Last min rush!

Now that the results are out and I have passed all exams, I can tell you the story.

So, one fine day in December, or actually last day of November, on the bright Sunday morning, I was deciding between going home for a few days or attending a friend’s wedding the following weekend. Checked a few options and realized that there is a particular train that goes to my hometown once a week- on Mondays. That suited well, I still had time to book the ticket, reach home by Tuesday, spend a few days there, study and be back in time to write the exams.

Oh ok, I need to tell you the exams part also. I am enrolled for a distance learning master’s course and the exams for the same were scheduled from 15th to 19th Dec. I had a flight ticket for vacations booked for 20th. As the last min opportunity to spend time at home arrived, I jumped to it. Booked a tatkal ticket for almost 2.5 k. I didn’t stop there. I even booked a return flight ticket for 13th to be back in time for exams. Needless to say, I had not studied at all till then, I didnt even know names of half the chapters but was confident that 10 days will be more than sufficient.

Being the obsessive organized person (?) that I am, I decided to download and print the hall ticket in advance. I had received an sms a couple of days ago saying the hall ticket was now available online. When the hall ticket appeared on screen, the exam dates appeared as: 1/12/14, 3/12/14, 5/12/14. I was confused. Super confused. I checked the name and roll number on the hall ticket. Those details were indeed mine. Then I checked the courses’ numbers and names. Damn. Right again. I quickly switched back to university homepage and searched for timetable. Well, the dates for my courses matched the ones on my hall ticket.

And then it dawned. I had checked the time table almost a month ago and it had read- Tentative. Well, I can’t be blamed. Who would expect tentative to be so tentative? I hadn’t paid a second thought to that word. It was only in hindsight that I realized university releases multiple time-tables. Well! What purpose does the tentative time table serve? Everyone knows the exams will be in December.

So, there I was, with 22 hours for an exam for which I had not studied apart from writing 10 essays for assignments 3 months ago. I called mom and complained. She cajoled me to study as much as possible that day, write the exam the next day and if am not satisfied with my performance, catch the train for which I had a ticket anyways. Called dad next. It was one of the very few times I heard a hint of disappointment in his voice: Basically, you are telling me that you just booked a tatkal ticket for 2.5k and then you realized that you have an exam tomorrow. You are more responsible than that. That’s all. I felt so disappointed in myself.

Next, I called P and G and cribbed and demanded some favors. I need print out of hall ticket. I want someone to drop me to exam center tomorrow morning. I need someone to keep checking on my study status. Oh, I also want a particular brand’s blue pen for writing.

Finally, I sat down to study. The good part is that the exam paper has 10 questions and any 5 of those have to be attempted. I picked 12 chapters out of 16. Slow and steady… the day went by and I kept reading without having much time to reflect. I managed to sleep for 7 hours before the exam. P got me breakfast, print out of hall ticket and dropped me to exam center the next morning.

It wasn’t as bad as I was dreading. One needs to write more than 2500 words in 2 hours. Given the limited writing practice that I have nowadays, I could not have written anymore than I managed to, even if I was better prepared. I decided to appear for other two exams as well. At least there was 1 full day for each of those. J gave me a surprise visit at the exam center after the 2nd paper and we had a fun evening before I set out to prepare for the last one. After exams, when classmates were discussing how they had studied only for 2 weeks or 3 weeks, I kept my mouth shut.

Not having to study (or to pretend to be studying) during vacations was the best thing that came out of this confusion.

Recently, I was going through the university website for subjects for next semester and there it was: Announcement- Results for Dec 2014 exams are now available. My heart skipped a beat. I hesitated before keying in my roll number. Phew! I had passed. Scored marginal in 1 but the other two scores are actually pretty good for this kind of theory exams. My reaction was- Yay, I can tell the story now, with a happy ending. And stay in illusion that at least a few people care about such stories.

