Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mumbai 26/11 returns as Paris 14/11 - Similarities between Mumbai and Paris attacks

The resemblance is uncanny - technically the Paris attack are a direct copy paste of the Mumbai attacks. Actually, the terrorist learned from their mistakes in Mumbai. It's ironic none of the international media is able to draw a parallel. They are drawing a parallel with a Charlie Hebdo attacks whereas instead the direct link needs to be Mumbai. Above all, the Paris Police need to quickly learn from the Indian authorities on how to investigate it correctly same way as the terrorist learnt how to improve such attacks.

Here are some very obvious parallels:

  • Simultaneous coordinated attacks over multiple locations
  • Low security targets attacked
  • Very well trained gunmen
  • They attacked at a time when these locations were crowded
  • The scale was mostly similar - one prime city in a country they wanted to terrorize 
  • Cheap AK 47s and machine guns were used to make it a low cost mission
  • They had sufficient training to carry out such a mission
Now, the terrorist did some mistakes too when they attacked Mumbai. 
  • In Mumbai, terrorist did not wear suicide belts
    • That was probably their biggest mistake and that is why Kasab was caught alive and the investigation got a head start - in Paris it was meant to be a suicide mission with suicide belts which were to be used when all the carnage was done
  • In Mumbai, terrorist called back home
    • Again it was a mistake as the phone conversations were intercepted and the link with Pakistan was established. I am ready to stick out my neck and say that the terrorist in Paris made sure they did not commit this mistake.
  • In Mumbai, terrorist carried food 
    • In the hindsight, it was a waste of space as any which ways they were on a suicide mission. And they figured, food and water was something they could easily get from their targets
    • People may argue that they had planned a longer mission and hence the food inn Mumbai; the counter argument would be, it was just a simple miscalculation due to lack of experience as a protracted attack did not increase their hit rate in hindsight
If you objectively analyze it, the Paris attack were inspired by the Mumbai attacks. Someone, did a lot of research on the attacks in Mumbai, not to mention the fact that they may hired a consultant from Pakistan ISI to assist them in planning the attacks.

Of course the French did a lot of things better than Mumbai; above all the French media was much more responsible than the Indian media that made it a show to increase TRP. Also, the police acted as fast as they could and neutralized the threat.

Now the French (a first world country) may feel ashamed to admit that they had an attack similar to one in a third world country - but guess what, India managed to stop the attacks (Indian Mujaheddin attacks were stopped too). I would recommend the French authorities to contact their Indian counterparts and talk. Else, the French are going to have a tough time stopping such attacks as Indians were attacked just for the heck of it, but the folks attacking France have a bone to pick. And Indians have learnt over the years how to deal with such attacks thanks to Pakistan - for the Western world this may just be a start.

Back Link : 

Friday, November 13, 2015

A true story

"Sir, I can't sleep, am worried if I calculated the amount correctly. I even see the amounts in my dreams", said Ram over the call.
"Don't worry tonight, you can't do much about it from home. Tomorrow when you reach office check it. Sleep tonight, I'll handle in case any issues come up - I am your manager and that's my job", said I trying to placate him and get done with the call.
"OK Sir, Good Night", said he and put down the call.

I sighed as I continued with my dinner in the office canteen. It was 4 AM on a cold November night in 2013 and I had been in office for over 16 hours now. The transition from UK to India was killing me and there was no end in sight. My team comprised fresh out of college grads and needed a lot of hand holding which was proving to be difficult. Above all, Ram had proved to be a challenge and training him was taking a toll on me.

Ram came from a small village near Belgaum. He had had a very humble beginning. His dad ran a small provision store that barely made 5000 Rs a month and he had 4 mouths to feed. The MBA degree that Ram had got from one of the hundreds of colleges that dotted the Indian landscape did not teach him much (or so thought I), but did set him back by 100,000 Rs not to mention the additional 30,000 loan he had taken from his friends to come to Pune and find a job.

I still remembered the first day when he had told me his calculation :
"Sir, I get 12,572 every month as salary in hand. I pay 2000 in rent and spend 900 on food. I come by bike on a sharing basis so it just costs me 600 Rs as otherwise the office cab would have costed me 1600 Rs! Additional expense come to about 1000 Rs every month. So in all I save 8072 a month. In case I skip lunch for a week, I may even save more that month", he told me with a grin.
I asked, "So for what are you saving the money for"
"Sir, my target is to save 100,000 by this year end and pay off most of my college loan. Then by the middle of next year I will pay off the rest of the loans and then start sending money home to help my dad pay off his debt"

So touched was I that I could only say, "Good" to that. As he walked by, I thought, 2 years of his life will be spent on saving every penny to pay off a debt that otherwise could be paid off in 2 months had he had a fair chance at opportunities that life offered well off kids in India. It was unfair, yet he was happy to have got a job after 4 month of searching.

