Converting an atheist

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Yesterday started in a mundane manner.


Went to the office, worked there for 8 hours and came back. It had just rained some by the time I reached home. Start of the weekend and hence decided to watch a movie. A hopeless traffic jam destroyed that plan.


While returning back home, I saw a sight.


Why am I writing this pointless drivel? Because that sight converted the atheist in me into a believer.(for the next ten minutes.:-))
(I know. The earlier crap is still not required. But that was to take some space up.;-))


This is what I saw.



And this




And this




And this





This was actually followed by a passenger plane taking off into this wonderful sky from the airport nearby, but couldnt capture that.


So,am thankful for the view I was treated to yesterday.
Readers, enjoy!

posted by Nilesh at 1:33 AM | 2 comments

Customer-Centric Business

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Back from a long hiatus(a good way of justifying not writing a post due to laziness and a boring, mundane life which doesnt help in providing me with anything to write on!). Also, an attempt to bring back those 3 people who (used to) read my blog!


This incident happened with me some 3 yrs back in Pune.
I had to make a call to my dad so I went into a STD/ISD shop for that. Because I was going to call on his cell, I wasn't sure if those 1 rupee coin boxes could be used. I went into the STD booth and made the call. The charge was, unfortunately, as I realised soon, 1 rupee.


The smallest denomination I had with me was a 50 Rs note. I realised that asking for 49 Rs change back from the guy on the counter is not only going to be impossible but also probably unfair. I went into the next shop and bought some stuff I didnt need. Thankfully(oh no, not so soon), I now had a 10 Rs note.


I gave it to that person. He was as shocked as he would be if he saw his shop full of customers. Never had he, in his whole life, given back 9(did I just say 9?!!) Rs back on a 10 Rs note, it seemed. He grumbled,and with as much menace as he could get in his voice,'Sutte aana'(Get change)'. I tried explaining him how I actually had 50 Rs, how I had been fair and considerate(or so I thought) and bought some stuff myself and had somehow got the 10 Rs note. He listened to it impatiently and grumbled once more 'Sutte aana'.


I gave in. I said 'Ok.Give me that 10 Rs. I will buy some more stuff now and get you maybe a fiver!!phew!!'.
This is where the anecdote gets interesting.


He refused point-blank. He said you get the change with whatever money you might still have. I am not returning the note. Only when you get the change will I give the note back. He then proceeded to tear a chit of paper and write 'Rs.10' on it and handed it to me. He was starting to get on my nerves now. I calmly asked for the note once more. He declined.


This got me really angry. I thought I was being very fair and doing as much I could to complete the transaction. I raised my voice and told him again!! He just ignored me. I said 'You shouldn't treat your customers like this. They deserve atleast basic civil behaviour which does not include ignoring them and talking to them gruffly as if they've disturbed you in your work and are such a pest!!If this is the way you behave with your customers, it won't be long till your shop shuts down!!'


This was when he got angry and gave me the defining philosphy of his business. He said, in Marathi, 'Look. Dont act smart with us. We are not new to fights. We've had many altercations with customers before and none of them have ever come back. So, it doesn't matter to us if you dont, too. We don't care!!'


And then, standing there, rooted at the spot, looking at that middle age, cruel looking enraged shopkeeper's face, did I realise how ridiculously futile it was trying to tell him about customer relationship!! The pride that was flowing from his voice when he told me that none of the customers he fought with had come back and he didn't care, was so immense that I just gave up.


He actually didn't want me there. One day, having seen unimaginable wealth all his life, he must've thought he should get involved in some charity work. Hence, he went ahead and opened a shop where he would let people call other people as long as they didn't disturb him, gave him exact change and did not give him bullshit about how the customer is important!


I had heard about Pune's glorious maharashtrian shopkeepers and known the way P.L.Deshpande had summarised the situation succinctly when he said 'The least important and the most to-be-ignored person/thing in a Pune shop is the customer', and there wasn't anything I could've said that would add to this. So, I just went,bought some stuff, got him a fiver, 4 Rs of which he gave me back with great pride for his handling of the situation and an equal disdain for me. I took my 10 Rs back, which again, he gave as if he was being generous that day and was giving a pest some money to buzz off!!


Of course, I added myself to his honorable list of customers who never came back!!



Update: I dont think even those 3 people are coming back to read my blog.Sigh. I feel like that shopkeeper.;-)

posted by Nilesh at 2:48 AM | 3 comments

Credit Cards

Sunday, January 01, 2006

First of all, a very happy and prosperous new year to anybody who reads this!!(given the number of people who read my blog, I am almost sure this is somebody I know.:-)).

