Thursday, December 6, 2012


Sometimes, I wonder.... what is more important? answer to What or answer to Why?
Sometimes, I wonder.... if answers to both What and Why are important or to neither of them?
Sometimes, I wonder.... if any answer is important.
Sometimes, I wonder.... is it important to have an answer at all?
Sometimes, I wonder.... is it important to be important, for being wondered about?
Sometimes, I wonder.... is not knowing something, reason enough to wonder about it?
Sometimes, I wonder.... & wander in my thoughts

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Pertinence Question

Where do you belong to?  Where is your native place?  Where are you from?

Several ways of asking, but the question is same. And this has been, probably, the most elusive question, I have faced all my life. Of course, I tried writing down a socially acceptable answer, mugging it up and vomiting it out, whenever the question pops up!!! But, surprisingly, that was of little help... primarily for 2 key reasons. One, I haven't spent all my life in a single city / town and thus, have to factor in my current location into the answer every time (sometimes the nature of my stay too…! long term / short term) and two, my understanding of this question itself has evolved over time. Moreover, it becomes all the more tricky, as the answer, invariably, is expected in one word!

First things first... My wife and I work in Hyderabad and live in a rented place while, my parents stay at our home in Delhi and visit us occasionally. My family moved to Delhi from Rajasthan about a decade ago, when my father retired after working there for over 25 years with a public sector company. I was born in Rajasthan and completed my schooling there before coming to Delhi for higher studies. Also, I was fortunate to get a job in Delhi after completing my studies and worked there for 4 years before moving to Hyderabad. Incidentally, my father had moved for work to Rajasthan from Uttar Pradesh, where my grandparents lived and where he spent his entire childhood and early adulthood.

So, when I was in Rajasthan, the answer to the dreaded question was Uttar Pradesh. Things were simple till then. When we moved to Delhi, the answer was either a one word - Rajasthan, as my grandparents no longer used to stay in Uttar Pradesh and the native house there was sold off or a detailed reply (for the patient listeners, normally close friends!) with reasons included…J As time has passed, this explanation of our trail back to UP has become less often, and today, when I am in Hyderabad, I end up giving Delhi as the response to the invincible question.

The most logical reasoning, I give to myself about this continuous change, is that meaning of "native place", in today's context, has become limited to the place where your parents live. However, the answer won’t be so easy if the parents also stay with the working child and obviously, move with him across cities.

It has become a common scenario these days, which I feel, is a result of the changing landscape of the working culture in India, where people spend major part of their life in metros, which offer better employment & growth opportunities. Improvement in transportation and communication infrastructure in the country has also contributed to this increasing trend as one can always be connected to his family members over phone or by internet and can comfortably reach them physically on short notice.

One may ask - Why is it ironical not to have a clear name of a place in your mind to belong to??? Answer to this question, interestingly, lies within the answer to the question - why this question always keeps coming back itself? Well, whenever someone asks this question, what he is actually asking is - Who are you?

How?? Everyone will agree that character of a person is build by the physical, social, emotional & religious (at least in India!) construct around him. It is commonplace in India to assign specific traits with people belonging to a place / region or even caste. Trust me this holds true everywhere in the world as well. While, making firm views (worse is to start reacting) about anyone based only on answer to such question is totally wrong, this is a good starting point to understand an overall framework which the person MAY belong to.

Till recently (even holds true for our parents), people mostly used to live, work and spend their lives at same place, generation after generation. And this was true for both business class and working class. All people of one city / town / region generally used to face same climate / seasons during the year, resulting in similar food preferences (crops to be grown as well as cooking methods) and clothing habits. They will have similar infrastructure (like electricity, roads, water) and other facilities like school, playgrounds and problems & solutions thereof. They will share similar religious beliefs and social (family, relatives & neighbourhood etc) construct. All these will determine a person’s physical & emotional attributes & attitude. Moreover, most of the people, used to have a sense of belongingness to all these settings (a portion weaved into customs and traditions) and used to feel proud and connected to it.

So, whenever, my father answers that he belongs to Uttar Pradesh (yes, he still feels & answers that, and rightly so), he has a strong sense of belongingness to the settings, beliefs, customs & traditions of Uttar Pradesh (obviously, that of the specific town he grew up in). Sadly, people like me are always an outsider in the city we live in, even after spending years altogether there. And this is bilateral, both in the minds of the locals as well as ours. I can only wonder the agony of people who change cities across countries.

The irony is not in answering the literal question about a place, as one can always put together facts around one’s physical movement/s. And there are always ways to keep people engaged for more than one word answer! Ironical is that sometimes, I am myself not sure of the answer, within me. Is that really the place where I belong to? I feel proud being connected to which place or belief system?

