Monday, August 31, 2009

The price of anger

Anger is the gate to hell, rightly proclaims the Bhagavad Gita. It’s funny how different people react when angry.
My uncle used to give me and my brothers an instant slap on the neck. Ooff. Scary. Another relative will take the mirror and strike against his own head when furious with his wife. There was this colleague who would run up and down when angry. Another one would scream at the drop of a hat and immediately run for a cup of water.
My sister would stare frighteningly at me for three continuous minutes and I would look everywhere else except at her.
My wife had a great technique when angry: Stand still and quiet. I
will first start arguing and she will remain silent. I will start
shouting: Quiet. Then I will start screaming. Answer: Silence. I will
bang my head against the wall. She would quietly say sorry. And
pusssss…matter ends with a hug.
There’s this guy who tried laughing therapy and would smile everytime
he got angry. Slowly but steadily, the smile would turn into wrath
and all hell would break loose.
The price of anger?
Mere desperation, loss of wonderful friends (as has happened to me
many times) and above all, peace.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

She came with boyfriend

I was watching a documentary on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Pumping iron is no easy task, boss. These guys really sweat it out. Like I said earlier, the pain is the pleasure. Arnold talked about how focused he was during competitions. “No emotional attachments. Winning remains the goal.”
He talked about how once he was preparing for a contest when his mom rang up to say “Come home son, your dad is dead.” But the bodybuilder could not agree. “Sorry, I cannot make it now,” was all he could say.
Asked about the lighter side of life, he revealed how a guy came for his advice. “I am an expert in bodybuilding poses. Just gimme additional clues,” the guy asked. Arnold decided to have some fun. He told the best different style would be to scream everytime he posed at the competition. Scream the guy did, but was promptly thrown out of the contest.
Talking of bodybuilding, I remember I used to visit a gym near Victoria Terminus in Mumbai. Among a lot of sportsmen, I found a lone, attractive girl lifting heavy weights. The second day I was in the gym, I introduced myself to her. Don’t forget, I wasn’t married that time and there was this lurking fear that she would throw the weights on me. Fortunately, nothing like that happened. She agreed to reach my office the next day for an interview for my newspaper. While I eagerly awaited her, she came. Hold on, she came along with her boyfriend.
The story appeared, and my dream disappeared.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh dog! My ego's hurt

Poorva's interesting experience is worth sharing. Hence repeating her comment as a post. This is what she wrote from Texas:
I too had a brush with death when another "guard dog" took upon himself to protect his master!!!
My father and I were dragging an old cupboard out of the gate, when our neighbour's dog decided that we were tresspassing! He bounced towards us making a horrible noise which I suppose was a growl! My father was nearer to the entrance and had to defend himself. So he let of the massive cupboard which evidently slammed into the ground and after I broke its fall!
My father is 6.2 feet tall and when the dog jumped up, he was almost as tall as my father!
Mercifully our neighbor was watching and came running and stopped the dog by just tapping his tail! Alsatian's jaws snapped inches away from my father but thankfully he was unhurt! I ran away yelling...frightened to the core!
I ended up with minor bruises and a severely hurt ego :P!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sit down, Johnny

The role of private detectives always intrigued me as a journalist. I heard about a private agency in Dadar, Mumbai, and decided to meet its boss.
The guy proved to be enterprising. He invited me to his house. I knocked at the gate. And the door opened instantly. But guess what. There were two huge Alsatian dogs, black and grey in colour. They were looking so ferocious it seemed like they could reduce me to pulp in minutes. As I stood almost pissing in my pants, the boss passed a loving command to the beasts.
“Sit down, Johnny.”
I peeped in to see the gentleman smiling. “Don’t worry. They won’t harm you,” he smiled.
What sit down? Already one was licking my leg and another was reaching for my shoulder. OMG. I was sweating profusely despite the AC.
Somehow, I managed to chat and get a good story. He mentioned about how a gang would approach innocent people and tell them there was crow shit or some muck on their shirts. After diverting their attention, they would pick the victims’ pockets and escape. His group helped the police arrest the gang.
He presented me a thick stick made of special plastic. I had placed it at my home as a safety weapon for my wife when I went on night duty. One early morning, when I returned, my wife opened the door on hearing the bell, but was holding that stick ready to attack.
Thank God, she did not.
Given a chance she would is another matter.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An ass’s tale