As I sat there staring at my dinner I wondered what could be done with him as he was not performing well on the process. Other managers had suggested replacing him (i.e. firing him) with a newer resource who had better communication and was more skilled. But I had resisted. I felt that he deserved a chance at life. A chance to make him and his family debt free. The sacrifice needed was added attention and support that he would require - I was ready to do it. I felt I owed that much to a fellow human being. Above all, I saw that he was also eager to achieve that. That was all that I needed.

I took that decision 2 years back and it was a grueling journey for both of us. He was an epitome of being the most unfit candidate for the job. He had no communication skills and the job required that to the fore. Yet he persisted. Yet he tried. Not to mention so did I - to groom him.

Today as I look back at him I smile. He has grown as a person. Above all, he appreciates it. Its rare to find such employees these days. The humble beginnings definitely helped. Today he asks for extra salary and thinks of buying fancy gold rings. His demands have increased because he has been enabled to make that demand. It took a toll on me, but I know it was worth it.

As I see his family photos on facebook of a trip he went on, I come to realize how important and crucial those two years were for him and his family and what a transformation it has brought in his life.

Now he earns 20,000 a month. Still pittance compared to what others may, yet he is happy.

Finally, I guess, you should follow your heart - it normally points you in the right direction is what I feel.

To Ram.

*Name has been deliberately changed to conceal identity - but this is a true story of an employee who is a part of a team I manage and Ram continues to work in that team

Monday, November 9, 2015

Whats wrong with TinyOwl?

Maybe nothing as of now. TinyOwl's founders would have to be really dumb to have something wrong at their firm after raising 100 cr just 8 months back and having another 50 million USD lined up. Actually, TinyOwl may have become the victim of its own hype and the fact that people forgot that they are a start ups and allowed to do mistakes. I personally do not believe their current business practices are going to make them last long, but yes, as of today it should look like a perfectly healthy company to the outside world.

The important word here is Outside World. Now, a murmur has been going round in the investor community since the last year or so of the exorbitant funding/valuations start ups are receiving with no tangible value add to the customer beyond discounts. It is as if everyone knows about the elephant in the room but no one is talking about it. Take the example of Tiny Owl - they were founded in 2014 and received a funding for 100 cr by February on a base of almost no sales or traction to warrant this scale of investment. This level funding was based on two premise by investors :

  • A start up has to show traction, no matter how small - investors will put in money to fuel this
  • Registered users matter more than revenue
Because of these two premises we saw a trend towards getting more users registered at any cost. Tiny Owl offered 100% cash back at one point and Food Panda was not lagging at 80% discount. The aim - get more registered users. If you think about all the new apps you've used - PayTM, Swiggy, Myntra, etc - they all ask one thing in common, a customers email address and phone number. That's the thing that's going to get them the next round of funding, not the next sale. Its ironic how the priority turned the wrong way in no time.

So the question comes, weren't investors aware of this. Of course they were - but that's the thing with hype - when you are a part of it, you ignore the risks. The smart investors already reduced their investment portfolios in the last year into internet companies or took a really hard look before investing, but then there are always those who will just follow the herd b

So what is in store? Well, actually its a good thing Tiny Owl's lay off got hyped up. These questions will now be asked more openly and hopefully we will have a soft landing to this investment boom based on crazy myths. Expect some metaphorical bloodbath as more of these startup's run into the proverbial trouble. 

Finally, the few start ups that will survive will be the ones that offer true value add to the customers. Value adds that go beyond discounts as discounts are not sustainable. Here's my bet in the food industry - FoodPanda, TinyOwl are going to disappear, Swiggy may just prove to be the winner given the investment its putting into its value chain. 2016 shall tell.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I am no poet

My Wife

Twinkling and Winking, she wakes me up Thinking;
Hugging and Whispering, she starts the day very Pleasing;
She is my beautiful morning alarm.

Rambling and Dancing, she goes around Prancing;
Mumbling and Grumbling, she does it with Fumbling; 
She is my go to office charm.

Energizing and Strengthening, she bonds like Gluing;
Laughing and Helping, she is a Friendling;
She is my awesome social bond.

Analyzing and planning, she goes on manning;
Huffing and Puffing, she like being the homeling;
She is my baby mom.

