Saturday, September 12, 2015

Grudge Against the System

I recently watched the movie Manjhi and was filled with admiration for Dashrath Manjhi for the uphill task he completed single-handedly. We have had lot of good cinemas in recent years which highlight the real picture of society and this helps people in appreciating how lucky and privileged they are to have not been born in those parts of the country. However, often in the audience I sense this palpable feeling of harboring a grudge against the System. They feel that the System wronged the protagonist robbing him and his family a shot for a good future. Amidst the tip-tapping on their phones and tablets updating their friends via the social media with their opinion of the movie, often people forget how much times have changed since Independence.

I think as the generation of ’47 era gradually phases out, the struggles and societal condition of the time just after independence will become lost in public memory more or less. Very few in my age group and even less in the present generation know about what it was like to live in a society that was in the throes of casteism, poverty and in the absence of daily utilities we take it for granted now. Not that I had a first-hand experience of them but got to know a little by reading through accounts of those times in books and I have found it very rare to find people reading through such historical accounts. Sharing 1-2 minute videos on National Holidays are not sufficient to make people feel how lucky they are to be born in a time when many of the ills plaguing our country at the time of Independence – famine, ridiculous social practices, total absence of health-care and access to information – have almost now vanished.

People cook a snigger when told that some considerable progress has been made. In these times when sweeping judgements are the norm - no one bothers to check facts and is trigger-happy to paint you as any right/center/left sympathizer. But governance objectives seem to be an ever-evolving process. Some 50 years ago it was all about Roti, Kapda aur Makaan now it is about No corruption, access to better roads and free internet (check Delhi and Bihar election manifestos). And it will evolve further into probably an unthinkable dimension. Technological advances have led the society to instant gratification – people want instant results and so the pressure on the System has grown too. Demands of good governance have joined the chorus of election rally with political leaders falling over each other in promising the Best governance possible. However, the general public seemingly remains oblivious of the mammoth task this monolithic, rigid System has to perform. There are rising demands by the countless number of groups which want the System to first cater to their demands. Everyone expects a metaled road leading to his house, with street lights paving the way with 24 x 7 electricity and the best school and hospital in the vicinity. How will this be possible across the length and breadth is not what people bother about. Not that it is a wrong or unrealistic expectation but as they say the devil lies in the details. Finance, logistics and long term planning are aspects which our administrators and politicians are still new to.

The biggest achievement of democracy is that social inequality has come down to a larger extent. Poverty has also reduced but not to that degree and perhaps this is why still one-fourths to one-thirds of the population still lives under poverty depending on which measure you adopt. However, the rise of lower castes in politics, their assertion to reclaim their dignity and access to opportunities is a heartening result of 67 years of our democratic process. The British left us in 1947 assuming that this country had enough diversity to disintegrate into as many nations as in Europe and spiral downwards into chaos. To add to that, social malpractices, poor agricultural produce made matters worse. People of lower castes couldn’t enter temples while their cattle could (read about lower castes like Ezhavas in South India) and the females were subjected to unspoken humiliations.

But now if you look around lower castes rule the corridors of power from the North to the South – and barring a few aberrations we don’t hear the atrocities on them anymore. A person of any caste, any background has access to all opportunities. Social injustice has reduced to a larger degree – oppressed sections of the society have found their voice. Women – the oppressed gender have more opportunities than before and are waging a battle to have more doors open for them. For an unbiased, well-informed eye this is a very heartening sight.

Although, it pinches a bit when educated, well-to-do people (probably in the 80-95% percentile based on income) blatantly question the need of a System or even a democracy. In their fit of anger they even question the point of why we should pay taxes to the govt. The discontent is so deep-rooted that it’s hard to drive home the point to them over a cup of tea or snacks. The basic idea of us as a nation is to have each other’s’ back irrespective of your religion, caste, creed and gender – or in plain simple words Inclusive Growth. But sadly it has been reduced to a mere political slogan associated with a much derided political party. I’m not sure if that’s the reason why the significance of it has been lost on people or the education system failed to emphasize more the basic principles of our nationhood or perhaps somewhere down the line while growing up, joining the rat-race all these stopped making sense to us.  Of course this is the pessimistic view of things which often make us think that the future is bleak.

