A letter to a stranger


This post is written for the Letters Unsent prompt from Write Tribe.

While the prompt asks us to write a letter to a stranger who made an impression on us, I have taken the liberty of addressing the letter to a variety of strangers who have made an impression on me, read the letter to understand more of what I am talking about.


Dear Strangers,

Since it is practically impossible and impractical to write separate letters to each and every one of you, I am writing a combined letter to all you. For ease of your understanding, I have addressed each and every one of you separately.

The ones who urinate in public places

I have seen you in most Indian cities that I have visited and lived in. While you are prevalent in some cities more than others, without an exception, you are present in all Indian cities that I have been to. I wonder if what it is that you drink that makes your bowels so uncontrollable that you have to empty them even if it means unzipping in public and urinating in complete view of the entire road. While I understand that the urgency might be too much to control in some cases, the fact remains that most Indian cities today have public toilets (free or charged with a nominal fee of Re 1 in most cases) which have been specifically built with the sole purpose of catering to urgencies like yours.

While I can empathize to a smaller extent to the uneducated ones among you, what surprises me is the fact that there are lot educated ones in your group. There you are, wearing a tie (probably a salesman) or lugging a laptop on your shoulder (IT company types for sure) or wearing a decent set of formal clothes who park your two wheeler on the side of the road, and unzip to do the deed without any hesitation thereof.

What is it that will make you understand the necessity of public hygiene in the country? You strangers have left quite a ‘stinky’ impression on me.

The ones who jump the queues

You, I have seen in almost all places where there are queues, ranging from bus stops, counters at Govt. offices, supermarkets, cinema theatres, security checks at airports, to any place which demands an organized congregation of people.

While most of us stand in line, wait our turn, you folks seem to be in such a tearing hurry to save those precious few minutes of your life that you conveniently ignore all the dirty stares, at times verbal abuse from us, and just go straight ahead to the head of the queue and extend your hand into the counter.

On multiple occasions I have publicly stated my disapproval of your attitude and your technique, and also have physically moved your hand away from the counter window (which in any case is small enough only for one fist to go through), but you never seemed to care about what I or anyone else thought of your boorish behavior.

While I understand that growing up in the chaotic milieu that India today is teaches you that you need to be a ‘go getter’ to move forward in life, don’t take it so literally that you start disrespecting everyone who stands in a queue and just move forward at the cost of all their time and energy.

The ones who treat elevators and suburban trains as a game of ‘who rushes in first’

While I have encountered you in elevators only, given that I have not travelled in suburban trains too much, I have heard enough stories about you from friends in Mumbai and Chennai. You are the ones who treat elevators and trains as games of ‘who rushes in first’ without giving an iota of thought for the people who are disembarking. Funnily enough, you also crib about how people rush into elevators and trains, when you are at the receiving end of such treatment.

You are part of that group of elite few who seem to have been trained in elbow taekwondo (or an equivalent martial art). As soon as the elevator or train arrives, you invariably push your way into the same pushing people to your left and right by poking them with your elbows. You don’t even seem to care for the ‘oncoming traffic’ of people who are disembarking and make your way into these crowded places.

And then there are some among you who add a backpack to the mix. Despite the fact that you operate in crowded places where you are barely in control of your own body, the added appendage to your back in the form of a backpack ensures that the unfortunate person behind you is poked in the eye, chest, shoulders or other body parts depending on their relative height when compared to yours. Why is it that you refuse to take off your back pack and hold the same in your hands when you have to get into a crowded elevator or a train. Will it take special orientation classes for you to understand that it makes a lot of sense to hold your luggage in your hands on such occasions?

The ones who blatantly break traffic rules

Once again, I have had the pleasure of making your acquaintance in every Indian city that I have been in. You are the ones who follow the rule – “If I am not going to get caught, then I don’t have any qualms breaking traffic rules.

You are the ones who drive on the wrong (or is that the ‘right’) side of the roads, the ones who drive through red lights when there is no traffic cop nearby, the ones who think that helmets are vehicular accessories which are put up as totems on the two wheeler handles, you are the ones who think that seat belts are for ‘loser drivers’ who have no confidence in their abilities, you are the ones who think that one hand is enough to maneuver cars and two wheelers while the other one is busy cradling the mobile phone to your ears, you are the ones who think sending a SMS or a Whatsapp message when driving is cool.