Cooking and Serving, she is very caring;
Slicing and Dicing, she is a chefling;
She is my 'fatten him up' tom.

Calling and talking, she goes on babbling;
Smiling and Beaming, she is very happening;
She is my energy song.

Ordering and executing, she is very leading;
Tiring and hardworking, she goes on multitasking;
She is my manager all along.

Laughing and bumping, she returns home jumping;
Shopping and eating, she is well knowing;
She is my grey eyed prom.

Patting and cuddling, she begins sleeping;
Humming and dreaming, she starts dozing; 
She is my loving wife lifelong.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How to reissue your passport in India

I recently had my passport reissued and it was a very tedious experience given the nature of the process and since we have a very horrible police verification system.

Re-Issue your passport

Below are the steps that a person can take if he wants his passport reissued.
Location : Hyderabad
Background : I live in Hyderabad for my work but am from a different state so my permanent and temporary address were different.

Step 1 : Fill in the online Passport Application form 

It all begins with filling in a form online and making the payment on the passport website here. You can save the form and keep editing it till you don't make the payment but please note that you cannot edit the City from where you want your passport reissued - so it's best to think out where that will be. The validity of the online form is one month, so you will need to make the payment and submit it before that.

Also another important thing to take care of is to ensure that you have the correct Police station selected as you can't change it later.

Step 2 : Make payment & book an Appointment at the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK)

Once you are sure you have made all the changes, you are ready to make the payment for 1500 Rs for regular passport. Make sure you opt for the SMS service as it can prove to be very helpful and convenient. Also in case you do not opt for it, you will be able to view the status of your application online. 

As soon as you make the payment, you will get an option to Pick a Date for your appointment at the PSK. In Hyderabad, the earliest date available for a regular appointment was 2 months away - I chose one that was the most convenient for me. However, do not waste time on selecting a date and chose one as quickly as you can as in some cases the dates may get full and you may have to wait another day.

Also, keep the printer handy as you will be given a confirmation receipt when you pick a date that you will have to print. You can even print the same at a later date if you so wish.

Step 3 : Appointment at the PSK

The PSK is managed by TCS and compared to other government organizations it's pretty well managed. You will only be allowed to enter the premise 15 minutes prior to your scheduled time, so just plan accordingly. There is no point reaching there very early as you will not be allowed to enter.

The PSK in Hyderbad have paid parking space nearby so finding parking space is not a problem if you are planning to drive down like me.

Documents required for Passport

The list of documents required for the passport are given here. Please note that the passport office are very firm in terms of the required documents and will not accept any lapse. However, the good thing is, in case you do not have a document they give a few days to procure them. So in my case, since I did not have a few documents, I was given 3 weeks to procure the document and come again next time with the required documents.

Step 4 : Appointment at the Passport Seva Kendra - Window A

On the day of your appointment, if you have all the required documents, you will fist have to go to Window A (at least in Hyderabad). Your documents are verified and they are put in a folder by the person present there. Normally, the process works this way:
- You give the person the documents
- He asks you to wait at the side for sometime
- He files them in a folder and then shouts out your name in about 10/15 minutes
- He will give you the folder and ask you to move on to the next section

Step 5 : Photograph

Once you complete Step 4, you will be given a token number. This number will flash on the screens that are put up along with the window number you need to go to for further processing.
Normally, this is the next room that you need to enter after going through a turnstile. In this section, all your originals entered in the folder by the previous section are verified again and then they take a photograph using a webcam.

Personally, I felt that using a WebCam gave them a very poor quality/low resolution photograph but it is what it is and you can't do much about it. Please note that this photo will be the one that will come on your passport.

Also, in case you have registered for SMS services, you will need to pay 30 Rs here for the facility. Note that they will ask for change so make sure you carry that.

Step 6 : Previous records

Then you move to the next section where any history associated with your Passport is verified and they inform you if you will require police verification or not.

I was pretty impressed by the fact that they were able to pull up an ECNR request I had filed 8 years ago from Kolkatta - the fact that surprised and impressed me was that even at that time these records were maintained (or alternatively, these records had now been digitized).

The lady there confirmed to me that I'd require a police verification as my previous passport was issued in Gujarat and there was an address change compared to my previous passport.

Also in this section, they stamp your old passport with a stamp that says, Cancelled and give it back to you.

TIP : In case you are reissuing your passport, always use the same address you had as on the earlier passport. Saves you the trouble of having to go to the police station - the most corrupt and rude office in the whole process.

