Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Andher Nagari Chaupat Raja - Software to The Rescue

Finally, a closure to closing a bank account! I was reminded of it by the title "Impersonal Government is Good".

I had resubmitted the papers again. I had visited the bank branch two days later before leaving Chandigarh, but the officer concerned was on leave. Obviously, no one else could help.

I hoped the officer would honor the commitment.  What else could I do anyway. She didn't as I found out online a few days later.

Fortunately, I found a form to submit a complaint. It took a few days but I got a call from the branch in Chandigarh asking to speak to my late mother!

After a bit of explanation, I could over-hear her talking to the officer concerned - "But it is in my CRM". Anyway, she told me it wasn't done but will be by next day and it was.

So, may be Manna should indeed be THE solution for Indian public services.

The Stress of Walking - Whats Wrong with Me?

I am walking in Mumbai. I know it as I am reminded by honking every few seconds. The upside is that there is no way that I could get lost in thought and be hit by a vehicle while crossing a road.

There must be quiet areas. We went to Powaii recently. Crossing the road to go to the lake side was an achievement. We didn't walk for long. I suppose it was to be expected. The walkway was nice  but the waters near the shore were filthy. We walked a little further and could no longer ignore a very noticeable odour. The odour was far from pleasant :(

I am walking in NCL Colony in Pune. The nearest post office is in NCL colony. It is wooded and a beautiful campus. Yet, I find that my mind is not relaxed. Whats wrong with me? I become aware of the hum of the traffic on the main road just across the boundary. It may not be visible to the eyes but there is no way that you can ignore the vehicles :(

My flat in Goa used to very quiet even though it is close to an industrial estate. It was quiet except for a year when an industry across our flat had put up a generator, which seemed to be designed to vibrate. I wish I could claim credit but fortunately the factory disappeared and so did the generator :)

However, I can no longer have hope a quiet miracle. The small road in front seems to be going somewhere now. There is a continuous flow of traffic on it. I suppose we will get the pleasure of watching traffic jams as well. Will I opt to forego cross-ventilation and succumb to an air conditioner? Oh, going for a walk - the best option is to take a car ride somewhere :( Reminds me of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

It has become easy for me to empathise with the victims of wind power. I would any day opt for the risk of being blown to bits by the explosion of a nuclear power plant.

Is age making me senile or has our environment deteriorated to such an extent that at least my mind can't ignore the noise anymore?

Update: Took the risk of going to the beach today. The traffic was not too bad and no high beams on the way back :) Walked on the beach. If only the movement of cars could produce the rhythm of the waves!

The soothing sounds of the waves are a great therapy.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Andher Nagari Chaupat Raja - just doesn't end

I returned after about 8 months and decided to check why the money from my mother's account was still not in my account.

As expected, the person handling the closure of accounts was now different. She said that there were no pending papers with her!

She checked the account and found that it was still active. She informed me that there is a 'lien' against the account and it cannot be closed. I was directed to the pension staff.

The person in-charge had no clue of why. He was waiting for a colleague to explain why the lien had been put. I waited and finally left. The first officer I had seen promised to find out about the lien and the missing papers and get back to me.

A week later, obviously, no feedback.

I go again and am redirected to the pension officer. This time his assistant is there and helps him navigate the computer system! The officer himself had put in the lien. It appeared that after my mother expired, the excess  pension deposited in her account had to be re-claimed. He put in the 'lien' as well as withdrew the amount but did not remove the lien.

Today, that problem solved, there remains the problem of missing papers. I have been given the form again with having to go through the same process again.

It is incredible the bank asking for documents of third parties aside from mine to 'prove' who I am when they have gone through all that process when opening my account. The officer's explanation - the other papers are bound and filed. So, I have to submit one more set (for them file and store).

However, I find it very embarrassing to ask for copies of documents from my neighbours which in principle could be used for identity theft. It is pointless trying to explain that to the bank. All I can do is to close the account once the money is transferred and never visit that bank again.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Discovering that I like books more than people

I am euphoric. My father is being transferred to Calcutta. We are in a train - in a first class compartment. So far, I have only traveled by 3rd class. I feel important. Today, though I am deeply embarrassed by my feelings of the time.