I saw a documentary on how the credit card industry operates in the U.S and that has made me cautious, very cautious.

Let's get straight to the important points most people are ignorant about:
(quoted from www.pbs.org)
1) Even if you make your credit card payments on time, the credit card bank can raise your interest rate automatically if you're late on payments elsewhere -- such as on another credit card or on a phone, car, or house payment -- or simply because the bank feels you have taken on too much debt.

This applies in India too. My credit card agreement discloses that my credit history and any defaults I may make on that account may be recorded with a credit reference agency (and shared with other lenders). So, my good standing with this bank does not mean that I would be treated fairly. I could still find my interest rate increased, because I had,once long time back, defaulted a payment with some other bank(this actually happened with a guy in US) or the bank just thought I am riskier!!

2) My credit card agreement also states that the bank can alter any of the charges declared in the agreement without any prior notice.

What this means is that I may make a purchase agreeing to pay a specific value of interest. However, the bank reserves the right to increase the interest rate after the purchase and it is binding on me to pay accordingly. There is nothing I can do about it. As the documentary states, this is the only industry where the price can be hiked after the product has been sold!!

3) There is no limit on the amount a credit card company can charge a cardholder for being even an hour late with a payment.

Also, there is no regulatory upper limit on the interest rate that a credit card company can charge the cardholder and it is solely decided by the company.(However, I have no idea if this is true in India). Add to this the fact that they reserve the sole right to increase it without any notice and it becomes a deadly combination.My current minimum late payment fee is Rs.250/- and, as we know, the interest rate is 35.4% p.a!!

The documentary also notes that a senator tried to get the banks to put a sentence in the monthly statements, just below the minimum payment due - If you go on paying the minimum payment due, it will take you 'xx' months to clear the above debt.(Or something to that effect). This, the senator argued, would be fair to the consumers and was confirmed by the cardholders to be inspiring enough to make them pay back more every month. The bill was shot down!!

A company in the U.S, Providian, resorted to this- They would accept payments from the cardholders, clear the cheques, but not credit the amount to their accounts. This would then,invariably, result in a late fee. (When on late fees, let me note that they've increased from 5-10$ to 40$ after the removal of the cap on them).

Credit card companies have also been known to keep the due dates on Sundays hoping that the consumers will trip on them.

However, the U.S has about 145 million credit card users. In India the industry is still at a nascent stage but growing fast(is certainly true, what with daily calls for 'lifetime' free credit card offers!!). Which brings me to the next part of this post.

Having read Gaurav's and other libertarians' views on free markets, was wondering if this industry has a case for some positive government interventions and regulations. I am very new to this concept and am just building my views here. Also, I am not aware of the existing laws for this industry in India. But given that the industry is still comparatively new here, I assume there aren't extensive laws to deal with all such unfair practices(by both, the companies and the cardholders).

The U.S seems to have an almost completely free market, in this industry. The limits on interest rates and fees were lifted too. This should've resulted in intense competition causing reduced interest rates and the consumer eventually being the winner. But, that has not happened. The fees, like I said, are almost 4-8 times now and the interest rates are high too. All the players have resorted to similar practices hiking the rates with gay abandon. Are regulations a necessity here? Or is the solution to let the market settle down with the consumers finally rejecting the credit card companies, forcing them to reduce rates? Is it how it is supposed to work with no regulations, with there being an unknown span of time where the companies run amok, earn huge amounts of money, cause immense distress to the consumers before they are reined in by the market? Or should the approach be to prevent the distress?

Anyways, apart from these questions that I ask, I know I will now be able to take more informed decisions on my credit card usage!!For the moment, I am content with it!!

Note: You can read some more on the topic here.

posted by Nilesh at 2:51 AM | 4 comments

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Integrity. Honesty. Ideals.

Are these only words or are there people who actually believe in them?

I saw two movies over the weekend. Apaharan and Dombivli Fast(Marathi). Both have moved me profoundly.

Apaharan, as the name suggests, deals with the kidnapping industry that is not only prevelant but thriving in the states of Bihar, UP and MP,to name a few. The protagonist(Ajay Devgan), whose father is a sworn idealist and an extremely honest person, faces frustration and failure due to the corrupt-to-the-core system and the lofty and,in today's times, sadly impractical, ideals of his father. He decides to chart his own future and ironically joins the system,becoming one of the front-runners in the rot. However, at the end, he again turns honest and does his penance(though the change of hearts is not very convincing). I was astonished by how professional and a source of livelihood the kidnapping industry has become. (They refer to the person kidnapped as the 'maal'(consignement) and they take its 'delivery'). Also, the industry is depicted to be run by the top people in the government, dashing any hope of its decline.

