The Shyam

The Passport Chronicles, Day 69 to Finish

Or “How TCS converted an archaic, confused, mess into a modern, all consuming, disaster!

Welcome to the grand finale! The big one. The final part in the epic 4 parter known as the Passport chronicles. While I would love to tell you that this is all a result of an over active imagination, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, a few times, I had to ensure that I was not on camera and this was not a giant work of fiction. But sadly, it wasn’t. And without further adieu, let us move to the final stages:

Verification, Part One

Yes, you read that right… If you are, by any chance, a decently logical person, you know what that title means. But yes, back to the story. Just two days from where we left our intrepid adventurer, who had boldly gone where no man had gone before (except to wait a long time, age and die in their very seats, if they ever found one in the overly cramped passport office).

But yes, back to our explorer. Well, two days in, I receive a phone call on my home landline (and no, I am not sharing that with you here, you stalker, you!). I picked it up (as I normally am apt to do), and lo and behold, to the surprise of my surprise, it was the inspector from the local police station. In his gruff voice, he asked if I was Shyam Seshadri. While I wanted to snarkily answer, “Last time I checked”, I held my acid tongue, and enquired who was asking. When the gruff voice got even gruffer (is that even a word?) and replied, “Police Inspector“, all snarkiness was extinguished in a jiffy.

“Yes Sir”
“Then Please come to the police station tomorrow evening, and bring all your documents with you”

Well, when the man beckons, you listen!

Snarky Answer

So the very next day, I show up at the station (almost tempted to show up before the place opens, but I resisted!) with my papers. And I was greeted by the very model of efficiency. The same group that had gotten rid of me after tiring of me when I had swung by initially looking for my passport. Now these guys, took one look at me, and processed my paperwork smoothly. Of course, with my jinxed luck, my car’s clutch ended up failing, and I had forgotten some papers, and the station was closing for the night. End result, a harried, desperate rush to hand in all my papers. But other than that, it was approved without a hitch!

Of course, as I lay in bed at night, cursing the luck gods for abandoning me, I thought that the Passport office was actually ridiculously fast, as they turned around in 2 days after I had submitted the form to get to police verification. Pretty impressive, maybe TCS had done something right, and it was just the passport office staff who had messed up. Maybe TCS was not the bumbling, gigantic, monolithic, disaster waiting to happen, but rather a company on top of its game, who actually developed useful products. Yeah Right!

Status Update

And so it began. The dreaded wait for the approval and the actual passport. The first two days after the actual verification, I found the passport status to be the same, taunting message as it had been previously: “We are awaiting the police verification for your application.”. But then, the third day (Day 72 for those of you keeping track), it finally happened. 72 days after I had submitted my passport for change of address, after 72 mind numbingly, torturous days of having the same status message stare back at me that I had started murmuring it in my sleep at night, the status message finally changed. “We have received the police verification, and shall mail you the passport subject to all documents being in order.” Hallelujah. And it actually gave a date of two weeks by which it would be mailed. My luck had finally changed!!

Verification, Part Deux!

And so the D-Day approached. 14 days became 9, and 9 became 7. Through it all, I kept constantly checking my passport status, hoping against hope that they mailed the passport earlier than promised. Through it all, the message remained constant. And then 7 became 5 and 5 became 3 days. I knew it was too good to be true, and too good to last.

It started just like any other innocent phone call. You know, the phone rings, you go, pick it up. But then, a voice best left in my memories came back to haunt me. It was my old (if you could call two weeks old) friend, the Police inspector. And he was calling for the same reason he had the last time around. Verification!!! Dun dun dun dun….

Yes, it was as I had expected (or not really expected, but assumed as the worst possible case). It was the second trip, the horrible trip that had turned into eons at the passport office. I had assumed correctly, that the passport office had no clue what they were doing. Lost email that was never sent? Resubmit the passport particulars form? All bull, all methods of passing the buck and not wanting to own up to the fact that they had no clue what was happening to my passport.

Passing the buck

Pictured: Typical mentality of a passport office worker…

And so, the second form that I had submitted, had finally made its way to Police verification. What had come, two days after my visit to the passport office, was in fact my first application! Go figure! And so I visited the police station yet again, with the papers, yet again, and submitted my paperwork yet again!! And I did tell the officer that it was his job to make sure that I did not end up with two passports or none because of this paperwork goof-up.

And He Scores!

And then it was finally done. I had submitted all known requirements for the form. For the next three days, I eagerly checked the online passport status, hoping against hope that this resubmission of police verification did not shift back my passport mailing date. And then, lo and behold, it was postponed by a week. Now, my worries increased. I wondered, what else could possibly go wrong? And so 3 days to D-Day became 10 days. 10 became 7 and 7 finally became 2.

And suddenly, in a surprise first in the entire process, something magical, something amazing happened. My doorbell rang! The ringing itself wasn’t that amazing (it was like any other door bell, and my door bell had been working fine, so that wasn’t it either). It was the fact that, 84 days after I had submitted for a simple change of address for my passport, it had finally arrived! Hallelujah!!!

The Passport Chronicles, Day 67

Or as I like to call it, “How an enquiry was lost“.

