Sunday, June 27, 2010

Have A Nice Day

HDFC bank has this message on their page– (reproducing it as it appears) - Effective June 1 2010, debit card holders will need to call PhoneBanking to place a request for the accrued cash back to their account. I have always found bank/government official language to be strange. But then one has to make sense of it, otherwise you are the loser.

I called phone banking only to realise I did not have the PIN number. Then I tried the customer service . And it is a long story.

I tried the first number that was listed. I had to wait  a while, hear some music, press some numbers as the recorded message gave me the options, and finally after about 5 minutes, it connected me to an operator. I had to wait till the voice at the other end introduced herself, and finally asked, how may I help you? She heard me out patiently and said, we do not deal with debit cards. She gave me another number

I dialled again. Same story. Dial, wait, press keys, listen to music and finally the voice. This time it was a male voice that said - Good afternoon, I am so and so, how may I help you? He heard me out too. He asks  Debit card number, Madam? . I tell him. He asks for address, the date of birth and then finally says, I cannot help you, I shall transfer your call to Mumbai. ( Why did he ask me all the details? )

He transferred my call. Again I wait… again the options, and finally the voice. Good Afternoon. ( It was already 15 mins since I had dialled the first number… shouldn’t he have said Good Evening? ) How may I help you?. I said, I have a debit card… I was getting tired of repeating the same thing over and over again.

Debit card number, Madam. Debit card number, the address, date of birth. He is not done. He wants to know more.

Landmark given for the address? I had filled the form over 3 years ago. How was I to remember?

I rattled off three landmarks. One worked.

Nomination.? Again three names. One worked again.

Then he says, I need to know the ATM PIN . I say I don't remember. Never used my debit card at the ATM. Telebanking number. I do not remember that either. I tell him, that I have answered all other questions regarding my identity. And besides it is my debit card. My money that I am spending. And all that I ask is the money that the bank promised as an incentive for my usage, to be credited to my account. So what is the problem? Sorry, madam, we need all these details.

Then he says, Madam, you search for the number and call me back ( It is close to 25 minutes now). I said - WAIT! ( did I scream in desperation?). I cannot go through this process again,

I have this practice of entering all these numbers in my mobile phone. But then cautious me, I have coded it, so that none will realise it is a telebanking number ( after all the mobile can be stolen). And doesn’t the bank communication state clearly that we are to remember the number and tear the piece of paper?

I had to decode the entry. It took me time to figure it out myself. I try different combinations. Finally ….I get a number. . I was not sure if I had the right one. ( But I felt a little victorious.. I had kept the customer service guy waiting ).

I was connected to a recorded message again to key in the telebanking number and then at the end of the message was transferred to the customer service person. He thanked me for confirming my identity. ?????  He said you have Rs 294/- out of which Rs 250 will be credited to your account. I said what about the balance. He said, we can only credit it once it reaches Rs 250/-.

So, can I give you instructions to that effect. No madam, you will have to call again each time!!! Anything else? Thanks for calling.  Have a nice day!

All this to get Rs 250/- credited to my account? Is it worth it? I am not sure. Will I go through this again. I do not know. I guess that is their intention. How many will have the patience to keep track? And then call and inform them to transfer it to the account?  A case of daylight robbery.

 cartoon source

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review – The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

The book that won the Man Booker Prize in 2008 was in circulation for a long while at the library. I guess it has done its rounds and I finally managed to lay my hands on it.

My first reaction after a couple of pages was to put the book aside. It describes the dark side of India that I do not want to read about. I mean we have seen so many foreign documentaries that show the filth, the poverty and so on. Almost like what Slumdog Millionaire did… this was even worse. And it goes on through all the pages of the book. Brand India takes a beating… and some of it is rather exaggerated.

But despite being upset with the author, you do realise that there is some truth in what he writes. Maybe not totally as he projects it. 

Notwithstanding first reactions, if you have picked up the book, chances are you will continue to read on like I did. The author has an engrossing story to narrate. The language is simple, easy to read and the the book does not drag. But does it deserve a Man Booker Prize? That is questionable.

The protagonist, Balram Halwai grows up in Laxmangarh, Bihar (  referred to as Darkness). Balram refers to himself as half baked – someone who did not finish school and has partial knowledge, like so many children in India, who are pulled out of school to earn a living. No boy remembers his schooling like one who was taken out of school’.

