Only your best friend can…

After a few failed attempts of trying to find a tasty, yet hygienic pani puri place in Hyderabad, a place that would meet criteria of the entire group, flatmate S and I decided to prepare it at home.  An invite for Sunday evening was extended to the group. An elaborate menu of pani puri, cheese fondue and chocolate fondue was prepared.

While preparing the pani, there was a moment of confusion! In what container should we store it? There wasn’t anything big enough to contain 4-5 l pani. Suddenly, it dawned on S that we have a water storage container lying somewhere. Perfect!

It suited the job way too perfectly. There was an uncanny resemblance to the hawker’s pani container. Creativity sparks flew and taking inspiration from a morning msg about evening at S&S, we decided to name it S&S Special Pani Puri. Paper and pen were looked around for. Fevikwik was used due to inability to locate cellotape. We were rushing around the house ensuring food is ready and set on time, yet, our brains were racing to make the presentation more cheesy. Last min ideas about branding our differentiating factor struck. Result was the following…

S&S Special Pani Puri

S&S Special Pani Puri

 

… along with S and I wearing hear gear to resemble the road side bhaiya.

Friends arrived. There were praises all around. Compliments on how the spelling mistake was authentic and how the presentation had made the food even tastier etc.

I had asked T to join us. She made a late entry. With excitement brimming over the edge, I presented our art to her. And the candid response was what only your best friend can dare to say (without the fear of getting banned from all future parties):

Seriously! How jobless are you!

Uber cool!

That’s how I would describe Uber. UBER COOL!

Heard about the new cab services in Hyderabad a couple of months ago and tried their services a month ago. I had not even heard about the company prior to that. At first instance when I heard about how they operate, I found it a little weird. After all, how they can have only immediate booking and no advance booking! How can I rely on their availability in the last min? It sounded like a classier auto-rickshaw.

So, I tried it once. And then spent some time on their website. And rode a second time. This time, I engaged the driver in small talk. Soon, he was proudly explaining to me that he gets a 5 digit salary (on the higher end of 5 digit numbers. He told me the actual number), that he owns the car, and the “IPhone” with an Airtel connection has been provided by the company, and the salary is paid to his account weekly, and every cab is checked and only new cabs and good drivers are provided contracts by the company, and that every driver in Hyderabad nowadays wants to be an Uber driver. He also told me about flexibility of working hours, shift time on and off road, fixed salary irrespective of demand (and he repeated his salary with pride) etc.

I often ask cab drivers in different cities and of different cab companies questions regarding their work pattern etc. Hardly any drivers have ever sounded so cheerful about their job. When the Rs. 21 to 23 per km jump happened, drivers said they had not received any salary hike. Most of them were earning in 4 digit per month. The Govt. regulation was on the upper limit of per km cost (similar to MRP of a product) but the cab companies told us through their automated systems: Due to new govt. regulations, our tariff has been revised to Rs. 23/km. Bleh!

In fact, many cab vendors with corporate contracts, charge their customers for extra hours and night duty etc, but the drivers do not get paid even a penny extra for days when the customer retains the car 14 hours vs the usual 8-10 hours. And trust me, these contracts are pretty costly.

The only other driver I recall being happy with his job was with Ola, Mumbai. He was proud of the health insurance he and his family had been provided and was working hard to get the company scholarship for his kids’ education.

Am sure, an Uber driver, after paying his cab’s EMI, maintenance, fuel cost etc has at least 2.5 times what most other drivers get paid. And oh, there is a feature in the app to rate drivers. I need to ask next time the link between the rating and incentives.

So… I am truly impressed by Uber. Their cost structure is pretty reasonable. The app is very neat and precise. I do not need to explain my location over a call. I do not need to carry any cash or swipe my card etc. Cab route can be tracked remotely if required. And above everything, I do not feel guilty or sorry for the driver and wonder at the end how much tip!

I take this as an example of the fact that there can be a successful business model without exploitation of the employees. Win-win situations do exist.

Disclaimer: I am not related to or employed by Uber. This post is entirely based on my personal experience with Uber cabs and has neither been influenced by any external factors nor has any gains- monetary or kind- associated.

Goa. Again!

Life’s happening at a pace that taking a break to jot something down takes ample effort. A few awesome things still need a mention.

Goa never fails to surprise me. In addition to the well-maintained (by Indian standards) roads that I simply love, the trip recently offered me some more reasons to love the place.

Bike Rental @ Safe Special Services tops my list of great internet finds I pat myself for. It was the first time we received a vehicle with a commercial number plate, and in extremely good condition. This was over and above the friendly and helpful nature of the company owner.
Another was a breakfast place- Little World Restaurant. The search required effort no less than a treasure hunt but turned out to be more than worth the efforts.

