Dear Strangers,

This post has been written for Day 6 of the 30 Days 30 letters challenge. Topic for today: A Letter to a Stranger!

I live in a country with a population of 1.237 billion. Bumping into strangers could perhaps be the most obvious of encounters in daily life. While I am travelling by public transport be it a train, bus or a flight, interacting with strangers generally happens. 


Dear Akhil, Karthik & L,

I remember the date exactly, the evening of 14th August 2013, when at 5.45pm, all of us exchanged glances and saw one another, as Rajdhani Express left Ahmedabad railway station, enroute to New Delhi. Personally, I was overflowing with excitement and anxiety of sorts, as I was in the train to Delhi to see Shantanu, for the first time since his job got transferred there.

Third AC compartments in trains are so congested, I must say and all of us literally struggled to get seated comfortably. Kartik and Akhil, remember you were on the berth opposite to mine?

Even when all of us had our reservations confirmed, there were two passengers on the side lower birth, along with L. Poor thing, they both had been RAC passengers sharing a seat of two between three led to L’s discomfort. However, that wasn’t for long.

Ten fifteen minutes and we all settled and the serving of the usual Rajdhani snacks began. Tea/ Coffee and snacks generally help trigger conversations and they exactly did what they had to, that day. Thankfully.

Generally I tend to doze off to bed around 9ish while I take an overnight train journey. To my surprise, I kept up till past midnight talking to you people, as if we were all friends for years. We never realized where time flew as we discussed things of sorts, jumping from one topic to another: Railways and its services, our respective industries- Sales, Engineering, Analyst for Start Ups and Advertising & Design; Indian politics and yes, I had a good time hearing tales of all of yours’ armymen fathers. And why were we up till midnight? To have Chai Nashta at Ajmer station..?? Nope! To wish one another a Happy Independence Day! Such proud Indians we made! 😛

This was perhaps for the first and the last time that I have enjoyed the company of fellow train companions. I’ve frequented New Delhi several times after that first visit and each time I hoped to see at least one of you. My hopes were seriously in vain until my last visit in July End. Early morning when the train stopped at Delhi Cant Station, I went near the basin with my toothbrush and a voice called from behind, “Niyati, right?”

It was you Karthik, getting down with your luggauge. Same coach, different compartments and we couldnt meet. Bah!
Life indeed comes to us in full.circle, doesn’t it?

Hope to see you soon again, on a trip to the national capital..!!

See ya!

Love,

Niyati 🙂

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Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge

“Mehman Bhagwaan ka Swaroop Hote Hai”

Meaning

Guests are gods in disguise.

Such a noble thought, noble enough to have become Indian Tourism’s tagline – “Atithi Devo Bhava”!
Noble as a thought and even for promoting the sentiment of Indian culture of considering guests as worship worthy!

While on the other hand, we had a Bollywood movie, usually taken to be a depiction of the modern Indian society: “Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge!” (Translates to Dear Guest, When would you leave?)

I did not appreciate the movie much, however, the title could not have better spoken of my sentiments, in many such encounters.

Allow me to list down some.

#Encounter1 – The Inquisitive

Either you won’t know them or even if you know them, you may not care much. Still following questions have popped up!

“Beta, what do you do?”
“Oh! Your parents are pharmacists? How did you end up in Engineering?”
“WHATT!! YOU LEFT POST GRADUATION IN ENGINEERING TO JOIN A JOURNALISM COURSE? HAHAHAHAHAHAH”

“Ohh!! You’re a journalist?!! Tough job for girls haan! Especially after marriage. U know what I mean!”

“When are you getting married? It’s the right age! Or don’t have plans at all?”

“Ohhh!! You married out of your caste??? Ah anyway it is better not to expect from people of your generation!”

If they’d have enough guts, they would go to the extent of asking me when am I having a baby! Very common but highly annoying!! The worse is yet to come: the questions on which I was reluctant to answer, they’ll cross question my parents for the same!