The Passport Office, Part Deux

On that fateful day, in the middle of June, I, wizened beyond my years with my prior experience with the passport office in Thane, decided that I knew the system and knew how to get in and out quickly. After all, last time, I wandered in at 11AM, and got out by 1PM. So two hours of work for a 2 minute job. Well, if I made it as soon as the office opened at 10AM, and maybe if I’m one of the first people there, it might just be possible for me to exit the premises by 11.30AM. Right? A completely logical assumption based on known facts, right?

Well, if you agreed to that statement, congratulations! You win a cookie (the internet kind, not the tasty kind…), and I can assume two things about you:

  1. You are a logical person, and are capable of extrapolating based on a single data point just like I am
  2. You have obviously never ever been in or even near the passport office.

Rather than tell you why I make those assumptions, let me regale you with tales of my travails at the passport office the second time around. The mother of all sequels. The Empire Strikes back to my New Hope from last time [Star Wars reference for those poor souls who didn't even get that... You need help!].

I woke up nice and early that day, with the sole aim of being at the passport office by 9.30AM, which is when the doors are swung open and the natives rush in. Filling in my form duly, and stick my handsome mug on the form yet again (I was even getting tired of seeing my own grinning face at this point in time), I actually made it to Thane well before my targeted time. I reached at 9.15AM sharp. And the lines had already begun. Well, atleast I got a spot before the line exited the building premises, so I was reasonably happy.

I amused myself till 9.30 by gleefully informing people ahead and behind me that they would not be able to submit their passport applications at this office anymore, as it had been moved to some other complex (Less than 10 days after I submitted my own application, in fact. I am sure there is no correlation between the two, of course!). Of course, it wasn’t their fault, as their bloody appointment letter for submission carefully and precisely stated the time and the location, both of which was at office I was standing at. Disheartened, they would start the trudge to the other office, and I would move up a slot.

It must be that glee I obtained that came back to stab me in the ass. If there is one thing I did learn that day, it was that Karma is a bitch. And she had my number!

Karma, people you missed

And what about them other 100 people who also took glee? Dammit!!

And I find a Job

The line was let in at sharp 9.30AM, to go and form the line inside [See Passport Chronicles, day 63 for more details on the exact process]. By 10AM, I had made it to the “Enquiry counter that really wasn’t an enquiry counter“, filled in the form, handed it back and BAM! All I had to was wait for my name to be called and then skidoosh the hell outta there.

Of course, I then remembered a very interesting fact about the passport office in Thane. It was nicely laid out, and had about 30 chairs for people waiting for enquiries. Except there were on average, at any point in time, about 100 odd people waiting for their turn. And about the AC’s, the lesser said the better…

Well, 10 became 10.30, and 10.30 became 11. In the meantime, I was realizing that it would take the ears of a dog, or an elf, or some other animal with ridiculously superpowered ears to be able to hear (and understand) when your name was called from one of the two rooms dedicated to handling enquiries. I slowly inched my way towards the room to get a better position [It almost felt like a stealth mission, with the ridiculously slow approach I made]. At the rate of an inch every 5 minutes, I finally got into position at 11.15AM.

the squishy wait

Almost to the door… Just a few more centimeters….

Now realize, I am no Job stealer. I enjoy it when people do their jobs, and let me do my job (which usually involves either lazing around, doing nothing or eating). But when the announcer refused to shout out people’s names (and my name especially, dammit!), I tried to usurp his position. Not obviously so, but in a helpful, I’m making you obsolete but not really manner. So everytime he would shout out (which came out more like a whisper, due to his sore throat, as he would later explain), I, being the magnanimous, magnificent servant for the masses, would boom out the name so that every nook and cranny of the packed room would hear the name. By the 20th time I did it, the announcer started just telling me the names so that I would shout it out.

Brilliant, If I ever needed a job, I knew where I could find one. Of course, people started copying this approach and helping out at the other door [It would take me all of 17 minutes at 42 seconds to make it all the way there anyway! I would know, I timed it]. Before we knew it, we had a small ecosystem of shouters and helpers trying to streamline the process and increase the throughput. I guess that was the first time [And maybe the last, who knows...] I actually applied my mad MBA skillz outside of ISB. If only they had paid me for it, I would not have minded coming on a weekly basis to help! But alas, things were not meant to last.

And I loose my day

While I continued my community service activity, the clock continued ticking. And before I knew it, people who had come after me, who now knew me by name, were leaving saying, thanks and good luck. And all I could do was smile and nod. Finally, the clock struck 12.30. No, in case you were wondering, that was not when I was called in. It was just an important time in the day for the office. LUNCH BREAK!!!

Back at 2, Maybe?

Or maybe 2.30, or maybe never!

I panicked and asked the first chap I could lay my hands on, what it meant for me. “We have stopped taking in new enquiries, but all of you who have submitted one will be called upon. Have no fear.” And so, trusting the ever faithful government babu (who had no reason to lie to me, right?), I sat and awaited. Now

  • leaving to grab lunch was out of the question – What if they called me right at that point?
  • Status updates were completely absent – No one knew where my enquiry form had gotten to and when I would be called

So I asked my poor dad to go grab me a coke and we sat and quenched our thirst. Another interesting thing to note about the passport office – they have a bunch of AC’s, but none of them work or are effective, with the way the door is perpetually open and the sheer crowd in there. So you wait, in sweltering head and moist crowd, reeking of sweat and rubbing bodies sensually against each other. If only they were not other guys like me…

Now, I don’t have any trouble against waiting. I mean, other than shortening my already short life due to the crappy state of health care, who gives a crap? Right? Its not as if I have other important life altering things to be doing… But atleast ensure that at the end of the wait, there is something there for me. A rainbow, a pot of gold, even a bloody good vada pav. I’ll take anything.

