Saturday, December 31, 2005

two minutes

no, its not an advertisement for maggi noodles. thats what a colleague of mine from work has to say everytime we need to go somewhere. then she promptly runs off to the loo.

many a times we have been left waiting for the above mentioned madame to powder her nose before we go for lunch, go for a meeting, go down to the street for a break, are about to go home at the end of the day, etc.

why she would have to do her hair before she gets onto the rear seat on a bike is a question thats going to bother humanity for many a day due to its sheer unanswerability?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

a three day holiday on medical leave

thats where i've been missing for the last few days, from sunday till thursday to be precise. inspite of my best promises to myself the blog was left unattended. the problem appeared in the form of the pc game, pro-evolution soccer 4. i was way too caught up with guiding chelsea to the premiership title and hence ignored everyday things like catching up on work, regular hours of sleep and posting blogs.

excuse the tardiness. beginning tomorrow we will be back on air regularly.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

freedom is a two wheeler with an engine

thats as basic as it gets! everything else is an accessory.

ok, ok! no idiotic jokes about seats and handle bars, or the lack of these. i was introduced to this mode of transportation, rather a way of life, when i was all of sixteen. as far as starts go it wasn't great or fancy. a lime-green bajaj scooter was my first set of wheels. actually, if truth be told, it was my dad's. but as far as inheritances go, this was great for a teenager who didn't care about jibes from friends, snickers from chicks (some of whom begged for the privilege of the pillion seat at later dates), and other assorted inconveniences as long as he didn't have to wait for public transport.

i became a believer in the hamara bajaj campaign ever since. one could squeeze amazing amounts of mileage from it. this is a blessing when you have a limited cashflow, every rupee saved on fuel was a rupee more spent on beer. come to think of it, liquids ruled my life.
the sheer freedom it entailed is hard to describe in words. the little matter of the license was taken care of by two bribes to the concerned officials in the mumbai metropolitan traffic department. with the fake license and 50 bucks i was free to do as i pleased. of course, fuel was priced a lot less so this meant two and a half litres then.

late night parties in any part of the city weren't transportation nightmares anymore. i could ride back at two in the morning without worrying about midnight charges in taxicabs. more often than not i could get someone who'd be dying for a lift back to someplace and this turned out into a profitable business proposition. it went like this, in the middle of the night i'd agree to drop someone off to their place for a nominal fee which would cover my fuel cost for the entire day and which would still be considerably lesser than what they could expect to pay the taximen's union.

i definitely logged in enough hours of drunken or semi-drunken driving then to be able to do it with some degree of confidence even now. mind you, i wouldn't recommend it to anyone but sometimes a man's got to do what a man's got to do. whats an optimal choice when you're drunk and broke, ride the bike home or pay an expensive cab fare. the economics of it is mindbogglingly simple, even to a drunk.

exploration and understanding city roads got an instant boost. yes, a spectacularly large number of people did make fun of me and this included the fairer sex too. but with time and patience everyone appreciated the no-frills basic service provided by the machine. bajaj had nailed the concept of a low-cost carrier even before europe had heard of it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

railway insurance?

now this one's a stunner on underground market dynamics.

from what i hear there's a quasi insurance scheme running for railway commuters from far-flung areas in the mumbai suburbs. this is how the deal goes, it gets its motivation from the fact that the railway monthly passes are far too expensive for most of the lower middle class commuters. so theres a trust of sorts that accepts a monthly premium and reimburses the fine paid by a commuter in case he is fined for ticketless travel.

brilliant, i say. for example, i pay a monthly premium of 100 bucks rather than purchase a monthly pass for 700 bucks. in case i do get caught and fined then i submit the receipt to the above-mentioned trust and am reimbursed to the full extent of the fine.

any finance student worth his mba can develop a model that will roughly estimate the proportion of subscribers that will get caught and hence the outlay of funds that will be need to be made by the trust. the balance can be deployed in short term instruments so as to become another revenue earning stream. one can even calculate value-at-risk, catastrophic loss scenarios, etc.

needless to say this obviously is an underground operation and hence will eventually lead to the ever burgeoning coffers of the organised criminal mafia, if its not controlled by them already. i can imagine that this would have been started by an enterprising fellow in the suburbs but since its an operation that doesn't walk in the centre of the road it will at some point of time during its existence attract the attention of the protection providers of the mumbai street gangs. from here on its just a matter of time before the sharks take control once they realise its revenue generating potential.