Dear Guest, from whatever planet you have come to me, neither am I amazed nor am I interested. I have stopped putting in efforts to understand why you’re so inquisitive about everyone’s matters except for yours! I hope you got the message that I am NOT even remotely interested to clarify your doubts! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to live!

Distant relatives, acquaintances of your parents/ in-laws would generally be in this category!

#ENCOUNTER2 – The Caring

You know them very well since they’re in regular contact. But they want to know if every detail of your life..!!

You remain so busy with your life.
You hardly come and meet us or even call us.
You have to come to my place.
You know you should do this..
You should do that..!!
I do this, I do that!
You and your husband have demanding jobs! How long will this go on! How will you take time out for babies!

Uncle, Aunty, Sir, Madam, Would you please bother minding your own business! I’m sure your kids must be having a hell of a time with you. My family is there to worry about me!

Someone from your gossip monger interfering relatives or closed circle of family friends.

#ENCOUNTER3 Stereotypical, Formal and Full of Expectations

Again not anyone you know but you are bound to sit before them for they know people who live in your house.

First, there’s no common topic, interests or attitude but then you’re her colleague’s daughter.She has to know your marital status, college grades and designation right?

Next, you’ll be expected to sit in front of her, even if she won’t talk to you or take you to be a part of the discussion. You walk out it’s an insult.

You’re a girl and you walked to that uncle in shorts to serve water – uncle gets scandalized and thinks the girl has no Sanskaar or etiquettes!

You didn’t ask or insist to that distant relative if she wants another serving of Dal or Sabzee – you’re so inconsiderate – because you did not insist them for more until they puke and instead thought they better feel free and at ease.

Dear Guest, Your type is most often seen anywhere and everywhere. I’ll be glad to talk provided you learn to respect my individuality.

It seems such kind of atithis (Guests) take themselves for god before they enter your house!

And I might ask with confidence,
“Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge!”

Customer Services Cell – A Bit Polite Please!

Most of us have at least once spoken to the customer care department of whatever product or service we own or have availed – be it for registering complaints or enquiring for something or clarifying something or asking for servicing. Of late, customer care centre or the customer services cell has become a vital part of almost everyone’s life: Mobile phone call centres – the most commonly resorted to!

Since the past couple of times that I had dealt with the customer care, the experience has not been all that great and one thing I noticed in common: “Taking the utmost pride in denying or failing to offer a solution.” Doesn’t work for me!

I need a higher capacity (a 6 or a 9 cell) battery for my laptop. What do I do? Look up online – no concrete information, no compatible models mentioned, not even on the official website. I call up the customer care by dialling the only number mentioned on the website. This number was for the Online purchases and Sales department. After going through the ever-irritating IVR, I finally get to speak to the customer services person.

“Good Evening, my name is XYZ, how may I assist you?”

[ “Hey..! I have a laptop of so and so model number I need a 6 cell or a 9 cell battery for the same. Is it available? May I have the model number for the same?” ]

The above would have been my response. But here’s what happened:

“Hey..! I have a laptop of so and so model and I need a 6 cell or a 9 cell battery…”

“Madam! This is not the Technical Support Department. You better call on that! Here we only take order and don’t answer queries!”

Those words came a bit too rudely.

“Uh! Well. Alright! Could you please connect me to the department? I’m sorry there’s no other number on the website.”

“Call on 1800-xxx-yyy”

The line gets disconnected.

I call on the said number: “This number does not exist!”

I again dial the previous number, hoping some polite executive to come my rescue.

“Good Evening, my name is MNS, how may I assist you?”

“Hey..! I have a laptop of so and so model number I need a 6 cell or a 9 cell battery for the same. Is it available? May I have the model number for the same?”

“Madam! This is not the Technical Support Department. You better call on that! Here we only take order and don’t answer queries!”

“Uh! Well. Alright! Could you please connect me to the department? I’m sorry there’s no other number on the website.”

“Call on 1800-xxx-yyyy”

The line gets disconnected.