I am not going to miss the school in Delhi. Aside from the miserable experience of having to recite poetry, all I can recall is standing at the school bus stop in a blazer wondering if the bus has already gone or am I early.

It is a few months till my father gets a government flat from one the various priority queues. Its location is in the C row, where the flats are for clerical staff except that a couple of flats are kept for special cases like my father's. The class consciousness of the government officials' families was very noticeable. As soon as any of the children knew my address, they would wander off.

I spend my time reading books from the National Library. I read a lot. I have a rather peculiar way of bragging about it. When the exams came, especially the finals, I am bored. I keep up with the studies during the year and just cannot spend much time revising. (I am finally doing well in my studies though my parents never highlighted any of it.) The 60+ in humanities and 80+ in maths and science keep me among the top few students.

During one of the exams, I found Anand Math - a pretty thick and heavy book for a pre-teen but I enjoyed reading it during the classes when we were supposed to be quiet and revising.

Given my attitude, I can easily appreciate now that while my fellow students were friendly with me, there was no closeness with anyone. I miss that today.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Lasting Education in Appreciating Poetry :(

The classroom is still a tent. It seems bigger or I am sitting further back. The school must have shuffled the students when moving to the next class. No one I know is in my section.

The teacher seems far and the blackboard small. I am anxious. I had to learn the poem, 'If you don't succeed at first...". I dread the thought of being called. I am called and the memory after that fades, except that it did not end happily.

Was I standing in front of the class, tongue-tied? I just don't know. All that remains is a sense of panic.

A decade later, I am in a cozy, compact class on English literature. The only reason I am in the class is that I need to take two courses in English to get a degree. A fellow student has brought a guitar. She is singing "I want to put beans in my ear".

The professor is discussing the topic of poetry. She wants to know why I do  not have any opinion or comment to offer. My mind just goes blank. She probes me further - finally, I relate the above incident. She commiserates with me as she believes that memorization and recitation of poems in schools have ruined poetry for many, including me!!

I am happy that I can at least enjoy some novels in verse -  like the Golden Gate.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Birthday Party

My sister celebrated her birthday at my maternal grandparents' place. I want to celebrate mine. It is not a convenient time.

My grandmother is being operated for cataract on the same day. A room has already been cleaned and green curtains installed. We are not allowed to enter the room. The operation is to be done at home. (I wonder why I never asked my parents about it, especially why it was at home and not at a hospital.)

My parents give in to my stubbornness, as I normally do not ask for anything.

There are 4 students in my class who travel by the same school bus. Two are already in the bus and two board the bus along with me. I decide to call them.

On the day, I am waiting anxiously. No one shows up. I walk nearby where one of the students stays. The house is closed and  no one is home.

A second boy lives a little farther away. I walk and find him playing cricket with his friends. I drag him home. We play a while and go through the motions.

It is not a total disaster. Many of my aunts and uncles have come to visit my grandmother and they join in the celebrations.

I still get very nervous if guests are late :)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

3rd year, 3rd school and a medical checkup

My father got an official accommodation. I could no longer continue with my existing school.

Most likely, my father took the help of Khushwant Singh and I was called for an interview at a prominent public school.

My father tells me that the principal was impressed. He asked my age. That was simple but he asked for months and days as well. It seems that I had no problems.

I remember that the classes were in tents. One day we lined up for a medical checkup. Among the vital statistics measured was the length of the penis.

I must have felt awkward because I did not tell anyone at home about it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My second year of schooling and a new school

Other than this memory, I have no recollection of my first school, except that I never talked to the girl in the front row :)

My father changes his job. His job is transferable and my school is changed to a newly opened English medium school.

My teacher knows my mother. I recall my mother telling my father that the teacher sent a thank you note. She appreciates the corrections my father makes in my class work and home work of her errors in English. 

The school is a bit far and as far as I can remember, I walk home alone. It seems striking today that my generation's parents weren't worried about children getting lost or being kidnapped or rash drivers killing us on the road.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why on earth do I remember this?

