The Cursed Credit Card

All of us must have read the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp. In that there is a sequence where the evil wizard disguises himself as a lamp seller and goes about offering shiny new lamps in exchange for old ones. “What is the big deal?” some may say. Even now we have exchange offers for cars, watches, pressure cookers and many other items. But the catch is that it is not a straight exchange but just a small reduction in price. But in the case of the lamps, it was a straight exchange. As it turned out later, this wizard had ulterior motives. Now I encountered a similar situation in the current times. There was this stranger who called me up and said “Sir, we are calling from Customized Unchartered Bank. We are offering you life time free credit card. All you need to do it to furnish a Xerox copy of your identification card and put one signature. We will take care of all the documentation.

 I being a strong believer that ‘there are no such things as free lunches’, was naturally suspicious. But he was persistent. “You don’t have to pay a penny, sir. Also we are offering free gifts for all subscribers. Additionally we have a whole lot of schemes with our partner merchant houses offering discounts on a wide range of products

The whole deal sounded very fishy. Who would lend you money and also give you gifts for borrowing from them? But then everyone seemed to have one. Also I found I needed a credit card for online transactions. So I told myself that all my suspicions are a result of paranoia I had inherited from my dad and brushing them aside went ahead to put my signature on that form.

Let us now move ahead 1 year ahead to see the consequences of this small moment of weakness on my part. I am frantically calling a customer service executive at the bank.
Can you please cancel the credit card?

Why do you want to cancel the card, Sir?

Because the card has brought nothing but trouble

What is the problem, Sir? Some way I can help you?

Yes. It would be very helpful if you can cancel the card.

I shall do that, Sir. But can you tell me the reason for cancelling?

This way the conversation kept going on and on without reaching anywhere. I realize that come what may she is not going to take the cancellation request. These call center employees are not paid to make decisions but to keep talking smoothly, beguile the customer and lead them around in circles. If you are a busy person and want to get something done, they are probably not the best people to talk to. On the other hand if you are a desperate Indian male deprived of female company, eager to have any kind of communication with a female, and don’t have money to pay for professional chat services, then this is the best alternative. Getting back to the telephone conversation, she continued,
Sir, any way your card is due to expire in another 3 months. So why unnecessarily cancel?

By then I had realized the futility of this enterprise. So with an air of resignation, I replied.
Ok, whatever. So you are not cancelling my card. Thank you for nothing.

You are welcome, Sir. Can I help you with something else, Sir?

Why don’t you go and stuff your pretty little empty head down the lavatory pot, you bitch?

Probably I was over reacting and crassness was uncalled for. But the smooth unperturbed and of course unhelpful voice was getting to my nerves.
Ok, Sir. Hope you were satisfied with our service. Have a nice day, Sir.

This was the last straw and I broke out into an outburst of expletives. But she had already kept the phone down. So now getting rid of the card was becoming difficult. My earlier attempt to rid myself of the card 6 months back when I had received a bill for the annual fee, had resulted in my gold card being replaced by a downgraded classic. But this classic one seemed more difficult to get rid of than the gold. Maybe that’s why it is called classic. Because it is timeless, lasts with you forever.

But I was not the one to give up so easily. If the mountain did not come to Mohammed, Mohammed had to go to the mountain. So if they did not come for the card, the card will go to them I decided. And I marched boldly towards their office. But my courage lasted only till I reached the office. At the entrance of the office was a burly security guard, who was looking quite menacing. I tried to ignore him and walk in with a bold face. But he stopped me. I told him I had come to meet the customer service executive and told him my purpose of visit. He sent an attendant boy to get me audience with his or her royal highness the customer service executive. He came back and told something to the security officer. He turned to me and told me that customer service executive is too busy and I have to wait. I had been prepared for this and had brought along a nice novel to while away the time. But just as I was about to proceed inside to make myself comfortable on the sofa, the guard stopped me. “Sorry, Sir. That area is only for new customers.