Back to memory lane. I once came across a one-para tidbit in a Tamil magazine about a lady helping injured donkeys in Britain. I wrote to the British embassy saying I would like to write a story about her. The response was prompt. I had Elizabeth Svendson’s address and details within a week. I wrote to her and her response was again brilliant.
She sent me her book titled “Down among the donkeys.”
Her arguments: The donkey is not a lazy beast of burden. It is a gentle, patient labourer, uncomplaining, working in slavish solitude and carries enormous loads from fields to his master’s house.
Cruelty inflicted on these innocent animals is beyond description. In a Spanish village, a bizarre event used to be organized. The oldest donkey in the village of Villanueva de la Vers would be martyred cruelly. The fattest man in the village would be put on the donkey’s back. The animal would be dragged through cobbled streets by a rope attached to a heavy noose around the neck.
What struck Svendson during her trips abroad was that there were apparently few donkeys over the age of 11. In Ethiopia, she came across donkeys waiting to carry owners and goods back to villages as distant as 15kms.
I do not know about Svendson now. But I never ever forget her contribution to these wonderful animals.
When someone calls me a donkey, I do not take any serious objection. Hey, does not mean you call me by that name.
BTW, you are aspiring to be a journalist? Beware. Two decades after this full-page report in a Mumbai tabloid, I have not been paid yet.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Smile, don't laugh

Being all alone in a foreign country is a challenging task. One may at times do weird things. Me no exception. I clicked a snap of myself with the mobile-cam after applying a face mask given by my daughter. Now smile, don't laugh at me. Okay?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tamil forum's do-gooder role

(This article is of interest to UAE residents published in The Gulf Today. Posted for my record only)
A vibrant multicultural society with around 200 nationalities, the UAE offers expatriates opportunities to play a productive role in the welfare of citizens and people who have made this country their home.
The Tamilians consider themselves an integral part of the UAE society and are keen to play their part in a positive way.
It was well past midnight when an active woman member of the UAE Tamil Sangam (UTS) received a distress telephone call. "I have lost my job. I am calling from the temple complex in Dubai. Is there anyone in your organisation who could help me?" "I am not in a position to repay my bank loan. Will they arrest me?" was the question posed to another member by an anxious individual.
In just over an year's time, the UTS has become an active forum for Tamil-speaking residents of the UAE to share, support and help the community in times of need. The UTS was founded on Nov.7 2008 and inaugurated by Syed M Salahuddin, managing director of ETA Ascon Star Group and Essa Abdulla Al Ghurair, vice-chairman, Al Ghurair Investments.
"The UTS is a non-profit organisation devoted to furthering Tamil culture in the UAE. We seek to promote Tamil cultural, educational and community activities. We are open to all people interested in promoting the ancient language. The support from the government authorities and Dubai Police to our social and charity activities are highly encouraging," said Ramesh Viswanathan, president of the sangam and an IT professional.
"We bring out the hidden talents from all over the UAE, recognise them through competitions and shows and publish it in the media. We are planning to hold in-house and competitions between Sangams. Among our immediate plans are charity shows to help the poor and orphans in and around the UAE. We also intend to introduce a Group Insurance Scheme for UTS Members," Ramesh revealed.
The Sangham also has a proposal to teach different languages focusing on how to communicate (day to day) in shops, hospital, hotel and other such places. As part of its activities, the UTS is already lending a helping hand to the Indian Association for the Blind, old age home in Madipakkam, Chennai, orphanages in Tamil Nadu, besides organising blood donation camps in the UAE. With recession gulping away several jobs, one of the activities of the UTS that has proved a hit is job assistance. "The sangam has been helping people get jobs through its web site by citing 60 portals. Several have benefited from this. Numerous people also took advantage of the UAE EIDA software that we put on our web site," claimed another active member, Prasanna.
The UTS website provides Tamil Nadu pin codes, Tamil fonts, health tips, besides a link to the Indian government website. "For those who intend to tie the knot but are not able to find the right match, the sangam offers free matrimonial service," added a member.
"There are instances when people struggle to get medical support. We have doctors who are specialists and guide those in need," remarked UTS member Saleem Khan. "The UAE is a multicultural society with around 200 nationalities. The Tamilians want to play a productive and positive role in the welfare of all," chorus the committee members.
The UTS committee includes Ramesh Viswanathan, Prasanna, Saleem Khan, Mohamed Sirajudeen and Hidayathullah, while Sreeganga Ramesh, Kavitha Prasanna, Vaheedha Suhail, Chitra Prosper and Amirtha Ameen form its female wing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bond with nation