An intelligent child who impresses the school inspector, who calls him a white tiger, a rare prized animal. He is promised a scholarship, but unfortunately is pulled out of school when there is a marriage of his (girl) cousin, and the family needs more earning members to pay off the debts that result .

The story is narrated in letters ( seven of them) that Balram writes to the Chinese Premier who is due on a visit to India. Why the Chinese Premier? China is making impressive progress in all fields, however it lacks entrepreneurs, and the Premier wants to meet some of them on his tour to India.  And Balram considers himself an entrepreneur – a half baked successful entrepreneur.

The story progresses as he moves from working in a tea shop to how he gets the family to support his driving lessons. This lands him a job as a driver of the richest family in the village. How he moves with them to Delhi and the city life as seen by the poor. The conversations that he eavesdrops on between his employer ,his brother, his wife, the politicians they associate with, all as he drives them around.

He describes the glass houses the rich live in while the workers wait on them. See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of?? Losing weight and looking like the poor."

The corruption, rigging of elections, the evil landlords, filth, poverty. Name it and it is all there in this book.

"It's amazing. The moment you show cash, everyone knows your language."

He likens the life of the poor to the roosters in a coop. The birds are huddled in the coop as the butcher picks up a bird and kills it, the others await their turn. They do not rebel. Just like the worker class. Why? Because of family ties. They remain faithful to their employers, for if they didn’t, there would be terrible repercussions on their family.

Ultimately, Balram does not seem to care about his relatives back home, he knows they will probably be erased from the earth, yet he decides to flee from the Roosters Coop, murders his employer Mr Ashok ( I have not given away the plot for those who may have wanted to read the book- it is mentioned all along from the early pages) – steals his money, and runs away. With his ill gotten wealth he starts a business of his own. He is now ‘one of the rich’ and behaves like one.

And so he ends his tale through his letters to the Chinese Premier. It could have been addressed to just about anyone. Did I miss something apart from the entrepreneur bit?

All in all, a book that makes an interesting read. I know I have to return the book to the library soon. Which I will without regret. I am not too sure if I would like a copy of the book to sit on my book shelf.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Horn Please, OK.

It's official. You can now prepone your meeting. As children, we were told repeatedly not to use the word. ‘There is no such word’, said my father. And we never used it. Now I can. But I doubt if I ever will!

English in India was introduced by the British. Specifically for trade. And Lord Macaulay later in his Minute on Education in 1853, recommended that English be promoted as lingua franca and the medium of education in India. He thought it had the necessary vocabulary for teaching modern science, philosophy, law and history.

He seemed to be a far sighted person. But he would never have imagined what Indians would do to the language. Each year, more number of words borrowed from the Indian dialect or the words coined in India are making their way into the English Dictionary.

The author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language , David Crystal, predicts that Indian English will become the most widely spoken variant. 'If 100 million Indians pronounce an English word in a certain way,' he says, 'this is more than Britain's population—so, it's the only way to pronounce it’.

The Prince of Wales at a dinner for the British Asian Community, Windsor Castle in his speech spoke among other things, about the sharing of language. He said – quote ‘The most well-known examples are probably “bungalow”, “verandah” and, indeed, “shampoo”. And more recently, “chuddies” seemed to crept into the English language’. unquote

We are really a nation that believes we speak the Queen’s language. All the while, we introduce new words that we pass off as English and what probably sounds Greek to the British.

Over the years we have adapted the language too. There probably would be very few who do not use a word of English in their daily conversation. Right from the maid who will walk in and tell you why she is ‘late’… to the watchman who comes to collect ‘maintenance’ each month.

Vernacular language clubbed with English words has become the norm. The VJs, RJs, the politicians… all use it. Pepsi probably led the way with their Dil Mange More campaign and it led to a whole lot of advertising messages that became a part of accepted speech.

The film industry, which interestingly is called Bollywood, have movies which have titles in English. More recently, we have Kites, 3 idiots, Wanted, Houseful to a mix that has a local flavour like Jab We Met ( When we Met) to Love Aaj Kal ( Love Today Tomorrow – or is it Love these days?) .  When we have just Hindi titles, we have a mouthful and so we reduce them like in case of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to DDLJ.

While we may ‘feel off’ ( a word I 'learnt' from my daughters) that so many words have crept into the OALD ( Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary), there has to be a difference in the English that is spoken at work and that which is spoken with friends.

As someone said – the difference is between English and Hinglish. One is the language for work and the other for fun. Otherwise we may have only one place to seek jobs – at MTV India.

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