Sunday, 20 September 2015

Dear Mr Chetan Bhagat

Courtesy  Times Of India

    Dear Mr Chetan Bhagat,

        Every morning when I turn the pages of the newspaper, I expect to be enlightened and informed by grey matter way above on the ladder, of those who wield the pen. And this bright  sultry Sunday, as I turned the pages, TOI column  Underage Optimist’s  headlines screaming of OROP grabbed my attention. Being a fauji wife, but naturally you had my attention for those full five minutes till  I finished reading it. That’s how long it took. Then I went back to  it again. And again. Just to understand and swallow the fact that a national daily that boasts of being the best in terms of number of copies being circulated, actually published your opinion on a matter over which you have no expertise whatsoever.

  On that matter, we are at the same level. I mean, the matter of subject knowledge. So, could I just deconstruct your column so as to understand the informed pearls of  wisdom spewing from  the black  print.If I had been  a teacher or even a customer service trainer, you would have scored a perfect CGPA 10 for  beginning on a positive note with melodrama laced at the edges. You have talked of sacrifice and how the Defence is the only sector that is shown in a positive light by our beloved Bollywood. And I shall come to this later, I promise.

    1.     How is OROP a misnomer? That the veterans are fighting for one pension for the respective ranks irrespective of the year of retirement, has never been under the cloak. Or is it that you realized the core issue when you decided to write this article? When you say that the general perception  on the issue is driven by sentiments  such as, “ They guard our borders so they must get it”, are you trying to throw alms into a begging bowl?
No one is holding a bowl here, Mr Bhagat. The veterans are only asking to revert to a practice that was already in place. Why and how this practice ceased, maybe you could research a bit (for a change) and enlighten us on it in your next column.

      2.   You claim “ …After all those who protect our borders must be treated well. OROP was seen as something that meant soldiers were treated well. Hence, you better give OROP,  and now!”
( Did you seriously conjure up this sentence!)
This agitation did not happen one fine day  when the veterans decided to sit for a picnic at Jantar Mantar during the oppressively sultry days. It was borne out of false promises and hopes raised over the last forty years ever since this bone of contention has been represented  in various capacities. The picture that you see today is that of frustration raising its head.

       3.    “ People who wanted to do an objective analysis had to scurry and hide in a corner….”
No, they did not have to, Chetan Bhagat! Objective analysis has always been welcomed by the Forces. But armed with facts and figures and no skeletons hiding in the cupboard. There should be no space for objective analysis without all the facts on the table. How else do you think wars are fought? Or strategies formulated in the war games ? It is objective analysis. They think with their heads and not with the hearts. However, these very forces when they are called upon for humanitarian missions perform extremely well. They think with their head and the heart, Mr Bhagat.

    4.        Do you think it worries the Forces personnel whether the status “ Army good, politician bad” will be maintained after this? That soldier at the border will continue to trudge cross country at more than 10000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh and sleep in the open so he can set up a post for your security; or stand at 23000 feet surrounded by snowfields in Siachen and come down with medical issues that would be a reminder of the tenure for his entire lifetime (for your information Mt Everest is at 29000feet) ;  or sit inside an armoured tank without an AC when the outside temperature is above fifty degrees Celsius. Was that the AC humming when you wrote this article?

     5.      “ …we have OROP for defence why not for our paramilitary and police?”

You have been a bad boy, Mr Bhagat! I will tell  your mamma that you don’t do your homework well. The OROP issue has its basis on the retirement age of defence personnel.  The paramilitary and police personnel retire at the age of 57 to 60 years while a soldier’s retirement age is 35 years.

6.       And since you have defaulted on research, how about telling the world through your column that exactly how the defence pension of  Rs 60000 crores per year gets divided between the actual defence personnel and the civilian defence officials. Please add to it that how the Rs 12000 crores that you tout the exchequer will be burdened with every year will actually be mitigated in five years time. The latter figure, by the way, is a backlog of the payment due for non-implementation of OROP for the last so many years.

   7.   These funds are given out with no output obtained in return?“, “ …to pay the officers more or the jawans more?”, “ …more money be spent on veterans or more hospitals for veterans? “

There speaks a true investment  banker! Looking for the best horse to bet on. Thank you, but the soldier had already put aside a part of his money into the ECHS scheme (Ex Servicemen Health Scheme) at the time of retirement so he could do the rounds of Military Hospital in his old age. The doubts you think aloud are best kept under  wraps till  you understand the whole system and the complex web woven for years.”…many sectors don’t even have pensions” -  Where do you live Mr Chetan Bhagat? We are talking of Government services here. Incidentally, many of these services  also have a Provident Fund scheme where the organization also  contributes to the employees  fund. On the other hand, a soldier maintains a EPF/DSOP where he is the sole contributor.