Dombivli Fast, amazed and shook me. It is an extremely well-made movie, where again it is shown how futile it is, in today's world, to be honest, possess integrity and live one's life according to one's ideals. Madhav Apte, the protagonist, is a typical middle class citizen living in Dombivli(one of the suburbs of Mumbai). He leads a routine life, gets up at 5:30 in the morning, gets ready, travels to CST(Mumbai) for work, comes back late, and sleeps off,only to get up again the next morning. However, he is a very honest person, opposing all kinds of corruption, right from the water tanker person who refuses to release water till his palms are greased to an old customer of the bank he works for, who attempts, and succeeds, to obtain a loan with incomplete and false documentation. His frustration at the widespread corruption around him builds up to a tempo till, one day, he erupts. He goes on a rampage striking at those people who blatantly disregard the rules. However, without revealing further, will say that the movie ends on a sad note reiterating that inspite of the so-called society and democracy we have in place, it still is a jungle out there, where everyone cares only for oneself,society,country,laws,integrity,honesty,right or wrong-everything be damned. The film evokes many emotions. Despair, when Madhav, in a soliloquy, asks the questions faced by him and requests god to take him away from this planet, because he,with his ideals and affinity towards righteousness, is not fit to live on it. Anger, when he faces corruption in every walk of life, even encountering policemen who let a egg stall operate bang on the road, near a hospital, all for a 10-rupee plate of 'Bhurji'(Smashed eggs). Sadness, when in the end, sitting on the fourth seat(the seat is only for 3 persons) in a suburban train, he says to the police officer "Officer, akkha ayushya gela chouthya seat var basoon, jara khidkit basto"("My entire life has gone sitting on the fourth seat, let me sit near the window once").

Inspite of all these emotions I felt, sadly and ironically, I was drawing solace during the movies, telling myself that its only a movie. Though what its showing is true and shocking, I will never have to face that. I've a good job in the IT industry and I might go abroad to settle down there. So, thankfully, THAT is not MY problem. Somebody else will take care of it. Doesnt the problem lie in this thinking? Though I agree its very difficult and next to impossible, requiring entire dedicated lives, with a good probability of failure, to go reform people, I still believe the least one can do is be honest himself. But, as the movie shows, even that is very difficult.

I know I may sound naive(that is what it has come to) by lamenting the absence of integrity in the world, but cannot avoid it.

Hmm, time to ponder some more!!



posted by Nilesh at 4:39 AM | 2 comments

SavePuneTraffic.com

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I've just come across this very relevant and essential effort on to improve the traffic conditions in Pune at http://www.savepunetraffic.com.

As I've already appealed in this post of mine, it's necessary that each and every user of the traffic system does his/her part by following the rules.

Let us put in our contribution to help build a sound traffic system where we will not have to see 'PMT bus overruns a scooter, 2 dead' or 'Truck and Tempo collision. 3 dead, 7 injured' everyday in the newspapers. Let us shed the that-doesnt-happen-to-me mentality before its too late. Let us save some innocent lives!!

This is a poetic appeal by Rajendra Sidhaye, the initiator of this campaign.

"Enough of this messy-traffic, let's all cleanse it!
Come on Puneites, Let's all do it!!

Look at our beloved city, where is it going!
Go on any road and see frustration is flowing.
Enough is really enough, let's all stop it!
Come on Puneites, Let's all do it!!

Ask "Who is responsible" and hear else's name
But breaking rules on road, is everybody's game!
Is this city or a zoo, let's first decide it.
Come on Puneites, Let's all do it!!

May be you are a cyclist, or drive a four wheeler
May you be any citizen, or the Pune Mayor
Come on join hands, let's all achieve it!
Come on Puneites, Let's all do it!!

Do not give up folks, It's not yet too late,
else "dying on the road", will be the only fate!
Answer is within us, let's all find it!
Come on Puneites, Let's all do it!!"

I,for one, am pledging my complete support to the cause!

posted by Nilesh at 12:20 AM | 1 comments

Cosmopolitanism

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What is cosmopolitanism?

I have been poring over this question for some time now in an attempt to identify the kind of person I want to be.