But here? Oh no. So lunch break finished. Good ole guys came back, and the process started again. But they had gotten rid of a lot of the crowd, so we could actually sit for a change. 1.30 became 2, and then slowly became 3. And would you believe it? Still no call for “Shyam”, “Shyam Seshadri”, or even “That guy”. I would have answered to any of them. And then, right before my eyes, they shut up shop. They declare, openly and brazenly, neatly missing the 10 random idiots that we were sitting in front of them, that they had processed all enquiry forms that had been submitted for the day.

Wait, WHAT??

SwimNBun returns

So a little more discussion revealed, that the tiny little enquiry forms that I had submitted, and had been one of the first ones to submit, had magically sprouted legs and walked off, without telling anyone. Those damn enquiry forms! How dare they?

Total Crisis

Pictured above: Not a reason for my enquiry form to run away!

Well, so what could be done? Here’s where the classic game of passing the parcel began. You know, the one where everyone tries to pass off the parcel containing the bomb to the next one so that he or she is not the one left holding it in the end? Guess what? Those games originated from the passport office apparently.

So at 3.30PM, we (me, my dad and 5 others who were in the same precarious position) forced our way into one of the two offices. And there, lo and behold, was one of my old and trusted acquaintances – SwimNBun (SWMNBN – She Who Must Not Be Named from Chronicles, Day 1). I instinctively cringed, hoping against hope that she would not recognize me. Thankfully, she didn’t. So we went up, interrupting a poor sod who was trying to get his passport, and asked,

“What the Hell? What happened to our enquiry forms? Why were we never called in?”

She pulled out a stack of files, going through them one by one to see if we were on it. When it turned out none of us were, she casually shrugged, and said “I can only take care of your file if the clerk brings them in. If he didn’t, what can I do?”

Ok, fine. So we then went and harassed the good ole, shifty eyed, clerk. “Well I handed in all the files for all the enquiry forms that I had. Now if Madam wants some more files, then she has to ask for it.”

“But what about the enquiry forms that we had turned in?”
“Well, I don’t have it.”
“Now what?”
“Get madam to ask for the files”

Ok, trot back to the SwimNBun

“Madam, the clerk says that you have to ask for the files.”
“Not my job. If the clerk brings it in, I will take a look.”
“But the clerk says it is your job.”
“So bring in the clerk.”

The clerk is dragged in, against his best wishes by our small but increasingly angry mob. They argue back and forth about who’s job it is to handle these people (Of course, solving our problem was never part of the discussion, or even under consideration). Finally, both lift their hands in the air, blame the other, and close the issue.

WTF??

So we try and raise the complaint to the higher level. Higher level (another good ole Govt Babu, who first delays by saying that he had to handle the people with him) again spins it off as one of the other two’s issues. We ask for a complaint registry to file a formal complaint. Apparently, only the RPO has it, and he’s not meeting anyone. We barge into his office, before the security guard finally begs and drags us back to SwimNBun, who has finally realized that these people (us):

  1. Are not going away
  2. Are going to make problems for them if not handled soon.

She asks each of us for our File Numbers, asks the clerk to go find out what the heck is happening with each one.

The Grand Finale

Four highly annoyed people and me (I was way past highly annoyed) waited patiently in SwimNBun’s room, the tension thick enough to cut with a butcher’s knife. She tries to placate us, saying that this was not her fault, and the clerk is to blame. Luckily for us, and unluckily for her, the clerk returns with the information as that statement is made, further messing up the situation. Finally, after a bit more of “Tu tu main main”, she calls us out file-wise.

My name is 3rd. I raise my hand like a good lil school kid.

SwimNBun coolly informs me that I have to submit the Personal Particular’s form again.

I smugly (and with no little annoyance) reply, that I know. And smack down the filled form that I had been carrying around for the past 7 hours on the desk. She accepts the form, and says that I was done.

I walk out in a daze, realizing that I had wasted a good 7 hours of my life, for a task that took literally 7 seconds in the end. As I walked out into the sun, my stomach growled, as I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since my morning cup of coffee. But all was right with the world. Or so I thought. But my misadventures would continue, in Day 69 of the Passport Chronicles. And I wouldn’t realize the futility of this day at the passport office until another 2 days atleast.

The Passport Chronicles, Day 63

Or, as I like to call it, “When is an enquiry counter not an enquiry counter?

The Wait

When we last left me, our dashing hero (yes, I’m humble and modest. Deal with it…), I, along with my mom and dad, had just submitted our passport applications. Despite many setbacks and evil overlords, we had managed to persevere, and submit, only to be handed a slip which said the earliest enquiry we could make would be 45 days after the application was submitted. And so started the most arduous, pain-staking, information-lacking wait of my life. For the first two weeks, we didn’t think twice about it. And then suddenly, my Dad’s passport arrived in the mail. No verification, no nothing. Painless. And suddenly, hope sprang eternal from the lowest, deepest, darkest of wells.

One such well

Yes, as deep and dark as this one, in fact!