This is a long interview about National Bonds in the UAE, mostly of interest to UAE residents. Posting this only for my record. Cheers.
The global downturn has reminded many of the importance of savings. With half a million people already opting for National Bonds, the Sharia-compliant savings scheme backed by the government of Dubai is proving to be alluring option. In fact, while the global economy has been witnessing a fiscal punch, the sale of National Bonds has been seeing an upward trend.
”National Bonds will continue to invest in projects that are safe and suitable and also look at launching new products. We will always look at opportunities that are good for National Bonds and for our bondholders. Being government-backed is itself a guarantee to the investor. The programme is based on the Islamic principle of Mudaraba, whereby at the end of the financial year 20 per cent of the profits made by the National Bonds Corporation will be distributed among bondholders,” revealed Bruno Rochecouste, Chief Commercial Officer, National Bonds Corporation PJSC, in an exclusive interview to The Gulf Today.
National Bonds awards 101 prizes every week, of amounts ranging between AED1 million, AED10,000, AED5,000, AED1,000 and AED500. This amounts to Dhs1,155,000 in total prize money awarded each week.
Details of the interview:

National Bonds achieved an impresssive annual profit rate last year despite the downturn. How do you foresee your results this year due to the current situation?
National Bonds returned an impressive profit rate of over 7 percent last year and over 6 percent in 2007 versus comparable savings schemes. Although it’s is not possible to determine in advance this year’s profit rate, the first half has been positive for National Bonds and we foresee this remaining as competitive in 2009 as it has been in the past.
What is the demographic profile of investors in National Bonds?
We have representation from all strata of society, people from all walks of life. At present people from over 91 nationalities constitute our customer base. As of July, UAE nationals hold 32 per cent of the bonds, Asian expatriates 20 per cent, Arab expatriates 20 per cent, Western expatriates 8% and others 12%. We have the high net worth customer, the middle income level and the low income level customers. We have individuals and corporates who have invested in National Bonds. We have people who have purchased bonds to the value of 100 dirhams, which is the minimum purchase of National Bonds, as well as those who have invested millions of dirhams in National Bonds. Institutes have by far been the customer segment that has seen major growth, registering a record 149% increase in 2008 over the previous year. We found that youth and women were neglected, for example by the banks. Our young bondholders grew by 50% and female bondholders increased by 40 % over the previous year.
What is National Bonds doing to encourage a culture of savings/investing?
National Bonds is the national savings scheme. So we consider it as our primary goal to promote a culture of savings in the UAE. National Bonds has stepped up its efforts to encourage people to save. We are on a major campaign in schools to help children understand the value of money and inculcate in them a lifetime habit of saving. For example, we have just launched the National Bonds School Achievement Program. This endeavour of National Bonds aims to educate students about the benefits of adopting good savings habits at an early age and motivate them to perform better, save further, get rewarded and overall, contribute towards the well-being of society. National Bonds is also a Support Partner in the “ Lets save for a Noble Goal Campaign” that was launched recently in Abu Dhabi as a part of the Royal Euro 2008 Football Charity Auction, which was organized by “Nahtam Social Responsibility” in association with the Swiss and Austrian Embassies. The saving campaign aims to instill the saving habit amongst children and create awareness about the importance of saving for themselves and for the less fortunate children. National Bonds is also continuing to become a favorite place to save thanks to a number of exciting initiatives introduced including our increase from monthly to weekly prize draws.
How do you secure the investment made by bondholders in the context of the current situation?
The fact that half a million people have decided to save with National Bonds is because they are secure in the knowledge that it is a safe, exciting and rewarding Sharia-compliant saving scheme. We are very careful in how we invest, as people have entrusted us with their lifetime savings. Our investments are protected. We are also backed by the government of Dubai and that should give enough encouragement and confidence to anyone who wishes to save with National Bonds. Being government-backed is itself a guarantee to the investor. The programme is based on the Islamic principle of Mudaraba, whereby at the end of the financial year 20 per cent of the profits made by the National Bonds Corporation will be distributed among bondholders.
With many expatriates leaving the country for good due to retrenchment, what kind of impact has this had on your customer base, and would this in anyway impact on your investment strategy?