I again lost my cool and was about to give him a dose of what I had given to that call girl. Did I just say call girl? I meant call center girl. But then I realized that prudence is the best part of valor. Hurling abuses at an unknown unseen girl down a telephone line was one thing. But this was a different ball game. This guy was here in front of me, 6 feet tall, muscular and a mustache that would have given the brigand Veerappan inferiority complex. Wish our nationalized banks had these kind of security guards. So I decided to live to fight again another day and made my quick exit.

I contemplated just throwing the credit card somewhere and forgetting about it. But credit cards bills don’t get forgotten along with forgotten credit cards. They linger on long after credit cards are forgotten and keep coming after you, with interest being added to the annual fee every month. And some people warned me that if the bill is not paid for a long time, I would be on the hit list of their bill collectors, who weren't too unlike the security guard I had encountered. So this was fast becoming a matter of life and death. As I was pondering over the issue, the postman arrived. It was yet another bill. Examining it closely, I found some mistakes in the address. But the local postman knew my name. So he had been delivering it correctly. Strange are the ways of Murphy, I mean God. The letters that you do not want always have some uncanny knack of reaching you against all odds. However, this gave me an idea. I put an online request for change in address. I gave the address of an empty plot 15 Km away, near my colleague’s house. I then went to that site by nightfall, dug a hole and buried my credit card there. That way I was ensuring that I was not being untruthful. I have always believed that honesty is the best policy. Some of the local stray dogs were looking at me curiously. They must have been wondering if humans had at last begun to see the merits of the ancient ways of canine kind. They had been burying bones for centuries.

There was still the danger of the bill collectors tracking down the old address after finding me missing from my new address. But that was where my company came to my rescue. I was going away to Germany on an onsite assignment for 9 months. At last my salvation had come. So I fled the country and was absconding for the next 9 months. I think things may have cooled down by the time I returned for I have had no communication from the bank after that.

Three years have passed since and I have been managing without credit cards managing my online transactions thanks to those kind souls who carry the heavy burden of credit card on their shoulders. Recently I received a call from a stranger, “Sir, we are calling from JDJDJ Bank. We are offering you life time free credit card. All you need to do it to furnish h a Xerox copy of your identification card and put one signature. We will take care of all the documentation.”

I had heard enough. The credit cards were out to get me again. I immediately put on a mechanical voice and told him, “Please check the number you have dialed. This number currently does not exist”. I repeated it again to seem like a recorded message. I had at least learnt something from that call center executive.

If credit cards had existed in Greek mythology, cancelling a credit card would probably have been one of Hercules' 12 tasks. I remember a sticker on some vehicle with the words “Jesus never fails”. Someone had scribbled below it. “Ask him to try the chartered accountants exam.” I would have written “Ask him to try to cancel a credit card.

Great Indian Bride Hunt - The Final Problem

I wonder what J K Rowling is planning to do now that Harry Potter series has come to an end. Anyway she has made enough money that would allow her to rest on her laurels rest of her life. Probably Arthur Conan Doyle was faced with a similar problem after concluding his Sherlock Holmes series. His other series such as Brigadier Gerald or Professor Challenger failed to evoke the kind of response that Sherlock Holmes could. Though personally I would rate ‘Lost World’ of the professor Challenger series as one of the best books I have read, the fact remains that Professor Challenger, true to his violent desire to avoid public notice was fated to remain in obscurity. So Arthur Conan Doyle had no other go but to bring Sherlock Holmes back to life. J K Rowling unfortunately does not have the luxury. I however still have not yet slammed the door on my popular bride hunt stories. So back I am with the next episode. I hope I am able to connect to the readers as I have been able to in the previous episode.