Customer service

Off late, I have become overly sensitive to customer service quality. Small gestures, whether by a big company or a small outlet/individual, go a long way in making an experience a memorable one and paving way for a long term relationship. The corollary holds, too. Of course, I know, it is simple human psychology and has been known to people for ages. Makes me wonder why it is still so uncommon, especially with telecommunication service providers in India. Monopoly, did you say? I would agree.

Last week, day one of my new assignment, I caught a cold which led to a headache. Frustrated with myself for not having any medicine or food with me, I sulked on my way back from office. I had been warned about that specific area often, about the unsafe roads, arrogance autos etc. While waiting for my host to pick me up from metro station, I kept walking around aimlessly- cursing the chill wind. Suddenly, I spotted a chemist shop and realized I should buy some anti-histamine.

It was a small shop. I asked one of the assistants for 5 tablets of Cetcip and handed him a note of 100. 10 bucks- he said. No change- me! He did not even bother to check his cash register- probably he was sure- and said- No issue! Give cash tomorrow. I was surprised, in a nice way, while still fumbling through my wallet and pockets. I found a Rs. 5 note (yes, a crumpled note and not a coin) and said this is all the change that I have. He simply took that and said that’s OK!

I know it wasn’t a big amount and wouldn’t really make a difference even if I didn’t turn up the next day to pay the balance. He would probably not even remember! On the other side, it makes all the business sense- building trust with a customer, showing care when the customer is vulnerable and not in best shape. Despite that, very few places would do that. A brand chain would never do that- let someone short of a few rupees change underpay. Although, they would shamelessly give out candies or other useless things instead of change when they are short- and not include those candies in the bill.

Anyways, the transaction uplifted my spirits and the medicine improved the cold. I went back the next day to pay the pending Rs.5. The long term effect- whenever possible, I will have a preference to go to that shop for general stuff over any other comparably convenient store. And that, my friends, is business generated!

Right or no right left

I love train journeys. Especially the short ones or the overnight ones. A new route that has become a frequented one for me is from Delhi to my hometown and return. You guessed it right, this post is about a few incidents of that route.

It is a 6 hours journey. My plans are mostly last min. A particular early morning train mostly has seats available in 3AC. So, my usual travel process is to get to buy a general ticket at the counter half an hour before the train, enquire with the AC TT if there are any seats available in 3AC, (I generally have a prior idea of availability basis online info and the chart) if yes, board 3AC, else board sleeper coach, pay the appropriate fare difference to the TT and get a reservation.

Incident 1: TT arrives, I show my general ticket and ask for the due amount and hand him Rs. 500 for 450ish due. He provides me appropriate change and receipt and moves on with his job. Even before I could get back to staring out of the window or reading on my Kindle, the neighbouring uncle, with utter concern starts his sermon: “You could have saved 300 rupees there. You should have just given him 200 rupees and he would not have said anything. You kids need to learn saving. This is not bribery. This is how things work. The only person who lost right now is you.” And on and on. I made a feeble attempt to protest. That railways loses. That if I want safe and comfortable rides, I ought to pay railways for the same. That it would indeed be bribe. Unfortunately, all I could say is “I am not comfortable with such negotiations.

Moments like these leave me in dual mind. I want to take a stand. But am afraid- for my own safety and peace of mind. After all, I have a few hours more with those people in the same cabin. I don’t want a continuous discussion or argument. A tiny part of me also fears retaliation. I wonder even if I try to explain, would my argument make a difference in the mind-set of such people who have already dismissed me as a novice!

So, I just give a sheepish smile and turn my attention to the book or to my cell-phone but a part of me keeps wishing I could take a stand having to fear. Am sure a guy in my place would have managed to talk back to such “well-meaning” uncles.

