Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bank Stories .....

A flaming, burning  hot, typical   May afternoon ,  15 years ago, in Pune.  An 82 year old grandma, mobilizing to travel to the US to attend her first grandson's graduation from college, and , with her son who has come to escort her  to the US, she visits a branch of one of the nationalized banks (with headquarters in Pune), for her foreign exchange requirements. 

After standing around unattended for sometime, she is given a form, and told to submit xeroxes of stuff she has already presented to them , like the ticket, visa etc. They enquire about a copying machine on the premises, are rudely told it is for official work, and asked to go out and get the copies done. 

Up and down stairs, no lifts , no ramps, crossing the unruly-traffic-infested Pune roads, and a search for a xerox place in the burning blazing afternoon.

Eventually the work is done,  the travellers cheques are given as if it is a great favor although the lady has paid for them. But not before her son, has met someone senior  in the bank , and suggested that they needed to be more user friendly, consider the needs of senior citizens , and offer simple things like xerox facilities on payment;  after all, writing out vouchers for payments needed for giving bank statements etc is a routine task, and no one is asked to go to different windows and make cash payments then. 

In the meanwhile , at the turn of the century or a bit later, computers have taken over, something called core-banking  is now on,  and in the process, the leaps in technology, hardware and software, have also caused a few hurried bypasses  in understanding of systems , sometimes at management levels.  Humanware, lagging behind software and hardware.

What has remained unchanged is the fact, that banks  come into being because ordinary people  deposit their savings there, and banks pay them interest for "using" that money.  That's what she has learnt as a child. 

That the banks later on treat the money as their own, and disrespect the small depositors, is an attitude that has permeated  everywhere in society, including the top echelons of the powers-that-be.    

 Today the old lady is no more.  

Her daughter now tangles periodically with the same bank. Has ended up visiting head offices and their computer rooms to solve her problems, when the management has been clueless.  And nothing much has changed.

Why does all this come to mind ? 

Because , the same daughter recently had occasion to deal with another nationalized bank branch, in a bigger city, while requesting a bank statement  , for an account that was just closed.  

A manager of the bank hesitantly approached.  Thanks to earlier experiences.  She waits to see a if a head will nod in the negative.

The statement required is for a longer period in a year by year format.

There are no frowns, no expressions of "how can you ask for a statement like that " ,  just a  request for a letter outlining the requirements, the reason,  and the details of the account where charges  may be debited.  A sense of pride at being able to satisfy a request from a customer.

An earlier experience at this bank, related to xeroxing as well. A copy of a bank voucher was to be enclosed . She said she would drive over to a xerox place and return in minutes. The manager looked a bit surprised, and said it was not necessary to go to all this trouble for for a single copy of a single piece of paper.  He faxes something to himself, and a copy appears.

 She is impressed. Not by the technology. But the thought behind its usage.    

She is asked to come the next day, a Saturday.  Turns out that there is some urgent meeting happening, and the manager, expresses his regrets and promises to have it ready on Monday, even taking down her contact number in case there is a change.

She visits the bank on Monday after calling them, and is asked to wait as the statement is generated, by the manager himself. 

She sees the printer jamming.  The manager gets up, opens up the printer sections, like he knows what he is doing, and frees the paper, and reinserts the cartridge.  The printing resumes.  He staples the year by year stuff himself. Collates it. Checks it.  Regenerates what he thinks is missing information. Then proceeds to put his official stamp and signature on each page.  So many ink stamps to be put and she offers to do it, so he needs to simply sign. To save him the repetitive effort.  He thanks her, but says it is no big deal.

In her earlier avatar as her mother's daughter at the earlier bank, she has heard reproachful comments and seen disapproving stares, treating her like a time waster. 

She leaves the place, totally impressed by the hands-on manager, her requirements satisfied, with the statement copy in hand. She profusely thanks the manager, apologizing for troubling him with her last minute request.   He brushes it all aside, saying there are rules and requirements everywhere, one needs to understand and respect them,   and he is happy he was able to help.