Other than redemptions, which is a normal feature in a flexible scheme like ours, the customer base has not been affected. In fact, at present we have over a half million bondholders from over 91 different nationalities. Our investment strategy does tend to be more conservative – we focus on assets that are aligned with our commitment to providing a safe, secure and Shariah-compliant way for our bondholders to save. In 2009 National Bonds will continue to invest in projects that are safe and suitable and also look at launching new products. We will always look at opportunities that are good for National Bonds and for our bondholders.
You announced recently that you have moved to weekly draws (the draws being monthly before). Why did you decide to do this, and have you seen sales jump as a result?
The change in the draw format is aimed at encouraging more people to save and be rewarded. National Bonds hopes to fulfil the aspirations of many more bondholders and see even more “Millionaires” in the National Bonds family. This year, we are committed to increase the number of savers and hope the existing bondholders increase their bond value through numerous initiatives like the new draw format, and further expansion of the distribution network and introduction of innovative products and services. We have seen an encouraging trend in sales and are expecting a 100% growth by end 2009.
What is the differentiator of National Bonds, from other saving schemes?
National Bonds is the Sharia complaint savings scheme that offers bondholders a regular profit distribution at the end of every financial year combined with an opportunity to win weekly prizes offering a top prize of AED1 million. In addition, National Bonds announced the highest annual profit rate of 7.07% in the UAE on saving schemes for its bond holders for a second consecutive year in 2008. The company is largely owned by the Investment Corporation of Dubai and leading local entities like Emaar, Dubai Holding and Dubai Bank. The scheme also offers free to join and free to leave i.e. no additional charges on purchase and redemption transactions.
Some people compare National Bonds to a lottery. How would you counter this perception?
We are not a lottery. In a lottery some win and some lose their investment. National Bonds is a Mudaraba system where the capital is protected. You will get back your investment whenever you wish, plus you will get 20 percent of the profits at the end of the year. The aim of having weekly draws are two-fold – firstly it is a gesture from National Bonds to thank bondholders for putting their trust in our scheme and secondly it is to encourage people to invest more and become regular savers. Their savings are in safe hands, as we constantly strive to ensure a good return for all our bondholders.
Given that I have invested in bonds, what if I don’t win in any of your draws, what will I get out of my money?
If the bondholders do not get the opportunity to win in the weekly draws, they will still be entitled to the profit disbursed by National Bonds Corporation PJSC at the end of every financial year
Many customers feel that after the change from a monthly to a weekly draw format, they have lost out on the smaller prizes like AED 100, which some used to win regularly, also many of them don’t stand a chance to become a millionaire because this is limited to those who have invested AED 10,000 and above. Are you reviewing/revising your draw structure?
We are not planning to further revise our draw structure, as we have just launched it. However, we do review the format in terms of performance and delivery and we are quite happy with the progress made since we announced the weekly millionaire draws. We had revised the format after conducting studies and surveys with our focus groups and after receiving feedback from the majority of our customers. In addition to the top prize, bondholders still continue to win a range of other prizes including AED10,000, AED5,000, AED1,000 and AED500.
Why should people choose to save in bonds during the economic crisis?
In tough times people do tend to save for a rainy day. Frankly, the saving culture, as we know it in other parts of the world, does not exist in this region. National Bonds has taken the lead in encouraging people to save and promote a culture of saving in UAE society. This is why our sales went up quickly with the start of the global economic downturn.
People will save for different reasons - for their children’s education, to buy property, to get married, and so on. National Bonds has become the magnet for people who wish to save. We are committed to nurturing a savings culture by encouraging people to save in National Bonds.
What if a person has been terminated, how can he redeem the bonds from his home country?It’s very simple. If they wish to continue with National Bonds they just need to update their address, and mobile number through our call centers. If they win, they will get an SMS and the certificates will be sent to them by registered mail. In the same way, they can redeem the bonds as well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

