Wallet mystery

A good friend, lets call him KV, lost his wallet a month ago. The speculation process since then has been a fun puzzle.

The most probable location of losing the wallet is the cab in which KV was traveling to office. Wallet was in his jacket’s open pocket and the jacket was by his side in the cab. The wallet must have fallen out of the jacket on the car seat. One of the unintended negative effects of radio cabs and e-payments- KV didn’t have to reach for his wallet while stepping out at the end of the drive. No cash transaction was required.

A couple of hours later, KV wanted to order some snacks and realized that the wallet was missing. Cab was his first guess and he had cab’s and driver’s numbers, thanks to radio cabs concept. The driver denied having found anything on the backseat. Apparently, he had taken some passenger off the road directly instead of online booking after dropping KV off and hence, didn’t have contact details of that passenger.

Speculation # 1 – Driver had found the wallet and kept it

Speculation # 2 – He was telling truth. Probably the next passenger took the wallet

Of course, 1 and 2 assume the wallet had fallen in the cab, and not anywhere else.

The wallet had KV’s driving license, PAN card, debit and credit cards and cash around 2k. And oh, the wallet itself was a gift. Cards were blocked, the loss was lamented, cash was borrowed from friends, process for new license was checked… and soon things were back to usual. There was a hope that the wallet has fallen somewhere on the road and a nice person will pick it up and contact KV. Wallet had more than sufficient information to be able to contact. No one called.

A few weeks later, prior to one of his usual Jaipur trips, he exclaimed- this time I can take a train, instead of having to go by bus! Yours’ truly went… umm, what?
ID card! Traveling by train needs a valid ID card and I didn’t have one.
Oh ya, you don’t have any. Did you get a new ID card so soon?
What, I haven’t told you yet! OK, I got my wallet back. Actually, I got all the cards back.

So, a courier had arrived at KV’s home with all his cards- credit, debit, IDs.

I jumped to offer my analysis of the situation- Someone must have found the wallet and decided to courier your belongings. That’s so nice of that person. May be someone took away the money, probably that passenger from cab or the cab driver and threw the wallet. The sender must have found it and decided to courier to you. But why didn’t he call you?

KV explained that there was no wallet though. Add to that, the packet was actually open/torn when it reached. It was a local courier company and checking with them didn’t yield any result.

Speculation # 3 – Driver or the passenger had thrown the wallet somewhere after taking the cash out. Sender found it and couriered the cards. But then, why would she/he not identify herself/himself?

Speculation # 4 – The person who took the cash (and wallet?) couriered the cards. Did not identify as he had kept the money.

Speculation # 5 – Someone had sent the entire wallet, may be with some details. Delivery person opened it up and kept some of the stuff!

I know, you must be going in your head- got the important things back, right? Forget about who sent, who found, what happened etc! I would agree to some extent. But then, reaching the end of a story without knowing the entire sequence feels incomplete.

Is sender a nice person who sent whatever she/he found or someone who actually took away all the cash and the wallet? Praise the sender or blame? Had someone tried to send all the things back, may be with her/his name and phone number but all that reached were cards, thanks to the courier company? No acknowledgement or thank-you will ever reach that sender.

One person can know only so much stuff! So is life.


Hundreds of crores of Indians

… medical devices that can be deployed not only in India, where hundreds of crores of citizens lack access to basic healthcare, but also in the US, where 5 crore Americans lack medical insurance.“- Chapter 9, Building Jugaad Nations

Where do these hundreds of crores of Indians reside? Is this sum of Indians over last few centuries? Last I heard, census 2011 stated India’s population to be 121 crore (rounded off to crores).

Authors of this particular book that I just slammed down*, Jugaad Innovation- A Frugal and Flexible Approach to Innovation For the 21st Century, think otherwise. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly?), all three authors have an India connection.

While I do not deny that a huge ratio of Indians, around 50%** lack access to basic healthcare facilities stating a number that is higher than the entire population seems stretching use of hyperbole a little too much.

Why do they use an exact number for American statistic but a vague, super-inflated number for India for almost same parameter and in the same sentence? Why? An official statistic could have been found for India too. Oh, but that wouldn’t have served the purpose of showing how poor the conditions are in India, how it is a nation of unwell, diseased people with no access of any kind of health care infrastructure or resources or even a dream to live healthy.

I am blaming myself for having picked the book up despite zero recommendations from my circle. I am blaming myself for having the patience to reach the last chapter. The book had been on my reading list for quite a while- mainly because of the catchy title and frequent discussions around the word Jugaad in various manufacturing projects.

I thought of writing a detailed review but then, this particular one on Amazon sums things up aptly. Surprisingly, the book has a >3.5 rating on Amazon, Flipkart and Goodreads.

* Figuratively only. I didn’t want to risk breaking my Kindle over such a book.

**Healthcare access is an issue in rural parts. 70% Indians reside in the rural India. Even if 70% of them lack healthcare access, that is around 50% of our population. I am using estimation instead of using an exact, official figure simply to stay in line with the hyperbole usage by the authors. 60 crore people without access to healthcare facilities is not something I am proud to be stating, but then, my maths knowledge refuses to equate that to hundreds of crores.

P.S. Struck me while posting on Facebook. May be the authors use a number system other than decimal.

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.