ignored it since I thought,  I had submitted my documents right the first time around. But, true to the message, outgoing calls stopped going through. Upon calling customer care, I was asked to "resubmit" my documents. When I asked the "agent" to give an explanation, his stoic gentlemanly response was, he can't help!
I made another visit to the store, submitted my documents, was told that outgoing calls would be restored within 24 hours. Again, another instance of building false expectations! The calls were restored after a little less than 48 hours only. I thought my tryst with this store was done once and for all but I was sadly mistaken for I lost my SIM on the night of May 10. So, I had to make another visit yesterday morning for a duplicate one. 

This time, even after 36 long hours, outgoing calls are still not going through and I know not what documents I need to "resubmit". If this is the "customer care" demonstrated by Vodafone, its competitor Airtel is no better as you will read below...

 Airtel - 

It is a well known fact in Bangalore that the broadband connections of BSNL and Airtel are reasonably good. Since BSNL still operates in an old fashioned manner taking its own sweet time, I decided to try Airtel. Seeing their advertisement on top of one "Microcomp solutions" in Jayanagar, I went in, gave my address and contact number. The very next day, I was called by their "sales executive" and to my surprise, he visited me at the house, got the application filled, took the rent for the first month and gave an acknowledgment. 

Then the wait started. When nobody visited for the next 3 days to give the connection, I called them and was told that there was a "technical issue". When probed, the response was "Feasibility is there, but ports are currently not available. We are waiting for cancellations". A week passed and nothing happened. I called again and this time, I was told that I had to wait for 3 more days. I decided that I have had enough and called up customer care. To my shock, the "agent" informed me that my application had been canceled a few days back! When I narrated my experience of waiting for port availability until then, he said that, I had taken a wrong channel - "you have made the mistake of not going through customer care and have contacted the sales executive directly! You will be refunded the rent amount in a week's time!" 

4 days passed and I prayed that at least the refund comes on time! Instead, I got a message on my mobile that said, "You will receive the broadband installation soon" Flabbergasted, I waited. On Saturday morning, a person visited just to get the cable in, followed by another guy in the evening who said, there is a problem with the cable - effectively meaning that the guy who had visited earlier in the day had done a shoddy job! Surprising thing was he had got a used modem with him and he tried to sell it to me for 500 rupees, his reasoning being, a new one would cost me 250 more. Fortunately, he couldn't activate the connection that day! 

If two of the country's apparently leading telecom operators "serve" customers in this manner, I am sorry to say that, all of us are being taken for a ride! If we keep quiet, all these customer care executives, sales executives and customer care agents will get a field day!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Conversation with Mohammed Rafi, Auto Driver, Bangalore

It is not every day that one runs into a Mohammed Rafi. But I happened to run into one around 7.30 PM last Friday after work and here is what that transpired…

Me: Sanjay Gandhi Hospital?
Rafi: (with a smile) get in…
Me: (Looked at the ID, the first thing that I do after getting inside any auto is look at the ID for the name and address of the driver) Your name is Mohammed Rafi?
Rafi: Yes Sir. He was my parents’ favorite singer and so I became a way for them to remember him.
Me: Do you sing too?
Rafi: No Sir, I can’t, tried though for a while before giving up… (After a few mins of silence) Are you from here?
Me: No, I am from Chennai.
Rafi: How are you able to converse well in Hindi then? (This is something that I am repeatedly asked!!) The south Indian language scripts look like they are constructed from jalebis…all these letters…!!
Me: (couldn’t resist a laugh) Yes, strangely my father has exactly the same opinion but only Telugu and Kannada scripts are like that, in fact both share the script. Where are you from?
Rafi: I was in Kuwait Sir…for a year
Me: Then, why did you come here? Did not like it there?
Rafi: No Sir, I couldn’t get used to the water there at all. I had never visited a doctor in my life until I landed in Kuwait. I got Jaundice followed by Malaria…so decided to return…
Me: Oh! That’s bad. What do your parents do?
Rafi: My father passed away when I was so young I don’t even remember his face. My mother died a year back due to cancer. She had kidney problems, but cancer got her life… (Goes silent)
Me: (feeling sorry) hmm…
Rafi: (after a few mins regains his jolly manner) Sir, why don’t you get a bike to commute?
Me: I don’t fancy bikes much. I have got a cycle. Generally use it to commute, today is an exception…
Rafi: Cycle? Where do you work?
Me: I work for Robert Bosch. Heard of it?
Rafi: No Sir…Is it a club?
Me: (Wondering what made him think that!) It isn’t. It is right opposite forum…
Rafi: OK. If I can ask, what is your salary? 25k??
Me: Yes, around that.
Rafi: Sir, you get so much and commute by cycle! I know people who get 10-12 K only but won’t settle for anything less than a bike once they start earning.
Me: Hmm…How does it matter how one commutes to office?
Rafi: You are right Sir. I wouldn’t forget this statement of yours ever!!
Me: Haha..! So how did you land up here?
Rafi: I was in Bombay sir before I went to Kuwait. Then, I came here, it’s been only six months now. This is the native for my mother’s side. She lived all her life here before she got married and moved to Bombay.
Me: Hmm…liking it here?
Rafi: It is OK sir. Life moves on for me…
Me: (ruing the fact that I had to alight then) Thanks Rafi. Hope we meet again…
Rafi: (Returning the 2 rupee change to me, which auto drivers don’t normally unless we demand) Thank you Sir.

This is one conversation that I relished and would remember for some time. Here is a Mohammed Rafi plying an auto in Bangalore, living alone in an alien city and yet managing to greet a customer with a warm smile. That says something about the human spirit and its resilience in the face of extreme hardship. Something to remember when we run into hard times in the future…