Incident 2: TT arrives, I show my general ticket and ask for the due amount and hand him Rs 500 for 450ish due. He provides me appropriate change and receipt and moves on with his job. Towards the end of the journey, he arrives again and small-talks. Asks me if am from the place I boarded etc. I mention my hometown which is 50 km from the boarding station. Turns out he has a connection with my hometown. And that left him super guilty and apologetic: “I made a big mistake. I am really sorry. I should not have given the ticket to you.” He repeated this thrice. I kept saying: “That’s fine. I wanted a proper receipt. I had asked you for the reservation ticket. I always travel with proper ticket” “But no, I didn’t know you are from place P. It was my fault to give you the ticket. Yours was the first and the only ticket today!” There were at least 10 other people in that coach who had boarded on a general ticket.

Incident 3: Sleeper coach. The extra fare over the general ticket is 90 bucks. The TT was an exception probably- asking everyone for actual amount and giving receipts or giving them the option of shifting to the general bogie on the next station. More than 50% people in that particular coach were people like me- with general ticket. For those 90 bucks also, almost everyone was arguing with the TT- Why don’t you take 50 bucks and let it be? 90 bucks is too much. We can’t go to general compartment, we have kids with us, we have luggage with us!
Someday, if railways decides to do a rate-utilization or income analysis on different routes, this route isn’t going to look a high priority route, although it is. Train would be changed from daily to a few days a week! And we, the people, will stage a protest against railways that day, blame the system for being corrupt and people-unfriendly. I don’t even want to think about scenarios like accidents.


P.S.1. Saying “railways does, railways decided” et al sounds odd, but so does “railways do, railways decide” What’s your take?

P.S.2. I know the title is lame. I felt like being lame than saying- Train stories-1

Memory lapse

There was something that I wanted to write about…
Something that struck me as totally worth of a blog post while roaming around in Germany…
Something that I was so sure I will remember that I did not bother to note it down…
And as it turns out, I cannot recollect… Damn!

Will update as soon as my brain manages to search its long term memory vaults and find a thread that can lead to the details of what I wanted to capture.

On that note, Europeans, in 16th century (and around), used to drink alcohol rather than water because of prevalence of water borne diseases and lack of water purifying systems. Apparently, women could not cook good enough food as they were mostly drunk, so a law was passed that they can have only up to 9 bottles (9 liter) of wine every day. Ok, the wine was much weaker that we have today, may be wine isn’t the right word but that’s what I was told.

Words are all I have…

Capturing my response to the FB book list challenge here. I should make it a live list. Also, should pick from lists of others for my to-read list.

Thanks Vijay, Debanjan and Shubhra di for the nudge. Books have always been my favorite retreat. I have often read books whose name I forgot the very next day- not because the particular book was not good, but because I just wanted to finish it before returning and didn’t bother to look at the cover page long enough to absorb the details.

Here goes a sub-set of the long list of titles that I really enjoyed, books that taught me varied things, took me places I haven’t been yet and to times I can’t live. In an almost chronological order of reading. 

  1. Balhans, Nandan and Champak fortnight editions- My first friends. How greedily I used to wait every week throughout primary school, switching between Hindi and English editions.
  2. Enid Blyton’s books- Middle  and high school. Probably finished every book present in school library.
  3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy- Douglas Adams. Don’t Panic!
  4. Mrityunjaya- Shivaji Sawant.  Mahabharat written from Karan’s viewpoint. I read the Hindi version.
  5. A Thousand Splendid Suns- Khaled Hosseini (and his other works).
  6. Sea of Poppies- Amitav Ghosh. Pre-opium war story set in and around Bengal.
  7. The Emperor of all Maladies- Siddhartha Mukherjee. A biography of cancer, as the sub-title reads. Biology is complicated. And then you mix all sorts of engineering to it.
  8. Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the edge of history- Canyon Sam. Redefined resilience for me.
  9. The Storyteller- Jodi Picoult. Life after “the” holocaust. Guilt, forgiveness, and many other facets of human nature.
  10. American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company- Bryce G. Hoffman. A business book that kept me up at nights.


And we drive on

So, it looks like I have driven more km (or miles, if you prefer) in the US than in India. What does that deserve a mention, you wonder!

– I have been a sole owner of a car in India for last 2 years.
– Time I have spent in the US with a car, till date, is just around 2 months.
And I have not been going for road trips in the US every possible weekend. It was just a couple of times.