developing a fare structure that incentivises the commuter to purchase a season pass rather than pay the 'insurance' premium in a cost effective manner for the railways seems a classical poser for the planners. this would have to necessarily look beyond the obvious solution of increasing the frequency of checks or increasing the manpower required. neither of these are cost effective and in the long run would be more expensive for the railways than the loss of revenue.

whacky ideas, anyone? give it a shot. and no there are no sponsored prizes for this. not even a free monthly pass.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

whats merry about christmas?

its that time of the year again. "what plans for christmas eve, yaar?". this question is definitely one of my most hated ones. its only a little less irritating than the one asked about plans for new years eve? i've never really understood the point. when i was younger and was on a misguided attempt to fit in, i did attend a few of the talked about events around these dates, and surprise, surprise. i didn't particularly enjoy myself too much. now i don't really care.

nothing personal against the christians, some of my best friends are believers, but it isnt exactly my festival. oh sure, divali is one of ours but i hate the period just as much. all that tension about shopping, gifts and visiting relatives does get on ones nerves. and the amount of force-feeding that happens isn't even funny.

festivals are a good excuse for the junta at large to take a break but the marketing extravanganza that usually follows, rather preceeds, makes it all seem more strenous than work. for god's sake, most of us have too much work to do at any given time. (even us bloggers) and we'd rather be spared of the need to shop and stress during and because of our holidays.

yes, i understand that i'm contributing to the growth of the economy and providing employment opportunities when i spend my hard earned moolah but please i'd rather the marketing guys came up with a less stressful way to stave off the next big depression. actually, the last big one wasnt all that bad, keynes made enough money off the stock market in the 1929-33 interim to stop teaching economics. maybe i can make enough off the next trough to be able to afford to start teaching the subject.

of course, theres also the possibility that i'm just cheap. earlier i was poor and thats usually a good enough excuse not to be spending money but now i'm thinking that at some fundamental level i'm just a penny-pinching miser.

Monday, December 19, 2005

market for old and used furniture

this one's at jogeshwari west, on s.v.road. its does to furniture what fashion street in town and linking road at bandra do for clothes. cheap, old antiquities are spruced up and polished to look like new. tastefully done, i can see how they could lend a touch of class to one's home. but a word of caution, get carried away here and you might end up with a house that looks like a bengali film, as a friend would say.

a few hours spent here calls for some serious motivation. you have to walk in and around cramped places that are chockfull with furniture pieces stacked one on top of the other. in every conceivable place and in a few not so conceivable ones too. theres definitely no premium on display and the craftsmen are working on orders right next to the finished goods.

if you can put up with the dirt, dust and bargain hunting then you must really love your house and are prepared to go the distance to make it look the way you want it to. the rules of the game are the same as those in every flea market. check everything you possibly can, haggle like your life depends on it, etc.

keep in mind the fact that unlike clothes and shoes you cant take these pieces home in a bag. so one needs to account for the cost of the transportation too. no free home delivery here. 250 bucks for a taxi and 350 for a minidor, depending on the size of the package.

after two hours of trudging through very narrow spaces we've picked a centre-table for our drawing room. its broken and dirty right now but on accepting a 30% advance the chap agrees to have it fixed, polished and ready to display in my living room by friday.

definitely one of the most physically punishing ways i've spent my money.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

dealing with reliance takes energy

i've been encountering problems with reliance energy since october. to be fair to them they actually managed to have our electricity supply restored pretty quickly after the deluge in july. some of the other residents of the eastern suburbs might not share this opinion of them. but getting back to the point at hand, they billed us for roughly 10 times our monthly usage. this kind of thing does manage to get one's attention.

well, after an entertaining 15 minutes that i spent on the phone with their customer support person i was convinced that the americans did have a point when they complained about ineffectual call-centre workers. but i must say that they are well trained to deal with irate, abusive customers on what i imagine must be a regular basis. i mean, when was the last time you called a service provider to thank them for timely, efficient and friendly service. thats not what we do. the problem with the service industry is that most consumers only notice it when they have a problem.

anyway, the chick registered the complaint and even gave me a complaint number that i was supposed to quote the next time i call them so that i can track the progress they might have made. this turned out to be a complete waste of time. they stonewalled me for close to a month and a half before they gave me a contact at their local service station. they even admitted to the fact that they hadn't gotten anything done during the interim.