But then, as it was bound to happen, another 2 weeks passed without any updates. I started frequenting the Kharghar police station every few days to see if my passport application made it to them, and if they were just sitting on it. After the first four times, they had had enough of me. They politely told me that they would only receive it after the central CBD Belapur Police station (which I feel was their way of saying, ‘You, stop bothering us. Go and become someone else’s problem’). And so started the weekly visits to the CBD Belapur police station.

The Buck Gets Passed, again and again

Now that was a station on top of its game (Yes, I admit it. One of the few, other than the Service tax dept, that I was duly impressed by). They simply asked me for my application number, entered it into their system, and told me it hadn’t arrived yet. Any annoyance I might have felt at the slowness of the process vanished at their efficiency. The first time. Of course, by the second and third time, the annoyance was back in full swing. But they clued me onto an interesting fact. That only my passport application would be coming for police verification, and my mom’s (lucky her) would bypass the verification process completely. Why was I the lucky chosen one? Because my last passport was renewed in the USA, and we all know how <sarcasm begin> broken, slow and incompetent <end sarcasm> their process is.

So inbetween this, right before the 45 day mark, we received a surprise in the mail. My mom’s passport had arrived, properly renewed and shiny! And all that was left was lil ole me. And the CBD Belapur police station had also had enough of me apparently (It seems everyone can only handle me in small doses, anything more and I get tossed around like a frisbee!). They gave me a chit in writing saying that (paraphrased, of course) “THey had not seen hair nor hide of any passport application that might even remotely resemble the person that had been annoying them, otherwise named Shyam, and would they please take care of him so that we wouldn’t have to?”.

Someone else's problem

I wish I could have said the same thing…

With this in hand, beaming, I resorted to traveling to the final frontier – The Thane Passport office, not Space in this case. But first, I tried my hand at calling their call centres. The ones that they had provided dozens (ok, exaggerating, maybe 3) numbers for. To the surprise of my surprise, I got through on the first try, only to be told that their lines are open for enquiry only between the times of 10AM and Noon. I breathed a sigh of relief though, as no mention was made of the fact that you would have to stand on one leg, chanting passport shlokas while piercing your bodies with pins and making a sacrifice of one of your fingers to the passport gods. Safe!!

So I attempted another call during the aforementioned time slots. And then I attempted another, and yet another. Finally, 16 calls later, I got through, only for the phone to keep ringing and not be answered. At that point, I decided it was time. They had made it personal, and I was going in! Which brings me to my pet peeve.

I'm going in

Going in, though nowhere near as cool as pictured

When is an enquiry counter not an enquiry counter?

The question above is not rhetorical. It is not a clever puzzle either. The answer to it is, simply, at the Passport office in Thane. I have seen enquiry counters work in multiple ways in the past:

  1. The usual, most simplest form – You walk up and you enquire
  2. You take a token, then you walk up and enquire

But, no, at the passport office, the process works quite differently -

A person will

  • Stand in line outside the office, if he arrives before 9.30AM, to be let in
  • That line will then be let in and a line will form just outside the enquiry office from 9.30AM to 10.00AM
  • This line will then move to from THE line, that goes to the Enquiry counter.

Now here is where things start diverging from the standard:

  • When you finally reach the enquiry counter, one of two things can happen
  • You are rejected outright and sent back
  • You are given a form to fill, where you can fill your query
  • Then you wait, again. No token issued, no number to track. They take back the form, and you trust in god (and the passport office) and wait
  • Randomly, peoples’ names are called out from one of the two offices where officers are sitting. People who came after you are called in, while people who came before you are still waiting sometimes.
Y U NO WORK??

Y U NO WORK??

Where’s my email?

Finally, two hours later, it was like the clouds parting and sun shining down on me, when my name was finally called. As I walk in, a somber faced gentlemen sits at the desk, with a whole bunch of files. He starts calling out one name after the other. Finally, after the fourth one, my name is called. I jump up in my seat and move towards his desk like an excited hamster on sugar, and he frowns at me. He opens my file, and asks, “Why are you here?” I reply, meekly, “My passport has still not arrived, and it has been more than 45 days (63 in fact)”. He immediately replies, “We are still waiting for police verification. Please contact your local police station to find out why they still haven’t done it.”

Aha, I knew it. But I foresaw this move, and came prepared. I immediately pull out the letter from the police station stating that they have never received any application of mine. He stares at it, perplexed and slightly annoyed at not being able to successfully pass the buck. Grunting, he opens the file again, and then notices one word randomly written on one of the pages of my application. EMAIL. He turns to me, pointing at this random word, and says, “Well, we emailed you about it. You haven’t responded.”

Sorry, WHAT?? Me? Mr. I don’t have any unread email in my inbox? Mr. Gmail? Seriously? You want to play that game with me? Well, fine, lets play.

So I replied, “Sir, I haven’t received any email on any email account of mine. Do you know what ID it was sent to?”
“Well, see here. It says an email was sent.”
Ok, fine. “When was it sent? What was it about?”
“You must have obviously not seen it”

Hello? Way to completely sidestep my question. Fine, no need to piss off the person controlling my destiny (or atleast my passport!). Let me play along.

“Ok, so what should I do now sir?”
“Please submit the passport particulars form again.”

WAIT! Hold on a second! You mean, the same form that I had submitted before? The one that I am going to fill again with the very same information? The one that never made it to police verification? That one?

Yup, that very one! Brilliant. So, I was handed the personal particulars form, and told to skidoosh, and come back on Monday with the form filled with two passport size photos for submission. This was Thursday!