Since the first time I drove in the US, every time I find myself in middle of a discussion about “Driving in the US after driving in India”, almost everyone disagrees when I say- “It’s pretty easy. Just follow the rules and the signs on the roads.” (Please excuse the bad statement construction.)
But I still stand by that. Back home, I have to continuously guess which direction the car/bike/truck/bus/auto-rickshaw in front, on the left or on the right wants to go (and multiply that with the number of vehicles around), where a pedestrian might jump out from, what exactly does the vehicle behind want to communicate by that loud, continuous horn when there is a stop traffic signal and it goes on. Information processing taken to its limit!

Chandigarh was relatively better in these and some more aspects (but that’s an exception, not a norm). In Hyderabad, there are no potholes, but the sheer number and sizes of speed-breakers make up for that.

Worry not, am not fuming at the status in India. I will continue to drive there, still a little defensive may be. The fact that I haven’t have had even a brush with another vehicle or person on the road acts as a motivation and a confidence booster.

Just that,  I have a huge respect for the people- friends, family, strangers- who drive safely in India, without cursing, without faltering, with good control. I now understand how much effort it requires.

The point of this post was to self-applaud for safe driving and wish myself- Happy driving, in many more places and for many more miles!

P.S. My flatmate told me last week that car back home has a flat tire et al. Looks like someone (/thing) is unhappy with me.

Dialogue in the Dark

Ever spent time in dark? Absolute dark, without a candle, or a cellphone, or stars, or moon, or fireflies… any sort of light around you? When whether eyes are closed or open did not make any difference at all? If yes, where was it and for how much time?

You must have guessed that Dialogue in the Dark is something of that sort. Else why would I ask that sort of questions!
If this is the first time you have come across DiD, I suggest you quickly check their website, especially the description of the exhibition and be back here to read more. If you have, lets continue our conversation.

So, this place was on our (my Hyderabad group’s) to-visit list for a long time. It appears on Tripadvisor’s Things to do in Hyderabad at # 17 (as of this post being written) and at # 6 in Hong Kong. I am sure it would be highly rated at other locations too. Before you dismiss it away at a touristy place, let me mention- it was anything but a touristy experience.

6 of us made reservation for a fine evening and reached well before time. The courteous reception staff gave us tickets and led us to a dark room after we deposited our cellphones, watches and everything that can emit any light. We met our host-cum-guide there. He gave us basic instructions, handed a cane each, asked our names and off we started on our journey.

Walking in a park, taking a boat ride, visiting a canteen and ordering chocolates while counting money in dark, playing cricket, guessing spices by their fragrance, “seeing” architectural wonders using finger tips… And the seemingly endless corridors…

One word that would describe the entire hour: Overwhelming! The entire experience was pretty smooth and safe. The guide was super talented, cheerful, understanding and patient. Still, I was overwhelmed. It was not easy to accept the darkness. Whether I opened the eyes or closed them, it felt exactly the same. I over-relied on my sense of touch and hearing. Didn’t take a single step till I could feel the wall or the shoulder of the person in front in addition to tapping the cane. I kept seeking audio clues and verbal assurances. Took me time till now (almost 2 months) to admit that I was overwhelmed. All my friends were much calmer.

The best moment was seeing the guide at the end of the tour. He looked very different from what my mind had imagined. But when I tried to recreate the mental picture of him, I failed. He has done a PhD, has a lovely family, takes public transport and travels one hour each side to get to and back from work every day and loves his job. I was inspired.

It is one thing to sympathize and a very different thing to even try to empathize.

I highly recommend that you visit any of the DiD exhibitions whenever you get a chance. The one is Hyderabad is just INR 300! They have a dinner in dark too, which I hope to try some day. I promise to myself that I will be calmer the next time. The entire design and set-up is extremely safe, with the guides and support staff well-trained and groomed. All I need is a bit of trust- on self and on them.

What similar experiences have you had and would recommend?