Finally I connect to the Technical Support Department Executive.

I explain the problem. He asked for some details, asked me to hold on. I waited for some good 3-5 minutes after which the person unholds the call.

“Madam, we don’t keep this information, you call the pre-sales queries department,” he said in a imperative tone.

Feeling like a football, I thought, asking them for a transfer would be futile. I asked for the number instead.

I get a wrong number. I call the same department to find the correct number. I connect to the “Pre-Sales Queries Department” Executive. I explained the issue.

“Madam, give me the model number of the battery you want.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know which is the higher capacity battery for my laptop that is available. I can’t find it and hence I called you.”

“Then why did you call the “Pre-Sales Queries Department” Madam! This is the matter of the Technical Support Department. I cannot do anything here. Get me the model number first,” he said in an annoying tone.

No prizes for guessing the status of my temper at that time. The man got some ruthless thrashing from my end and in 2 minutes the information I needed was out!

I greeted back with a thank you and disconnected.

 

Looking at the other side of the desk, I understand there are times when you get helpless, left without a solution to the customer’s problems. You could be courteous enough.

Well, who entitled you get rude to me? Isn’t the basic rule of Customer Service to be a bit polite and courteous? Where did that arrogance come from, “I don’t have a solution, woman! You do whatever you want and stop bugging me!” I don’t expect unnecessary sweetness in tone but neither did I ask for such arrogance!

Besides, you’re an electronics manufacturer – use technology to its best. Instead of bothering your executives for remembering numbers, mention all numbers on the website. Why leave a scope for human error? Is information so difficult to manage?

While discussing the episode with a friend, we concluded, “If the customer service is considerate, courteous and efficient, they tend to get loyal customers.”

Customers know how to deal with a “no solution” situation – at last they’ll give up on what they want and make way somehow. But the moment the customer “care” throws an attitude, things go for a toss!

Most of us tend to overlook the language barrier while speaking to customer care executives, only except for we ourselves don’t understand vernacular language. But the tone has of late been a problem for me. Things have become so mechanical for them.

On this note, I faintly remember a scene from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. 

A recently widowed housewife, Evelyn (Judie Dench) is trying to deal with her husband’s absence and a huge debt he has left behind. She calls the customer care for some service. Turns out the customer care executive ruthlessly says, “Your husband  is dead. ” and Evelyn’s heart sinks over those words that just fell on her ears.

Weeks later when she joins a call centre as a language and vocal skills tutor, she explains bits of politeness that could make a difference for call centre executives. She says something like, “With this, be cautious and try to understand what situation the other person is into, instead of being innocently blunt enough to say things that shatters the person on the other side to pieces.”

This says it all!

It’s not just about solving complaints. Nobody would eat you up if you have no solution to offer, but at least don’t show that absolutely unnecessary arrogance and rudeness. “Saying No, Nicely!” is an art: learn it!

Does cultural & religious freedom entitle you to uncivilized behaviour?

“India is a culturally rich country with diversity prevailing at almost every few steps as you traverse the land.”

~ The most clichéd textbook statement, even though it is true. If you really want to witness this diversity, just look around and you’ll find how differently people behave and live. I remember one of my lecturers in the Communications class talking of how beliefs are mere by-products of the juxtaposition of cultural & religious roots of one’s family, geographical location and upbringing. This largely shapes a person’s belief, attitude and in turn of like-minded popular groups too. Diversity is the beauty of Indian culture. Indeed, it adds spice and flavour to our lives! The Indian constitution too respects this diversity hence introducing a few clauses that don’t let inequality persist. Good.

However, the down side of diversity comes into picture when despite cordial civil behaviour inked in the book of law, certain attitudes remain grounded into people, communities, etc. This is where the problem begins.

We live in a world where the need to coexist prevails: even before being a human right, it is the law of the nature, etched in the process of evolution. The prevalence of coexistence is the biggest challenge in the the diverse India.

A policy of living peacefully with other nations, religions, etc. Despite fundamental disagreements – the meaning of co-existence defined by dictionary.

