Monday, March 30, 2009

This is Customer Support – May I help you?

Oh no…please don’t because you cannot!

At some point in our lives, we have all arraigned the services offered by the public and government sectors– Be it the BSNL line man who never turns up to fix your telephone connection (I am really grateful to my dad for being in the Telecom sector and therefore redeeming our lives from this single most infamous and far-flung phenomenon), the electricity bill that always shows the wrong units consumed, the cop and the postman who need to be bribed in order to get your passport on time, the data entry guy at the Income Tax office who never gets your details correct the first time on the PAN card (I remember my date o f birth printed as 1953 in my first PAN card – talk about instant waning!), or the clerk at the University Office who will never be able to trace your roll number should you need another copy of your college degree.

Well, “sarkari kaam hai, der to lagegi” (It’s a government service, therefore bound to be delayed), and so we sniveled, and we huffed and we puffed and we moved on.

Then, came the age of the Tata and Ambanis and numerous other bantam and burly private players who invaded the previously unexploited territories and challenged the monopoly of the so called public sector, offering services that were not only superior but also more customer-focused.
A key player that emerged was Airtel, the Mittal clan’s roseate cherub. Cellular services never seemed so facile; 24x7 customer support was an unheard of marvel.

And, so thwarting my dad’s top-notch attempt at convincing me to go in for a BSNL connection as according to him BSNL was equally competitive and more reliable (my dad was working for BSNL then) for my first mobile phone ever in 2003, I went in for an Airtel. It was cool and red and hip and happening, the unsurpassable medium to “Express Yourself”.

That was then, zooming in to the present – 2009.

I have been exasperated by Airtel customer service. First, it was the prepaid connection that was magnanimously disconnected by some bugger cos my identity and address proof documents had not reached Airtel. Obviously, the fact that I had bought the connection from an Airtel center and had provided the required documents to the Airtel representative, invoked little sympathy from the idiotic and uneducated call center executives. So, after lambasting a few such specimens, I resubmitted my documents only to be told a week later that my account could not be activated on account of non-availability of identity and address proof in the system.
Now, I must admit it’s not very difficult to invoke the wrath of this person called Yuvika Chaube; I am forever ready to axe the first head that blurts illogical hogwash, but this time around I thought I’d burst a vein in my umbrage. Finally, I had to take refuge with my dad who unleashed the TRAI authorities on Airtel (thank god for babudom :)) and I did have the last laugh – not only was my service restored in a couple of hours but somebody from Airtel came to my house to inquire and take whatever proofs!

My blood pressure was seemingly nearing back to normal after this fury that Airtel struck again! This time my DTH TV Cable connection was the prima facio. Now, don’t ask me why I am such a die-hard Airtel fan – I am not. All this happens to be the ill-play of providence. Okay, back to my ranting, so Fate decided one fine Wednesday evening that I do not deserve to watch any of the mainstream channels – Star Plus, Sony, Set Max, Pix etc. I gave Airtel two complete days to resolve the issue but I forget the exact phrase that crudely states the fact that a dog’s tail can never straighten (I am sorry, the flavor is lost in translation). So I metamorphosed into my Maa Kaali avatar, and gave hell (and I really mean it) to two customer care executives and their supervisors.
I used abuses, hurled accusations, threatened, and finally after four and a half days of having waged a bloody, ferocious battle, with inexorable support from my father in law, we were able to coax the much sought after “service engineer” to pay us a visit and fix the problem. For those interested, it was some minor problem with the reception of the dish and was fixed in less than an hour.

Alas, all differences between the private companies and the government sector seem to have been blurred with the passage of time. You can expect exemplary service once-in-a-while from both, but for the majority of the time, tighten your seat belts for the deadliest of rides and the most unpleasant of trysts that begin with the horrific words “Hello this is Customer Service, How may I help you?”, which actually means “You are a fool to have tried this number and immensely lucky that you were able to reach one of us. Now you can go ahead with the formality of telling us about your problem. In all probability we can do nothing so hopefully you believe in God, and that faith might see you through these troubled times.” Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2009

And the Best Debut for the year is...