What followed next defied all belief. What little expectation of control I had from the passport office in terms of flow of information and centralized information was blown to smithereens. I begged to ask, “Oh TCS, What Has Thou Done?”. They had taken a horrible out of date, mess of a system, and made it a modern, bigger mess! Goddamn you! But that is a story for the next post: Passport Chronicles, Day 67, or How an enquiry was lost!

The Passport Chronicles, Day 1

Or as I like to call it, “In the Beginning, There was an Application!

Prologue

It was supposed to be a new start to my life. A new phase. I had just returned the previous day from Hyderabad, having completed my MBA from the Indian School of Business. And I had finally decided, after 6 years, to get my address changed on my passport so that I had one government proof for my address. How naive I was that it would be as simple as it was the last time around.

A nice, picturesque, if overly sunny and hot, day it was. A total contrast to how the day would turn out, as if the gods themselves were mocking me. We got to the passport office in Thane (Wagle Industrial Estate) at 9.30 AM sharp, and went inside to stand in line. The line moved quickly, they ensured we had the correct documents and gave us each a token number – one for my dad, one for my mom and one for me, almost like Goldilocks and the three bears…

The Three Bears in a quandary!

We had even got all the papers ready for Tatkaal, but at the last minute had forgotten them at home (Sheer brilliance that). Of course, since we had heard the passport office had streamlined things and TCS had helped to centralize stuff, even a non-Tatkaal change of address finished within 10-15 days. Ahh, the sheer lies and false gossip people spread in their free times…

The Wait

My dad, being a senior citizen, was called up first. They very kindly asked him if he wanted to switch to Tatkaal, and when he said yes, they allowed it (without even asking for most of the paperwork listed on the website for Tatkaal). Sadly, he couldn’t swing for me and my mom to be included when he was called in, so the lesser privileged us waited outside in the sun.

Finally, after an hour, our number came. We walked into the room with the counter and were greeted with the most populous room in the world. Every step inside pushed another person outside, it was that teeming with people in there. But we persevered, and made it to the line to our counter. The counter that was manned (or is it womanned?) by a lady passport officer.

More crowded than this

More crowded than this? Damn right it was!!!

Where we meet our Antagonist

My first impression of She-who-must-not(and cannot and should not)-be-named was that of a harsh, but fair, controlling lady. She expertly manned the desk, but worked at a glacial pace. And then the problems started. One person (an agent, my finely honed senses could pick up) cut ahead of us. And then the floodgates opened, like a tsunami lashing on a tiny hut. And for someone like my mom who can’t stand people cutting in line, it was the last straw. She loudly called out the 5th guy who cut in front of us. You would think she had committed sacrilege by admitting to sacrificing baby (Holy!!) cows for a living. Suddenly, we had painted a giant sized bulls eye on our heads.

SWMNBN (Writing She-who-must-not-be-named is too painful every time) turned to us, her devil red eyes burning with fiery flames of an inflated, undeserved power trip, as she loudly asked us to shut up and wait, as taking care of the agents would just take a few minutes. There were a few problems with that statement:

1.) She should not have been taking care of agents ahead of people who had been waiting in a line where every movement would rub you against the 6 closest people
2.) It would not take just a few minutes, as her glacial pace and the multitude of (7 to be precise) data points before had suggested.

But hey, when you are on a power trip, when did logic or nicety make a difference? Chastised, we shut up for the next 15 or so minutes, till another agent cut ahead of us. In the interest of full disclosure, it wasn’t even us who started the next tete-a-tete, instead it was a suitably squished and annoyed person behind us. Of course, our frustrations at being squished like a lemon in a juicer got the best of us, and we replied to his comment of “Why the heck is that guy going ahead” [Except in Hindi, with possibly a curse word or two] with “Its been happening for quite sometime, so chill!”. And that was all it took for Mrs.SWMNBN to turn her red, evil gaze back on us, and put us on her shit (or to-shit-on) list.

With yet another strongly worded, thinly veiled, warning, she turned back to her BFF, the agent. And we wiped the sweat of our foreheads (not because we thought we had just dodged a bullet, but it was just that hot inside there…). And then, finally, the unbelievable happened. It was our turn. She had finally run out of agents to talk to, it seemed.

The Rejection

And nervously, we inched forward, before handing in our papers, with all copies and documents as mentioned in the online portal. She looked through it briefly, before pointing out that we had not attached copies of the entire bank passbook. It seemed that magically, the requirement for address proof had increased from “The Page in the passbook with recent entries and the address” to “Every single bloody page in the passbook”. Arguing with a government officer is like butting your head against a wall – More often than not, the wall doesn’t move and you wind up with a giant headache.

Butting Head against the wall

Butting your head against the wall – Painful and gets you nowhere…

So off we trotted to the xerox shop, dutifully making copies like the mindless minions that she had deemed us to be and returned post haste. And wagging our tails, we stood in line again, submitting the papers when our overlord beckoned. As she perused the documents, we could hear her brain working at the speed of a bug wading through a slushy. And then there it was. That moment. You know, the one where you know you just became the Universe’s spittoon. Well, here it was. Looking back, in hindsight, it was so obvious, but at that point in time, I was still a naive, innocent bystander about to get embroiled in circumstances beyond my control.