‘Gavaskar is 24-hours cricket’

Once I told a senior colleague Pradeep Vijaykar in sports department of The Times of India that I would like to interview Sunil Gavaskar. “Go to Nirlons, Worli,” he directed.
I rang up Nirlons and managed to talk to Gavaskar. “I am under contract. So forget the interview,” he replied. But I thought I would give it a try anyway. Took a bus to Worli, entered the reception and asked for Sunil.
“You have an appointment?”
“Yes,” I lied.
Within a few minutes, Sunil was there, surrounded by a bevy of pretty girls.
“Ramesh?” he asked.
“Hiii..Sunil,” I ran towards him.
“I told you I cannot give an interview,” he said.
“Boss, I just want to talk to you about Gavaskar and other activities. Nothing to do with cricket.”
“Gavaskar is 24-hours cricket,” he replied, winked and walked off.
You can imagine the disappointment. Looked around and saw famous cricketer of those days, Karsan Ghavri, sitting in a cabin. Ghavri was in news for some alleged comments he had made on Gavaskar.
Met him and came out with an interview titled “I was grossly misquoted,” that was published in the Evening News of India.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Star encounters

“You keep asking others. Why don’t you share your experiences?” asked colleague Neena Sharma. I slipped down memory lane.
1983. Absolutely raw out-of-college Madrasi enters the never-sleep city Mumbai. Joins “Free Press Journal” daily as a sub-editor on Rs600pm salary. Does not know Hindi. Shy, but wielding a strong weapon: Confidence.
“Hey, I want to interview some Bollywood star,” I told colleagues. The immediate reaction was laughter. “You Madrasi. First speak Hindi. Will you have the guts to interview a film star?”
“Maybe you should start with Rajesh Khanna. He is coming back with new films,” said one. He was starring in “Avtaar” and “Souten.”
Took up the challenge. Rang up the number they gave and told by the voice, “Come to Bandra residence.” I took a bus the next day.
(Vague memories): There was a huge black door which was not locked. I entered and saw Rajesh Khanna watering the plants. Being a raw journalist, I approached him straight and said loudly: “Mr Khannaaa..”
Two stout guys rushed towards me and pushed me into a room.
“Who are you?” they asked in Hindi.
Thank God, they felt easy. “Come to Esel Studios tomorrow. There’s a shooting,” said his secretary.
Took a Hindi-speaking paste-up artist Shashikant Nikshe along with me. Again by bus to Trombay.
Watched the “Durga” film shooting. (Hope my memory is right) Hema Malini was standing in a blue sari in a court room, while Khanna repeated his same dialogue twice or thrice as a lawyer. Hema was looking serious and so I was not keen to talk to her, except saying “Hello Maam.” My friend kept saying, “We have come to meet Mr Khanna. Stick to that.”
During a break, Rajesh Khanna called both of us. He talked in fluent English. One question I remember asking him was about “Haathi Mera Saathi.” “It’s a film without language barriers and about elephants. No wonder, it was a super hit,” he replied.
I asked about his wedding trouble. I distantly remember him replying about his then wife Dimple, “She’s just the mom of my two daughters.”
The story appeared in Free Press Bulletin under the title: “They want me back.”
For aspiring journalists, here is a word of caution: I have not been paid for that article as of now. And yes, Khanna was smoking branded cigarette, but he did not offer us one.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Catch up tomorrow

I am down with headache and severe cold. No, no, not Swine. Catch up later. Cheers.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Independence Day

On this wonderful day, let's Indians think global. Let's capture the world's heart with our love, affection, hard work and integrity. Let the world ask us how we are able to rise above divisions and stand united. The sweat of hard work, a contented smile, enough money to enjoy basic needs and never ending pursuit of wisdom - let this be our motto. When God is with us, who can be against us? Cheers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