trust me when i say their phone operators are well trained to deal with irate customers. i've thoroughly tested them and they never lose their cool, not even when you're telling them stories about evolution and the food chain that highlight their family tree and its associated lack of glamour.

to make matters worse they even billed me an equally exorbitant sum of money for the next month. brilliant strategy.

as a student of economics (the practical kind) i'm inclined towards privatising the erstwhile public sector but this kind of 'service' only shuts us free-market proponents down. a conspiracy theorist could say that ambani is in this business as a favor to his right wing radical cohorts and will run it so badly that the paying public will clamour for the good old days when a peon in the public sector enterprise could insult them and run them down between cups of tea.

coming back to the story, they did eventually replace our billing meter. but they have yet to adjust our bills to reality. just this morning they've disconnected the electricity supply. since its only our home without it in the neighbourhood, i'm inclined to think this has something to do with the same billing problem. i'm thinking i'll move house.

Friday, December 16, 2005

a lot of hyderabadi biryani

thats what i ate for lunch today. theres this old place in colaba adjacent to the sahakari bhandar. by old i mean, i was taken there by my dad when i was in junior school.

good spicy hyderabadi biryani and some boondi raita to go with it. all for the princely sum of Rs.60. the owners obviously are the remnants of the old school of restauranters who believe in serious quantity. no faggoty small portions to tickle your taste buds. these guys believe in the strength of numbers to defeat your taste buds and appetite. eating at these places is like being part of a contest, i'm sure the management will snicker at you for not being man enough to eat everything that was dished out by them, they're liable to remember you for it too.

riding down to colaba for lunch is a pleasant experience. it sure is convenient since office is at nariman point and its just a 5 minute ride on the motorcycle. being an old school bombayite, i do believe that colaba is where the action is as far as bombay is concerned and even though i dont live there anymore its still "the centre of the universe" as an old friend would call it. having grown up seeing those buildings and seeing them now after a break of a few years is definitely reminiscing. i'll try to stay away from a trip down memory lane here.

eating hyderabadi food reminded me of a friends wedding i was unable to attend recently which was at hyderabad. would have definitely been able to sample some great cuisine while i was down there. now i'm full and comfy in my chair at work. i'm in danger of knocking off, which is what i would have done if i was at home. but alas, i have to spend what could have been a satiated afternoon reading up about mathematical models i need to be developing.

just writing that made me yawn, no i'm not kidding, it really did!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

irritating advertising

i can deal with bad advertising but its the irritating ones that take the experience to a whole new level. these are the ones that have the highest frequency on air too. you could say that i notice them more often since i'm looking for them, and you may be right for all i know. perception, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder.

try as i might, i cannot imagine this scene in a very convincing manner. a company's conference room, the advertising agency that has been contracted is making the presentation, a whole lot of guys sitting around listening to the crap the ad agency is dishing out about a product these guys live with every day, and they buy the bullshit being dished out.

i won't get into the dynamics of the ad agency that puts out such garbage. who knows what their processes are and what systems they follow, maybe they have one, maybe they don't. i don't know anything about it. they are supposed to be the creative ones and thats not a trait bankers are exactly famous for. so i'm not exactly qualified to vilify them.

that doesnt mean i'm qualified to vilify the buyers of advertisements either. come to think of it, i'm not really qualified to vilify anybody. its an interesting thought and we'll come back to it in the course of another posting.

but coming back to the point. do these brand managers sit around after looking at a particularly irritating ad and think, "hmmm... my target audience needs to be irritated out of their skin and hate the product so that they'll have brand recall". not a bad way to go about it, may actually work in a reverse-psychology kind of way considering the amount of clutter there is in the advertising space. but then, i dont know anything about branding either.

what are they thinking, really? i'm curious. this is something i want to know. fill me in, somebody.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

there's been an unexpected break in the postings, and i apologise for it, especially since regular postings were one of the key points of the action plan that was initially charted out. the cause of the break in continuity has been an unexpected deluge of work, this was both sudden and unexpected. combined with the fact that there suddenly is a demand for my services at the office, there are three potential bosses fighting for my time. i guess the worm has turned, or more likely i'm just a pawn in a political chess game at the office. whatever, so long as they keep me busy and interested.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

a coward's salutation to the brave!

yes, i'm a coward when it comes to the perils of commuting via public transport. now, before you start sniggering at me i would suggest a quick glance at a bombay local train during peak hour. it has to be the most quoted cliche in connection with them, but 'packed like sardines' just doesnt do justice to the everyday commuter.

