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Funny Short – 2

June 11, 2016

Dinner should be something fun. Everyone talks about how cooking for one person is so lame and boring and all that, but I totally love it! Of course, most days I end up ordering in because I’m out late or working, or you know, at home on a weekend when all you want to do is binge watch That 70s Show or The Walking Dead.

 

But when you have the time, you should really feed yourself. There was some chicken. Probably from last week, but it was frozen, so that’s good. Perhaps some onions, potatoes.. No, I lent the potatoes to that pretty girl on the second floor. No tomatoes either. Used that to make up some weird drink.

 

I put out the chicken to thaw and headed to the market. I needed the basics. Tomatoes, maybe some green stuff. Chillies. And then some sauces. Damn, I should have checked a receipe at home. I began scrolling through receipes, standing in the middle of the market. Better than going home and figuring out that I didn’t have something right.

 

I would have headed straight home, but I was trying to figure out the differences between Apple Cider Vinegar and normal vinegar when I ran into the uncle from the third floor. He was just picking up frozen food, because he was home alone. You gotta pity a guy staying alone, so I had a couple of beers home. He gave me a frozen pizza to take home. I diced up the chicken and grilled it with the pizza. Pretty nice meal, washed down with a beer.

 

Should do this more often.

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Funny Shorts – 1

June 11, 2016

I’ve been going through a bit of a writer’s block. It is a weird thing where I can’t seem to be able to write more than 4-5 paragraphs. So I decided I’ll make the most of it and write some funny, satiricial, stupid, silly stuff. That’s what writing should be about right? Having fun? Here goes the first one… Btw, if someone can think of a better title for this, please suggest!

So I decided to walk up the stairs for my health. It was 4 floors, approximately about 25 steps between each floor. Exercise is good for the body and the soul, they said. When I reached the door, I plugged in my music, put my bag crossways and started walking up. The first floor was good. Gave me a lot of inspiration and confidence about how fit I was. The smoking, the drinking, the junk food, no exercise… imagine, how much better I would be if I actually tried to be a little healthy. Or should I? I mean I am in good condition already.

I ran into the stinky guy on the first floor, so I spent a few minutes chatting with him. I mean, I don’t know much about him other than the fact that he seems to own only a couple of t shirts and always gives out this really stale air about him. But he said hey and I felt compelled to explain to him why I was taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Then he said something about his parrot, and his pipe leaking. When he said he always took the stairs, I figured it was time to move on. You live on the first floor. It would be stupid of you not to take the stairs, I thought. Wasted 10 minutes of my time.

I climbed the second floor pretty easily as well. And I would have continued straight to the third, if I didn’t feel compelled to stop at her door and check if gas connection finally came. She had just moved in to the building, and I was just being a nice neighbour. There was no point going up to my place and then coming back down. Or calling her. Or texting her, right? She’d think I was flirting.

Then the third floor. And then the fourth floor. I was a little out of breath by the time I got to my floor. But dude! I just climbed four floors. Anyone would be a little out of breath. This seems like a good idea. I’ll do it every week!

Are we bad at customer service?

June 3, 2016

So the world’s talking about Indian startups and companies. About time too, since we have a few in the top 10 unicorns, and we are the call center of the world. India’s name is definitely on the map.

We’ve tough contenders for Amazon, Paypal, Uber and several other modern-day firms. But when it comes to customer service, Indians seemed to have skipped a page in copying their foreign counterparts.

For instance, Flipkart & Amazon. I’ve been using both for a while. And to be honest, I supported Flipkart a lot stronger than Amazon initially. ‘Apna company’ and all that. But eventually, I got tired of waiting for the company to get their act together and entirely went off the site. There were a few strong reasons, and all of them were related to customer service.

I ordered a TV… and after several days of hemming and hawwing, Flipkart said they cannot deliver the TV. True, this is a vendor issue.. but if Ebay and Amazon can do it, why not Flipkart. I’ve had mostly bad experiences with Snapdeal.

Amazon on the other hand, had a great customer care service who respond to you prompty and ensure that the problem is SOLVED.