Step 7 : Exit from the Passport Seva Kendra

You will need to fill in an exit form which asks for feedback on any of the steps you found to be a hassle or in case any employee was rude. This is a good exercise as it helps to provide authentic feedback - does TCS action it or not is a question I have till date.

Step 8 : Police verification

This is the most corrupt and problematic section of the whole process. I had police verification post issuance, so I got my passport within 15 days from my request, however I still had to go for police verification as I had a change in address vis a vis my previous passport.

I got a call from the police station mentioning the time when I had to visit. I will write a separate blog on the same, however for issue free verification below are the general rates and threats the police guy will make (over and above the insulting way they talk).
- In case all documents are present : Pay 100-300 Rs as processing charges (else we will visit your home for verification at the time you are not at home and send a Police Verification Failed Report)
- In case a document is missing : Pay 3000 Rs or more (no need to submit documents - we will manage it at our end is what the police officer will tell you)

As a hint, in all probability, you will be asked to pay a bribe pretty blatantly. Always negotiate on the bribe amount asked. I saw quite a few people successfully negotiating the amount to half or more.

Overall Feedback

If you have all the required documents as mentioned in the list, the process is very easy at the PSK. The staff is generally helpful and a welcome relief from the otherwise impossible to deal with government departments.

The police verification piece is pretty nasty - be ready to be insulted there and get vague answers. In case you don't have any document required, don't bother about procuring it, it would work out to be cheaper bribing the police guy than trying to get the document. There are instances when some good officers may not take bribe, but those are very rare. On the day I went for verification, everyone was asked to pay up pretty blatantly (100 Rs to 5000 Rs).

As always, police are the biggest crooks and thieves in India. After this experience, I understood why its best to have the police under some political control - in case they create a lot of nuisance, you can always complain to the local Corporator and the things will get sorted.

SMS Service
In case you subscribe to the SMS Service, you'll get some of the below messages. Some are difficult to understand so below is the interpretation.

SMS Messages and their interpretation

Message 1 : Thanks for opting Passport Seva SMS Services. You will receive updates on your File No. BN071268435013 through SMS 
Interpretation 1 : Your have successfully registered for the SMS service. And the file number is for tracking purposes - you can use it on the website to track your application.

Message 2 : Passport printing inititiated for your File No. BN071268435013. You will receive SMS once your passport is printed.
Interpretation 2 : You will receive this message a few days after you have submitted the documents at the PSK. Since, mine was reissue, I got the passport before the police verification was done. Please note that for re-issue, you will have post verification, what that means is passport will be dispatched irrespective of whether your verification is done or not.

Message 3 : Passport printed for your File No. BN071268435013. You will receive SMS once it is dispatched by speed post.
Interpretation 3 : As the message says, the passport is printed and ready for dispatch. Please note, in case of urgent requirement, you can directly collect the passport from the PSK at this stage.

Message 4 : Passport No R1323432 dispatched on 07/01/2015 and can be tracked using Speed Post Tracking No. RA9454354IN
Interpretation 4 : As the message says, that the passport has been dispatched. It will take a day or two to reach your home. Please note that in case you miss the delivery the speed post guy will take the passport back to his regional head office and you need to go there and collect it within 5 days. In case you miss to collect it, it will be sent back to the PSK! Then it becomes a big nuisance as then you will have to pay bribes to retrieve it. So please make sure you don't miss it.

Message 5 : Police Verification initiated. Contact Nampally Thana, if not done in 3 weeks
Interpretation 5 : What it means is that your file has been sent to the local police station. Please note that normally the police Thana official will give you a call and ask you to come to the station in a week or two from this message. They will give you the time when you need to come on the call itself. Alternatively, you can visit the Thana in case of urgency - but be ready to bribe them to speed up your case. The police station is the most corrupt place in the whole system.

Message 6 : Police Report not yet finalized by Commissioner of Police, Dist Hyderabad City. Contact Police for details
Interpretation 6 : Now this is a very misleading message and confuses a lot of people. The police and the PSK have an understanding that the police need to submit the report to the PSK within 30 days. Since police are very lazy, they do not submit the report to the PSK in 30 days and that's why we get this automated message. You should not worry about it as normally in two weeks from this message you will get confirmation stating that your verification is completed. 

I even went to the Commissioners office when I got this message, they told me that my application was still being processed and this was an automated message.