All the things that you folks do all over the country scare the stuffing out of me. As it is, the roads are filled with drivers who simply don’t seem to care about all the other users of the road, and you folks, with all or some of the above anomalies add to the dangers of driving in Indian roads today.

All you wonderful strangers who have made extremely strong impressions on me, this letter was meant for you to reflect on your personalities, your actions and see if there is anything you can do to change my impression of you.

Yours exasperatedly………..just another stranger


Image courtesy : Google image search for ‘stranger’ cartoon

The loser…

Dennis had always been a loser.

Right from his childhood, he had been obese. His mother had brought up him on a steady diet of pastries, cakes and sweetmeats. For the first 15 odd yrs of his life, not one meal time had passed him by where he did not end it with dessert. In fact so much so, that eating sweets had become his comfort mechanism.

Dennis had always been a loser.

Right from simple games at school like running races, soccer, cricket or simply running around the school playground, he was the clumsiest and slowest courtesy his weight and ungainly girth. He was always made fun of, he was always the joker in the pack, he was always the laughing stock.

Dennis had always been a loser.

The one time that he had tried acting in a play, the wooden stage creaked and shuddered so much when he was up on it that the headmaster had to intervene and stop the play in the interest of the safety of the entire audience and the others on stage. In any case, the role was an unsubstantial one, that of a tree with eyes, without any dialogues. After this incident, no one dared to ask him to participate in any other school activity which involved coming up on stage.

Dennis had always been a loser.

At college, though girls became friends with him easily enough, he soon realized that was because they treated him completely different from the other guys. He was more like a conduit through which they passed their messages to other guys. He was not even close enough to be called their friends as they didn’t treat him with enough love and affection that they treated even their acquaintances. To the girls, he was more like a use and throw paper napkin than anything else. He was their friend when they wanted something to be done by him and he was persona-non-grata when they didn’t have any specific use for him.

Dennis had always been a loser.

But today Dennis was the winner because he was a loser.

For the past 30 days, Dennis had been part of a competition which truly tested him, pushed him to the limits of his patience and endurance, probed his mental and physical strength, and he had persevered enough to be the winner.

Even today Dennis was a loser, but he was the winner because he was the ‘biggest loser’. He had just won the competition – Biggest Loser Wins!!!



This post is part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by Blogadda.


This post was picked as one of the WOW picks of the week on August 12th, 2013.


Overparenting….yes, there really is such a term


Yes, there is such a term called ‘over-parenting’. Read this Wikipedia article about the same.

I first heard (or actually read) about this particular phenomenon some months ago when I read this article about the book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ written by Amy Chua. You can read enough and more articles supporting and against this particular book and its concepts all over the internet, just google “Tiger Mother” and you will find hundreds or even thousands of articles.

What prompted this post was the fact that I came across this article in Firstpost about how today’s parents put too much pressure on their kids to perform well not just at school and academics but also outside of school, in the playground, at home, wherever they are, whatever they do.

My wife and me noticed the fact that most of the lanes around where we stay in Bangalore are crowded with pre-schools/play-schools and how all of them seem to have some or the other summer camp going on. From teaching kids painting, dancing, crafts, and all other assorted types of hobbies. We have started this daily walk habit and everyday we take a different route to walk in, and everyday we notice new pre-schools and play-schools, but one theme is common, all of them are in the Summer Camp season right now. This led to both of us wondering what we used to do when we were kids. And the consensus was that we pretty much used to spend time either at home, or at an uncle’s house with our cousins doing nothing focused, playing games at random, enjoying the summer sun, and the glorious outdoors with minimum adult supervision. Yes, we might not have realized our true potentials as painters, dancers or singers, but we turned out Ok, didn’t we!!!

Having said that, our parents led less hectic and tedious lives. They didn’t have to travel 25+ kms a day to office, they didn’t have to drive through ‘road-rage’ filled traffic, they didn’t have to contend with as much pollution, they didn’t have to fight tooth and nail to get good appraisals and promotions, they didn’t have to worry too much about job security, etc. As parents nowadays, all of the above items are realities. As adult individuals, if we face so many problems, then just add the children variable to the equation and it is quite clear that today’s parents are screwed.

Today, we have to necessarily worry about our careers and the money we make simply because pot loads of money is what is required to ensure that our kids have a good future. Something as basic and simple as a pre-school costs at least INR 5000/- for a trimester, and I am not even talking about the world-class pre-schools, but regular neighborhood aunty-variety ones. A school admission in any decent school (meaning one with qualified, accredited, good teachers) does entail some kind of donation irrespective of whichever politician or policeman you know. Add to this the cost of uniforms, books, school bus, other related items such as stationery, accessories, etc, and all of this in today’s prices adds up to quite a bit.

