Archive | November, 2006

Jinxing it

29 Nov

Okay heres an issue that baffles me no end.

Last week, my wife asks me to go shopping with her. I hem and I haw, and I grumble and finally I take her there. When we get there the shop is closed. So my wife tells me “See you came grumbling so the guy is closed”.

So if I had come nicely without any grumblings the guy would be open? 🙂

If what my wife says is true, the guy was open, then suddenly he “hears” that Vijay is grumbling to come shopping to his store, and he closes shop and goes home. He probably reopens after I have left.

In Kannada this is called “Bayi Hakodhu”.

Citibank – Professional Bankers or Hacks

27 Nov

A close friend of mine recently closed his home loan with Citibank. He paid his dues in full. Yet after more than 2 months, Citibank has NOT returned his papers to him. Because Citi is a fully automated bank, he cannot talk to the same person twice (if he can get a person at all). He is running from pillar to post trying to get his documents. Citi will probably charge him an interest for THEIR delay as well. Their excuse for the last 3 weeks has been that the papers are in Chennai. Even monkey mail would have made it to Bangalore by now.

Just observed that they (Citibank) have been doing a lot of advertising recently on some kind of re-branding. Knowing stories like my friend makes me think about how much hogwash these guys are perpetrating.

Anyone else have a similar experience?

Killers at the Wheel? – A Comment

24 Nov

My friend Murali wrote in a comment to my earlier post (Killers at the Wheel?). So funny, it had to be posted here.

Vijay,
This reminds me of 1991, when I and 3 of my colleagues (Srini, Rajeev, Swami) went for our RTO 4-wheeler test way back in 1990! I still laugh my guts out when I recollect that day – but sadly, when you think about it, it really is no laughing matter.

All four of us had gone through a driving school who had “promised” us our licenses at the end of our 10 day course. On the day of the test, the driving school instructor fore-warned us that only 3 of us would get the license that day. The RTO inspector was “duty-bound” to reject at least one person that day. “But not to worry sir – whoever is rejected, will be passed in the next test” was the assurance.

Srini and I were super confident; not because we were very good at driving, but because we knew how “well” Swami and Rajeev drove. As expected, Srini and I finished our tests without any undue hitches and the inspector seemed satisfied. Then we retired to back seat when Swami and Rajeev took their turn. The fun began…

Swami, revved up the engine and stalled promptly. Second attempt, another 10 meters like a Kangaroo hop and a stall. Third attempt – lo and behold – we were off. Some 21 minor incidents and stalls later we returned to the starting point when Swami was asked to stop the car in front of another inspector who was standing on the road side. Swami – poor chap – tried to stop. But by the time he looked down at the pedals to figure out where the brake pedal was (honestly – that was the explanation he gave to the inspector later!!!) he was already bearing down on the other inspector on the road side. Luckily for Swami, our inspector had the presence of mind to apply the brakes on the driving school car and honk to warn the other inspector to get out of the way.

Swami got his license that day! He was indebted to Rajeev who bested Swami’s efforts when it was Rajeev’s turn to drive.

Rajeev was one of the most nervous drivers you could imagine. He had a problem in turning the car either right or left, let alone a u-turn. He would always turn the car a few degrees and end up with his hands entangled in a hopeless mess at the end of it. So his strategy that day was to not execute any turns at all during the test. So whenever the inspector asked him to turn right or left, Rajeev ignored him and went straight. After about 3 instructions and 4 pleas to turn right/left that were ignored completely, the inspector gave up and let Rajeev do his thing. Rajeev, doing his 20kmph and many near hits and misses later, finally reached a point where he could not continue this charade any more. We had reached the dead-end of the road. He turned solemnly to the inspector and asked him – “What should I do next? Is that enough?”

Needless to say, all of us in the back seat were almost in tears. Needless to say, Rajeev did not get his license that day. And needless to say, Rajeev got his license two days later. The story goes that during the second test, the inspector did not want to take a “chance” of going on the test with Rajeev. He just passed him to get rid of his headache.

Sounds like a good 10min episode for Munnabhai 3, right?

Awesome Baby

23 Nov

This made my day …

The Heathrow “food shortage”

23 Nov

Base human tendencies are the same everywhere regardless of whether you are in the developed world, developing world, or the under developed world.

I landed at Heathrow (London) early in the morning in August 2005 transiting on my way to the USA. As I was getting off the flight a British Airways employee handed me some food coupons along with a pamphlet that told me that there was a caterers’ strike and that no food or water would be supplied on any BA flight originating from Heathrow. “Thats not too bad”, I thought to myself. I had these food coupons and would have a nice hot meal before I get onto to the flight. Wrong !!!!