Next, Airtel vs Vodafone. Airtel has the worst possible customer service – ever. In any field. Their representatives are rude, nasty and honestly, don’t know what’s happening in the cubicle, let alone the company. I’ve had wrong billings, active connections long after the cancelation requests were placed, arrogant retention service reps telling me to go to Vodafone & refusing to give a decent postpaid plan. The arrogance of the company is horrifying! You’d think they were doing you a favour.

Uber vs Ola: Tried talking to Ola customer care? Or hell! Even a cab driver? The process of reporting is convoluted. The cab driver once charged me extra for toll charges, and when I received the bill (a whopping 650 bucks for 6 kms or so), it included the toll charges. The CC asked me send a mail, with copies of the toll paid and several other details. It was so tedious that I never followed up. Uber drivers on the other hand are some of the most well behaved.

Why do we lack customer service? We are supposed to be among the most hospitable cultures in the world. Then again, we also have a ‘make do’ attitude to do with that hospitality.

One company that I do appreciate is UrbanClap. They’ve got a brilliant customer care team who are tracking queries and more importantly, follow up with you after a few days to ensure that you aren’t facing any issues. More importantly, the person who calls you introduces themselves by name. Each email has a name and a number. Such a level of initiative is unprecedented, particularly in startups! I hope they continue!

Most recently, I’ve had the unfortunate experience to deal with Infibeam. I ordered some toners from Canon (after a loooong search!) and surprisingly, Canon outsourced this openly to Infibeam. The mail I received was cc’d to a rep of Infibeam. Its been more than 20 days and there’s been no sign of the toners, nor any incoming updates from Infibeam. When I reached out, the standard reply has been “give us 48 hours to look into this.”

I wonder why a full fledged company should have so many issues in communicating, when a small manufacturer in Ebay or Alibaba respond to you quicker.

If we truly want to be an international player, we need to up the game – not just in other countries, in India as well. The Indian sentiment will only go so far!

Wage Gap

June 2, 2016

You can’t escape it. No matter where you go. Everyone is talking about this thing called ‘wage gap’. When the topic came up even between a casual conversation, I figured it was time to two put in my two cents worth.

As a woman, I’ve never been aware of a ‘wage gap’. Now, that could be because I was living under a rock (I wish!) or I’m in the industry where women are actually paid higher (reverse wage gap?) or because this doesn’t exist in India.

For all our faults in India and the way we treat our women, there are several positives. In te recent years, there’ve been several schemes that are aimed at giving women an option to save and grow. For instance, the tax slab for women is much higher than men… which means you get to save another few thousands. Interest rates for women savings accounts are higher.

But this doesn’t mean that women are paid on par with men, right? So I checked with a whole bunch of friends and guess what, none of them think there’s a disparity!

There is definitely a disparity when it comes to blue collar labor. Women are paid lesser than men, simply because they are hired to do physically less demanding tasks. Their hours might also be shorter, compared to men.

But when it comes to white collar labour, I wonder if there is truly a “wage gap” or is the discrepancy an indicator of deeper problems.

Employing a man is simpler than employing a woman. I say this as a woman and an employer. Because a woman comes with baggage. And quite often, a woman is not entirely in control of her fate.

Let’s take a hypothetical case of Latha. Let’s assume Latha is a brilliant 23-year old, who has just graduated from one of the top schools in the country.

Latha gets a job in company ABC, and because they are so impressed, they give her a salary that’s more than average for a fresher. Let’s just say around 30 grand. And corporates, being lovers of red tape, also insert a clause that she cannot quit before a year or she pays a ton of money to the company. It makes sense in a way, because they are going to be spending a good 6 months training her.

Latha does really well, and gets an increment when the year ends. Now, a month after she got the increment, she tells her boss that she needs a month off because she’s getting married. She’s got the leave time, so all’s well.

6 months later, she tells the company that her husband got a job in Siberia so she gotta move with him. What you gonna do. So the company wishes her well and tells her that she can come back at any point

But essentially, the company has just spent 30,000x 19 months = 5,70,000 on her salaries alone. Plus the other costs of maintaining an employee. She’s quit way too early, just as they were able to extract some meaningful work from her.

