Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Itna kamake kya fayda sir - A conversation with an auto driver

It was just another morning, when I was quite enthusiastic about getting back to work after a refreshing 10 day break away from it. And as ever, post haggling with the Gurgaon autowallas, we (me and my roommates) managed to find one to take us to office. 

Monday mornings and IFFCO chowk just equate to one thing - Traffic Jam. As we were waiting in the jam for vehicles to move, we spotted this pretty senior looking executive driving his car, a pretty high end one at that. And then the autowallah said - 
"Sir, ye dekho isko. Khaane ke liye bhi time nahi hai inke paas. 20-25 laakh ka gaadi hogi iski. Par ghar pe baithke khaane ke liye bhi vaqt nahi hai, to Itna kamaake kya fayda hua.
(Sir, look at this guy. He doesn't even have time for eating in the mornings. His car must be worth 20-25 lakh. But if he doesn't have time to even sit at home and enjoy the food that he can eat, then what is the point of earning so much)

And then he pointed to a beggar on the other side of the road, and went ahead with his "work-life balance" perspective (in the words of my roommate)
"Isko dekho. Ye bhi na, bhaikte ghar pe aaram se khaana khaata hai. Us aadmi jitna nai kamayega kabhi, par jab kamaake aise jeena padta hai to ..."
(Look at this guy. Even this guy would be able to sit patiently at his home, and enjoy his food. He'll never earn as much as that guy would, ever. But what's the point, if you anyway have to live like this, when you earn so much)

The signal turned green, and we reached office on time. But as I looked around in the rest of the traffic, I could see guys reading the newspaper hurriedly. Or typing away on their laptops or rattling away with a frustrated look on their mobiles, while someone else was driving the car. 

The incident reminded me of Raghuram Rajan's IIMA convocation address some time ago where he said ..
"If you do not like going to work every day, the fact that you are driven to it in a Mercedes is not going to make it any more pleasant.
What do we really work for? A comfortable life? Food at the right time? Intellectual stimulation? To have something to do in life? Because everyone else is? To achieve something in life? To leave behind a legacy, saying you improved life for everyone else in someway? For the money to sustain? To have the comfort and the ability to enjoy that football match on the weekend, and that festival in new clothes with your family? And what is that tipping point, where we can say - "Hey, all that is fine. But with so much to do, despite all the money, I'm not able to go back and enjoy what I actually work for - which is watching that late United goal on TV over the weekend, with a packet of chips to munch"

This whole thing takes me back to that conversation between Hrithik and Katrina in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara post their deep sea diving. 
Katrina: "When you've done so well in life, are you really happy? Even today if you feel something is missing, what is it? Take time out for things that give you genuine joy. Like cooking"
Hrithik: "Well, that's the plan, I mean. I'll retire at 40 and..."
Katrina: "Dude! How do you know if you'll be alive till then? Seize the day, my friend. First, live this day to the fullest. Then think about 40."
I thought I'll give time to the things that give me genuine joy as well. Like writing this post! 

PS: I do not hate my job! Not one bit. In fact, starting to figure out my own ways to make job-life even better! :). This is more of a musing on the 'greater' things in life. 

Oh! And there's this category of people as well ...

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? 

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. 


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. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

One last chance ...

With one call she broke his heart
She said they were better off apart
She had him in such a trance
That he thought he had one last chance ..

Everything suddenly seemed like a blur
He couldn't imagine life sans her
This was fate's deadly dance
And he asked her for one last chance ..

The seductive smile and enticing eyes
Her thoughts, always so wise
He wanted to change her stance
So kept asking for one last chance ..

We'll both be happier she said
Into diverging paths we will tread
His road though was sans romance
He just longed for one last chance ..

She got married one fine day
For her wonderful life he did pray
At the guy he couldn't even glance
He wouldn't have his one last chance ..

He held on in some weird hope
His friends suggested alcohol and dope
A step ahead he went, with a lance
He never had his one last chance .. 

Image: Broken heart (Gergely Magony)
To be ignored, in general. Added just so that the Facebook share looks better :)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Charity begins at home ..

Note: At the outset, let me make it clear. I am not an 'atheist'. I do believe in God. What I don't believe in are the scores of religious beliefs, the so called God-men and what not. 