I can't remember when or even where. I am with my favorite youngest uncle. He is a bachelor and fun. So, I have at best just started school.

It is a wedding and I can't recall whose. The setting is a tent with chairs and a stage. The compere is inviting any of the guests to come on stage and showoff their talents.

I recall my uncle making some wisecracks and booing one of the guests who comes on stage. I am admiring him for his 'wit'.

I have no recollection of anything beyond that or discussing it with anyone anytime.

If I think back about the incident, it makes me cringe though I played no direct role

My first proper school

I am sitting in a classroom. It is pretty big but half empty. I am sitting on one of the last occupied benches.

The teacher must have given us something to do. I can see her with other teachers standing in the sun in the corridor. They are all knitting.

I am looking at a front bench, wanting to talk to the girl sitting in the front row.

The boys sitting next to me wrinkle their noses. They are making snide remarks at me. I have just released a silent bomb. I am wishing that I wish I could be sitting alone in the back.

I am walking home, a bit desperate. I don't make it in time. My pants are full of crap.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reflections on coming to terms with growing old

I now need to decide what next. The first thought was to understand where I am.

It surprised me that I could not recall concrete events which helped me understand my  perceptions about my life!

The  few events I can recall mostly relate to failure or embarrassment :)

May be I will force myself to write some of them and that may trigger some more memories.

The first memory I have is the result I am sure of being told by my parents.

I was a quick learner and had learnt to read at an early age. My father wanted my grandmother to learn to read. He got her started but she would be confused by the letters.

She found it easier to ask me rather than my parents. I suppose I exclaimed that how many times had I told her that. She then said that I was right and she was too old to learn.

Update: On reflection, a great deal of my behaviour later on in life is quite possibly influenced by that event. I still feel guilty about it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Is Silicon Valley too hyped?

After I came across "Where is Europe's Silicon Valley?", it has been bothering me. If I were young today, I would be very reluctant to come to Silicon Valley based on the comparison of my visit 2 years ago and now.

I had come back to San Francisco area for the first time after over 40 years 2 years ago. I was surprised by how little it had changed. The public transport was similar though the street cars were replaced by light rail. They were traveling on the same paths, except that now light rail was underground on Market street. I could follow the same routes I used to take as a teenager and a student here. The houses in Sunset district seemed the same. The house we had rented for US$200 probably rented for a lot more but it was still better than the fall in the value of the rupee during the same period. I had liked the visit.

So, what has happened in the last two years to make me unhappy about this place? It has to be the rate at which the rents are increasing in comparison to the salaries. If a person was already paying 40% of take home on rent, obviously the quality of life is going to suffer.

Hence, it was nice to read "Jimmy Wales: London is Better for Tech Than 'Dreadful' Silicon Valley"

“I meet people around London and they ask ‘when do you go back to San Francisco?’ assuming I’m here for a few days, but I live in London,” he said at the launch of Tech.London.
It takes time for people's mindset to change and it will.

Even in India, housing remains a big issue. When I started, as my uncle told me that even his colleague at a newspaper, who was a committed communist, had to pay black to buy a flat. Hence, buying a place was a very difficult proposition for young people without family money. No longer thanks to loans and organized builders catering, in particular, to the IT boom.

The bottom line - the direction of change matters more.
In India, we see hope as our standard of life keeps improving. In the west, we can look forward to the deterioration of our life in comparison to that of our parents

No wonder I am happier in Goa or Chandigarh or even Pune :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Andher Nagari Chaupat Raja

I made the 4th and still not the final trip to get my mom's money transferred to me. I am the nominee so this is supposed to have been easy! Unfortunately, I could come up with an answer like, "Don't they teach 'Andher Nagari Chaupat Raja' anymore?" when the manager told me that the process must be the same whether a few thousand rupees or a crore!

It is a painful reminder that the bank did not allow me to use the money when she was alive and now will give it to me after I submit enough papers for them to be able to create a thick file. Meanwhile, a fixed sum was transferred each month until the balance left was minimal.

I heard this story yesterday -

A pensioner returned after two years abroad and submitted his life certificate. The clerk said that but you have not submitted one for the previous year!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Harassed life - the problems of paying by cheque

My car insurance may be cancelled because the cheque was returned for 'Signatures not matching'. I have spent the last hour trying to overcome and prevent any complication.