But India has always defied the norms, the predictions of observers and probably will still continue to do so. Mark Twain and Sir John Trachey had famously predicted that after the British leave the country – there would be civil war and unrest owing to the abundant regional, linguistic and cultural diversities enough to fill the whole of Europe. What they failed to realize that the Indian freedom movement was very unique and its orchestrators had successfully laid a strong foundation for Billions of peoples tryst with destiny. Had they been alive they would have surprised to see how Indian democracy has gone from strength to strength. So it will not be wrong to expect India to shine brighter as a democracy, as a place where in the words of Tagore – the mind is without fear and the head is held high.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Liar's Poker

I picked up Liar’s Poker from a colleague’s desk drawn to its WallStreet setting but also a bit skeptical about its 1980s timeline and also its old edition.

However, it turned out to be a different kind of reading experience as it was laced with witty humor and traced the author’s journey into the job world out from college. Unlike him I never started in an Investment bank but I could recognize the feelings he had while undergoing training.

The book provided me with a much needed insight into one of the key financial crisis preceding my arrival on Earth. I’ve to admit I had never heard of Salomon Brothers before and here I was reading about their rise and eventual fall. Although I have watched critically acclaimed documentaries on subprime mortgage crisis like The Inside Job, Too Big To Fail and also put my hands on Fault Lines – this was different as I had no clue about financial disasters in the 1980s.

The book reminded me that behind every financial disaster lies lack of due diligence on the parts of key players, greed and every big firm eventually fails when it becomes too big to manage.
Also, I really liked that I got introduced to a lot of new words during the course of reading it – many words which I simply don’t find so freely used these days.

It’s a very well written book. Even though you don’t know much about finance it shouldn’t stop you from reading it. Michael Lewis has done his best in breaking down the jargons in simple terms. To top it all, you will end up learning a thing or two about bonds as well on finishing the book.

P.S - Only on finishing it I realized that Michael Lewis is the same man who has also written Moneyball – remember Brad Pitt’s Oscar winning movie with the same name.

Great choice!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Humbled by the System

I have always believed that there is nothing called superior or inferior unless you have such a doubt yourself in some corner of your mind. All are born with equal abilities and it is the failure to summon these powers which makes one overwhelmed or conquered by others. But a recent experience I had made me think twice over this so far unshakeable belief of mine. One of the dictionary meaning of humbled is - belittle. And this is how I felt later although things somehow did go my way in the end.

Coming to the point, I planned for getting a Passport for many years but staying away from home – studying and working – often discouraged me to go for it. And the numerous bad experience stories floating around dissuaded my whatsoever left will. Finally, I decided to bite the bullet and apply for a passport. Starting from going through the necessary documents needed I started working on getting my documents in order. After it was done I got down to the actual task of filling up the application form. I really don’t know to call it luck or what – I sometimes end up in very unique complicated situations (you will find more supporting evidence on this later on too).  I had changed my place of residence while working in the same city thrice in the last one year and the rules were such that one should be mentioning all addresses where you stayed in the last one year or so. Ofcourse, I realized that the more number of previous addresses will increases the # of police verification procedures and delays the process but I was afraid of being found out in case of misrepresenting the facts and also somewhere I felt the things should be done the right way. [Later on you’ll find I did wish I had thought it more on doing so. After finishing and uploading the form I scheduled an appointment at the main passport office and reached there praying to GOD. One of my friends had a similar (in his words – costlier) experience when he had to go all the way from the southernmost part of India to the eastern most part - 2650 km only – to set the wheels in motion. Knowing his harrowing experience I prepared myself for all kinds of situations and questions.

Roadblock #1

On reaching the office after a brief wait I was ushered to the counter where TCS employees were pre-verifying the documents and handing over the file. There a person did point out that I was not carrying my actual office Id. I had thought of it in the night but it slipped out of my mind in the morning. But I had an answer ready for it too – It was not mentioned in the List of Documents needed! Hoping it wouldn’t be a problem I waited for my call at the biometrics counter. There the young lady did try to raise a few questions over whether ICSE is really an educational board but it went alright as I could convince her and got it done. At the second step is where my worst fears came true and I realized and I was not as good at persuading people as I was thinking after the initial easy victory I had. But then those who can persuade obstinate, inconsiderate government officers are few and far between! There the person looking at my documents  firstly refused to accept the bank passbook I had which I had opened recently in a Public Sector Bank specially for this purpose. For him it was a new account and not a reliable piece of document. Well this was unexpected! The List of Documents needed says that one should have a running bank account (which I had)/(or) last one year bank statement from a public sector bank. Now this is very weird and not at all helpful. I’ve had an account in a private bank and never felt the need to switch over to a public sector bank until I thought of getting a passport. Should I (a genuine person) be waiting for 1 year to pass after opening an account to apply for a Passport? Anyways, I tried to argue with him and showed him my HR’s letter which stated my address proof. Here again there is a problem – they expect it to be on a letter head with a hand written signature – but my HR department works out of Singapore and the mode of communication is email. Taking heed from my friend’s experience I had ensured that the HR letter said that it was an electronically printed letter. I had tried my best to learn from others’ experiences. But then the person in-charge asked for the Office IdCard L