With the primary setup changing & evolving, I guess, the region for one to belong to may also needs to be widened to, say, a country. The nature of such belongingness is also unique and different and evolving over time. But, that's an entirely separate discussion. So, the answer in my case is, my favourite, India.

(I have skipped the details of my wife who also has a similar history to relocating across cities, which I am sure, you can understand, will add another unique dimension to my story :p)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Moment of truth

Last night, a thought came across my mind. What is my expected quality of customer care services from my bank? I am not talking about "dream-come-true" service quality but a "bring-a-smile-post-call" kind of service quality. Again, this has nothing to do with bank's products or services or infrastructure etc., but only customer care services. So, here it is:
  1. 1 contact number (available 24 hrs across all 365 days; need not be toll free) which can be used across the country from any land line or mobile service provider,  to reach the customer care rep. for any service request / inquiry. This number will be available on the home page of bank's website. If updated, an sms will be send to all customers a week in advance. 
  2. In case a relationship manager is assigned to a client, a direct number (which doesn't change every 2 months) will be provided. While, a branch may have more than one such numbers, only one person will answer a specific number (unless it is totally impossible otherwise) to ensure progressive communication and little repetition & irritation to customers. Relationship managers will be always available to attend customer's call from 8.00am till 8.00pm. If no one, picks up this number, call will automatically go to CC reps.
  3. Branch Manager will call the customer the next day before 12.00am and give reason as to why no one answered the call, the previous day. Same shall be sent by email too.
  4. Human like greetings, being approachable (language, attitude etc) and willingness to help will be first rule for all CC reps or relationship managers. They will focus on understanding customer's problem and suggest the fastest feasible way to handle it and reasons thereof.
  5. CC reps / relationship managers will never give generic template responses. They will confirm if they don't know the answer. (Customer doesn't expect the world anymore and wants to understand reasons; He is ready to pay the price and invest time; just saying "not possible" several times doesn't solve anything).
  6. CC reps / relationship managers will be the single point contact between the bank & customer. Either they'll have a solution (they will explain specific steps to be followed, info /documents required for that and the expected time required) or they'll call back the customer within 4 hrs with a solution (again, specific steps to be followed, info /documents required for that and the expected time required)
  7. CC reps / relationship managers will be required to note down all discussions (key takeaways) with customers on its account / database with the bank. All new posting on the account shall be automatically emailed to customer post the call.
  8. Customer can reply to the mail with his/her queries, complaints or feedback. A email will be sent daily with updates on outstanding request till it is closed to the satisfaction of customer (like courier guys update you on their sites).
  9. Customer to give feedback on each communication. CC reps.' / relationship managers' appraisal will consider these feedback.
With role of physical presence or communication by phone reducing everyday in Indian banking industry because of  improving banking infrastructure over internet and mobiles and increasing knowledge and acceptance of the same among customers, banks (both public sector and private sector banks) have the bandwidth of ensuring that most of the above mentioned suggestions are implemented at virtually no extra cost.

    Index based Mutual funds - behavioral science at play!

    Last month, when the BSE squatted, I was, once again, tempted to invest in Index based Mutual Funds, just like in 2006, when the market dumped because of the global economic crisis.

    An Index Based Mutual Fund (IBMF) is a relatively straight forward variant of various mutual funds available in India, wherein the fund holds all stocks comprising an identified Index in the same proportion as that in the Index and changes it along with movements on the Index. Idea is to replicate Index returns. An ideal bet, when you are sure that market is grossly undervalued in general and is going to go up in foreseeable future. Which is why, I was, especially, tempted to invest into IBMFs in 2006 when market had hit sub 10,000 mark.

    However, to my surprise, it very difficult to even getting basic Qs answered about IBMFs. I approached the known agent who used to help me with my annual investments in Equity Linked Saving Scheme (ELSS) mutual funds for tax saving purposes. Typically, a brief analysis for NAVs of top 5 Mutual Funds (MFs) and their dividend history is sufficient for deciding the final bet for an ELSS investment. Plus, the agent will have sound information up his sleeve, about any forthcoming dividends etc. Just fill up the form and give him a cheque and you are sorted.

    But, when I asked him about Index based funds, it looked like, he was almost caught off-guard ! With a promise to get back to me, he continued to suggest me to invest in typical equity based MFs or gold etc. He had little information about the players, fund sizes, return history etc. Seemingly, not many people (read retail investors) know about Index based funds, nor do they want to know about them! While, all factual information is available online, it is not enough for taking the final investment decision. And that's because, typically, information about general performance of the funds and its fund manager/s, liquidity, ongoing problems being faced by fund houses etc. is never available online and that’s where agents play a very crucial role.