...Obviously the People's Car - Nano, the latest nipper from Tata Motors.

As Ratan Tata unveils the world's cheapest car, I experience a motley of emotions.

I am excited at this yet another contrivance, unique in its own special way, unleashed onto the overwhelmed masses, that promises to revolutionize the transport scene in India. As Ratan Tata talks about his dream to create an affordable yet safe vehicle for the family, where "the father driving the scooter, his young kid standing in front of him, his wife seated behind him holding a little baby", I am moved and impressed with his inimitable dexterity to combine his compassion for human life, the historic TATA values and his keen entrepreneurial acumen into this tactile product that not only makes a helluva business sense but that also ostentatiously interweaves with it the aspirations of millions.

Here's a car that's the ultimate lower middle class family's fantasy - modestly priced at Rs. 1 Lac (approx 2000 USD), that's a little more than what a good two-wheeler would cost, any day safer than a bike or a scooter, high on fuel efficiency and low on emissions. For a change, we have a car launch sans the steamy skeletal models, a launch that talks about utility and not style and flamboyance, a launch that targets the guy on the road and not the rich brat who has never walked the streets of the city he was born in. I am glad a privileged Indian, though for a profitable advantage, did think of the not-so-privileged one!

For all these reasons, I am enticed to look away from the looming danger this car brings. Unfortunately, our roads in India are not (and will never be) ready for the enormous congestion that the success of this car may wreak. Imagine all the two-wheelers you see metamorphosed into four wheelers - I shudder at the thought!
But then, we Indians are seldom prepared well - things just happen to us and we learn to deal with it...hope this time this magic wand does not start ticking a distant bomb!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bura na mano…holi hai!

Holi – The celebration of joy and colors has been one of my favorite festivals since childhood. I love the glow of gulal, the mess of the pakka rang, the splashing of pani ke gubbare, the water spouting from the pichkaris, the outrageously risqué lyrics of rang barse, the scrumptious taste of gujiyas, the fun and gossip around the presence and absence of bhang

Till 2006, I do not remember having not painted the town red on a single instance of holi. As kids, the customary pichkari (my fav being a tank one that could be carried around as a rucksack – amazing storage capacity!) along with the usual dose of the good color (gulal etc), the real bad color (the chemical dyes etc that wouldn’t rub off for days together) and a huge stock of balloons was a must, irrespective of what the health conscious said about hazardous effects of colors and blah and blah!

A typical day would start with all the kids and cooperating adults filling balloons, followed by a reluctant breakfast of puri-aloo with kheer forced down by mom and a simultaneous word of caution from dad to remain “within limits” (that has been his trademark forewarning for anything and everything, since as long as I can remember, and that in itself could be a whole new blog, but I digress). After the almost ritualistic morning feast, we’d wear our old clothes, rub oil on our bodies and hair (to protect hair and skin from damage as much as possible), and then begin the mayhem. We always celebrate holi with the family first, so mom, dad, Priyank and I would mess each other up completely before proceeding with the neighborhood toli.

I most fondly recall my years in Noida as the best holi galas I have ever had. With a tinge of nostalgia, I remember the bonfire on the eve of holi, the craziness of dancing amidst the riot of colors and water to songs from all periods in Indian Cinema - the black and white numbers to the latest ones in technicolor, the feasting without fasting, and the endless laughter and merry making!

After the afternoon’s pandemonium, I used to spend hours scouring the color off using all the options available – mom’s indigenous preparation of ubtan to the latest scrubs and crèmes available in the cosmetic conglomerate – to make myself presentable for school/work the next day. Evenings were marked by the characteristic laziness and siesta of post-holi blues...

This is the third year that I am sorely missing not celebrating holi - 2007 holi was spent in Bangkok, 2008 in LA. This year, though closer to home (@ Chennai), I am ridden by the practical difficulties of Holi being on a week day, no holiday, inability to travel to Delhi cos of work commitments…I am hoping the next year or the one after that I am fortunate enough to relive or atleast recreate the proverbial ‘good old days’!