By birth, I'm a Maharashtrian. Regarding religion, I'm agnostic with an inclination towards atheism and I believe men can do without religion(This would need a different post though). On the linguistic front, I'm as comfortable with English as with my mother tongue, Marathi, mostly preferring English over Marathi in daily communication. I speak more-than-decent Hindi although I cannot claim any mastery over it.

Let us, for the moment,consider cosmopolitanism on a national rather than on a global level.
What does it take to be a true Indian cosmopolitan person?
What are his traits? Where are his roots?

As we are aware, India is full of diversity. We have, to name a few, Maharashtrian, Punjabi, Tamil, Gujarati, Bengali people in this country. Each culture is as diverse as it is distinct. When such people flock to the melting pot of our country,Mumbai, what characteristics do they take on and give up to come out as a true cosmopolitan people?(Even though I live in Pune and love it,I do believe that Mumbai is the only true cosmopolitan city in India. Bangalore, to an extent is and most other cities do have their own cosmopolitan pockets, but nothing truly as cosmopolitan as Mumbai).

Every culture in our country, obviously with exceptions in each of them, has its own distinctive traits. for eg, on an average, the South Indians are a brainy lot, the Delhiites are smart and also political(it follows, what with Delhi being the capital of the country), the Gujaratis have an acute business sense and are
vivacious, the Bengalis are a passionate lot,in the forefront in literature, music, art of any kind and strikes:-), the Punjabis live life king size, are boisterous and large-hearted people. The Maharashtrians are a very simple people, content with what they have, not very ambitious but at the same time very good-hearted.

I know that the solution is to choose for myself, characteristics from different cultures I deem appropriate and live life accordingly.

Over the past two years, in my attempts at being a cosmopolitan person, I've come to reject most of the typical Maharashtrian characteristics. Reiterating just one more time that there are exceptions, I have observed that on a scale of tastefulness towards life, the Maharashtrians are below average. The best of Maharashtrian food is not very rich in nature. The choice of clothes is mostly simple, going with the nature of the people. Having had first hand experience with my family and relatives, I've seen that the attitude is to spend or invest money or time in anything only when it really is unavoidable and a necessity. I'm noting some of the downsides here only to emphasize the traits I've rejected. However, I was startled when I realised that, in this process, I might end up with none of the typical Maharashtrian attributes within myself.

That is what has got me to ask the question at the top of this post. I am not very comfortable in completely giving up my Maharashtrianness in this process. Frankly, I would not do it. I do not wish to give up my roots for the purpose. But then, will I ever become a true cosmopolitan person with the regionality intact in me?

I'm sure cosmopolitanism does not mean giving up any semblence of your roots. There is fine line between how much of your roots should and must be alive within you and how much of national common culture should you follow.

Given that, it brings me to the question as to what quality of Maharashtrian culture can I leave intact? Most people do find me a nice, good-hearted person(I've not been able to squash that image yet:-)), but,unfortunate as it is, I'm not sure that is a virtue anymore. I'm not sure that wont be harmful to me in the long run. Maharashtrian people are also quite accomplished in art, especially literature, music and theatre. Something I can carry along with me. Also, I would want to continue with a healthy usage of my mother tongue, Marathi. I am trying to identify more such qualities.

I believe in taking informed decisions and I do wish to be a true cosmopolitan person.Hence this exercise.

I think the same thing,on a larger scale, applies on a global level.
In my next step, as a global individual, I would need to keep some percentage of Indianness as an integral part of myself and choose, from other cultures of the world I would come across, qualities that appeal to me and I would like inculcated.

Wishing myself the best in this quest of mine.

Any inputs?:-)

posted by Nilesh at 2:53 AM | 4 comments

Traffic rules?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I live in Pune where, currently, there is a lot of hullabaloo regarding the pathetic condition of the roads. And as I need to travel 50km everyday, Pune roads and its traffic has become my daily 'frustration-tonic'.

I believe,for the city to have smooth-flowing traffic, there are three components which need to function properly.
1) The PMC(or any other road-building authority eg.PWD,DRDO) which needs to put in the requisite effort and the tax-payer's money to build and maintain proper roads.
2) The traffic police force which needs to maintain decorum on the roads and
3) 'We, the people' who are the actual users of the road system.

There is already a lot of agitation on, on what the PMC needs to do about the Pune Pothole Factory. And there is no denying the role to be played by the government authority. I shall not dwell too much on it.