He just wanted shoes

Scorching summer, scares of swine flu.. nothing more is needed to challenge our spirits. To break the dull moment, asked my new colleague (hey, you sure remember the international student from the US/Lebanon/Taiwan) to share some other interesting experience of hers. This is what she said:
I was volunteering at a charity shop in Oxford. Various items, including dress material, were being sold off at throw away prices. A man entered in a tattered suit, but without any shoes. “I am homeless and jobless. All I need is a pair of shoes for an interview. Could I please borrow a pair and then bring them right back?” he pleaded. I was willing to let him take one, but the manager was strict and asked me to choose between my job and a free offer. Rules are rules. Ultimately, I shelled out two pounds from my pocket and offered him what he wanted. A couple of days later I did spot the man – in the same suit. The shoes were intact too. Only, he did not recognise me. But I felt happy I had done something worthwhile.
When she finished, I patted her and she just giggled.
My prayer is to be surrounded by such friends.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stop nagging, darling

A Chinese husband jumped into a river unable to take his wife’s nagging, I read in a paper. Will I do the same thing? No, my wife nags too, but she knows the limit. Also, she knows I would jump into the river along with her, not alone.
I remember a friend who had a nagging wife. Wherever he went, whoever he met, she would demand to know the details. She would call him every one hour and get an update.
What is the secret of your patience? I asked him.
“You think I am henpecked?”
“Hmmmm.” I avoided a direct reply.
“One day I decided to put an end to her nagging. We had a major fight. Tears rolling down her cheeks, she told me she had no choice as her entire world revolved around me. We have no children and she’s alone at home all the time when I go out for work.”
I patted him.
“Do you and your wife fight?” he asked me innocently.
“Of course.”
“Who wins?”
“Naturally me. Why doubt?” I asked him.
“Can I tell her you have lost the gold chain she had presented to you?”
“You villain,” I vanished.
Who wants another fight and two days of “no talking” nonsense!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Morons in business

Long time, no jokes, I told comrade Anil. He shared what he had heard:
Four morons decided to start a business. “A restaurant is the best,” suggested one. All agreed and pooled a huge investment to start a restaurant. Even weeks after the inauguration, not a single customer entered the eatery.
Reason: They had put a board “Outsiders not allowed.” (Instead of “outside food”).
They decided to start a garage. Weeks after, there was not a single vehicle that came for servicing.
Reason: Their garage was on the second floor.
Fed up, they decided to run a taxi. Weeks after, there was not a single passenger.
Reason: All four of them were in the taxi all the time.
No business anymore, cried one. Okay, let’s push the vehicle into the sea and disperse, said another.
One full day they tried, but the vehicle did not budge an inch.
Reason: Two were pushing from the front, while two were pushing from the rear.
Concluding, Anil asked me: “Could you lend them a helping hand?”
Why me, do I look like a moron? I asked him.
“Which moron accepts he’s one?” he asked and disappeared before I could clench my fist.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happily pursuing her

Being a bachelor/spinster is a damn huge challenge.
My colleague from Pakistan ZI is gleefully single. Yesterday, he was surrounded by six of us, all “happily married” but “unhappily wedded” to responsibilities.
“ZI, why don’t you get married?” we chorused.
“Not that subject please,” he tried to run off. “Let me enjoy freedom for some more time.”
“You are skirting the issue.”
“What issue? You mean kids?’ he asked as if innocent.
“Any major plans tonight?”
“I will eat, freak out, watch a movie and crash late at night.”
We turned green with envy. “My wife told me to bring sugar from supermarket,” moaned one. “My wife talks non-stop on phone. The bill and my BP shoot up together,” grumbled another. “If I do not reach home early and cook, my husband will bash me up today,” muttered a senior female colleague.
“Stop grumbling and leave me alone. I am happily in pursuit of the right mate,” yelled ZI.
“But promise you will join our club of married people soon.”
“Don’t spoil my mood.”
“That’s the idea, buddy,” I told him. “When we are harassed by our Mrs, How can we let you Miss your share?”

