Sunday 25 May 2014

The Dread of Attending Weddings in Summer

I dread attending weddings in summer. It's something like visiting hell in all finery. If you are part of the immediate family, you not only have to suffer the wedding day in the heat but also attend to all shopping soirees and pre-wedding functions. It's like sitting in a steam bath wearing silk.

The pain starts at the time of departure from your home to the venue. You are fully draped and dressed in accordance to your relative distance from the bride or groom. The farther you are, the less of the finery you can be in. If you are just a friend or an office colleague, it doesn't matter how you dress. But you still have to suffer.

To make it easy, make discreet enquiries if the venue is air-conditioned or if in an open ground. If in an open ground would there be a shamiania/tent erected for the guests or only for the part where the solemnization will take place. If its during the day and usually in the forenoon, you should ideally carry a change of clothes. Not one set but preferably two or may be as many as you can. You should attempt to go dressed in shorts and a tee and change at the venue itself. That way you will not reach drenched in sweat. Please note the part that you get sweaty the most is attempting to find a parking space and if you do find one it will be at least half a mile away from where you have to be. If it's an open venue, stay away from the holy fire and be close to one of those pedestal fans, if there are any. Pay some gratuity to a waiter and ensure that any cold liquid being served is brought to you first and then to the others. Make yourself comfortable and remember that you get to go home at the end of all this. Avoid wearing artificial fiber. In the words of my tailor, your feet will be encircled by tiny droplets of sweat falling from the inside of your trouser legs.

Food is going to be another misery inducing item once all ceremonies are over. Having spent a good part of your time enduring the chants and mantras, drinking super sweet cool drinks and eating deep fried snacks, you would still be hungry. Lunch these days is mostly a buffet spread and very few weddings have a traditional sit down lunch. But the traditional food cannot be avoided and you will be consuming a lot of sugar that will eventually make you thirsty and spices with a slow release heat meter that will leave the soles of your feet burning, not to mention your innards.

Mercifully people have found a middle path and are renting air-conditioned venues. But as I said, they are a middle path as food is served in the attached open ground or a non air-conditioned adjoining hall. So basically your suffering is reduced by half.

A long time back one of my friends, a respected lawyer, once jokingly remarked that couples who marry in summer have greater chances of a divorce. His logic was simple. All the guests and invitees end up in discomfort that is forced upon them and instead of receiving blessings, the newly married coupleis silently cursed.

If this was not enough, you also have to gift something worth an amount that goes with your status and that of the family that has invited you. Effectively you are paying for your soul sapping experience. What an irony.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Banking and Signboards

Banking is a very difficult business. At a customer level nobody teaches you banking. You learn through trial and experience. Private banks deal with banking as a product and government banks treat it as a charitable service to you.

Anyway today's post is a result of the incomprehensible signboards on the numerous service windows of my bank. This bank started by one of India's most trusted communities with foreign origins, completed about 100 years last year. I have been an account holder for 30 years or so. Despite having held an account for so long therefore a visitor for all these years, I am still not able to decipher any of the "helpful" signboards made for portraying an image of being customer friendly. Nationalization and compulsory use of Rashtrabhasha has only made matters difficult. Use of archaic English is rampant when almost 90 % of the country's population has difficulty with foreign languages or at times with their own mother tongue. Do you know that a whole lot of government banks have Rashtrabhasha departments with the sole objective of promoting the use of Rashtrabhasha and for translating and releasing all official communication in Hindi. Apparently a Rashtrabhasha week is also celebrated every year.

Coming back, I was in my home branch to deposit some money. There were two windows, each one said "Cashier A/B", "Passbook printing". The Rashtrabhasha signboards were missing maybe because of the recent renovation and computerization. Previously there used to be Khajanchi, Mukhya Khajanchi, Adakarta Khajanchi and Deyakarta Khajanchi and of course "Teller". To me Khajanchi was my neighbour who owned several grocery shops in Dadar. Teller was someone who tells you how much money you have or don't have. Apparently in ancient times money was denoted by "tales" and therefore "teller" or whatever be its history which has no connection whatsoever with modern times.
I looked at the line of people ahead of me and what each one of them was holding. A visual inspection always gives a better idea of what to expect at the window. So there were hands holding passbooks, pay-in slip books, withdrawal slips and cash. I seemed to at the right window. After five turns and a lapse of about 25 minutes that included the time spent by the clerk for a toilet break I was able to push my slip book and cash through the tiny hole in the window and utter the word "Deposit". I was immediately shown a finger pointing to the adjoining window. I was aghast. What had I done wrong?  I quietly moved to the next window which mercifully had  no line of people in front of it. Yes there was sign on the window that said "Receivables above 25,000 only. Tokan payment only". Now what is that supposed to mean. Who is going to receive the receivable and on which side of the window. What is tokan payment. Do you get only part of what you are supposed to receive?