I regret my mistake of having signed the cheque. My hand involuntarily shakes at times and the banks have a problem with tallying my signatures. Normally, I ask my wife to sign if I cannot pay by card or online.

I have had problems with my telephone bill some years ago - bsnl would not accept a cheque payment from me after that! Mobile phone company charged me a absurd penalty for cheque bouncing. In each of these cases, I had a hard time finding a problem in my signature. For all I know, the clerk may have been looking at the wrong record.

Does it have to be so? Is there any risk in payment of bills? What could possibly go wrong, which cannot be corrected?

Should we not assume that a cheque is valid unless it has been reported as stolen or there are some serious problems with it?

I think our society has complicated our rules and, hence, our lives just because the correction process is a problem. For example,
.Justice T S Thakur ... blamed “lack of governance” and “officials’ inability to take decisions” as prime reasons behind the deluge of cases choking the justice delivery system
... the top court of the country was compelled to spend a lot of time on cases involving bounced cheques ...
In the early days at the branch level, sometimes a helpful staff member would call and check before rejecting a cheque. However, now the clearing is happening in the back office in Mumbai and the branch staff is helpless.

I am hoping that soon either mobile payments will make cheques obsolete or robots will make the verifying clerks obsolete. The robots can easily send an sms or call us to confirm whether the cheque is valid and bring back a degree of personalization in an increasingly impersonal world.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Who is really harassing the pensioners?

It is really painful when I come across news like this:
Don't Harass Pensioners: Government Tells Bank
Even a moment's reflection makes it obvious that the only person who CAN be held accountable in this whole process is the bank officer who signs off. If the bank official is fearful and excessively cautious, it is hard to blame him/her.

We as a society are so absorbed by the process of submitting forms that we never think of them as being redundant, pointless, wasteful, etc. etc.

Obviously, far fewer pensioner die each year than not. So, efficiency would suggest that the government get certificates from the people who are dead. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy has not found a way to do that. So, the rest of us have to prove that we are alive.

Even searching for a pensioner's record on a supercomputer and entering a 'y' in one field takes time. However, in our process, it is far worse as the bank has to collect the papers. Very likely the bank catalogs them to make sure that they have proof of having sent them. Recipient clerk will need to make an entry for having received them and forwarded them to the correct department, which in turn, ... (I have to find out where did my life certificate disappear or just give another and hope that it doesn't get lost again.)

Trust the pensioners and their families instead. I can't imagine any person(other than brain-dead) waking up enthusiastically every morning to work on life certificates! Focus the effort and energies of the bank officials and government staff freed from this dumb work to detect frauds. As this example illustrates, such frauds can only exist only because the staff is too busy doing dumb work to notice. If it is corruption and collusion, how on earth do life certificates help?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Safety in paper ceritficates? - An entry on the PAN site would be of far better

How would I submit a form 15H form(to not deduct tax on interest income) to a branch in another city? One year, I had submitted the form for my mother but the tax had been deducted. I had no proof and what would have been the point. My mistake had been to not check that the taxes were being deducted each quarter by that bank.

  • Income tax office has progressed and made it easy to know the taxes deducted at source. I wish they would go a step further and I should be able to file form 15H with them(obviously online) and the banks should use this information using the PAN number. 
  •  This year my pension has stopped even though I had submitted a certificate that I am alive. It is a ridiculously low sum but when I go back to Chandigarh, I will have to take up the issue with the branch. For those who die, if they had a PAN, the registrar of deaths could change the status on the PAN site. Why bother to collect 'proof' of being alive once a year? I suppose I could die abroad or may disappear without a trace but do these few instances justify the collection and storage of the huge number of life certificates each year and does it even help?
  • Even the tax status, e.g. resident/non-resident, could be just reported to the PAN site and there should be no need to change bank accounts from resident to NRO, at least for individuals who are not HNI. Technically, only individuals residing in India can open a savings bank account. So, what is the status of these accounts once a person is non-resident? This is a routine issue for any IT person going on an assignment for a year or more. As per the law, should the person close each such account if not residing in India for more than 6 months in a year?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Google - please collect caller id's of fraudulent callers because the banks won't

The cumulative time  I must have spent even on blindly clicking that I know that the bank does not ever ask for pin numbers or passwords must have crossed a working day. Yesterday, I got an idiotic call from my 'bank' regarding my 'atm' card. I wanted to report the number for further action by 'someone' and didn't after recalling my previous experiences.