Of course, the beaches and the company don’t need a mention.

I should have tried to catch up with Vatsa, nowadays recognized better as a candid wedding photographer. I didn’t, my bad. Hopefully, my insistence and recommendation to a friend to contact Shaadigrapher for his upcoming wedding will be a chance to meet- for the good old Shaastra days sake, as Vatsa puts it.

Note to self: Write more often.

 

Day’s high and low

I was staring earnestly at the laptop screen on Monday morning (OK, am lying. I was gossiping with my teammates) when office admin opened our team room door and entered with a security guard.
“Surbhi, there is a courier for you”- handling me a Ebay packed of the size of two Dominos garlic bread boxes stacked vertically.  “Umm… OK. What is it?” and I signed without waiting for an answer.

From: KS, New Delhi. The parcel read. The only person I know named KS is an insti junior with whom I worked for a writing project 3 years ago. Not really close or in regular touch, but someone who is capable of throwing a surprise out of the blue.

By now, my teammates were more intrigued than me. There started the guessing game, and I made the mistake of mentioning about the junior. “OMG! You have such stud juniors.” “But wait, he cannot be having this address. This being a new office, very few people have this address. I have given it only to my brother I think.”

The description read: “7 LED display…” This looks like some controls item.

LG: “Show me the address. H (another colleague) has asked for the address and I wrote it exactly like this.”
Me: “Oh, may be it’s for her, delivered in my name. Oh, the vendor xyz in Delhi is called KS.”

I had to look around for a cutter and then keys to be able to open the strong packing by Ebay. Finally, I managed to open it. All this while, I was trying to recollect who all have my address. A total of 3 people have it.

After removing the layers of packing, out came a nice table clock. Yay. Something that I indeed needed.
I was told a few days ago not to check my phone in middle of the night and my excuse was that I need to check time and I do not have a table clock. Also, a month ago, I had locked my phone inside a room (this should go in Hyderabad diaries series) and had to rely on laptop to wake up next morning.

Well… this made my day… although I might complain when that alarm goes off tomorrow morning. My teammates weren’t exactly happy though. Guess I should act as a secret Santa for them sometime.

Just in case you are still thinking about KS, that was just the name of the Ebay seller.

An email popped up in my inbox in 2nd half of the day: 30th April will be holiday due to elections in Andhra Pradesh. Interesting! 1st May is off. Taking 2nd off, I can have a 5 days break. Let’s see what I can do in these 5 days.

First thought: Visit home. Check train options.
I jumped onto Indian Railways website and checked train options from Hyderabad. There is a train from Hyd on Tuesday and a return train on Sunday. Perfect. Leave around 11 pm on Tuesday, reach home on Wednesday around 8 pm (18 hours train, 2.5 hours by road). Spend Thursday, Friday, Saturday at home. Start around midday on Sunday and reach Hyd at 9 am on Monday morning.

Sounded perfect.

30 waitlist for both sides. Not bad. High chances of it getting cleared. Else, I will try for a tatkal ticket a day before.

Called up Mom. Told her the plan real quick. All she understood was that I will take the train, I will take 1 day off and I will spend 3 days at home. And that she should not tell anyone right now, especially not Gran Ma. Surprise after all. I was grinning wide after the call.

Jumped to IRCTC website immediately. Entered all details and reached the booking page. Departure time. Arrival time. Travel duration.

Wait.

Travel duration: 41.5 hours.

Err… what?

This looks like 18+24.

Oh! Oh!

The train takes a day extra vs what I had thought.

Of course that makes sense. After all, it is 1600 kms distance on a not-the-fastest-Indian train that we are talking about here. Suddenly, a lot of things made sense. A colleague was wondering aloud how come train option for him is taking more than 30 hours and for me so less when our homes are in similar range of distance. I was crestfallen. The 5 minutes were super exciting. I was just short of preparing a to-eat-at-home mental list.

Simply wrote an email to Mom telling how I had goofed up and that I’ll visit a month later. But I want to go home in 1.5 weeks and not a month later.

Am yet to work on an alternate plan for the long weekend.

From Home of Paneer Tikka to Biryaniland

Saying good byes this time made me realize that I will indeed not meet some of those people again, people who end up becoming an integral part of everyday life. Made me realize that some farewells are final ones, even in the current times of instant connectivity. Thankfully, majority of the good byes are only till we meet again.

Excited about the move more than I can describe, and not willing to admit that I might miss Chandigarh, I realize and acknowledge it was an interesting stopover in my journey called life.