It occurs to her, that  an organization learns from its people at the top.  Hopefully. 

She has, till date, been a great one for writing complaint letters,  particularly to banks, like the earlier one.  Head offices and all.

She will now write another one. This time, of appreciation and thanks. Mentioning the people involved.  To Head Offices and all.

Have times changed ? She doesn't know, but hopes so.

She thinks the old lady would have greatly approved .......

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review of "The Child of Misfortune"

I received this book, "The Child of Misfortune" by Soumitra Singh, (Bennett Coleman and Co, 2014)  as part of the Blogadda Book reviews Program.

As it says on the back cover, it is a story about Amar and Jonah,  who played chess in childhood, before a series of events ripped their friendship apart.  The chess playing continues throughout their adult lives, with very high stakes, involving much more than they themselves, as they travel all across the world.

I know this is a work of fiction. And I read a lot of such books. But even then I found it  hard to imagine.

Three people Amar, Jonah and Mansi, all public school types.  Amar is the son of a minister in the government, Jonah, someone who is his classmate, but whose background is to be imagined, and not much is known about Mansi .  There isn't anything known about their sources of income , Mansi seems to work for Times of India ,  but they travel widely and  on an impulse, across Kashmir, Leh  and the capital. 

There are Tibetan monks, monasteries,  swords of great importance, killings,  and the chess game happening in the minister's house. There are terrorists, local youths, drug runners, and every time Amar is in trouble, there is someone in a yellow robe who simply descends upon everyone, kills off chaps, injures others and saves the day.   It is a bit difficult to believe that with all the security arrangements described in Kashmir, nobody is able to see a chap in yellow robes charging around.

The scene moves to Seoul, Korea, where the computers and viruses take over. For two chaps who were not any great shakes in school, Amar and Jonah seem to be all over the world, without a worry of where their livelihood will come from.  Amar pours money into someone named Kang, who has this expertise of breaking through into any systems at will, and seeing real time pictures  of opponents. All these exercises are undertaken by Amar to find what Jonah is up to .  There are viruses, Apps,  passwords being cracked, and predictably , in every country,  some beating up  of characters.

In the finest tradition of someone who has no worries about money etc at all, Kang and Amar now move to the UK, where drugs enter the picture. Jonah is found as the co owner of a hedge fund, and  after lots of travels by Amar , Kang and company, just when Jonah is found, he gets shot at in a cemetery, by a bunch of people who owe allegiance to a very rich society lady.  Police investigations, truth serums, and explanations later, ever body except Jonah is back.  There are codenamed drug carriers, abandoned factories, old girlfriends,  Mansi, all together in London for the grand finale.

This book doesn't capture my attention.  There is too much clichéd stuff, happening too frequently.   Nothing looks true to life, and you don't feel a connect with any character.

 It is the sort of story which will probably be good as a Salman Khan movie, and will probably rock the box office with a couple of songs and dances thrown in.

Some books capture your attention, and you read them well into the night. They are un-put-downable.....

This is not one of them.

I laboured to pick it up and finish it, when Blogadda sent me a reminder email .  

I have learned that the author has a website dedicated to this book.  While the above is my personal review regarding the book, you may read other reviews at the author's media site, here

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Seeking Miss DeSouza

Back in the days when I was  in class 2,   which is like more than 50 years ago, we had a class teacher called Miss DeSouza.  

She was a no nonsense, exemplary strict teacher, very much looked up to by various parents.  Good teaching, great homeworks,  attentive corrections,  and there was nothing that a tough rap of a ruler on her desk couldn't achieve.  Lots of naughty people in class, but they all fell in line when it was necessary .   Being made to stand outside her class was a shameful thing,  and nobody dared talk there through the sides of their mouth.  