And guess what, given the number of kids that are enrolling in decent schools, the competition for any decent degree such as a BE, B’Tech, B Sc, B Com, BA, etc has also exponentially increased. Making our kids employable is another costly story which I am not even getting into.

The above two paragraphs kind of explain why today’s parents are anxious to ensure that anything and everything related to their kid’s development and education happen without a glitch. Where today’s parents make the mistake is when they get personally involved with their kid’s learning (not education but the learning process itself). Today’s parents are not allowing their kids to make mistakes and learn from them. Yes, kids require hand-holding, but it is only when kids fall down will they learn that falling down hurts, but they also learn that when they fall down, all they have to do is to stand up, brush themselves off and continue walking once again. They need to learn that falling down is only a temporary setback and not a permanent one. As parents, our responsibility is to ensure that kids learn to stand back up on their own, learn to brush themselves off, and teach them to start walking again. We need to teach our kids how to overcome temporary setbacks, rather than taking steps to ensure that they never face setbacks or failures.

In fact, this wonderful article from The Atlantic goes on to talk about why parents should allow their kids to fail once in a while, as it makes the kids tougher, grittier and stronger to face bigger failures when they are older. This other article from The Atlantic talks about how parents from different parts of the world perceive their children’s state of mind, and it is interesting to note that American parents seem to focus more on the cognitive development of their kids whereas European parents seem to focus more on the state of mind of the kid. Europeans seem more laidback when compared to Americans in terms of how their kids develop ‘scientific skills’ compared to ‘life skills’. I personally would love my daughter to develop more life skills as I believe these will anyways help her pick up scientific skills later on an ‘as-required’ basis and thank God, my wife agrees with me on this.

Image courtesy: http://blessedexistence-blessed.blogspot.com

Customer Service in India….not quite dead yet…


When we talk of ‘customer-service’ in India, I am reminded of what my Services Marketing Professor back at IIM Indore used to tell…in India, a customer is one who will “kasht-mar”, loosely translated in Hindi, it means “someone who will die (mar) due to the kasht (troubles)” caused by the seller. Using that analogy, you can imagine my impressions of customer-service in India. And truth be told, in the 20+ yrs that I have actively, individually been using services in India such as banks, mobile phones, mobile service providers, cable TV providers, and other such assorted services, the customer-service has been nothing too great. In fact, if I managed to get decent service, that was a bonus, and if I managed to get a smile from the service provider, that was like a double bonus 🙂 .

The entire above paragraph was just to give the readers an idea about my general perception of customer service in India. Please note that these views are based purely on my personal experiences and are probably not a general statement about all service providers across India.

This being said, when I walked into GK Vale, Photographers, at the New BEL Road branch at Bangalore for two simple requests, I wasn’t expecting too much from them. All I wanted them to do was to scan one photo and give me 3 prints of a larger size. And the second request was to cut out one person from one photo and another person from another photo and merge them both into one new photo and give me 3 prints of the new photo. Simple enough, right?

Wrong…first up, the person behind the counter, the so called ‘expert’ informed me that the merging cannot be done without even enquiring with the person who was actually in charge of the merging process. He didn’t even bother asking the Adobe Photoshop expert whether it could be done and flatly refused even to take the order. It took my intervention and speaking to the person behind the computer and showing her the two photos after which he took the order for the merging.

I was then informed that the merging would take place on the system after approximately 12 hrs and that I would be required to come back to the showroom on Sunday morning at around 11 AM to confirm whether the merge was correct, and then the photo would be printed and delivered to me by around 6 PM on Sunday evening. While I didn’t understand why it would take them that much time, I consented for the same.

On Saturday evening at around 4 PM I was then called on my phone and informed that the merging was done on the system and that I had to approve of the same before the photo could be printed. When I went back to the showroom, one person was watching some B-Grade horror movie on one computer, and another person was checking his Gmail. While I understand that these things can be done when there are no customers around, the fact that even after I entered the store and stood there for a good two minutes without anybody caring for me, while the movie viewing and mail checking was going on was quite disturbing to say the least. After a while, the person watching the movie turned around and asked me what I wanted. When I told her that somebody had called me to approve of the merged photo, she just turned around and continued watching her movie. After standing there quietly for around 2 more minutes, when I asked her what to do next, she told me that the person performing the merge had gone out and would be back in 15 mins. I then sat down waiting for the Photoshop expert to arrive.