The number seven has some kind of aura attached to it in Indian tradition. Heroes in myths cross 7 seas and 7 mountains. There are 7 notes in Indian music. And even Indian marriage is supposed to be a relation for 7 generations. Given that I kind of thought I would stop my bride hunt with 7 girls and hinted as much to my parents. But one has to appreciate the tenacity of Indian parents when it comes to the question of marriage of their wards. So back they were with 3 more girls. They claimed they had brainstormed and come up with some break through shifts in their bride identification strategy that promised a higher success rate. What was I to do but yield? Even rocks finally yield to the tenacity of the sea waves. So that Monday night the father of girl no. 8, let’s call her Octavia was to call me. Girl no. 9, who we will call Nova was supposed to e-mail me that week sometime and Deca’s parents had promised to release the detailed communication strategy by that weekend. Octavia and Deca were from the finance industry, Nova from software. Deca’s dad had apparently through his industriousness managed to accumulate not too small a fortune. So I wanted to check her out first because I felt I was through with my learning curve on dispatching off cases of daughters of rich fathers. She seemed to offer the best chance of the three to further my hopes of besting Mr. Yogi’s record. Even Nova seemed to be a good candidate, being yet another software engineer but with no ‘nag’ in her name. Anyway I did not have much say in the sequencing of brides. So Octavia was the one I got to interact with first.

We kicked off Bride Hunt season 2 with telephonic conversations on two successive days. I did my best to steer clear of controversial issues such as cousins, bosses, romance and its expression, BMW cars and monks who deal in Ferrari cars. To her credit, she also did not get into the rapid fire mode. So we just chatted on lazily about the life, the universe and everything. We then agreed for a live meet the coming Sunday. I purposely avoid giving unnecessary romantic flavor to the otherwise unromantic Indian arranged marriage process by using the term ‘date’. Of course there as some who pretend romance like the character in the Hindi Movie ‘Jaane Tu’ who wants to close her eyes to reality and see the world she wants it to be. For such people, the person your parents introduced you to is your boyfriend/girlfriend. It is just a lucky coincidence that your parents got involved. The meetings arranged to discuss the issue of marriage are dates. Does the venue really matter? The lobby of a 5 star hotel your staying with dad is as good as candle light dinner or Movie Theater or park. And why does one have to take love at first sight literally? Isn't it more convenient to have the first sight, sound, taste, smell and everything else after the parents have fixed the marriage?

So it came about that for a second time, I was on my way to meet a girl. Last time many people had given me the feedback that chocolates and flowers worked better than biscuits. But somehow I could not get over my obsession with biscuits. So I sought a compromise by taking some chocolate biscuits with pictures of flowers on the wrapper. This girl had made no claims of humor. So no hassles of trying to procure nitrous oxide. Of course I took care of combing the hair and rest of the stuff. I managed to reach the venue 20 minutes before time and spent the time patrolling the road outside the pizza corner we were supposed to meet at. It always helps to get a feel of the pitch before a match so that you’re not surprised by uneven bounce or the ball keeping low during the match. She arrived on the spot exactly 53 seconds late, which was very good by Indian standards where tardiness of even 53 minutes would have been passable. So overall our meeting began on a positive note.

Availability of generous helpings of food helped further lightened the atmosphere. She was very reserved by nature and I occupied myself with the food. So overall the conversation went real well. As they say speech is silver but silence is golden. I wonder why so many people ignore this golden rule and ruin wonderful conversations by talking. But you still have the one bouncer per over rule. So I was mentally prepared when it came. “Do you think I am fat?

 Now this may seem like a very simple question to the uninitiated. The question can have only one of 2 answers, right? And that gives you a 50% chance of getting it right. But those who have had a wife or a girlfriend or at least read about the kind of people who have them would know better. Of course I am assuming a normal wife or girlfriend and not an anorexic one. If you were to say “Yes”, you would be insensitive whereas if you say “No” you would be untruthful. Neither of them seems to be the right answer. Though many of them are familiar with the question, not many know the right answer. And you know what? I am happy to announce that I have discovered the answer that has eluded philosophers and psychologists and relationship counselors for years. The answer of course is not ‘42’, which is the answer to a different question. To know more about it I suggest you read ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams. The correct answer to our question is …………………………….. ‘Ooble Ooble’.