She was amazing in the way she taught us subtraction-with-carry, something I had a natural aversion for, but ended up learning well.  There was so much excellent poetry she taught us, and she actually instilled a confidence in us, that allowed us to stand up and attempt an answer in class, without getting whispered help from the back.  She taught us to recite poems, read out stuff loudly to the class,  and we learned  to say Thank you and Sorry,  like we meant it, and not because it was in fashion.  Physical Ed classes were fun, and we played tough. 

The one thing we feared , was being rapped with a wooden foot ruler on the open palm of our hands, for making a noise in class, not doing homework without adequate explanation as to why , using bad words,  telling lies,  and so on.  Some folks who used words I never understood and could never repeat, had to wash their mouths with soap.

And the parents loved her.

Why do I remember her ?

Because I think she is sorely needed today. 

We have several so called leaders, who make outrageous comments insulting the womenfolk of this country.  We have so many leaders who think campaigning for an election is a series of gunda style threats being constantly enunciated in bad language, as their flunkies stand by.

We have so many so called leaders who blatantly lie in public  while bargaining for enhancement of individual worth in private, and totally mess up their additions and subtractions.

And so many , who appear daily on television,  in teams, where they cannot and d not follow simple rules and manners required of participants in debates.  They accuse, outshout, drown out their so called opponents, ignore the anchor person requesting them to speak one by one, barge in whenever they want with defensive talk, and personally run the other people down.

Reminds me of fights in maidans amidst kids, from different gangs, all trying to occupy the same grounds for the same game.

We have come to a point as a society, that we are cynical about so many things that are announced. Every time a new rule or regulation or requirement is announced,  the predominant feeling is that "here is one more thing someone will cheat and get done by paying someone" while I stand everlastingly in line, listening to someone say "Come tomorrow".   So many folks in power, lie so much, that we find it difficult to believe when some truly honest person makes some public promises.

And yet, we continue, election after election, to vote in folks, so many of whom think nothing of changing colors at will.  We are told this is democracy at work in the worlds largest democracy, we pat ourselves on the back, look up, and trudge over to the voting booth on election day, only to find that lakhs of names, hitherto likely to vote intelligently,  have been summarily removed from the elections rolls.

How I wish there was a Miss Desouza  who would straighten out these erring leaders making outrageous comments about womenfolk, with a rap of her deadly ruler on their greasy palms.

How I wish there was a Miss Desouza, who simply threw out and disqualified chaps and ladies, treating debates like an akhada without rules  .

I revel in visions of fellows quaking in their boots every time she rapped her table with the ruler and asked for quiet . I long for scenarios where these unworthies would stand outside, fingers on lips,  while the public passed by noticing that they were punished , and since it was by Miss DeSouza, they must have done grievous wrong.  And I look forward to the possibility of seeing several folks being forced to wash their mouths with soap.

And yes, for those who were thoughtful, civil, and followers of rules, Miss DeSouza would be a great guide, teacher and supporter.

I keep looking for her. I don't seem to find her.

Maybe we need to all have a  Miss Desouza within us ?

It is a tough call. And one can always hope.

But would be nice if our politicians and candidates had alwys, a Miss DeSouza within them...... 


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mystery of the Shrinking Telomeres.........

It is uncanny, how things at a cellular level actually tell us what is happening to our society.

Just came across this link, that says that Social Stress takes a toll on our chromosomes , and this makes us age faster.  

We humans are created and function as a result of cell divisions.

A baby  is actually a single cell inside a mother's body, which gets replicated millions of times, in a knowledgeable and precoded fashion to form a human being.  There are cells that have different specializations, like heart cells, muscle cells, cells in our finger nails, cells on our tongue and so on. Throughout the process of living, cells get destroyed and new cells are needed, all this in predecided ways,  and hence the need for replicating a cell. 

Each cell has a nucleus , inside which there are chromosomes that define who we are and what we have inherited . Within the chromosomes are genes  and DNA strings. These are what are actually replicated when cells divide .  Each DNA string has a buffer zone at the end of the string, which is called as a telomere, and it plays an important role when  the DNA string is replicated, by ensuring that ends of the valid information bearing string  don't get chopped off, or corrupted in the process.