When I got into the terminal, it was pure chaos. I had not counted on the 1000s’ of other passengers that would be stuck with me. At least I had coupons because I had landed AFTER the strike (or Industrial Action as BA liked to call it). People were climbing onto counters to get their coupons. Fights were breaking out. Tempers were frayed. People with small babies were caught between trying to get their coupons and consoling their annoyed wards.

The food counters were even worse. People were hoarding food and buying up everything that was available. Muffins, donuts everything !!! As an example, I was standing at Starbucks when a lady in front of me used her coupons, and some cash to basically clean out all the muffins and cookies. She was traveling alone (she said so when one of the people in line asked her how many people she was stocking up for) . Why one person would need 10 muffins I can never understand. She probably threw most of it into the garbage bin. She did not bother to think about the people in line especially the ones with little children that were faced with the prospect of long journeys without food and water.

The scenes reminded me of the times when I had seen TV footage of food being dropped from planes in famine struck areas of the world and people would pile onto it and fight for possession.

Except we were in London.

Killers at the Wheel?

21 Nov

Interesting experience a few weeks ago. Scary as well when you think about it.

Much has been made about the traffic in Bangalore. What seems to be adding to the problem is bad drivers as well especially the taxis, vans, and busses that are ferrying vast number of people to their work at the booming BPO industry in Bangalore.

I had to go to out of town first thing in the morning and had arranged to get dropped off at the airport. The Taxi belonged to an agency that we use regularly at the office. Taxi arrives promptly at 6 am and we set off to the airport. Two minutes into the drive and I am not sure this guy knows how to drive. He’s barreling through the streets, not stopping at junctions, not reducing speeds at turnings. This is turning into one hair rising drive. The guy doesn’t seem to want to get his foot off the accelerator. Finally after a couple of near misses (early morning walkers), I tell him to stop and ask him to sit in the passenger seat and took over the driving myself.

After I have cooled down, I ask him where he learnt driving. He told me that he came to Bangalore a month back from Channapattana and spent a week at a driving school where he got his license (did not take a test). During that week, he drove the car 4 times. That is it !!

After that he was turned loose on the streets of Bangalore. He told me that he has been on duty ferrying people to call centers since he joined this job. According to him most drivers have similar backgrounds. No background check is done on their antecedents. I asked him how many accidents he has been involved in and he said there were two or three. He also mentioned to me that he had been on duty that day for 16 straight hours without sleep.

I know that getting labor is difficult but this is getting ridiculous. We are letting killers loose on the street and the RTO is responsible for it.

Now I can only imagine and shudder when I think of where the busses, lorries, tempos, autos etc are getting their drivers from.

Needless to say the agency services have since been terminated. But I don’t think the owner is fretting about lost business. There is much more business out there and losing ours will not matter.

Opinions

18 Nov

My soon to be 13 year old seems to have inherited his “sarcastic” bent of mind from me. Heres proof.

I like to sing. No I don’t sing well… more of a “shower specialist”, unlike RK who seems to step in front of the mike anytime he gets a chance. He even sang at the book fair !!!!

The other thing is that I cannot remember the lyrics to any song especially if its in Hindi, Kannada or any regional language for that matter. So I improvise. I insert anything that rhymes with the words of the song… sometimes I insert Kannada words into Hindi songs, Tamil into Kannada so on and so forth. Obviously the meanings of the songs change drastically when new words are inserted (I’ll leave the rest to your imagination). This is a major source of protest from my wife and son who cannot bear to see their favorite songs being torn to shreds by a combination of bad voice and ad-hoc lyrics.

So heres the conversation that happened last week. I was singing away to glory making some coffee for myself.

My Wife (from the living room): Excuse me, we are watching something. Can you please keep quiet.

Me: Am I bothering you? But I think the new lyrics I came up with are quite funny.

Wife & Nikhil (together): No they are not !!!

Me: Hey I could have been a good composer you know.

Nikhil: Dad, you dont compose songs, you “de-compose” songs. So you would be a good “de-composer” !!

I am going to get him for this one day.

Rescued !!

17 Nov

Just saw it on TV. Anant Gupta, the 3 year old who was kidnapped on Monday has been rescued. Nice to see a happy smile on the kids face on coming back home. I hope the media now leaves the family alone.

I guess we will never know the true story. But who cares. The kid’s back home safely.

If only the cops moved this efficiently on all cases…. well thats wishful thinking.

