Thursday, September 4, 2014

10 books that had an impact on me!

Hard to ignore with 5 people tagging you to do it; so here I go with a list of 10 books that had an impact on me some way or the other. Thanks for the 'nominations' Nikita, Yagyesh, अनुग्रह, Ankur and Abhinav :). 

In chronological order of their impact (and not necessarily the best books I've ever read!) ...

1. Treasure Island (RL Stevenson) - Treasure Island is one of the first novels that I can remember reading. The entire joy of visualising the whole treasure hunt, the maps, pirates, cannons, ships and the whole thing being organised by the young boy. The excitement of reading all of it as a kid! 

This was the book that inducted me into this world of reading; and what a world this has been!  

15 men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! 
Drink and the devil had done for the rest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! 
Oh, and at that age, I had no clue what rum even was.  

2. The Magic Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton) - This series was semi-inception-like; in hindsight. Where I read about characters entering a world of fantasy, by walking down a ladder and having to come back into it before the world shifted away - my parallel being entering this whole colourful visual world every night while reading some part of it, before having to come back to reality when the next class at school started; or my mom came into my room to check if I was doing my homework or whiling away time. 

And from these, I went into the magical world of Enid Blyton books - Secret Seven, Famous Five and the entire 'detective' mode. 

3. Hardy Boys Series (Franklin W Dixon) - And from the Secret Seven 'detective' mode; I grew up into the teenaged Hardy Boys series, that caught my fancy as it was one series that I could always find a book of, in the school library; so much that I used to borrow library cards from my friends to pick up additional books in their names for reading. 

Fell in love with the series, that I promised myself that when I grow old, I would buy all the books in the series for myself. And the plan is still on! 

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (JK Rowling) - Harry Potter was just another series of books that I had laid my hands on, till I started with Prisoner of Azkaban. It was in this book, my favourite by far in the entire series, that I got emotionally tied to the entire series, in a way no book ever has managed to since or previously. 

The whole Sirius and Remus back story. Friendship like I had never seen before. And given I grew up with the characters, right upto reading Deathly Hallows in a hotel room, one day before my first day in College at Bhopal, purchasing the book at a queue in a bookshop I hunted down in a new city. 

After all this time? 
Always. 

5. My Side (David Beckham) - It was in a Young World feature on the 2002 World Cup, that I first read about David Beckham. And love at first sight, it was. He was my window into this world of football that runs my life today; and one of the biggest passions of my life - Manchester United. 

Was he the best player at Manchester United? Nah. Far from it. 
Is My Side the best football autobiography I've read? Nah. No way. Keane, Gary Neville, Sir Alex all outscore him. 

But My Side was my 1st footballing book, that gave this Football-information-hungry-boy, a view into what it is to be a player at Manchester United, in those days when there was no high speed internet or Twitter. And what it is to really make it large in life. And when I had my own money to buy books finally, My Side was the first one that I ordered, from Flipkart. 

6. Mathematics for Class X (RD Sharma) - A book that brought out the nerd in me - and was the reason for my Math love till I found a barrier in the form of Integration and Differential Equations. In a way, this book shaped my entire career - for the worse and the good. With all the practice from it, I ended up with a 100 in the board exams that meant the whole relative clan thought I was IIT material, that I ended up screwing my last two years of schooling. But given all the practice that I had, CAT preparation and the whole 'hardwork' that came with it, was a cakewalk. And probably led to where I am today. 

7. Five Point Someone (Chetan Bhagat) - Say what you want about his English (especially when your lines criticising his grammar themselves have grammatical errors!), but the man had a blockbuster with this book. Especially given I was in Engineering college at that time, and could so relate to most of what Chetan Bhagat wrote about. And who doesn't want an entertaining book. The book had such an influence, that for a long long time, my Blog was called Seven Point Someone. And oh, to be honest, it made me aspire to write something, someday. 

8. Stars Shine Down (Sidney Sheldon) - Bhopal used to be a 24 hour long journey. And it was before one such journey that I picked up this Sidney Sheldon book and what a book. As a Civil Engg student, the whole real estate industry and OPM (other people's money) left a lasting impact on me. The rise and fall of Lara Cameron, and her characterisation made the book unputdownable; that in the next 4-5 months, I devoured the entire list of books that Sidney Sheldon had written. 

9. Marketing Management (Philip Kotler) - "What? Kotler? Seriously?" is what most of my friends have asked me. But that was one academic book, that I read from cover to cover without any 'pressure' of an exam behind it. And it was the book that gave me a view into the world of 4Ps, 5Cs and what not. The boxed anecdotes about real world marketing examples - in one world - brilliant. 