The police is an important part too.Being such a heavy city traveller myself, I've seen a lot of instances where people have broken the signal and rushed past the traffic police with impunity. The police has chosen to look away. Why did this happen? Why didn't the police fine the culprit? Are there too many of the perpetrators and too less of the police to be effective? Will a heavy fine(a la Singapore) do the trick? Well, it will definitely do its part in deterring the people. But then, who will stop the corruption that is bound to follow? Most importantly, is it right to only blame the govt and the police for the deplorable condition of the traffic?

This gets me to the most vital cog in this wheel of 'traffic'- the drivers.
This is my pet peeve.
Let me note some situations I've seen.

- I'm waiting at a signal in a chowk. There are four lanes-each pair perpendicular to each other. Currently, traffic is on from left to right in front of me. I see that the vehicles wanting to go from right to left are inching forward in spite of their red signal throughout the time when the vehicles parallel to them are moving. The moment the signal goes 'orange/yellow' for those vehicles, these impatient people take off. After a substantial amount of vehicles have passed, I see that the vehicles on the opposite lane parallel to me are honking horns desperately. That is when I realise that when the signal had turned orange earlier, these guys were given the green signal. So, not only have the impatient guys been impatient and inched through their red signal well ahead of the road mark where they should've stopped, they have taken off with considerable speed at somebody else's green signal.

- I'm waiting at a signal,once more. We have a lane with atleast 10-12 cars waiting. When the signal shows 15 sec left, the first car inches forward. It's obvious that she intends to leave when around 10 sec are left,and she does, not bothering to wait till the signal turns green. At this point, when the signal is red, and there are 12 cars one behind the other,bumper to bumper, each and every car starts honking furiously. I've tried a lot and have been unable to come up with any sane logic as to why they do this. What do they mean to achieve? Do they believe that the cars in front of them would just evaporate and they would have a clear road if they honk? Are they trying to tell the next person to hurry up? But they can see very clearly that there is no way anybody can hurry. There just isn't any space. Not to mention the enormous noise pollution caused. Beats me.

- I am going on a bridge on a river. The traffic is heavy. Bikers wisely(or so they think) decide that the footpaths are apt for driving. They bag a place on it with alacrity and merrily speed away.

- People just DO NOT stop at signals. Right from the bicycle drivers to PMT(public transport here) buses, they,if its possible not to, will not stop at a signal.

In such a condition, it is stupid to expect people to follow lanes and indicate accordingly on lane-changing.

What is it that makes people not to follow the rules? Do they think, as they say-'Law is an ass'? Why the impatience?

In spite of all the vented frustration up there, I believe, there is only thing I ought to and must religiously do. Follow the rules myself!

We have this tendency of always putting the blame on somebody else. Like they say 'When you drive, the person driving slower than you is an idiot and one driving faster than you is a maniac'!Each and every person who goes through this hell called Pune traffic everyday, must be complaining the same way as I am. But, how many of them, when they get on the road, follow the rules, in spite of nobody following it around them? How many of you(for eg) can sit on a puny vehicle like a 'TVS Scooty' and wait at a red signal with a giant of a bus right behind honking harshly, almost ordering you to go ahead with jumping the signal? Isn't it the most obvious thing to do to improve the situation-to play your own part by following the rules rather than blame the next person on wheels? Of the three components mentioned above, I believe the biggest responsibility is on our shoulders. When each one of us plays our part, the traffic jams will vanish, and travelling will be a much more pleasurable proposition.

To be frank, many instances, where law is broken on the road, are harmless to other people. For eg, driving on the footpath when nobody is walking on it,jumping the red signal when nobody is around, and so on. However, I think, they are the most harmful for the perpetrator. They eat away at his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Nothing can be more harmful. Slowly, one starts breaking rules more regularly. The small-fry mistakes are no longer mistakes to him. He breaks bigger rules,say speeding. Then some more, driving drunk. Then, before he can realise his mistake, disaster strikes. By that time, its too late. Many innocent and precious lives, including his own, are lost.

I know this post is really an incoherent rambling of sorts. It might sound like a 'not-one-more'(yawn) sermon. But, even if one person, after reading it, decides to follow the traffic rules, I will think that my purpose is served.So, anybody who is reading this post, the next time you are on the road, please follow each and every rule(No matter how trivial it may seem).

We, the drivers, need to drive this city towards better traffic conditions.

Have a safe journey!!:-)

posted by Nilesh at 8:35 AM | 0 comments

Ganguly or Chappell?

I root for Chappell.:-)

posted by Nilesh at 8:30 AM | 0 comments