A year later, Latha is back and she gets another great job, this time at 40 grand. She works for a year and then suddenly, she’s pregnant and being a first-time mommy, she wants to take all the maternity leave she can get. She’s a great employee, so the company flexes the rules a bit and gives her nearly 8 months of leave, of which 6 are paid. So that’s another 2,40,000 the company is investing.

After working two more months, Latha decides that she doesn’t want to work anymore and she quits. That means the company shelled more nearly 2 and a half lakh, plus costs for her replacement.

Latha joined another firm once the kid starts school. The company’s great. It even offers day care services and all those fun things. The company does incur the cost for that, but as long as their employees are happy. Then, her husband moves again. Or she needs to take more leave to take care of her family.

As a woman, yes, it is great to have the option to stay at home. But from a company’s perspective, you end up shelling out a lot of money banking on a whole bunch of uncertainties.

In India, we still pay the same to men and women (from what I hear). Yes, there is a major loss of women personnel at a particular level. But there are also women who’ve gone back to work and done great things.

I’ve no real statistics to depend on about how many go back to work or how many quit. But perhaps an employer chooses to pay less to a woman because the company incurs other costs on their behalf.

Or maybe I’m just a frog commenting from my well.

In my limited experience, as an employee and employer, women have often asked for leeway. It isn’t because of physical limitations. Some of the reasons:

  • Cannot work beyond 7.00 PM because their family will not be okay with it (when they want to be a reporter covering breaking news!!!).
  • Having periods and want a sick day – because they are entitled to time off during this time, regardless of if they are in pain or not
  • Need half a day off because they wanted to go home and dress up for a concert.
  • Want a ‘work from home, paid internship’ offers because it is too far to travel to the heart of the city to work
  • Cannot attend a meeting because it might get late and they are scared to take a cab alone

Okay, the last one can be a valid concern. But as a woman who has traveled around the world alone, I’ve learned that you cannot hide at home because some people make the world an unsafe place. You cannot let your gender dictate your ambitions.

I’ve waded through crazy photoshoots when I was having period cramps. I’ve taken autos back home at midnight (and had a philosophical discussion with the stoned autodriver about women’s right to work and travel late at night). I’ve traveled in cabs, driven alone across states. And yes, a part of me knows that it might not be safe. I know that I’m taking a risk. But if that is what the job demands, if that is what I want to do to get to my goal, then how long are you going to depend on others to protect you? What if there is no one to protect you?

Our issue with wage up goes much deeper. It isn’t about the money. It is about how much time you are willing to invest to earn that money. If you are not going to be investing the same amount as the person next to you, then you will get paid less.

The reasons why you cannot invest the same time might be zillion. Perhaps it is your family. Perhaps it is your own fears. And yes, sometimes, the bad boss who overlooks all your good work because you are a woman. Sort those problems out and maybe the wage gap will resolve itself.

Some of the best workers I’ve seen have also been women. Creativity and work doesn’t have a gender. There might be physical and mental limitations, again nothing to do with gender. Some people are better at some things. And wages are and should be set according to that.

Pants vs Skirts

May 4, 2016

You know why pants were made? For horseback riding. Because people needed something comfortable, and to protect their legs. And there are some who say that the first trouser was invented by a Queen – a woman.

But if you are a woman wearing pants today, at some point you are asked the question ‘why do you dress like a guy’?

Our dresses have evolved over centuries, wherein certain garments became popular with men and some for women. Trousers veered to the men’s side mainly because they were out working, doing tasks that required horse riding, and jumping on fences and other things that did not need a garment getting in the way. And women continued with the airy (and then not so airy) garments of skirts and dresses.

Now that women are back out on the streets again doing things, why not go back to that simple garment of pants? It is comfortable. It gives you pockets to shove your keys, cellphone and money into. It means you can sit with your legs up without worrying about your dignity. It means you do not have to worry about a strong wind and flying dresses. It means you stay warmer.

