Sunday, January 22, 2012

The exuberance of youth

This incident happened exactly 5 years back (21 January 2007) so my memory is hazy and some of my recollection could be completely made up.

Four guys meet over drinks and dinner at Timbuktoo. Nandu had convened the meeting, which had me, Dhaval, and one of his friends. He had recently heard/read about the Manali-Leh highway and was all excited to conquer it. He had even brought a map and a copy of Lonely Planet - India.

Nandu - the mastermind

Dhaval - we eventually did go on other trips/treks
We discussed the schedule, places to visit, possible problems that we would face and agreed that it could be done in July – six months was enough time to prepare for this trip. Now all we had to do was buy bikes, learn to ride it, and go for a practice run before the big trip. You read that right – as you can imagine, I had absolutely no idea what we were getting into!

Ideas for ideal bikes were also discussed in the course of the meet up. Nandu was going to buy an Avenger. I was going to buy either a Discover or a Glamour. Dhaval was going to get his dad's Pulsar. 

Nandu started a Yahoo! Group to help coordinate the ride.
I brought the HH Glamour a couple of months later.
The others didn't.
I got busy with my work and forgot about the whole thing ... that is until 2011.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review: The Creation of Wealth by R.M. Lala

The book has a winner of a tagline - The Tatas from the 19th to the 21st Century. That's a great premise and there's quite a lot to cover - from the grand plans of Jamsetji Tata to the recent transition to Cyrus Mistry. I picked it up because I admire the work of the Tatas. Having spent my entire life in Mumbai, I know first hand how their philanthropy has touched the life of millions and expected this book to provide an interesting insight into the group and its origins.

The Tata group is probably the only national industrial house that continues to uphold its integrity and ethical standards missing in its contemporaries. Over the last 145 years, it has seen a fair share of churning and has to its credit phenomenal achievements in the fields of steel, automobiles, software, and telecommunications.

So does this official "best-selling" edition with a foreword by J.R.D Tata and and epilogue by Ratan Tata live up to the expectations? A big NO. The latest edition of this book, which came out in 2004 is clearly outdated even for the early nineties. Adding a couple of pages in the end about the Nano makes not an update! While you do get a sense of the Tata's past and work in the book, many achievements and failures are missing. I don't know the relationship the author shared with the Tata group, but he approaches the topic like a soft-spoken, obedient servant. The bias is obvious in several chapters and there is no hint of candid thoughts or disclosures that were new for the time of the book's release.

The first section that covers the life of Jamsetji Tata is the least painful part of the writing but things nosedive from there. The illustrations in the book are by Mario Miranda and are a sharp contrast to the poor writing. The book has gone through a few editions since the early nineties when it was first published and the update has been very shoddy. The book needs major revisions at a lot of places. I lost count of the number of times the same bit of information reappeared. And this happened often enough to irritate me. I would be surprised if this book was ever edited and if there is an editor, I would love to share my detailed views with the person's boss. While we are at it, the indexing was the work of a total amateur. This clumsy update has no business being up on bookshelves asking for money.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My experience with Mobile Number Portability on Airtel

I've been an Airtel customer for close to six years now. My experience with them has not been good and it seemed to get worse with every passing year.

The final nail in the coffin was when my SIM card's lifetime validity was mysteriously revoked. Repeated calls to their customer care and personal visits to their relationship centers gave me a good idea on how well their systems are managed. Absolutely no one I spoke to, even the managers of the call center execs and the main guy at the relationship center, had any clue on what had happened with my account and how the terms had changed without any reason. The standard line I got to hear was "According to the system, your validity will expire in two days". No explanation whatsoever, just this standard line repeated by their staff over and over again.

From what I understand now, some scheme that was activated conflicted in the validity terms and the new scheme overrode the lifetime validity. I got this information from my own research on Airtel's website and online forums with no help from any authority at Airtel.

At first this was not an issue as a six month extension to the validity came at the expense of Rs 10 (subtracting the talktime that came with the recharge). In December, when the term was to expire, the earlier scheme was revoked and I now had to pay Rs 200 for one month's validity. That was it - I decided to go in for mobile number portability. After a lot of research it was down to DoCoMo or MTNL. I chose MTNL because:

  • My dad has been using their services for around 7 years and has not faced any problem
  • MTNL switches to BNSL outside my home circle and that is the network you would want to be in if you travel extensively. BSNL is the only network that seems to work in the deserts of Ladakh, national parks in the Himalayas, or the interiors of Maharashtra.

The DoCoMo site has all the information you need to port your number along with this helpful manual (PDF).

I visited the MTNL office close to my place and spoke to the lady in charge. She said that while other operators went through the procedure without hassles, Airtel acted as a sore loser. She recounted horror tales of customers who had started the process only for Airtel to take their own sweet time with the process. After 14 days the porting number lapses, customers have to resubmit applications, and after several such cycles many eventually lose interest. She also warned me that Airtel would offer heavy incentives to retain me. This was going to get interesting, and I asked her to go ahead with the process.

Two days back, I got a call from someone from Airtel. He asked me why I had chosen to go for MNP. I had rehearsed my answer well:

"I have been using your services for close to 6 years now and through this period I have been randomly put on services that I never agreed to. There is no easy way to find out if this has happened, and I would always accidentally discover this theft from looking  at my account balance. Each time the money deducted wasn't refunded (though it is mandated by TRAI) and I was given an assurance that this would not be repeated again. Repeat it did, and I have lost count of the number of times it happened.
My second major problem is that the lifetime validity that I paid for when I brought the card has suddenly vanished with no explanation. I have given up after trying the customer care helpline and relationship center. Your systems have no idea what/why/how this happened and I have lost confidence in your ability to be fair and honest in your dealings with me"

I wanted to give them a fair chance to take back my business. The ball was now in their court. Here is the reply I get:

"Sir, I would like to tell you that we completely understand your problems and we would like to help solve it. I would like to offer you a Rs100 recharge free of charge to take care of the unnecessary services you were charged for. I also assure you that no more add on packs will be added to your account in future. That is not all, your account will now have lifetime validity and all calls to Airtel mobiles will be charged at 10 paise/minute and other mobiles at 30 paise/minute. I would like to remind you that this will be a lifetime offer."

So the solution to my problems was a ridiculously generous validity+ talktime combo. Of course, it could easily be revoked the next day because something changed in their system or because one of the schemes they automatically added me to came with a fine print that would override these offers. I would never know because this information is not public and I know from past experience that there is no way to beat "their system".

If I had continued with my rehearsed answer, I would have told him that I wanted the exact details of each service that I was charged for and the amount refunded with interest. I wanted them to publicize the details of their schemes so that customers know exactly what they are getting into when they subscribe to a new scheme. And as in my case, I still have no idea why the validity was revoked, you could return it to me as a goodwill gesture.

However, still startled by the offer that was made, I started my answer with:
I have nothing against you but I do not trust your company to honour its agreement and this sort of ridiculous offer would only come at the expense of several other Airtel customers being added to unwanted schemes without their consent..


The guy had kept the phone. My stand was vindicated. I don't want my business to remain with a company with no ethics or moral standards - where paying customers are tricked so that wonderful schemes can be offered to those who threaten to take their business elsewhere. If you continue to remain an Airtel customer you know what you are going to go through if you try to port your number. The Airtel card stopped working today and I am now on MTNL.

Continuing their unethical practices, Airtel does not let it's customers call my number - as if my number is blacklisted. If you try to call me you will be asked to "Please check the number you are trying to call". Looks like they still managed to have the last laugh!

EDIT: After two days the problem resolved automatically and I can now receive calls from all numbers!