People might be wondering whether this is in some foreign language. Actually it is in the universal human language and can be used by people in any part of the world. For people with difficulty in pronunciation, let me give a small instructive note. Take a piece of Pizza roughly 4 inch by 4 inch and stuff in it your mouth, chew it for 20 second to make uniform dough that fills your mouth. People with bigger mouths are instructed to go for a bigger piece. After that, try to say the name of your favorite brand of alcohol. And ‘Lo Behold’. You have the perfect answer. "Ooble Ooble". If you don’t drink, you could try your favorite swear words. If not, try the name of your ex-girl friend. If even that is not applicable to you, probably something is seriously wrong. You need to take some time off by yourself and introspect what you have been doing with your life. And as far as the Pizza goes, that can also be replaced with any other item of your choice as long as the 4 inch by 4 inch size is maintained. However if you’re trying it with bread, do not practice so much as to reduce its marginal utility to zero.

Having cleared the last obstacle, it was the time to close the deal. In human society, there is a high premium on how one proposes. In traditional Indian society, the young men did not have to concern themselves with this difficult problem as usually his dad would propose to the girl’s dad. So it was more of dad’s problem. But already Western influence has begun to corrupt Indian society, requiring young men to undertake such hazardous feats. So I was left pondering how to go about it. So I decided to give it a deeper thought. I took a piece of pizza 4 inch by 4 inch and thrust it into my mouth and started chewing. Food helps one think, you know. 20 seconds passed. I wondered if I should take the plunge. But though highly effective in other circumstances, ‘Ooble Ooble’ would hardly be viewed as a marriage proposal. So I chewed for 40 more seconds and then with my eyes still on the food, I mumbled incoherently “So I guess I have no issues with you”. She said “Excuse me”. I said a bit more loudly “I guess I would not object to marrying you. What do you think?

 She thought for a while and said "You know this is a big decision. I need time to think. Probably we should talk a little more. Maybe I will call you up sometime again middle of next week."

Phew! Was this never going to end? When would I get my salvation? That ended the meeting however. As she was about to leave, she mentioned that her house was close by and whether I would like to see her parents. Did not know if this was again one of those trick questions. But I thought if she thought I would find it interesting to see her parents, let me do that as well. I spent 15 minutes at her home talking to her parents and was on my way back home.

When I reached home, my parents informed me that girl’s parents had already communicated the girl’s decision in women’s parents’ language also known as Jupiter language. “Our daughter seems to have taken a liking for your son. Even we found him to be quite pleasant. We would like to visit you sometime next week to discuss the weddings arrangements

And so my most popular bride hunt series winds down to a tame end, unless I begin to invent more stories. But you know, in Indian arrange marriage system, finding a bride is just the beginning.

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Series Start     :   The Great Indian Bride Hunt

Software Engineer Life cycle

One would not be too much off the mark if one were to say Narayanamurthy was the best thing that happened to the country after Mahatma Gandhi. IT industry has served to galvanize a nation in paralysis and capture the imagination of the country's youth. I was also one of those who jumped on to the IT bandwagon leaving behind my core branch. I share some of my observations from my years in the industry.

One of the early concepts one is introduced to in the software industry is 'Software Life cycle'. In my time, the software life cycle was mostly based on the waterfall model. The term 'Waterfall Model' might give the uninitiated wrong ideas. But then this is the industry of Narayanmurthy and not Vijay Mallya. So one can be sure we are not talking of a semi clad lady posing for a calender in front of a waterfall. Exciting or otherwise, every IT consultant will attest to the fact that software life cycle lies at the heart of any IT project. But what about the life cycle of the engineer who makes the software?

It seems God created various animals and offered different life spans to them. He gave 20 years to the human, 50 years to the donkey, 30 years to the dog and 20 years to the monkey. The animals felt their lifespan was too long. So the donkey had its lifespan cut by 30 years, the dog by 15 years and the monkey by 10. But the man felt his life span was too short and asked to live the years of life the animals had refused. God immediately granted his wish. So from then on, Man lived the original 20 years given as an intelligent being, dominating the planet. The next 30 years he lived the life of a donkey, bearing the burden of family and work. Then he went on to live that of a dog for 15 years ferociously guarding his family and fortunes. The final 10 years were spent in senility, giving way to frivolity like a monkey. No wonder love makes a man a donkey; nature’s way of preparing him for his life of hard toil.