Message 7 : Police has submitted Clear report for your current address
Interpretation 7 : Yippie. You are done. You have a clear report on your passport.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

POTUS In India

The Beast lands, Air Force 1 is prepped up, Sheraton has 157 rooms as POTUS is coming to India. For some reason, the whole theme of the Obama visit and the jargon that goes with it sounds as if we just found Santa Claus and are bringing him to India.

Agreed, Barack Obama is the President of the Unites States of America (POTUS) and technically the most important person the earth has to offer, but purely in terms of achievements a single visit can only do as much. Democracies unlike Autocracies have a long decision making process and a single visit by the president is just a large step in million other smaller steps. In terms of timeline, a Obama visit with some definite agenda and action points tomorrow will achieve tangible benefits after 1 year!

I do not blame the media from hyping it up - there isn't any other Islamic bomber around currently blowing up things so they need to hype it up. Lost for any tangible things to speak on, the focus is on Obama's car (The Beast), his hotel (The Sheraton), his sniffer dogs, the number of security cameras and his loo timings not to mention Michelle Obama and daughters.

At this point I can be assured that both the leaders will say the meetings were very successful (at the end of the trip). They will say a lot has been achieved and we are all positive and gung ho about it, but purely from an engagement exercise, this visit will achieve more symbolically than much in terms of tangible benefits. I am more than inclined to ask Mr Obama to pitch in with Amitabh Bachhan in the 'Come to Gujarat' advertisement. Obama can definitely be a better tourist puller globally than Mr Bacchan.

So as things stand, Air Force One is ready for departure in 11 hours from now. Mr Obama has a long flight to India with a stop over in Germany landing in India at 10 AM on Sunday which I believe will be shown live on TV.

My 2 cents, Mr Obama, please pack warm clothes - its pretty cold in Delhi and the parade starts early :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Maggu's life till now

Its been over 6 months since I last wrote here - but I have a very good reason for it. Profound changes
Where Was I?
were happening in my life in the last 6 month : Maggu found Maggie and married her. <>

So, how did the story unfold. Well it began like how most arranged marriages would - the first date over coffee initiated by our parents. We talked a lot of nonsense over the date, but somewhere deep down you connect - you know it the moment you are done with the meeting and depart. You know it because you haven't felt this feeling earlier. You know it because you think about it. There are a billion reasons why you know it, but you do. On the other side of the fence, I thought it would be very difficult to find someone like me through 'arranged marriage', but well, turned out actually it wasn't so difficult. The only thing you need to be ready for - a long tedious process of meeting a hell lot of girl (honestly, speaking when you think of it, its something that should promising for any self respecting guy).

Once Maggu found Maggie, the story began. Late night coffee and drives through the deserted streets of Pune. A drive into the mountains just for the lack of a good place to chat. Even a visit home and to the beaches and long winding roads it had to offer - it was a very fruitful courtship period at the end of it all.

And that's where Maggu (that's me), been busy. Courting Maggie. Setting up their new Nest as one of his cousins pointed out. Of course, now as the dust settles, Maggu got time to revive his art of writing. In the days to come, I plan to write of the journey it has been till now and the journey that is called The Indian Wedding.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The first separation

'What are you doing' asked Maggie over phone on a Friday afternoon.
'Just got off a call and will be dialing into the next one in a moment' said I as I scanned a management report on my desk sitting in office.
'Oh OK. Get done with your work. I am coming to meet you at your office' she said excitedly.
I just have a nervous giggle and said, 'Sure'.
I looked at my watch, it was 2:30 pm and Maggie would be coming over in 30 minutes. That meant I had very little time to finish off the report. I quickly jotted down a few To Do items, rescheduled the call, assigned a few tasks to my team and almost jogged downstairs to meet Maggie in the cafeteria.

Now as long as I have known her, Maggie has always had a cheerful smile on her face but today was different. She was sitting on a table and just staring at her fruit plate. I strode over to her and said :
'Hey, what's up'
'Hey, how are you' said she with a sad watery smile.
'What's wrong?' I asked very concerned.
'You know, I'll be going home this weekend. This is the first time I'll be leaving you' saying so a tear rolled down her cheek.
Then I understood what it was all about and was overcome with emotion. I just stood there with a smile on my face and gave her a pat on her shoulder and said, 'Don't worry it'll be fine. I'll call you regularly'
She looked at me and with a watery smile and said 'I know this looks stupid and it's just three days but I will miss you and that's making me cry. Will you miss me?'
'Heck I will. I'll be in touch every day and make sure you don't miss me'
She wiped off her tears, gave a brighter smile and said 'I guess it's best to start our snacks. But before we do that I want to tell you again Maggu, I love you too much'