    While, I continue to wait for that agent to call me back even today (frankly with little hope), this feels like a classic case of a vicious circle, wherein, I will not invest into a product until I get comfort from a agent, who will not focus on selling it (and acquiring required information for the same) until a substantial number of retail investors ask for it !!!

    Pure behavioral science at play. :p

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Book Review: "The Secret of the Nagas" by Amish Tripathi

    Segment: Fiction - Indian Mythology

    Background: 2nd book of the "Shiva Trilogy", which consists of:
    1/ The immortals of Mehula (find review in my earlier posts)
    2/ The secret of the Nagas &
    3/ The oath of Vayuputras (expected to be released by Dec, 2012)

    In Shiva Trilogy, Amish takes a unique approach of looking at "Shiv Puran" or so to say, our entire belief about Hindu Mythology. Whether Gods are super-humans mentioned only in mythological stories or they were humans, known as Gods today, because of the decisions they took and role they played in human history?

    I would advise to pick this book up after you finish "The immortals of Mehula". This will help you to appreciate the plot & context better.

    Verdict & Feel: A good read and apt sequel to "The immortals of Mehula". As it normally happens in book series, this 2nd book is more intriguing as the story moves at a much faster pace with the plot taking a firm & interesting shape leaving us wanting for more. Again, there is no escape from buying the next (& final) book of the trilogy (this time, I am looking forward to it, though..!!).

    After the basic introduction of the concept of "duality" in his last book, Amish does a great job in explaining it in greater detail in this book along with delving deeper into complex phenomenons like "Good" & "Evil".

    As I had very little knowledge of Shiv Puran, I feel enriched after reading these 2 books. I feel even more strongly that all Indian scriptures tell us about the same things, by personifying the forces at play in our mind & heart, weaved in grand larger-than-life stories. Ironically, we have become too rigid in our reading of scriptures / mythology to look beyond words and consider them as a read for spiritual flight only to be pursued after we have lived our real life.

    Writing Style:
    - the language is simple and writing style is straight forward. Story flows on a linear plane at a constant pace. However, there is enough to be told in this book, to keep the reader engaged.

    - Amish's ability to go into details and create a visual of the scene in front of our eyes is phenomenal. I continue to believe that this is only a necessity of this series and Amish has more variety to offer in his future writings.

    - the key concepts of duality, good, evil etc are explained in decent detail across the book, unlike "Immortals of Mehula" where the story doesn't unfold beyond pure fiction until last few pages.

    Time: Took me about 4 days of average reading.

    Other observations:
    - Would like to emphasize at the cost of repetition (as mentioned in review of "The Immortals of Mehula" too) - the map of India in 1900 BC, provided inside front cover of the book is indispensable to understand the story better!

    - Amish has put no efforts (no mention in the preface; absence of any disclaimer/s) to relate the plots, events, locations and names mentioned in the book to today's knowledge of the same in history or mythology. It looks like Amish is capturing the key historical / mythological people, events & understanding, using fiction as a way of narration. I really hope Amish relate the story to present day belief in the last book of the Trilogy.

    My Rating: Shiva Trilogy - 7/10; The Secret of Nagas - 7/10

    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Book Review: "The Immortals of Meluha" by Amish Tripathi

    Verdict: Decent read for a reader with patience. Be prepared to buy the next 2 titles of the trilogy, as even after finishing the book, you may feel that this book is just a sub-plot (a critical one, nonetheless) to a bigger story, which is yet to be told.

    In its own way, Amish brings forth a intriguing concept of "duality" with an apt story build around it and challenges the way we look at good or evil. I feel all Indian scriptures tell us the same basic things by personifying the forces at play in our mind & heart weaved in grand larger-than-life stories. It is ironic that we have become too rigid in our reading, to look beyond words and consider all our scriptures as a read for spiritual flight only to be pursued after we have lived our real life. The concept could have been elaborated more in the book, though. I hope the same is taken care of in the sequel/s.

    Look n feel: The feel of the pages is just fine (not great) unlike the cover which is crisp & inviting but it's not a deal breaker. Expected the book to relate (in between the story) the story in the book with our present day understanding of history or mythology about God Shiva and thus, to provide the real context and reasons thereof, but to my disappointment, it doesn't happen.

    Writing Style:
    - the language is simple; writing style is straight forward with hardly any suspense plots. Story flows on a linear plane at a constant pace.

    - Amish goes into absolute details (No, Shobha Day is still beyond his reach which I feel is good !) and successfully creates a visual of every person, place or event across the entire story. In the hindsight, it is necessary for the plot of this specific book.

    - request you to practice patience and read till the last page before forming an opinion about the book :) . after sometime, i had started giving up the hope for the story to unfold beyond pure fiction, which doesn't happen until last few pages.

    Time: Finished it in 4 days as I had some spare time early last week.