Exactly the question I was dreading but I tried to reason that it is not asked for in the list of documents needed. He went crazy on hearing this – perhaps he was not expecting someone to point it out to his face. He started saying Bus ticket/train ticket is also not mentioned there. To this day I am still trying to figure out the link between it and a passport! He wrote IdCard needed on the file and gave me an appointment for the next day luckily. But I refused to be cowed down as I said in the beginning I asked to meet the Regional Passport Officer. Again, he was really not expecting this too! He said there is no one here. Go to Exit gate. I persisted and he said No, no. Go away and while I was sitting in front of him he started attending the person behind me in the queue. Meanwhile a TCS supervisor had come around hearing the argument. I asked him where the officer in charge is and he pointed me to a madam who was sipping her tea standing outside her cabin watching all this while. I went up to her and politely explained my case but she too talked on the same lines.  I pointed out to her too that the OfficeId card is not mentioned anywhere and she too seemed to be unsettled by it. She started talking absurdly and told me that it is an Oral Requirement and so it is not listed?!!?!– I doubt she could give it in writing ever. Anyways, seeing my pleas fall on deaf ears I dejectedly walked off thinking of how to skip office the next day to come again here

Roadblock #2

The second day I took leave from office and reached the Passport office at the allotted time. The process started at where it had stopped earlier. I went to the same officer, who had rejected my passbook earlier, with my officeId card and after a brief stare at me approved the file and asked me to proceed to the last and final counter – the passport granting officer. I had a sigh of relief thinking all documents have been verified and success was near. But picture to abhi baaki thi!

As soon as I handed over my file to the officer without opening it the officer asked - What are you doing here? Where do you work? Actually I don’t look like a native of this place from any angle. I answered him and he asked for a letter by the company and he immediately rejected it saying that it doesn’t have the office seal and started telling me about all the forged cases. I pleaded but to no avail. Finally, I told him I want to talk to the Assistant Passport Officer. Since it was lunch time, he punched something on his keyboard quickly and asked me to go talk to her and went for his lunch. As soon as I entered the office cabin of the APO she stared at me and asked her secretary why I was here. I explained the problem and this harassment of telling the documents missing one-at-a-time only on each visit and requested her to help. She claimed to have reminded me of the office seal the other day – which she clearly had not. And then she walked out of her cabin.

I sat in the waiting area coming to terms that I would’ve to come yet again another day. I was waiting for the same passport granting officer to come back so that I could check with him when I was supposed to come back again – my next appointment. It had been a long 10-15minutes wait when suddenly my token number was displayed on the monitor. Sensing a faint hope I rushed to the counter which happened to be adjacent to the one where my document had been rejected a little earlier. I handed over the file and documents to the officer there present and he started going through it and putting forward the same old questions – The bank account is recent/ Is ICSE a national board/the HR letter doesn’t have a seal. Promptly I showed him my office IdCard and also the bank passbook which covers as an address proof. He was slightly convinced only to find a new fault – he began rechecking by Date Of Birth. It was only on the 10th marksheet and not on the 12th – and rightly so. This was new! He asked me my educational qualification and on hearing that I was B.Tech, asked me to show the degree.

Now it is nowhere mentioned to bring along your under-graduate/graduate degrees but I didn’t want to confront him. I replied politely that I don’t have it and nonetheless it doesn’t have a D.O.B. Frantically, I showed him the Character Certificate from school and in a bid to find the Transfer Certificate spilled on his desk all the documents I had with me – the mark sheets and pass-certificate from 10th, 12th. Seeing the plethora of documents on his desk he started to randomly pick one and have a look. And then with a smug, perhaps convinced that this guy who has so many of his official documents all over my table looks genuine – he signed and gave me the Application Granted receipt.

Eureka! What a nerve-wracking victory. It seemed to me for a moment that now a new problem regarding D.O.B would be raised. But it went smoothly. And I quickly collected my documents and slipped away as the old Passport Granting Officer came back from his lunch.

Roadblock #3

As I waited for the status on the website to be updated to “Pending Police Verification”, I got calls from two of the police stations. I went and completed the formalities and it was done within a week. I was impressed that atleast this part of the process is smoother. But No Sir! The call from the third police station, which happened to be the farthest from my place, didn’t come for about 30 days since the application was granted. Alarmed at this unexpected delay – one weekend I went all the way 20kms to the concerned police station only to find the local passport verification officer missing. All I could get was his phone number.