A place where I bought my first car and learnt driving. A huge credit to the grid layout, good roads and traffic rules. I feel like I will have to relearn driving in Hyderabad! Any tips anyone?

A phase where I lived by myself and enjoyed that! And responded to pesky salesmen, election campaigners etc. that parents aren’t home!

A phase where I made a special connection with Indian railways! To the level that a particular month, my account was blocked for having reached the maximum number of tickets that a user can book. (Ok, not all those tickets were for myself!) So long, and thanks for all the rides- Kalka NDLS Shatabdi.

A place where the airport security guard started to recognize me and at one point, asked- When did you get back that you are flying again today?

Btw, do you know what am going to miss the most? The amazing view of mountains from my work desk! Am serious. 

Planting tales*

A weekday morning, 7:25 am, rushing to get ready in time for 7:30 cab.

Phone buzzes. Screen says- Van calling.  I answer the phone and do a quick argument with self whether to take earphones out of the bag or not. I decide not to for untangling them will take me another 1 min.

Phone stuck between my ear and shoulder, I put on socks, tie my shoes, pick bag and lock, turn lights off, unbolt the door, get out, lock the door etc. Alongside, I listen to Van talking about her intern hunting process and something about a marketing class and the number of cases she has to study this semester. She mentions about a particularly boring case and how the prof chose to share the case on a Monday morning whereas  Friday would have given them more time to read etc. (I didn’t point out that free weekends aren’t that bad!)

With home locked and keys in pocket, I start walking down the corridor towards stairs.
Van- I bought a small plant. 
Me- Sahi. What plant? (In my head- Which developing country did she go for that 2 week on-site client tour  for that project of hers?)
Van- It is just a small plant.
Me- OK. But what plant? (In my head- What course was it? Who was the case study client? Did she mention it involved actual seed money?)
Van- Umm… A small plant… don’t know what it’s called. (Meanwhile, I had climbed down one and a half floors and there- in middle of staircase- was a flower pot)… One of those small shrubs!
Me (at the same time as her last 5 words)- You mean a plant in a pot, like a flower pot!!! 

We laughed for next couple of minutes. And then cribbed about the world around for doing this to our conversations!

*Pun intended

Tra(in)gedy

Scene: Chandigarh railway station, 10 pm on 24th Jan, a confirmed ticket to home.

Enters the train and stops such that coach B3 is just in front of me. B3, seat 27! I still decide to check the chart. 27- Kavita, it reads! Err… I check the coach number again. It is B3. I step back to move out of the way of people boarding the train and search for the message on phone. B3, 27… that’s right. But wait, date of journey: 25th Jan.

What! Well… it was obvious, I had booked ticket for a day late than I needed. Looked around for TT. Explained how important it was for me to reach home and how I had a ticket and how I am ready to pay the penalty etc. He coldly directed me to the sleeper coach. I found a seat there. Tried again after 5 min. No favorable response.

Dejected, I started in the sleeper coach. Dad’s voice rang in my ears- “Carry a blanket with you. It will be cold when you board the bus in morning.” I had responded in affirmative and still ignored the advice. After all, railways provides blankets in AC coach and I can manage in the bus for 3 hours without a blanket. Well… it was going to be a long night.

The adventure had just begun. TT told me to get down at Ambala and buy a plain ticket. Despite my offering to pay entire penalty, he insisted that I get a ticket. Train stops for 30 mins at Ambala. With suitcase in hand, I climbed up and down to the main platform for ticket. Murphy’s law, reservation windows were closed for those 10 minutes! They close thrice a day for 10 min each time. Waited for 15 min (Oh yes, I was expecting them to open it on time) and suddenly panic struck. Ran back to the platform, ran like crazy… Train was still there.. phew! It had only become longer now, as two trains had been combined. On afterthought, getting down to buy ticket was one of the most stupid things I have done in life.

Told TT bluntly that tickets were not available and he better give me a seat and challan receipt. Finally a berth I could spread my legs on. But wait, it is cold…

The night got over somehow. Thankfully, it wasn’t as cold as I had dreaded it to be. I managed 4 hours of sleep. I thanked the moment when I had decided not to carry my laptop along on this trip. I patted myself for ensuring that I carry luggage only as much as I can lift. But I couldn’t have chosen a worse time for such a goof-up. Entire family gathering at paternal home for a weekend together.

The story doesn’t end here. Rather, it was beginning of a story which is going to haunt me forever… Every time, I will book a ticket, am sure someone back home will ask me if I have booked for the correct date.

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