It was New Years' eve, and like anyone else, I was at the local temple praying for a good year, if possible a better year than this one. Murmuring my prayers and going around the deity, I passed the back side of the Garba Griha, when something caught my eye. The temple storage area - with furnishings that would put most flats to shame, and saree variety that would rival some of the top saree outlets in Chennai. 

I was curious as to what the temple did with the many sarees that devotees gave in, in the form of prayers (our family included), year after year. I was told that the same are auctioned after some time, and people buy these sarees; and the proceeds to the temple charitable trust. New Year saw atleast 10 devotees donate sarees to the temple. And even with an assumption that the temple receives just one saree on an average on every other day, the tally goes to about 370. A realistic figure would be close to 400 I guess. 

Why not donate these sarees to an old age home nearby? Or to the needy on the streets, who would actually need these clothes. Why auction them for money. Or even if you auction them, why not use the proceeds for a donation to a charity of the person's choice? Person gets the saree that has been blessed, a needy person gets the money and blesses the person even more. Win-win no? 

Or even better, why not give the saree that you want to give the temple, to a person who actually needs it? Or a blanket to someone sleeping on the streets without a blanket on new year? Won't he bless you a lot more, and give you far greater satisfaction and happiness than a token donation to the temple. 

I am sure some of our traditions are rooted to the past - the realities of the past. I completely agree that our ancestors and elders definitely deserve our respect, and prayers for what they did, and their role in making us - me and the family - what we are today. 

The tradition of inviting a few brahmins to your house on the death-anniversary ceremony of your parents, I guess would have been a result of the poor brahmins of those ages who struggled without food - an opportunity to serve them, and get their blessings. But today, the same seems to have morphed into a ritual, something like a business - where the people who end up coming for the lunch, don't look poor by any standards. 

Some of the priests, no doubt are extremely sincere, and do their job diligently. But scores of them run this like a business, with multiple functions on the same day - rushing about the whole affair like a formality - some who own very good cars, real estate that puts me to shame. (Taxes? What taxes most of them ask)

While thanking and remembering our parents/forefathers who helped shape our lives and made us what we are today, is not wrong at the outset; the whole affair today seems so commercialized that I have lost my faith in such stuff. 

I would rather, if the money spent (quite a few thousands from what I know and have seen) is spent in a better cause - lunch for the truly needy ones at an orphanage nearby? Sponsoring a child through Worldvision or Make a Difference? Aren't there better ways to remember people ...


Oh, astrology! I wouldn't ever forget the tale of an astrologer who charged 500 bucks per question; and swore to God that I would get into Computer Science when I was in 12th standard. Where did I end up? Civil Engineering. 

Good time, bad time. Leaving for a flight? 7-30 to 9 is Raahu Kaalam. So leave before 7-30 for your 10-30 flight. As if the flight taking off in Yama Kandam at 10-30 is fine. 

Matching horoscopes for marriage, when your whole horoscope hinges on the time, place of birth of yours etc. Hey, the clock there when the doctor wrote down your time of birth could have been running slow for all you know. I even risked getting thrown out, and asked this question at home and pat came the reply - "Then that was what your horoscope had in store for you". A horoscope that hadn't even been written at that point of time had in store for me that my horoscope would be wrongly written. Horoscope-ception. Or more like Horror-ception. 

The guy's horoscope could have been written based on an altogether different Panchang(am) to the girl's. But hey, we will match them using a third Panchangam, to see if the two are fit to live together. Their interests, motives and goals for life, philosophies can be thrown out of the window. If that grid says they can live together, whoa. Celebrate. 

I am not an anti-religion crusader. But when someone 'fools' around in the name of religion, off late, it has started irritating me to a fair level. I am not taking a high horse, and saying I have not been party to any of the above. I have, no doubt. Even my name stands testimony to that - That extra 'H' added for numerological purposes. 

But I guess, with time, one starts to develop an independent perspective. And with that, you start questioning some of the meaningless stuff you've been following. Why can't we do this in a better way, a way that will actually help people a lot more. 

Incidentally, I had this argument at home this morning; and logged into my FB account a while later; to find a ping from a MANIT junior asking if I wanted to Make a Difference by sponsoring an outbound trip for underprivileged kids. And I am :-)