She grabs our copies of documents with much reluctance, makes a show of shuffling through them, and then complains that we are making her life harder by not ensuring the documents be in the correct order. I shout in my head, “WHAT BLOODY ORDER?? YOUR BLOODY WEBSITE HAD NO BLOODY ORDER MENTIONED. YOU CAN TAKE THAT BLOODY ORDER AND ***** ** ** **** ***”, but plaster a fake look of guilt on my face and nod in condolence with her ruminations, begging for forgiveness with my adorable pout.

Me - More adorable than a kitten

I was definitely more adorable than the kitten above!!

It was such an adorable pout that kittens would have committed suicide in front of the sheer cuteness and adorableness of the pout. But alas, it had no effect on SWMNBN (or SwimNBun, as I like to call her). She found that my mom had not made copies of every visa on her passport (even the expired ones), and sent her on yet another snipe hunt. When she turned her hunter’s sight on me, I quivered in my spot, but held firm. She desperately ruffled through my papers, but was unable to find any more random reasons to send me out as well. As I looked on hopefully that my application would be accepted, she looked up, before finally sighing and taking in my documents. I sent her a cheerful smile and waved as I stepped back from the counter.

My mom finally returned, with a copy of every single document she had, and even ones she didn’t! She walked, stone-faced up to SwimNBun, and pushed her document set through the slit in the counter. Realizing the futility of going through the same set of documents again, SwimNBun decided to try a different approach this time around. She opened the passport, and found an imaginary dark line on the passport. The bug in the slushy had arrived to its destination!! Immediately claiming that the passport was damaged, and that my mom had to file a Police report and come back again with an application for a fresh passport, SwimNBun tried to reject the application. Thankfully, when we told her that she was delusional and on a power-trip, she tried to get support from her partner who manned the counter beside her. And luckily (or maybe she just pissed everyone off), the guy sided with us and said that there was no inkling of damage on the passport. I just wanted to shout, “REJECTED!!!”, but kept it in for fear of antagonizing SwimNBun further.

So finally, after 2 hours of the power trip and wait, she accepted the final application, and sent us on our merry ways.

Now I wanted to actually get to the meat of the story, which is how amazing TCS’s efforts at centralizing the whole passport services have been, but this post itself has been too (two?) long. If this seems like anything you have encountered, or just want to pile on the hatred on TCS and government offices, please reshare it so something could possible be done about this craziness. I in the meantime shall continue the Passport Chronicles, Day 63 (Or as I like to call it, “When is an enquiry counter not an enquiry counter?“) in the next post, which shall be within the next few days. Until then, au revoir, and thanks for all the fish!

A Gastronomic Mumbai Journey

I was in Mumbai from Jan 1st till the 5th this year, right after a crazy New Year’s eve at ISB. The fact that I barely made it to Mumbai is a story in itself, but this is not about it. This time in Mumbai, I decided to track every single meal I ate out (and some at home), and I realized what an awesome epicurean journey I embarked on.

What followed was four days of varied, awesome and delightful (if somewhat filling) meals, which I have faithfully catalogued. And so I wanted to share some of the awesomeness, and the places where you could find the same if you were ever in Mumbai. Each and every place comes highly recommended!

Koolar & Co.

Known to many people just as “That Irani Cafe at the corner of King’s Circle, Matunga”, Koolar is an artifact of times gone by. A quaint little corner cafe at King’s Circle, it is an Irani Cafe to beat all Irani Cafe’s. The decor is early 20th century, with newspaper clippings of the titanic and what not gracing its walls. A few small tables and even more uncomfortable chairs grace the place, with nary a place to squeeze by to get to those last few spots… But despite all this, it has a cozy feel to it.

A misty day outside Koolar

Koolar, from the outside

The place is famous in its own right, both due to heritage and its food. Its been featured in a bunch of movies and ads, from Vaastav to Coke Ads with Gambhir.

The menu itself has not changed in over a dozen years (and most likely more from what I have heard from regulars). Their omelettes are to die for. Two egg omelette, with onions and chillies,nicely fried over a grill and served well done on a plate. This greasy delight is heavenly, especially after for hangovers :) . And you can wash it all down with some brilliant chai and burun maska. And if you are feeling truly adventurous (or ravenous), I dare you to try and finish their wrestler omelette (5 eggs!!!). Lip smacking food, especially early in the day as a pick me up.

   

A nice, super yummy Masala Omelette

      

The specialty, Burun Maska! With oodles of butter

 

Irani Chai!! 

Of course, a word of warning to people. The place is cozy, but only until you spend less than 10 minutes in the place. After that, the place is R-Rated… The odds then drastically increase that you will encounter (or atleast hear from) the Parsi owner of the place. Now, if you are imagining a nice old parsi uncle who will have a word of advice or a kind ear, think again. You will encounter one of the most foul-mouthed, ever-grumpy and loud parsi owner I have ever seen or met. Your meal will not be finished before he chews out the waiter or calls out the cook, either for verbal or literal bashing. Only the Kaka, the stalwart, old-timer waiter is exempt from his wrath (You’ll immediately know who Kaka is, you can’t miss him).

That said, if you don’t mind an occasional loud curse (or a series of them) along with your food, or if you consider that entertainment, then Koolar is a must-try for anyone visiting Matunga or its whereabouts!