    Other observations:
    - A map of India in 1900 BC is provided inside front cover of the book. This is a welcome (very concise & crisp) piece of information which helped me to 'see' the book through!

    - While, I was tempted to know several times, Amish has put no attempts whatsoever (no mention in the preface; absence of any disclaimer/s) to relate the plots, events, locations and names mentioned in the book to today's knowledge of the same in history or mythology. It remains a mystery whether Amish is telling a pure fiction (I really don't hope and feel so) or explaining a historical / mythological understanding based on research using fiction. I really hope Amish captures this in the sequels (Yes... I've already ordered the next title !!!).

    My Rating: Shiva Trilogy - 7/10; The Immortals of Mehula - 6/10

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Will public sector banks become mainstream banks again?

    Firm, effective & a REAL response within 2 hours of sending a mail to email ids mentioned on Bank's website, plus a call directly on your mobile (while you are travelling out of town) from the Zonal Officer... wonder which Bank is this? 

    Settings: A real life incidence in Indian Banking Industry (retail business)

    Hint: Try your wildest guess!

    Even a child in India would tell you with confidence that this is possible only from a really good private sector bank, if at all, and can, at best, be someone's dream to even expect such a response from any public sector bank in India.

    But to my own surprise, time and again, several public sector banks have made me feel otherwise... Bank of India, point in case above, sets a wonderful example of service standards as early as today morning. While, a bank manager in a remotely located retail branch acted Godly for a small problem faced by one of my family members, the bank did convert a sour experience into a moment of delight with swift and effective response. 

    Another intriguing experience I had was with State Bank of India some time ago, at a retail branch while I wanted to close a bank account. The branch manager spend half an hour to convince me not to close the account. By the way, I closed that account not for any problem in services but to consolidate my banking transactions to my salary account (which happened to be a private bank). The conviction with which the branch manager spoke and interest shown to keep a normal customer with the bank was phenomenal.

    There is no doubt that public sector banks still have a long road to travel for providing a robust and reliable infrastructure, facilities and allied services (e.g. 24x7 customer care help, online services, credit cards, insurance, D-mat account etc.) which banks in private sectors boast of, especially for a retail customer. But I am talking about the change in the intend and conduct, which is noticeable over the last few years. I have been banking with private sector banks for over 10 years now and don't remember a single incidence where a request was catered to in less than a day. Another biggest problem I face with a private bank is that all employees consider themselves a party other than bank and feel proud to convey this in every 3rd sentence (whether it is the customer care representative or the so-called personal banker allocated to you!).

    While, some may argue that these are sparingly seen cases of little or no expectations met unexpectedly (and probably, I agree to them to some extend), I want to draw the attention to the fact that in these cases, public sector banks are providing more effective and concrete services at much personal level. 

    While, a lot has to change at grass root operations of a public sector bank like branches located in remote / small areas where, employees still consider themselves God and the zeal to serve its customer is still amiss, I have to admit, in all fare-ness, that a Branch Manager of a public sector bank in a city will treat you better than any of its counterparts in the private sector. He will not try to sell you D-mat account when you are looking for fixed deposits. :)

    With such incidents happening more often the question keeps coming back to my mind - will public sector banks regain their lost sheen? Will public sector banks become mainstream banks again???

    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Book review: "The Krishna Key" by Ashwin Sanghi

    Verdict: A must read for anyone interested in exploring the truth (and context, more so) of Hindu Mythology & History. Mind you, the book is not boring or impractical just because it talks about history or mythology.

    Look n feel: Thought that it will run for a month or even more, when I picked it up, but finished it in about a week just because it is difficult to keep it down.

    Writing Style:
    - Felt like I was reading a Dan Brown book (Da vinci Code, Angels n Demons, The Lost Key) written for Indian settings from the moment I picked up the book till the very end.

    - Characters asking questions just to ensure that all details may be provided by author (sometimes at the cost of repetition) was too obvious. Reminded me of what CID does to murder mysteries! Meanwhile, this only resulted in me flipping pages at greater pace. Plot & the story remains gripping at all times.

    - Interestingly, the book can be made into a movie, as is, scene by scene.! Looks like, Ashwin is already expecting bollywood producers to buy its movie rights just like Chanakya's Chant! BTW, I might still go for that movie :)

    Other observations:
    - The disclaimer in the beginning is a spoiler, as I expected Ashwin to own up some of the research work and facts. (Dan brown claims all details and facts to be true in his books!!!)

    - While I advise to take specific details with a pinch of salt (but that's true for any book), it may be an interesting read (may be even an eye opener) for anyone who feels that our ancestors were uneducated dumb guys and that it's high time that we take our history also seriously and stop re-inventing the wheel..!