Whenever this terrible misfortune happens, cells replicate in abnormal ways, and the human is then subject to unpredictable maladies like certain syndromes and cancers. 

Many times certain external virii (viruses ?) which are nothing but a nucleus themselves, manage to penetrate the human cell nucleus and cause havoc  in the replication process. 

 The telomeres clearly try their best in view of all these dangerous events, often losing part of themselves and shortening dangerously in the process, resulting , in what scientific folks call faster aging, or sometimes, some irreversible syndromes..   

Recent research says stressed people have shorter telomeres.  

I think shorter telomeres cause stressed humans. 


Thousands of moons ago, our society was family centric.  Generations came and went, some family knowledge got copied and propagated, some did not, but it all happened amidst a decent supervision by immediate and extended family.

Singularities and possible aberrations in behaviour etc were noted, and acted upon in a reasonably corrective fashion in real time.  Those subjected to generational changes, knew that there was a buffer zone, sometimes of parents, sometimes of extended family, sometimes even made up of dedicated friends and neighbors, that would kick in during crises in life.  

Life had natural telomeres. 

Today, partially due to economic and  population related reasons, this telomeric buffer has shortened

Young folks have moved away from the nucleus, with successive generations  moving notionally further and further away from the roots.   It hasn't helped that in this immensely overpowering Information Age, they are continually clobbered by floods of information, both good and bad, reliable and unreliable,  objective and non objective. (I once wrote a post on this, entitled Perils of Mental Obesity).

And so , with a missing buffer, when we undergo a change, we now have knee jerk, short term, thoughtless decision making, where organizing for a future is concerned.  Very short to non existent life buffers to guide you in real time, means you are ill advised, you perpetrate mistakes, and then go in for , perhaps, what might be  late counselling....

Reactions to a perceived failure, an insult,  inability to manage a loss, whether it is a loss of a person, future, or a confidence,  today result in violent reactions which were unheard of in the old days.   In a complete  mismanagement of information, and misuse of broadcasting resources,  things are highlighted as breaking news when there is nothing sudden about them, leading to people misjudging things, and then consequently reacting.  Impaired ability to judge, and lack of patience , gets endemic.

Like throwing acid, killing, shooting, burning, disfiguring, abusing in the worst way possible.  All in the name of short term solutions. 

This is clearly, a type of cancer in society. Happening due to a severe shortening of telomeric support.

Watch what is happening in the elections.  So called politicians, and custodians of whatever, making preposterous statements to incite communal tensions,  candidates  being subject to hits of tomatoes, slippers, stones, shoes, and  slaps.  Anything the candidates mention is news.

Some guy admits he has a wife (hitherto denied all these years)  and millions comment. There are so many who have more than one wife, illegal in certain cases, and that is known but never mentioned.  Nobody bothers to ask the wives anyway. Some guy increases his assets 25 times within  a year without doing a day's honest work, and nothing happens, as people exert to find out a worse offender.  There is a dumbing of the mind of the general public.   

Candidates sulk,  clam shut,  accuse, defend,  cheat, lie,  and  as a face saving thing we now have a massive telomere in the form of the Election Commission, that tries to keep things in line.

A few years ago, I was visiting the city I grew up in, the city of my parents.  Walking down the old road near our house, I was stopped by a person in his sixties, who was presiding over his own tiny ironing shop, by the side of the road.

"Are you so-and-so's daughter ?"  he asked.

"Yes ! How did you know ? "  Me. Amazed. Because I didn't know him, and it was many years since my mother was no more.

"You know when she stood for the local election, when you were small kids?  I knew of her work during the Panshet Dam floods, and I used to be in the team with all of you when we did door to door campaigning !  You know, no loudspeakers, no shouting..."  he explained.