10. Rafa (Rafael Nadal) - If there's one person I idolise, it is Rafa. (Okay, two actually but given Rahul Dravid is yet to write his autobiography...). This one gave me so much insight into what makes the man, what makes him tick, and what has helped him reach such heights - his values, and principles in life. His never say die attitude; and the ability to come back, when people think it's done for. This book inspired me like no other has or probably ever will; and is probably a fitting way to finish this list! 

PS: Thanks to the ones for tagging me. Made me write something non-work related, after a LONG LONG time. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Thanks pa, and wish you a Happy Retired Life!

Appa retired today, after nearly three and half decades of work in the banking sector (and a few years before that in assorted roles like being a shorthand teacher and what not). And I couldn't help but get a little senti about the whole thing last night, as I typed out an email to him. 

All those years all alone in obscure places across the country, cooking for himself, staying without even a TV or any source of entertainment, so that we could get the best of the world, learn from the best teachers. Saving up every penny, so that we could get something for ourselves, rather than him spending it on a bottle of cool-drinks or a meal outside. His emphasis on studies and discipline, that I found restricting back then, but something I don't really regret right now, given it was that discipline that made me who I am today - meticulous, hardworking and super-organised (or so I think). 

Nearly four decades of impeccable service where he gave it all to both Syndicate Bank and us at home. His late nights during those storms that flooded his branch - manually emptying out the water, with his colleagues. His experiences with rural villagers in Pedappampatti - a village in TN I had never heard of, till he got transferred there. The adventure without knowing even a word of Hindi, without even a telephone or Internet, in Raniganj in the early 1990s. And to think a few weeks or months in Aruppukottai and Thiruvarur felt so arduous to me - like I was achieving something so huge.

Those tears and sad moments when he got a transfer and moved away from us remain etched in my memory! I still remember searching on the atlas for Raichur when he figured out that was where he was going next, one fine night. The joy of seeing him back home for a festival - right in the morning. The amount I used to pester him to come back home in the weekends without realising the trouble that he had to go through for that - something I realised only when I travelled back to Chennai every week, during my stint in Thiruvarur. Growing up, with him and at times without him, with the value system that he set for us has surely held me in good stead in life till date, if not all of us. 

A lot of times, when I look back,  I wonder why do I even need to look anywhere else for inspiration. Even at this age, his discipline of waking up at 4 in the morning everyday, and not missing work unless it was next to impossible to go to office is inspirational for someone like me who struggles to get motivated to muster enough to go for a walk at even 6 in the morning. 

I thought and thought a lot, but in the end decided, there can't be a better gift for the person who introduced me to the wonderful world of books and taught me the value of reading, than a set of books. Here's wishing him a happy and a very peaceful retired life and finally a chance to live life to the fullest, because if there's one person who deserves to have fun, it is himeasier and better

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Uber Misadventure

Update: After I published this blogpost, Uber Chennai contacted me on Twitter and e-mail and have taken steps to delete my account. They have also finally let me know that it was them who ran the promotion through Facebook Sponsored Stories. Thanks Swathy! 

Uber took me for a ride. And How! 

"KK Nagar to Egmore; 10-00 PM. Same address pick up" is one line I'd been repeating every Sunday for the last few weeks. Dissatisfaction with the attitude of some of the local cab vendors had led me to explore other options outside the traditional ones that I had generally trusted in Chennai - Taxi for Sure and Ola being two great experiences. 

The back-story
Uber was one service that had been making all the right noises on social media - with photos of local celebrities taking rides on their Mercs; offering tempting rates, and free sign-up credits. I went ahead and signed up for Uber despite the annoyance of a mandatory credit card (CVV number included!) and an app that requires you to turn on your GPS for even opening properly (unlike say an Ola or a Taxi for Sure that ask you for Location Access, but open up even if you don't share the same.)

Given I had signed up through a social media share of a referral link, I gave in to the temptation of "free credits" and went ahead to create a referral link of my own - with a custom URL to boot. [Link: https://uber.com/invite/ubershrinivassg]. And like anyone else, I went ahead and shared it across Facebook and Twitter; in the hope of successful referrals. 

And that was the beginning of my misadventure, that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. 

#SpamStint

The first taste of things to come, was from the third comment on the photo in the left - "Sponsored Post?". I had no inkling of what was going on at that time, and I thought Adithya was just pulling my leg, like has been happening off late on my status updates; and was jovially referring to whether I had been paid by Uber to push this link through my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Little did I even think about someone was actually promoting my post all over Facebook! 