And then when the expert did arrive, she promptly parked herself next to this lady and started watching the movie. It was only when I spoke to her and told her that I had come over to approve a photo did she get up and show me the merged photo.  I was then informed that I could collect all my photos, 3 prints of the enlarged photo and 3 prints of the merged photo at 8.15 PM the same evening.

Then I made my third trip to the showroom at 8.15 PM on Saturday, when I was informed that while 3 prints of the merged photo were available, only 2 prints of the enlarged photo were available. Apparently there was some error when they placed the order with the lab where these photos were printed. While errors are acceptable, the fact that the information was provided to me without so much as a simple “sorry” or any kind of regret in behavior/tone of voice/attitude was what irritated me to the core.

I was asked to come on Sunday evening at 3 PM to collect the one remaining print.

All of these experiences ticked me off so much that I went ahead and did something for the first time in my life. I actually sat down and narrated these experiences in a mail and sent it to 3 mail ids which were mentioned in the store as Customer Care mail ids. The typing out and sending out of the complaint itself were my wife’s and my way of letting out our frustrations without actually hoping for any kind of responses or results.

What happened later completely took my wife and me by surprise. We actually got a call from the CEO of GK Vale enquiring about the exact nature of my complaint. We were then informed that this particular branch, the New BEL Road one was 1 of 5 franchisees of GK Vale and that there were 26 other stores in Bangalore, Mangalore and Hubli which were run by the company itself. Apparently, a few other customers had complained about the poor customer service at this particular branch and the franchisee had already been warned about the same. Based on what the CEO told me, I get the feeling that this was the last straw and that the company would withdraw the franchise from this particular guy.

What happens to the New BEL Road franchise is not the point of this long post at all. Rather, the fact that somebody as big as the CEO of the company took time out to read my mail and give me a call, apologize for what happened and explain the corrective action being taken in this regard, that completely surprised me and left behind a really good opinion about the individual and the brand in question. For an Indian brand to be so sensitive to its customer opinions, take action based on complaints, and that too so promptly, was really surprising to me. I guess Indian consumers still have some hope for better customer service after all.

On a related note, read this Firstpost article about the author’s experience with Amazon.com customer- service.

Image courtesy: GK Vale official website

The Mahatma, the Movie and Mindsets

January 30th, Martyrs’ Day, the day The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi passed away. One of his favorite bhajans was

raghupati rāghav rājārām,

patit pāvan sītārām

sītārām, sītārām,

bhaj pyāre tū sītārām

īśvar allāh tero nām,

sab ko sanmati de bhagavān


Literally translated it means


Chief of the house of Raghu, Lord Rama,

Uplifters of those who have fallen, Sita and Rama,

Sita and Rama, Sita and Rama,

O beloved, praise Sita and Rama,

God and Allah are your names,

Bless everyone with this wisdom, Lord.


Such a nice and small poem which still holds complete relevance in this day and age. When The Mahatma sang this song during the Dandi Salt March, its popularity soared so much that it remains to be sung to this day all over India whenever anybody thinks of him.

That being said, it is quite ironical that today was the day I read these three news items –

  • The controversy caused by SRK’s article in The Outlook magazine, now hosted on NDTV [Link]
  • The controversy caused by the TN Govt over the release of Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam [Link]
  • The pre-emptive ban imposed on Salman Rushdie by the West Bengal Govt [Link]

All of this leads me to wonder just like Kamal Hassan did, do I want to live in this country whose constitution (law of the land) calls it a democratic secular republic. Well, we do have democracy at least in name, to the extent that all of us who are more than 18 yrs old can vote (that is, if we can find our names in the electoral rolls and if somebody else has already not voted in our names).

However, given these headlines and based on various conversations that I have had with well educated colleagues, friends, family members and everybody in general, I struggle to find even 1% of secularism in this country. All of us are so tied to our belief systems, our prejudices, our notions, our stereotypes of how various communities are, how people from these communities behave, etc.

Most of us seem to believe that the only way we can live in India is to judge people, events and base our reactions and lives accordingly. Nobody seems to be willing to be just a little more open-hearted, welcoming of dissonance, welcoming of disagreements and overall truly secular, in all sense of the word.

Wonder if it is just me who is frustrated at all that is happening right now, or are there more folks like me out there thinking similarly?