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

She’s not stingy in smile

She’s in her early twenties and holds an American passport. With roots in Lebanon and Taiwan, she is an international citizen bubbling with energy and enterprise. And now she is a wonderful colleague for all of us in our office.
“You smile 24/7? How do you control anger. Do you start 1,2,3…?” I asked her. As usual, the mischievous journalistic queries.
“No, I don’t count 10,” she giggled. “You should see me fighting with my family folks. Outside, I always retain my cool.”
“No argument with anyone so far?” I did not want to let her go that easily!
“Well, that guy,” she started.
“Which guy, what, what?!”
“Some students in the US campus were judgmental. We used to have a point system in canteen. An American classmate kept asking me to pay on quite a few occasions. When I refused once, he retorted, “You are an international student. You must have rich parents. You should pay.” I told him, “My parents spend more for my education than yours just because we are so-called international students.” He moved off.
Any incident that annoyed you?
“There’s a girl who rang me up at 4am one day. She said there was a rat in her room and wanted to share mine. I had to go at 6 and there was no way I would allow her to trouble me at odd hours. The next day I heard she had complained to five friends about me.”
Latest experience that cheered you?
“I landed in Taiwan and at a particular place I dropped my brand new camera and the zoom got jammed. In a matter of minutes, the Taiwanese guys not only replaced it in toto but refused to take payment saying it’s a petty matter.”
Are you stingy? I continued.
“Not really!” her eyes twirled.
“Then order tea for all of us.”
“Bull sh..,” she escaped.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Life behind the counter

My friend Anil introduced his pal B, whom I found enterprising. So off I went with my questions. He had had a stint with a famous retail giant in Dubai, where customers came from different countries, and he manned the cash counters.
“Tell me some interesting experiences,” I asked him.
He felt Europeans and Americans were friendly. A majority of Asians are cheerful and warm but there have been some unpleasant incidents, he said.
“What, what? Temme?” my journalistic instinct of negativity was at work.
“A lady who speaks my language bought some items and tried to pay through credit card. But it was in her hubby’s name and did not have the mandatory subsidiary benefits. When I told her we can’t accept it, she blew a fuse, yelled at me and lodged a complaint. The company knew I was not wrong, but customer is the king. After heated arguments, she left, but the story did not end there. The next day, her husband arrived and used abusive language.”
Any pleasant experiences?
“An Arab lady had left behind a pouch with $5000. I promptly delivered it to the manager. She returned in an hour and was too pleased. She offered me $100. When I said I cannot accept anything from customers, she promptly went to the counter, bought a gift coupon, thrust it on my hand and disappeared.”
Any funny incident?
“Many, there was this particular customer who kept blabbering and asked stupid questions like you do,” he laughed.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Opening Gates of goodwill

I was standing in the terrace of a building in suburban Chennai, India, where my in-laws live. Pointing at the opposite hospital complex, my wife said: “This TB hospital has now been converted into an AIDS centre thanks to Bill Gates (BG).”
Where is Bill Gates and where is Tambaram? What’s the link! I found the answer. Goodwill and compassion.
Why this talk on BG? There’s a reason. Yesterday Saturday. The usual bookstall visit. And the usual picking up of books at random. What came in my hand was “Showing up for Life,” by Bill Gates Sr.
I glanced for three minutes when the phone call from my friend forced me to move on. But two quick vague notes I made to share with you.
BG Sr wrote about the value of human goodwill. He referred to Pablo Neruda, a Nobel poet of Chile. When Neruda was a child he used to play around a big wall separating his house from a neighbour’s. There was a hole. One day N pushed his hand through the hole, just to see another hand come through. He played along, but never got to see the other face. Next day, when he reached the spot, there was a doll gift. He picked it up, played with it and the succeeding day he placed his own gift. BG Sr highlights how the value of sharing without even knowing the other person brings such immense joy, even to a child.
He also wrote about fight against polio. He had seen the parental anguish caused by the crippling effects of polio. “I am hopeful that I'll live to see polio completely eradicated,” says the man in his eighties.
BG Sr’s says: I believe our society works better when people think less about "me and mine" and more about "us and ours."
Bill Gates Jr.. I am not amazed by your humility any more. You have it in your genes boss. Ask your dad.