I tried calling him but no answer and then I started calling him twice a day at random times. After about a week he picked up my call and asked me to call after 2-3 days. Again my calls started going unanswered and I added a new weapon to my armour – SMS. I texted him my name and file number. The first time I did this he immediately called me back and after listening to my case where I honestly told him that the Regional Passport Office tells me that my verification was pending with him for more than 40 days – he got a bit pissed and asked me to call again after a couple of days. Couple of days later I texted him again inquiring about the status but this weapon had been rendered useless. He didn’t call back and neither did he pick up my calls. Assuming that I had to struggle my way here too I prepared myself to devote my Saturday in trying to meet him and getting his approval on my file. I had also made up my mind to complain to the Commissioner office on Sunday if it didn’t work and even go till the Ministry of External Affairs. Aam-aadmi’s patience is not endless.

Meanwhile I didn’t stop bugging him. I kept calling him twice a day and texting him with the file number. And one fine day in office I got a message stating that a clear report has been submitted and passport has been sent for printing. Persistence is the keyword here!


I got an email stating the tracking number of Speed Post with which my Passport had been dispatched. I was relieved but one last twist in the tale awaited me. I had asked the building guard to collect it since I would be in office but he didn’t have my coveted thing when I returned from office. I checked up online and it showed the Undelivered - door was locked status. I called up the local post-office and they told me the postman would come again the next day. I decided to take a WFH since I wanted to be present at the home but no one came. Disappointed I went in the evening to the post office to collect it and they told me to come again the next morning at 9. Braving the early morning drizzle I reached the post-office at 8.45 where a new unanticipated problem awaited me.

The postman refused to hand over me the mail saying the address was wrong. Ideally my house number should be Q13 but my landlord is a bit superstitious and he has changed it to Q12A since quite long – even before I moved in. All communications to this address are addressed to Q12A and not to Q13. But nonetheless, I argued in vain with the postman and even showed him the door number photo which I had on my phone. I explained to the postmaster and even showed my passbook and HR letter which has my house number as Q12A. But the postman would not relent. After a long argument they told me to go and wait as the postman would come to my address till 11am after checking with a local police official. I returned back thinking what this strange issue I have got into is.

As my patience grew thin waiting till 10.30, I started getting ready to go to the post office when I saw the same postman outside my apartment entrance. Of course, till now both of us were pissed with each other and he angrily pointed to the board which listed all the flats in the apartment and there it was mentioned Q13. I asked him to take a look at the parking lot which had Q12A and come up and see that the door also had Q12A number plate. But he ran away. 

The problem here is that the board listing the flat owners and flat numbers doesn’t list Q12A. It mentions Q13. The apartment society hasn’t updated the board but all correspondence is directed to Q12A. Now see this is a funny, unique complicated situation I got into for simply no fault of mine.

Anyways I was really furious as I had no control over all of this. I went upstairs took another photo of my door, of the parking lot and took the lease agreement which too had Q12A mentioned as the house address and rushed to the post office. There again the same old story repeated itself. Except I had written an application addressed to the Postmaster and gave it to her and requested her to give me an acknowledgment. She seemed too cautious (or scared?) to give me one let alone her name and mobile number. The postman asked me to come along with him to the police station to the local passport verification officer. Having no option I went there fearing all the problems which were to unfold if they didn’t find my arguments genuine. Already pushed into a corner, I talked to the officer there convincing enough to give him reliable acceptable proofs. He realized that the passbooks, lease agreements etc were reliable enough proofs plus the photos I had taken were acceptable supportable evidences too. 

To not accept his (and the postman’s) mistake straightaway, he asked me to give a copy of the passbook front page so as to keep his ego up. Luckily I had it handy and immediately handed him. He was surprised and grinned. But not to be outdone he told me to give a copy of the lease agreement too. Now I didn’t have it so I went to a nearby Xerox shop to get it done. After handing it over to him, I got the elusive mail and was asked to open it then and there. The postman noted the Passport Number asked me to sign and then took it to the officer to match my signatures. Phew! They matched and then the officer started me telling his duty as a local intelligence official in the local language even though I had told him to talk in English.  Anyways I collected my passport after the enforced formalities were over and scurried back home in jubilation.

Thus ended my first interaction with this monolithic system and after overcoming tremendous unthinkable obstacles and with 2 visits to the Passport Office, 4 trips to police stations and 3 trips to the local post office within 48 days I got my passport.