When I speak of challenge, it means maintaining peace. If you are an Indian and I need to explain you how this happens, you’re probably not older than four years! (No offence intended)

Speak of any two religions- have we accepted each other and can we co-exist? If so, riots would perhaps never happen!

All this co-existence gyaan reminds me of a many incidents and instances, also my post on acceptance (read here.). I’d like to share something I’ve been witnessing over a period of time.

Right behind my apartment, there’s another apartment, under construction. I am annoyed with its presence since it blocks sunlight to my bedroom completely, however, its relevance holds in this post only to an extent that I hate the building being constructed. Now comes the primary reason of hatred:

Every thursday night roughly between 9 to 11, a certain religious group of individuals, not more than 10-15, gather for a satsang sabha in the parking area of this under construction building. They gather here, sing bhajans, aartis; share stories of the God they preach. The origin and authenticity of the songs and their pledge & anthem are a matter of doubt to me as their tunes partictically resemble Hindi Film songs, India’s national anthem and India’s pledge. 😀

Anyway, the point is they use a mic and a loudspeaker to sing and do all the talking. I would have understood this if it happened once in a while and for a larger audience. But every thursday night, there is this “nuisance” as i would rightly term it, that tends to disturb my sleep.

My objections:

1. Why use a mic? There must be at least 200-300 people whose balconies and bedroom windows must be facing this building, where nuisance happens! Not all of them visit this satsang. Therefore using loudspeakers and mic are a source of big disturbance.

2. Venue is a personal choice and convenience. But aren’t there rules to behave in a civilized way? Did you just forget you are supposed to co-exist in the surrounding you are? Your preferences for religious beliefs, activities and rituals can be different from mine. Why the show-off? Keep it a personal business either in a closed hall or room. Volume is always an issue. Mic again can be conveniently avoided.

Well, where coexistence comes into picture here when neither me nor my other neighbours who are getting disturbed, have thrown things at this gathering, which was quite convenient. But then others not understanding civilized behaviour violates coexistence as it becomes no more peaceful.

The challenge to coexistence in our diverse country lies here:

A lot of aspects in a cultural and religious diversity are a matter of individual choices. That is why any given two communities are “Fundamentally Different”! Tolerance is one aspect.

However, believing that religious and cultural freedom is one’s fundamental right, does not entitle one to impose one’s thoughts or activities onto others in the first place. Secondly, it does not again entitle such beings to uncivilized behaviour, in the name of right and choice.

I happy to live in a diverse surrounding, provided everyone co-exists in a true sense.

Acceptance ka Keeda

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“Acceptance” ~ it is a simple word with complicated interpretations and consequences. Nowadays, I can see half the world around me upset because of lack of acceptance. I don’t like being told to do things; I do them my way so I can’t accept others telling me to do things. Similarly, others can’t accept me not doing certain things. I appreciate our politicians’ intelligence. When I watch these news debates daily, I wonder from where do they find such wonderful excuses which do make sense (only for the moment) just because they cannot accept what is perhaps seen, felt, touched and heard by a million others. Artists suppress their creativity out of the fear that it would not be understood and in turn, not accepted by the viewers. If I go on listing down who, when, why and how is so bugged with acceptance issues, there shall probably be no end to it. Nobody has been able to abate acceptance issues whether it is me, you or an inter-caste wedding or social acceptance of a woman or the previous generation welcoming ideas of the newer one and vice versa or the cook unwilling to experiment or the kid reluctant to express himself out of the fear of  rejection.
Well, acceptance issues have led to wars, and they’ve broke out riots.  Mr. and Ms. Michelle have been arguing over a stupid issue since past 25 years of their happy marriage. They’ve not separated, love still fuels the fire in their heart buy they simply can’t accept a particular part of one another. And by now, me and you have come to realize this funny strange fact that: out of sheer insanity, amidst the raging unacceptance, the world’s populace still co-exists. Well, I didn’t say peacefully… 😀