Thirty minutes later I am still where I was Thirty years back. I think I should write to the Mukhya Prabandhak asking for the installation of a Jaankari Kaksh at the entrance.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Terms, Conditions, and Declarations

This is something that most people don't read unless they have enough time on hand and nothing else to do. It's called "Terms and Conditions".

I booked a letter through a courier service right next door and was promptly handed a printed receipt or airway bill which could be tracked through their website. On the back in bold were the "TERMS AND CONDITIONS". I am sure there is only one original draft of these terms prepared by an attorney for the pioneer in this service and has been conveniently "copy pasted" by whoever has chosen to enter this business with their own twists and correctness. This is what caught my attention:

1.      Due to existing regulations the company will not accept the following items: Antiques, Currency, Drugs, Explosives, Fire Arms, Jewellery, Liquor, Live Stock, Money Orders, Personal Mail, Works of Art, IATA restricted articles, Instruments in bearer form and Articles in Liquid Form. The Shippers, sending any such article without declaration /wrong declaration, shall be doing so at their own risk.

2.      All freight excluding the items noted in Point No. 1 are accepted entirely at the risk and responsibility of the Shipper/Consignor.

So what does that mean.

Read term no. 1 carefully. To me if I ship any such article without declaration or wrong declaration, it will be entirely at my risk. But does that also mean that if I declare them, it will still be shipped that too at the risk of the courier.

If you read term no. 2, all items excluding those listed in point 1 above are being accepted at the risk and responsibility of the Shipper/Consignor. So again items listed in term 1 above will still be shipped at the risk and responsibility of the courier company.

There are other questions that come to my mind on the exclusions. What constitutes Work of Art. Are wild animals excluded as well. Is jelly liquid or solid. How do you figure out personal mail in a sealed cover.

What you declare and how you declare is also important as I learnt some time back. If you go to a post office, you will have to carry your parcel in a semi open/close state so that the clerk can check the contents. Once verified you will be told to get it cloth bound and sealed with red wax on the stitches. Now this sealing is done outside the post office and nobody is bothered whether you have exchanged the original contents with something else.

Move to a private courier/delivery service. There are no written declarations. The clerk will feel the packet, check the weight and if he feels so he will question you on the contents. If they do not fall in a category that he considers ineligible for shipping, your parcel will be accepted else rejected.

Now there was a sample of ladies face powder/compact to be shipped by someone I know. It was immediately rejected when the clerk heard the term "powder" irrespective of what preceded it. It was also immaterial that it was compacted in its small case with original packing and history of manufacture and could not be considered as weapons or ammunition grade. No amount of explanation worked.

Move to another courier company. The same "powder" when informed to the clerk over there as "ladies make up sample" was accepted without further questions. After all its about the right declarations.

Monday 5 May 2014

Health and Fitness - a culture or government policy

On a recent visit to Singapore, a news item caught my attention. The Government of Singapore was giving a grant of SGD 100 to all citizens and permanent residents to invest in sporting and fitness activities. This was to be facilitated by Sport Singapore (a statutory board of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) through its venture ActiveSG. And this is not just for the young. It's for people of all ages.

to know about ActiveSG

How about that. Here is a Government not just setting up sport and fitness facilities but actually encouraging its people to use those facilities and be healthy and fit. There is a vision to see all residents in good health. Good health means lesser expenses on healthcare.

Another thing that I noticed were the fitness and sporting facilities in the apartment complexes (having anywhere between 100 to 1000 apartments) and whether built by the Housing Development Board (HDB) or a private developer. Almost all had at least a full size swimming pool, tennis courts, gym, children's play area and even squash courts and open walking spaces. You can be rich or poor but enjoy almost the same basic facilities when it comes to fitness. Of course if you are living in a detached house of your own, you may have to step out of your compound to enjoy them.

Most developers here will give you a wading pool, a couple of treadmills for a gym and a 1000 square feet garden for an open area to walk and jog on.

Do we see this happening in our country. It's a Yes and a No. Yes for the sports facilities (read stadiums and anything that can be built under a concrete canopy) that all politicians are interested in setting up and no for anybody using them. For any grant that is available there is always a way of claiming it without putting it for its intended use.

For some reason sport and fitness are neither part of our culture nor lifestyle. There is emphasis on studying and working and not on playing any sport or games involving physical activity. You play games/sport as a child in school. As you grow you have to focus on your grades and career. A sport is wastage of time. There is greater emphasis on earning money and supporting the family (including extended family) rather than wasting time on physical fitness. In the adult stage, none of us really get into physical fitness till a doctor informs us of lying in bed in a vegetative state for the rest of our lives as an alternative to not being fit and healthy.

Honestly I do not see the government do anything about it. Forget grants for gym memberships, you will be lucky if your child gets a larger than a saucer play area. After all how many of our "leaders" or potential lawmakers promised you healthy lifestyles in the present elections.