Till then, I console myself by listening to and humming my personal holi play list; given here just in case somebody is interested.
  1. Rang Barse…bheege chunar waali…rang barse (this evergreen Amitabh-Rekha number from Silsila undoubtedly is my holi anthem)
  2. Arre jaa re hat natkhat, na chhoo re mera ghoonghat , palat ke doongi aaj aisi gali re…(the rapturous melody by Rafi and Lata; Movie – Navrang)
  3. Holi khele raghubeera awadh mein…holi khele raghubeera (the more recent Amitabh number from Baghban)
  4. Aaj na chodenge bas humjoli… khelenge hum holi (The mischievous hit from Rajesh Khanna’s Kati Patang)
  5. Ang se ang lagaana…sajan humein aise rang lagaana (a raunchy song from the Sunny Deol-SRK-Juhi Chawla starrer Darr)
  6. Holi ke din dil khil jaate hain...rangon mein rang mil jaate hain (from Sholay…Big B has a lot of holi songs to his credit)
  7. Holi re holi…aayi tere ghar pe maston ki toli (Movie – Paraaya Dhan)
  8. More kaanhaa jo aaye palat ke…abke holi main khelungi dat ke (a semi classical number from Sardari Begum)
  9. Holi aayee, holi aayee, dekho holi aayee re (thus Kishore Kumar sang in Mashaal)
  10. And finally…Jai Jai Shiv Shankar (again a Rajesh Khanna number from Aap ki Kasam…strictly speaking not a holi specific number but nevertheless apt for the occasion)
Wishing everybody a very happy and colorful Holi!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

It’s a woman’s world after all…

But I do not trust the hullabaloo around March 8th - International Women’s Day!

To give all that is due to the American and European feminist and socialist movements of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries that fought and campaigned for equal rights for women in politics, social and economic arenas, it was a stalwart battle – well fought and well won (to a great extent).

From playing second fiddle to the patriarch to becoming world leaders and successful professionals, women have come a long way. However, there are still parts of the world where women continue to be paid lesser wages for the same labor as put in by their male counterparts and where girls are unwanted and killed at birth or in the womb. And, the so called Women’s Day makes no difference to the lives of these women.

I believe, in the initial years when the concept was institutionalized, the day was marked by protests, strikes and other events that aimed at focusing the world and media attention on issues that continue to plague the fairer sex. However, in today’s times, Women’s Day is confined to the elite celebration of the Page 3. The outrageous cocktail parties of the opulent, the extravagant sales and promotions by the retail giants, the scholarly didactic seminars and workshops by the UN and the likes - all target the woman that has already arrived or is well aware of her rights and what she can do legally or otherwise to fight for them.
But what happens to the woman in remote districts of the globe with no access to Internet or media, the woman who is abused by her husband day in and day or out, the woman who is forced to abort her female fetus, the infant who is buried because she was born with a different arrangement of chromosomes? Is this really an opportunity for them to realize their plight and do something about it? Do they see this as an occasion to revel in their womanhood? I wonder if they have heard of Women’s Day or even if they have, what it really means to them.

On a lighter note, I also feel that this whole abstraction of Women’s Day is not only overrated but also highly patronizing. I mean we have a global Women’s day to jubilate the manifold accomplishments of women but why don’t we have an International Men’s day? Surely, we have a few men as well that can boast of some exploits! Is it because all 365 days anyway belong to them and are spent in virile revelry? If yes, well my dear, I refuse to make do with one measly day – I want an equal share of the remaining 364 days as well.

In the past, especially during college days, I have recoiled at men wishing me ‘Happy Women’s Day’, but having matured over the years (or so I choose to believe) I understand that most don’t give it too much thought – for them it’s as good as another Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day to pamper the women in their lives – I am okay with the exchanging of gifts and the elaborate dinners provided they don’t spend the rest of the year treating their wives and mothers as door mats!
As for women who make a big pomp and show of the day, I truly hope that they are happy because I strongly believe that though we have miles to go, it is a woman’s world after all :).


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