the jews were less densely packed when they were carted off to prison camps by the nazis. in keeping with the tradition of discrimination against brown-skinned people everywhere, the european jews got the holocaust memorial and reams of paper filled with their trials and tribulations, the bombay commuter doesn't even get his trains running on time(over a long enough time frame the death toll is beginning to catch up).

a regular traveller will know what i'm talking about here. when i took the trains i actually felt like it was a history lesson. as the train pulls into dadar its akin to a mongol invasion and at kurla/andheri is where the huns get in.

don't know about you but as far as i'm concerned it can't possibly be the best way to start the day by seeing hordes of humanity lining up to defecate.

i managed to survive the trains for exactly 2 weeks before i caved in and got my motorcycle from home in pune. i figured i'd take my chances on the road. the extreme duress one experiences in the local train can't be put into words very easily. there's pretty much no point to ironing your clothes, polishing your shoes or combing your hair when you leave home. the shoe-shine boys at the stations run a roaring business, i hear there's a substantial 'hafta' to be paid for the right to park one's shoe-shine box at the main terminus.

i suppose eventually everyone gets inured to the painful gig but its the getting used to it period thats the problem. by the time you get home in the evening your body is racked by pains in various places. i can't understand why they have two separate grades of coaches since the only perceptible difference in the first class is that the fights are in english.i hear things are much worse in the women's section, i wouldn't know. i have to rely on second hand information in this regard.

the mortality rates are pretty good too. if you restrict yourself to reported casualty numbers, statistically theres a slightly better chance of getting yourself knocked out in the trains. there are options to choose from too, you could fall off, get pushed, get hit by a stone thrown from the ubiquitous slums adjoining the tracks, you can also hit some of the pylons that are real close to the tracks. whereas if you are on the road, its usually the pedestrians who get bumped off which doesnt really concern you unless its your vehicle that runs them over. which reminds me that you could also get chopped at a railway crossing if you're a train commuter.

in the face of such brutality, to do this day-after-day for years regularly makes each one of them a deserving recepient of a bravery award. at the very least we should applaud them.

so lets hear it for our faceless commuter, the 12-coach warrior, the dutiful tax-payer who accepts his fate in the knowledge that none in the corridors that matter really care for his comfort, his existence or even the lack of it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

opening statements - excuse the lack of brevity

I'm going to try and give a short brief on what one can expect to read here. This is also to remind me from time-to-time as to what i've committed to posting. I do expect to be quite a regular blogger, as can be inferred from the title of the blog. Areas of interest that are likely to show up are as follows (in no particular order):
1.Comics - mostly 'batman', 'calvin' and 'dilbert' also get mentioned, 'tintin' and 'asterix' are old favourites. going further back we have 'phantom', 'tarzan', 'flash gordon' and an indian favourite 'bahadur'.
2.Movies - used to be the hollywood variety now i've shifted alliances to the formulae concocted by the bombay film factories.
3.SBI - where i'm gainfully underemployed, surprisingly SBI. i'll try not to write too much about this. its dangerously obvious.
4.Motorcycles - its been a 10 year love affair as of now. it gives my wife insecurity. some subconcious link to ancestors in the cavalry, i suppose.
5.Traffic - might just end up as a diatribe against pedestrians and town planners. a 40 kilometre round trip for a commute every day doesnt help one make many friends on the road.
6.Relatives - its amazing how these guys are the fair weather friends that one keeps hearing about. they ignore you and dont even talk about you when you're struggling. when the goings great they'll all come to the wedding.
7.Friends - not exactly 'birds of a feather'. most of mine can't tolerate the others.
8.Alcohol - my motivation to turn down a job offer in saudi arabia which would pay me 5 times my current salary, an indication of its importance in monetary terms.
9.Food - i've run the gamut in variety here, both in price and taste.
10.Travel - did this a lot before i got a job.
11.Games - PC strategy games a la AOE, Sony PS, some online ones.
12.Sports - usually football & cricket, maybe even tennis
13.Poverty - one of the few things in life where i can say, "been there, done that". now when i pass by the cgs colony, the voice in my head goes "there but for the grace of god, go i".
14.Books - this is probably going to be the most regular entry. i do try and read a lot. the lack of importance attached to this ordering system will be self-evident eventually.
Guess this should be enough to get this gig started. We'll improvise, include additions and ad-lib as we go along.