Then friends started pinging me across Twitter and Facebook, to tell me that my post was showing up every single moment as a Sponsored post on the right hand side of the Facebook page, where Paid Promotions go. I reached out to Uber Chennai's official handle immediately on Twitter, to ask them if it was them who were running the promotion. 

Uber immediately refuted things, and said they had no idea who was running these promotions, or why they were showing up as sponsored posts. Things went for the worse when the post started showing up as a Sponsored Story on the News Feed of people. I was starting to get more pings from people, ranging from asking me not to 'Spam' them to some who asked me how much I was earning from this! #SpamStint, they started terming it; for possibly no fault of mine. 

Uber Chennai's internal 'investigation' on the same led to nothing and they said they were escalating the same to their HO, to try and get to the bottom of things. 

That was the last I heard from them. They stopped responding to my e-mails asking them to terminate my account with them and delete my card details from their website. The only way to catch their attention was to publicly keep tweeting to them, failing which they never responded. Something, which is quite weird for a brand/service that positions itself on providing an unforgettable experience to its patrons. 

My issue with Uber

A friend said "This advert and Narendra Modi for PM fund are the only two things sprouted across internet pages and also in BBC-SKY Sports Pages".  A couple of them asked me to take things further with Uber for using my image without my permission. Some folks on Twitter pointed me out to Facebook's terms that allow 'social sharing' though the samples provided on their website are all brand promoted content, with a "ABC likes this" endorsement - though nothing like what was happening with my post. 

In my mails to Uber, I repeatedly insisted I had no issue whatsoever with the promotion, but only wanted to know who on earth was paying loads of money for showing my referral link to people all over Facebook. Use my post, but just let me know it is you, so that it doesn't creep me out about who on earth is it, doing this. Uber repeatedly reassured me they had nothing to do with it, and had no idea why this was happening. 

But who, other than them had an incentive to promote a referral link, is something that fails me. Wouldn't someone else rather spend his money on promoting his own referral link, if he wanted to do it at all; and earn some credits for himself, rather than do it for me? Was this a pilot test by Facebook, that I had fallen victim to, with Uber themselves being actually unaware of why this was happening?

I kind of lost confidence on the brand, and despite the 300 free-credits that I have, I would rather delete my account with them, rather than give them a try after this bitter experience. But weirdly, according to their terms of use, nor can I directly delete my card details with Uber, or can I remove my account on my own. 

At Uber's mercy

Right now, I am at the mercy of a brand I don't want to associate with anymore, who have my card details and CVV number (and they assure me they are stored securely on a third party server). I can't delete MY card details if I don't want to be part of their service any more. I can't delete MY account with them, if I don't want to use their services anymore. 

All I can do is, to fill up forms on their website and keep tweeting to them asking them to please respond and stop this whole misadventure. 
Do they have a contact number where I can reach out to them? No. 
Do they have mine - a worried customer who they can reach out to and re-assure? Yes. But they have chosen not to, so far. 

The last contact from them on mail when I asked them to delete my account was a  reply that went on the lines of: "Meanwhile if you'd like to delete your account, I can help you with that. But I hope you will give us a shot of getting to the bottom of this. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation to this and I will definitely reach out as soon as I have an answer." 

This was 8 days ago, and since then I've sent a couple of mails to them, asking them to delete my account which have gone without response, and except for a Twitter reply that said "We will reply to you in a few hours",  I am yet to hear from Uber and their team in Chennai. I did give Uber a shot to get to the bottom of things, but they have done nothing. Though I do agree, they might have nothing to do with the whole promotion hungama at the end of the day, they could have responded on time or re-assured me enough to have me use their service. 

Right now, the promoted posts have stopped, only because I changed the privacy settings on that post, and made it visible just to me and no one else. But I have no means to reach Uber and delete my account or my card details except for Twitter - where the Uber handle just tweets automated replies, and the Uber Chennai handle says "We will reply to your email in a couple of hours". [And they reply to mails or DMs ONLY when you tweet publicly about the same].

Contrast this to a Taxi for Sure or Ola Cabs who reached out to me repeatedly when I had issues, to ensure I had a smooth ride both on phone and on social media ...

Thanks, but no thanks Uber. I don't want to ride for free. Not any more. You just took me for a Uber Cool ride. 

PS: You know the worst part of it all? Who ever did the promotion, did such a bad job of things that there was not even a single sign up. 

--
Special thanks to Nikhil Narayanan, Akshay Shishoo, Utsav Kumar, Bharathwaj Sundar, Adithya Sundar, Yagyesh Joshi, Sarthak Phadke and Kiran Vr; some of whom brought this to light to me. Some of whose posts and screenshots, I've reproduced here.