Coming to America

15 Nov

I have been having conversations with my fellow bloggers on the USA, coming back to India etc. Looking back, its hard to believe that its been just a little over 20 years since I set foot in the USA. In fact the Chicago Bears won the SuperBowl that year. Lots of water under the bridge during that time. I still have friends from my first job in the Boston area. Still visit them every chance I get. There are so many people who were responsible for shaping my life in the States. Some people stand out though. My uncle Ravi, my aunt (Ravi’s wife) Judy, and the man who gave me my first job Bob Wade and his wife Liz… and oddly enough a Cab Driver in Peoria.

I went to the US as a student. The only place that offered me assistantship was Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. So off I went. Ravi wanted me to go to school in the Boston area but I chose to go to Bradley.

My aunt Judy was the primary reason I did not run away from the USA when I first went there. She was the guardian angel who ensured that I had warm clothes for the winter, a place to go to during the holidays, and plenty of food to eat when I came home on the holidays. What made it even more tough was the fact that they lived on the East Coast and I was in the Midwest. That did not stop my aunt from calling me every single weekend (my uncle did too.. but enough about him 🙂 ). She kept the calls going until she was comfortable that I wouldn’t do anything stupid… like catch the next flight back to India. Later after I graduated, I plonked my bags in their house looking for a job and it was her car that I used to go for all these interviews. When I set up my own apartment, it was she who made sure that it was stocked with the right pots, pans, cutlery. She couldn’t bear the thought of a nephew living like a savage and eating from paper plates. I will never be able to repay Judy and Ravi.

The first time I saw Bob Wade, I saw a big serious looking guy who could beat you up if he got ticked off. It was only later that I found that he couldn’t hurt a fly even if he had money riding on it. I don’t know what he saw in me. I was fresh out of college, no job experience, and desperate for a job (the Mid 80’s was recession time), but he gave me a job. It was bumpy at first. I had no idea what to do and we were a small company. I learnt a lot there including “self help”. No quarter was asked or given. Bob was a tough man but a fair one, he went through the grind like all entrepreneurs and succeeded. I would be lax if I did not mention Bob’s lovely wife Liz who made sure that all of us were eating well while we worked hard. I miss them.

Finally the “unknown” Cab driver. He was my first exposure to mid-western hospitality. I met him during my maiden flight to Peoria. It was a long journey and it was the first time I was traveling outside India. My flight path took me from Bangalore, to New Delhi, to New York (via Frankfurt), Chicago, and finally Peoria. Of course Murphy’s law held true. My luggage didn’t make it and the people from the University who were supposed to pick me up had the wrong flights. So here I am utterly confused about what to do. Everyone else has retrieved their baggage. The airport is empty and its 10:30 PM. Seeing me this guy walks up to me and asks me what the matter is. I poured my heart out to him just grateful to have someone to talk to. On hearing my story he offered to take me in his cab to the university. Once we reached there he drove me straight to the student center and started berating the guys there for their “failure” to pick up an international student (the poor guys at the student center were utterly confused but apologetic as well). They assured the cabbie that they would take care of me and “escort” me to the international student advisor the next morning. Finally the cabbie was satisfied and started to leave. I followed him outside and asked him what I owed him. He suddenly turned to me and said “Its ok son. The rides on the house. I don’t want to be the first one taking money from you in this country”. With that he was gone even before I could thank him. That made my first encounter with an American truly memorable and warm.

Oh ya, the University indeed took care of me. I was given a room for the night and a hot meal specially made for me. The next day they extended the rooming with free board for 15 days until I found an apartment. Bradley was a cool place.

A prayer for Anant Gupta

14 Nov

My heart goes out to the family of Naresh Gupta whose 3 year old was kidnapped. I can feel the gut wrenching that the parents must be going through.

Nikhil (my son) was in 1st grade when one day he wasn’t to be found in school when my driver went to pick him up. I still remember the horror of the phone call. I still remember the drive from my house to his school. My wife crying about her baby and wondering what happened. Unimaginable things flash through your head at that time and the number of what if’s that go through your mind are endless.

I still remember the relief and joy that went through my mind when on our way to school we found him trekking home purely by instinct. He started crying as soon as he saw us. He was 2 Kms away from his school.

Our story had a happy ending. One of Nikhil’s friends had promised to show him something near the school and abandoned him. Not being able to find his way back to the school he started trudging home.

Yes its not the same. But for 10 minutes, we went through the pain.

My only prayer to Naresh Gupta is, I hope you feel the joy of seeing your son soon.