I had received a call offering me a 'bonus' for an insurance policy as the company had made an excessive profit. I decided to send the details to the insurance company. I got a prompt response that as I knew, these were fraudulent calls and not to give them any information.

But that was not the reason I had informed the insurance company. I was hoping that the insurance company could initiate action against the crooks using the phone number. After all, what is purpose for all the documentation the government insists on before a telephone number can be allotted and used.

Since the insurance company was not interested, I located the service provider to whom the phone belonged but they were not interested either as my number was not from their company. On second thought, such calls may even contribute a significant sum to their revenues.

Google makes it so easy to report phishing attempts on emails. For calls,  the only data that is needed is the caller id and whether spam or phishing. No one need look at this data. A monitoring program can raise alerts as and when a statistically significant event occurs.

So, I can't understand that while the banks make so much effort to tell their account holders not to respond to phishing attempts, they are yet to make any effort to collect the caller id data and then use the data to stop the fraudsters before they can cause any damage.

May be Google will find a way to collect this data and monetize it and I can have the satisfaction of doing my neighbourly duty of reporting a phishing attempt. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Driving on a Camel's back - certainly not a solution to any problem

Almost ten years ago, crossing the road at at a college was very hard. It was a highway and traffic moved fast. The solution was obviously to slow down the traffic and what better way than a pair of speed breakers.

The net result - the traffic became slower but was it easier to cross the road. Of course not! As speeds went for 50KM/hr to 10KM/hr, the gap between the cars became one fifth. Now, there was a stream of cars - none of which were willing to stop voluntarily and let the students pass. If you took the risk of crossing partway, there was still the problem of negotiating the remaining half of the road.

It should be obvious that speed breakers are useful for low traffic scenarios and not a high traffic one. However, these are the solutions applied when the traffic flow becomes high.

I recently drove to Calangute from Mapusa and it was like driving on a Camel's back. The number and frequency of speed breakers is remarkable. I found myself to be far less inclined to show any courtesy when negotiating a speed breaker.

An experiment worth doing: I find that I cross a reasonable distance from a speed breaker. Never close to the speed breaker. Is it me only or is that a common practice?

By contrast, we stop at a stop sign in the US even if there is no traffic. We cross the road without worrying about whether the oncoming car will stop.

 I don't believe that we when in India are a worse people. We have created systems and processes which brings out the worst in us :(

The speed breakers do not encourage a socially desirable behaviour. They increase the irritation and frustration of a driver - especially as each one is designed to be as uncomfortable as possible to ensure that the drivers have no choice but to slow down.

Why not put an effort in to make sure that drivers stop at a stop sign or a pedestrian crossing. Even more so, make sure that the person behind does not honk or overtake from every which way if a person has stopped to show even minimal courtesy to pedestrians.

And once traffic is high, invest in traffic signals and teach people to stop even if the signal is not for vehicular traffic but for pedestrians.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Smart Cities? Start with Smart Laws instead

Will Chandigarh be the first smart city or these three with US contributing something or other? Does it even matter to most people?

I wish the government would work on simple, smart laws first. By smart I mean, that it should be easy for a person to comply with the law. It can't be that hard :(

A simple example -  shifting a car from Chandigarh to Goa. (As one person in RTO of Goa wanted to confirm that I knew I will have to pay road tax again. I am ignoring double taxation in this case.)