    Like I promised in the beginning, Mr Chetan Bhagat, I shall come  back to your opening lines. The defence fraternity humbly accepts and is grateful to Bollywood for  showing us in such  glowing light, receiving the hoots and whistles in a dark hall and making money out of it. Taking note of your condescending tone ( for I did get a stink of it), when a soldier dies he oozes blood and not ketchup. Do you send out  a prayer when there is a cas evac ( casualty evacuation) so the injured soldiers are flown to the nearest MH in time for  medical attention? Do you fight snow storms to reach out to the grievously injured in the glacier so his life can be saved? Do you fly choppers at altitudes where they were  never meant to be flown? However these machines are employed beyond their stated limits because there is no other way and there is no other battlefield higher than the Siachen glacier. Do you stand by the widows when these choppers crash? Have you seen a burning bus load  of bloodied soldiers rushed back to the MH while they were on their way home for Diwali holidays after a year? Be a part of this and then adopt a tone for your article.

   And next time I shall hope to read an informed article in your column about the three hundred percent hike that  our esteemed members of the parliament have gifted themselves with,  as also a hundred percent hike in the pipeline this year.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

"Customer Is King"

Customer Service Clip Art Clipart

Courtesy      Clip Art                                    

          Ever since we tasted blood in the early 1990s, spoilt for choice and swamped by attention, the royal customer mantle has been used in every possible way to seek the spotlight.  It has been many times over that we have seen a person behind the counter fencing queries from customers who swoop down on that lone defender from every angle and with every emotion in the emoticon card. Let me take you two such scenarios.

Scene I

   A visit to a local mobile network provider last evening saw a lone girl behind the counter handling four customers simultaneously. While I was seated in front of her to address an erratic network connection, another stood right behind me whining about his new connection, whether he needed to pay right then, having taken the connection. The third strides in brandishing his sim card whimpering that it does not work. The fourth wanted his documents accepted so he could legitimately jump the queue to be heard. And all this while I waited patiently to let the young lady come back to my problem since I was first in the line. I could almost see the wheels within her mind rotating furiously trying to resolve one issue per 10 rotations. It filled me with sympathy to see her fighting off these predators in various guise. When the whining and the yelling got a little too uncomfortable in that tiny cabin, I finally raised my voice enough to be heard around that 4m by 2m space that please lady if you could concentrate on one customer at a time the confusion could be sorted out much easily. This was more for those of my ilk than the young girl.  And went on to add that the people behind the counters in India need to be awarded for their inhuman ability to simultaneously tackle so many customers, and most of them irate ones. She threw me a grateful look.That brought in a bit of uncomfortable silence only to be resumed ( hence proved we have a very short memory). A bulldozed conversation flowed...

"My new sim isn't working"
"I'll have to check it"
"I've already checked it and I'm telling you so"
The girl extracts it and inserts it in a different handset. Barely a minute later she declares that sim is indeed not working.
"Arey! That is what I'm trying to tell you for the last fifteen minutes"
"But sir, I am attending to this lady here. In any case I  have to follow a procedure..."
She has barely finished her sentence when the whining one with his new toy butts in
"... will  I get a huge bill?"
"Sir, you will get a bill according to the plan you have opted for"
Going back to the forced irate customer "Sir, you will have to provide the documents and a photograph for a new sim..."
" do I charge this dongle..." and " But why should I submit documents again?"
Two different queries needed to be handled in two different ways. Despite her training I'm sure she must have felt like pulling out one's hair and smacking the other one right across his face.
All this while the third customer is still trying to push his documents through every available space he can get between the flaying arms.

Scene II

   The sun is sending out the last rays of the day. The vendors are hurriedly setting up their vegetables in neat piles with each colour accentuating the one next to it. The bright red tomatoes highlighting the green slender beans. The white mushrooms in blue plastic container packs  sit on a heap of okras. The vendor with a gamcha holding up his weary trousers sitting on his haunches, is cleaning each carrot before placing them on a pile. A woman is already sorting out her okras into a basket. Another one arrives scanning the produce quickly.
"How much for the carrots, bhaiyya?"
"Twenty rupees for half a kilo"
" So expensive! Give me for fifteen rupees..."
"No Madam, even I bought them at a higher rate. I don't make much as it is"
While the haggling is on a well dressed man, presumably on his way back from office stops by and takes stock of the price which the seller rattles off at one breath. As an aside he swiftly calculates the rate of 150 grams of bitter gourds that I pick. The fifth customer arrives and prodding the vegetables asks the price of every vegetable one by one.
"How much for the carrots? "
"Forty for a kilo"
Meanwhile he is weighing each of the vegetables as directed by the well dressed man.
"Ginger? "The lady is still at it.
"How much do I pay" the man asks pulling out his wallet.
" Half a kg tomatoes say seventeen, three fourth kg gourd thirty, two hundred grams beans fourteen, one fifty grams ginger is        ,...."
"How much is the ginger?" the fifth customer persists while the seller is concentrating on his calculations.
"...twenty rupees for the potatoes...."
He is already rounding up the total sum while mentally I am still struggling with the price of the gourd and the beans despite the degrees earned inking sheets and sheets of paper over the years. The ginger woman unimpressed with the oral calculations and simultaneous batting off queries from others, moves on to another seller in a huff feeling slighted by the unquoted price of the root condiment.