Copper Chimney

Ah Copper Chimney. How I love your delectable, finger licking delicious buffet. But this time, I didn’t visit the buffet Copper Chimney in Worli. No, instead, I visited the Copper Chimney in Phoenix Mills, Parel. They serve Ala carte for lunch, and what a lunch it was.

I went in, hungry and starving, ravenous for some tasty delights. We ended up ordering some soup, a starter that I’ll get into in a little bit, Kadai Paneer and Dal Makhani. At the end of it all, I felt like a beached whale, and had rarely felt as satisfied, fat or happy :)

Masala Papad + Crisp Roomali Roti = ???

The first starter that arrived was the behemoth above. It was recommended by the waiter when we asked for a Masala papad and they said they had this instead. Instead of a papad, they serve the masala on a crisp roomali roti. A very interesting and delectable dish I must say.

This was followed by a hot, savory tomato shorba, that had little cream but awesome flavor. And of course, the main course of butter roti’s, Kadhai Paneer and Dal Makhani. Now if you haven’t heard about this before, then you really need to get out from under that rock. but Copper Chimney’s Dal Makhani is to die for. Creamy! Aromatic! Flavored just right, with oodles of makhan. I could just gorge on the dal alone for days at end.

The savory tomato shorba

Dal Makhani + Kadhai Paneer + Butter Roti = Satisfied Shyam

 

Of course, after that meal, all I wanted to do was find the closest bed and hibernate for the next year or two. But sadly, that wasn’t an option. But if you like great punjabi food, great ambience and just want to have a good time, Copper Chimney is something you should definitely consider at the top of your list.

I’ll save the other for another post… Till the next time!

Toastmasters Speech 9 – Persuade with Power

For the last few months (ever since I joined ISB to be precise), I have been an active Toastmasters member on campus. Toastmasters is an international organization that allows people to improve their public speaking skills. They have a bunch of projects that help people do this in an organized manner.

I have a bunch of filmed videos, and thought I would start sharing them on my blog.

This one is my most recent, the CC9, whose topic is “Persuade with Power“. The aim is to convince your audience to adopt your viewpoint on a certain topic of your choice.

In this speech, I take up the argument that come what may, Everything will work out. The darkest of nights usually have a dawn following them. And so I provide two examples from my life when I have found this to be true.

Let me know what people think, and how I could have improved it further!

I’ll share some of my more humorous speeches after this.

The Pyrrhic Victory

The initial skirmishes had died down. There had been a relative, uneasy peace that had been ongoing for the past two months between the two sides. I had adopted a live and let live policy for the most part, with the unsaid agreement being that they would not encroach too much. After all, the place was more than enough for the three of us.

But then, two became three. And three became four. And four became a dozen. And suddenly, it felt as if they were taking advantage of my inherent niceness. What had gone unsaid had been spat in the mud and crapped upon. The underlying tension between us was ratcheting up!

But I let them be. After all, I just had a few more months left. But then, a line was crossed. It might be a very fine line, but crossed it was. My food is mine, and none others!

So I escalated the warfare. I signalled my intent to re-engage hostilities. A few died by my hand. But they proved resistant as well. They started advancing their troops to my dishes, my food and my microwave. I retaliated of course, but they proved hardy. They survived a full minute and a half at maximum blast of my microwave.

I knew then and there that this would not end well. Both sides had dug in, and were refusing to budge. Me because I was paying for the bloody space. They because they were comfortable, had nice dark places and crap loads of places to hide and procreate. But little did I knew how bad the fallout would be.

Pictured Above: Them Damn Roaches!

A day before a full scale attack, I gave them one last chance. I cleared out my kitchen, removing everything from every shelf and drawer. It was my hope that it would indicate to the miniature roaches of the reckoning that was coming. It turned out to be an eerie premonition of what would be…

But they paid no heed. It was if they couldn’t believe I would go that far. They believed I was just posturing, that there was no bite to my bark. How little they knew…

And thus, two days passed, and the roaches rejoiced. They felt they had won the battle, but they did not realize the war was still left. I decided enough was enough. I was done playing the nice guy. I had decided.

If I couldn’t have the kitchen, then I would make damn sure that they couldn’t either.

In a move worthy of the great King Pyrrhus who suffered great casualties in defeating the Romans, I decided to order a tactical nuclear strike. Or something just as devastating. Complete and utter pest control.

The pest control guys came, and hosed and dosed my entire kitchen with a white spray. The fumes were obnoxious, but I could not help laugh manically as I could see the roaches floating down the river of white death. But as the spraying came to an end, I couldn’t help but look upon my devastated kitchen.

Afterwards: The Devastated Kitchen

It looked like a war zone. A war zone that had just suffered a nuclear attack, and all that was left was the nuclear fallout. I could almost see a tumbleweed blowing through my kitchen.

The Ghost-kitchen after the attack

As I stared, I wondered about the bloods of thousands (okay, maybe not thousands but 10′s?) of roaches that stained my hands. I had not killed them personally, but it was my hand that triggered the call. But then, as I ruminated over the devastation, I had a sinking feeling. I thought I had seen a slight movement in the corner, past all the liquid death that had been sprayed.

Could it be? There had been roaches that had survived microwaving. Could there have been one that survived the extermination? I felt a chilly breeze flow through my body, causing me to shiver. I promised that I would always keep an eye on my back, for that one roach who might have survived and is now out for bloody revenge.