If the car has to be in a different state, the registration needs to be changed. That is the law. The process:
  • Get an NOC from Chandigarh 
    • Nice that they have convenient booklets containing all the forms including multiple copies which need to be filled and pages with labels for pasting  documents which need to be supplied.
    • Proof of residence is not a problem for me any more as over the last few years all my documents have the Chandigarh address.
      • But I can't forget the pain of opening the first bank account in Chandigarh after moving there.
      • Nor can I forget the problem registering the car I had bought and no acceptable proof of residence. Fortunately I got the voter id just then and survived.
    • Need to get a report from NCRB that car is not stolen. The data is online and can be accessed but I need to get the certificate from central police station.
    • Chandigarh is a compact town and I live in the heart of it. So, making 3 trips to get it was not a major hurdle especially if I can time my trips to avoid extreme traffic.
      • Go the police station - requests taken in the morning only
      • Submit request next day morning
      • Pickup the signed printout in the evening.
    • Comparatively painless process 
      • Get a token - a long queue
      • Wait turn to submit
      • Pickup NOC's next day  
Now enjoy the leisurely drive from Chandigarh to Goa.
  • Make a request for transferring the car in Goa
    • Visit the RTO office
      • Confusion about which forms I need to fill
      • Buy more forms than needed, for example form to re-register car, form to change address, form for transferring car to another person, ...
      • Fill the forms which seem appropriate
      • Show and have to remove the re-registration form
      • Need to add Form 28. 
        • A copy of which had been returned along with NOC
        • Why this form as it is an application for a NOC which contains the same information on the NOC? Why bother to understand?
      • Proof of residence is a problem
        • Own the place where I stay so sale deed will do
        • Need to get it notarised
      • Get the certificate that the car is not stolen once more.
        • This time from Panaji 
        • I am not in Panaji and a long drive or, more likely, two drives. Update - took 3 trips. I never expected them to want the Form 28 copy and not the NOC copy :) I had not taken the former with me :(
      • What next? I don't know yet.
      • Update: After submitting the file, I have to wait for 6 weeks for them to verify with the issuing authority that the NOC is genuine!
I wish what we get from the US is Reagan's signature quote: Trust but verify whereas all our interaction with the government is 'Don't trust and don't verify'. Those who need to circumvent the laws don't really have a problem. The rest of us run around in circles.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Getting Lost on the Highway - Again!

After the previous experience of getting lost, we were far better prepared. I had looked at the maps, estimated the times, noted the small town names to make sure that we did not take the wrong path.

Our problems were compounded by a poor choice the data network supplier. I had incorrectly assumed that one supplier would be a reliable alternate and backup in the interiors. I had also not realised how expensive data usage with maps is if you are roaming on a 'partner' network. Our balance in the prepaid account had been exhausted even before we found our hotel in Jaipur.

Maps mention routes by the highway numbers - even paper ones if one find one these days. Often there are multiple numbers for the same highway, especially the state highways. However, I don't recall seeing many highway signs with highway numbers. Certainly not at the junctions. Why is that so hard? May be as a programmer, a simple code as a key is the obvious first choice and I can't see the administrative and decision taking complexities involved :)

My preparation helped. We were on our way from Udaipur to Anand. About midway, there was a turning for a highway to Vadodra bypassing Ahmedabad. The road was 'straight' after that.

When expected, there was a turning. However, all the signage mentioned was - 'Modasa'. There was no mention of Vadodra. Obviously, there was no mention the state highway number. Because of my planning, I knew 'Modasa' was on the correct route! So, we took the turning and were pleasantly surprised by an excellent highway. Once we got on it, we knew it was headed towards Godhra and Vadodra!

I didn't realise it but somewhere the highway turned! The road was excellent and we knew we were moving fast in the right direction. And then the realisation came. There was a small sign which indicated that we were still on state highway number 5! In the absence of data connection, we relied on the good old network of asking people. Their directions were remarkably clear and precise.

We kept asking for directions at suspicious crossings. In a small town, even a slightly wider road may be the highway you want. We reached an hour later than expected but enjoyed the experience of asking for directions. Especially, just near the end.

One person was very confident and asking us to turn in the direction from which we had come! Fortunately, the shop owner knew better and gave us the correct details. As we moved, we could hear him still explaining to the enthusiastic, helpful by-stander!

I hope someone in the highway planning department wakes up and realises that putting highway number of exit signs does not require much space and may even help his family and friends one day :)