Luckily for women, we’ve had the freedom to take back certain items of clothing. For men, not so lucky. Wouldn’t a guy want to wear something loose and comfortable to work in this heat? Except for Americans, and some parts of Europe, there are forms of a ‘skirt’ still popular, if not in the workplace. A mundu / lungi / sarong is quite popular in Asian countries. Romans wore long tunics, ensuring they survived the hot summers.The Greeks wore some version of it. So why not bring it back? If men will (and that’s the tough part) why shouldn’t they be allowed to wear skirts to work?

Books on Indian Startups

May 3, 2016

I’ve been reading about startups… Or tech companies that were once startups.

So far I’ve read about Twitter (a couple of books), Amazon, Facebook, WordPress (in progress) and a few others.

Midway through this process I began wondering about the “inside story” of Indian startups. We’ve got some good ones. We have a few in the top 10 unicorns as well. So where are their stories? Considering some of them have been around for nearly a decade, hasn’t it been long enough for some books to surface? Or is it too early?

I found one book about Alma Mater. An autobiography. That’s it. There are bibles mentioning a ton of them but where are individual books?

It is the world of click button publishing. An authorized bio, no matter how white washed, could be out in a matter of a few weeks. Haven’t any of the PR Gurus thought of this for their clients?!

Reporters Without Borders

April 29, 2016

I was probably 14 years old when I first heard about ‘Doctors Without Borders’. I was toying with ideas of becoming a doctor, and it seemed that this is where I would head if I did take up medicene.

As things worked out, I decided to become a reporter. And I spent quite a few months applying for all possible posts at Reporters Without Borders. I had no experience. All I had was a vision that this is where I wanted to be. Being a reporter to me was not something simple. It meant you had to walk a tight rope between facts and giving into your idealogies and sympathies. Conflict reporting was something that I was absolutely keen about, and several people asked me why. Several people tried to dissuade me by saying that this wasn’t a place for women.

But what was the point of being a reporter if all you did was write about pretty actresses, annoying politicians and corporate espionage? Human life matters. Beyond race, creed, sex, religion or borders. Something we forget all too often. Something we ignore all too often. It becomes about religion. About terror. About politics.

I wanted to write about the people who were living through this. Give them a voice. Bring their story to the public. And perhaps, in this situation, being a woman was an advantage because women could go in some places where men couldn’t.

From the other side of 30, I can possibly see the naiveity of this sentiment, of this ambition.

But if I got a chance to do it even today, I wouldn’t turn it down. Today, I realise that this was also a desire to learn for myself what the reality was. Not what media writes. Not stories written by people. Perhaps that is selfish.

At the end of the day, it is a person who suffers. It is a child who is left alone. Religion, caste, sex, country – they fade in the light of the misery and the horror. Maybe it won’t make a difference to tell these stories. In today’s world, all it will gain is a like and a share on Facebook. But the story would have been told. It would enter some consciousness, becoming another drop in the ocean, and eventually, maybe it will add up to something.

More importantly, people need to know the stories beyond the bigger picture. The decisions might not always be changeable. They might even be important for the bigger picture. But we need to know the price we are paying for it. If we are building a naval base at the cost of an indigenous society, maybe it is crucial for national security. But that does not negate the fact that we need to know that our security comes at the cost of destroying a culture, destroying landscape.

Perhaps we are building factories on forest land. And this is important for the livelihood of several thousands of people. But you need to be aware of what is the price of that factory. And maybe sometime, we’ve to say that the cost of it is too high. The question remains about where to draw the line… but we need to know.

Hinduism and Buddhism (and perhaps many other religions) have prayers to thank nature for offering us our livelihood. They ask us to apologize for hurting nature or anyone else, even if it is a tree being cut. They ask us to take only what we need and nothing more. Our needs are much higher today, but perhaps one needs to know what you are sacrificing for it.

In any case, a reporter’s job is not to judge. It is only to report the facts. The facts are both that the land is beyond destroyed and thousands of people displaced, and that the new building will benefit so many people and earn them money. It is up to the individual conscience what they think is right or wrong. And that’s why sometimes we need an outsider to give us the facts, because we are too entrenched in our story to see all the details.

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