But in the here and now, I realized, that the kitchen remained unusable. And the smell permeated through the rest of my rooms that my entire apartment had to be abandoned for a day, left out to air. It was a Pyrrhic victory at its finest!

Can MBA's count beyond 4?

It took me 7 months to realize and recognize this. For some reason, it had never stood up and demanded its attention till I was recently slogging over the Marketing Research slide decks, valiantly trying to cram in 6 weeks of material into a two hour study session.

I turned a slide. And there was one. I turned a few more pages, and yet another one. And suddenly, it was like my entire ISB life was flashing before my very eyes, smacking me with every flash with a dead fish. There was a moment of dread, of realization dawning and wondering if I had just joined a club that I could never exit.

It was the trap of 4. It was as if the entire MBA population, once they entered any MBA school, forgot how to count beyond 4. How else could you explain the fact that any and every graph or concept that the MBA tried to teach me could be represented by a 2 by 2 graph?

Need to figure out how your brand portfolio is doing with regards to your competitors? No issues. Use a 2 by 2 matrix known as the BCG matrix

Dog, Cow, Star & ?

Want to figure out if the next big idea you have is going to make you gazillions of money or not? Plot a 2 by 2 matrix with Criticality (High / Low) on one axis, and Discontentment (High / Low) on the other as follows:

In both cases, you pick a quadrant you want to be in, and try to frame your solution to get to that point. Its an overly simplistic approach that aims at reducing the amount of clutter that we have to deal with in our “messy” realities. The buck doesn’t just stop here though, no!

  • Want to figure out which Marketing Research question types to use? Theres a 2 by 2 matrix for that
  • Want to compare the nature of service? There’s a 2 by 2 matrix which plots degree of customization against degree of labor intensity to give you that answer
  • Want to figure out the types of people in the world? Want to figure out how to scratch an Aardvark’s back? There’s probably a 2 by 2 matrix for that too!

It doesn’t stop with 2 by 2 matrices though. Ever heard of SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)? While represented in a 2 by 2 tabular form, the number of items in in is still 4.

The GE-McKinsey  matrix tried to be novel, unique, prove how much more awesome it is than a simple, trivial BCG matrix. What did it do? Added 1 to each dimension, to give us a 3 by 3 matrix. Literally! Thats their claim to fame! (Well, to be fair, they did change the axis from Market Growth to market attractiveness, but thats about it).

I keep meaning to one up them all, and come up with a 4 by 4 matrix. And then MBA students all over the globe will have a new framework to memorize, and a new person to curse to his eternal doom! The Shyam Matrix. Pure Awesomeness on one axis, and sheer craziness on the other. Deal with that, MBA students!

Now thinking back though, I finally realize why every single person at an MBA school goes gaga over one theory in particular. It is something that is repeatedly used in class after class once it has been introduced to the students.

Porters 5 Forces!

Thats right. I bet the guy is famous for no other reason than the fact that he went beyond MBA’s traditionally accepted wisdom of students not being able to count beyond 4. He went and established 5 forces. Thats right! And suddenly, students found they were challenged beyond belief. It was as if they were being shown the light after spending years in mediocrity. And the 5 forces (not 4, 5!) became the single biggest rage of MBA’s.

Disclaimer: 2 by 2 matrices can actually be useful. There’s even a book published on the awesomeness of 2 by 2 matrices (Find book here). But still, there’s an over-abundance and over-reliance on over-simplifying concepts that might leave you over and out in the ditch. This was just an attempt to remind people of that.

Facebook's next big opportunity : Analytics

In my current term at ISB, I am taking a course on “Leveraging Social Media and Analytics”. Very awesome and interesting course, but it also has a project where we take a deep dive into one company’s Google Adwords, Google Analytics and Facebook Ads data.

Now Google analytics is brilliant at allowing users to see who’s visiting their websites, where are they coming from, what they do on it, etc. Its a very powerful tool, and especially since it integrates greatly with Google AdWords, providing a great one two punch for Google and is their big selling point.

Now enter Facebook, with their Ads. The biggest thing lost from FB’s point of view is data on how useful their ads are, how many conversions you get etc. This is still possible to figure out through correlation between FB’s ad data and Google Analytics. But is still a huge pain point from FB’s and FB user’s point of view. So why doesn’t Facebook offer something like Google Analytics?

Well, you might say, Google Analytics is the biggest one out there, and people require to put a code snippet in their websites to track usage, and they won’t do it twice or won’t take the hassle.

But think about this. Facebook already has their code snippets in most websites, either through their Like buttons, Share to Facebook buttons and who knows what buttons. All it takes is for them to include their tracking and analytic code snippet as part of these buttons. Suddenly, you realize that their tracking code could already be present in a gazillion odd websites, ready for analytics.

All Facebook needs to do is turn it on, and link to Facebook Analytics and voila : Facebook Analytics could have a huge installed base right off the bat!

Now this is all out there, but just a thought I had. Crazy? Logical? What do people think?

The Cost of Peace : New fiction short story posted

Finally got some time to write over the past weekend, and to get the creative juices flowing, wrote a quick, self-contained fantasy short that I just posted in the Fiction section of the site.

The Cost of Peace is my rambling on what is and is not acceptable in the pursuit of peace, and plays out as a dialogue between two characters. I deliberately left the ending open ended, to leave it to the reader to decide which way they supported.

Regarding my technical writings, look for it to make a comeback within the coming month.

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