"I remember. She didn't win . "   Me. (She had successfully organized and headed the massive flood affected folks rehabilitation project initiated by Sakal, then not a politically connected paper, as it is today. )

" Yes. (Shook his head) The ability to call a spade a spade doesn't help in elections.  But we all joined to help her because we wanted someone honest and fearless. "

He went on to reminisce about the old days, his family, where everyone was, my family, where everyone was, what i did, and where I was based,  and then inevitably, the then  electoral scene, and how it was difficult to believe anyone.

We bid goodbye and went our ways. 

He, to iron some more clothes for folks, and create piles of folded stuff; and me,  lost in my old childhood memories.

Somewhere, I got the feeling that despite the desperate times in which we lived,  my telomeres were  in place,  decently long, alive and kicking.......



Thursday, April 03, 2014

Olympics of the Mind.

The Mind is a strange thing.

It is all about being sporty. Or even Olympian. 

Sometimes, it's about competing against itself.  

Like mobilizing into a sensible start, and  taking a leap, high as you can, and sometimes, as far as you can, despite knowing that there is a wee chance that one might crash land.  And then reflecting about it, and doing it all over again.

Like sometimes, doing a restrained mindslog run,  observing stuff around, very self-aware , with new learnings;  and then , at some point, energized and suddenly getting excited , and pushing for something, giving it your all,  

Like getting hold of something unpleasant, and deciding it has no place in your life, and so you clutch it tight , whirl around at higher and higher speeds, and fling it as far as you can. It could be a ball of confusion, or a  loaded mind disc, it just needs to go as far as possible from the mind.

Sometimes, the mind is so focused, it knows where something needs to hurt someone.  And so it is about pointing the sharp edge of the word javelin, and ensuring the throw hurts whoever catches it. 

Sometimes though, it's something between opposing sides.

Like a mind persona whacked like a tennis ball, forehanded whips and backhanded compliments, and sharp vile smashes and insults lobbed away sky high, and occasionally dropped cunningly across doubtful nets.  And just when you pick up the pieces, and look skywards in supplication, you are whipped on to the other side, to devious applause.

And à propos the world we live in, this also comes in S, M and L.   The size having to do with the problem size.  Sometimes, a small quick slap and whip across a green table, a brittle mind cracking across helplessly . Sometimes, misled by a medium feathered thought, a slower wandering, and tumbling deviously across badminton nets.  Two minds, in a game of one upmanship, , unwilling to accept that there is only one winner.

There is destruction of belief, good sense, as ambition soars, and a killer instinct sharpens itself.  You come to a fork in the road and take the wrong one.  The way back isn't easy. Provided you wanted to come back, that is.

But sometimes, minds get touched by the ethereal.  There is a slow stretching to absorb and understand, a deep bending to pay respects, a gentle twirl to amuse the supporting earth, and sensing imminent achievement, then a sudden graceful leap of thought, flying high , drunk on the energy of potentials.  A dance of the mind, that has rehearsed and rehearsed the happy moves,  knowing full well, that those watching  share the wonder as well.

Today, the minds are all about the first type. getting kicks out of pointing and throwing. Or possibly the second type, where it it is all about the perceived returns.

Talking about multimind games  is pointless.  Too many  minds corrupt the thought.  Thoughts then  imbibe more quantity than quality. There is a verbal and physical bashing up of those perceived as a threat.  There is a politics of the mind.  And the sport  is a gone case.

Like all Olympics, these mind Olympics too have crises and problems. Too many misleading influencers.    

And yet, to its eternal credit, there are those minds, that  keep on the weather beaten track, still full of potholes of fear, doubt and loss, slogging one step after another, sometimes, limping along, sometimes on a run and sometimes in a weird walk; there are yet some minds, that firmly hold on to the age old handlebars, and get cracking with the floor exercises, which will one day help them fly high and delight those watching them, as they pirouette and jump and leap  in celebration , delighting the endorphinal orchestra...

There are no special, periodic , Opening and Closing ceremonies.

Just one ceremony when you are born, and one , closing it all, in the end.

But like the real Olympics,  the win is momentary.

What matters is how you played the game.