Professional life in the software industry follows a similar cycle. Just that the order of the phases is a bit different. When a developer enters a software company, he starts as a donkey. He is given all kinds of odd jobs. All that is expected is hard work. For instance one of the persons was given the task of finding a word and replacing it throughout millions of lines of code for his first 6 months. Morning to evening he toiled away industriously proud to be working in one of India’s leading IT powerhouses. The ‘donkey’ phase come to an end with a rude shock when your manager tells you during your fourth or fifth mid-year appraisal that it is not enough to do what you’re told but you need to take up initiatives of your own. It is the time for soul searching when you realize that one does not live a donkeys years doing just donkey work.

This brings on the onset of the ‘monkey’ phase. You begin to try various initiatives like a monkey jumping from branch to branch. At one time you are doing defect prevention, at other time configuration control. Then you suddenly decide to develop a tool to automate some process. Developing tools for automation is a really popular initiative among the bosses. It hardly matters that setting up your tool and giving input to it, interpreting its output and manually correcting the problems caused by it is going to end up taking more time than the original process. For only the tool’s running time is counted against the old process time. Other than winning you your manager’s favor, “I developed a tool that improved productivity by 50%” sounds impressive on one’s curriculum vitae (CV). Another popular initiative is creating ‘knowledge assets’. It is of course besides the point that even your girl friend in the same company is unlikely to read what you have written. What matters is that you are enriching the company’s body of knowledge. Also the confidence that no one is going to read what you have written gives you a freedom to express yourself freely. There was this friend of mine who, armed with a similar confidence, thought it interesting to fill up the comments section in his programs with lines from the songs of Pink Floyd. How else was he supposed to satisfy the quality guideline that comments must contribute 50% of the code delivered to the customer? Probably Pink Floyd’s lyrics made a much more interesting read than long drawn, verbose and often boring explanation of some obvious program logic which anyway no one was ever going to read.

This is also the time when people jump across companies running after higher pay scales and promised onsite opportunities like monkeys chasing bananas. By the way, talking of monkeys, I remember seeing an article that monkeys have shown ability to write visual basic programs. A few days after publication of the article, a sudden splurge in the monkey population on campus sparked off a rumor that the company had taken the article too seriously and was trying to hire monkeys as a latest cost cutting initiative.

As I mentioned earlier, usually appraisals bring on the winds of change. When you find your manager starting to talk about your lack of leadership qualities, you should realize that it is time to stop monkeying around. At last the time has come for you to enter the dog eat dog world, the world of management. As a project manager, you need to be barking at the people below you all the time to get work done and reserve your bite for the appraisals. If you’re a kind soul, hopefully your bark would be worse than your bite. If it’s the other way round, God save the poor developers. When it comes to handling customers, the project managers and delivery mangers need to run around clients wagging their tails for getting business. This phase dogs on much longer than the previous phases. With time you grow bigger. But even though you become a top dog, as they say  after all 'a dog is a dog is a dog'.

And then the human phase? Well, any guess why such a large number of software engineers appear for MBA entrance exams? Whether doing a MBA is really going to make things much better or not is a different questions all together.

Related Post : The MBA and the CEO

Great Indian Bride Hunt - The Fool's Reflections

The hunt finally came to an end. All that remains now are reflections at the end of the day. Of course finding the bride is just the beginning. There were lot of things that followed - atrologer's approval, due diligence on either side, hall booking, engagement, the actual wedding ceremony. But thats all another story. Life keeps moving. What remains are the few pearls of wisdom that we pick up as we go through the process of life. The below were some I picked up.

"By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher."
- Socrates, Philosopher, 4th century BC

"By all means, search for a bride. If you find a bride, you may be happy; if you don't find one, you may become a famous blogger."
- The Fool, Blogger, 21st century AD

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?''
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where --" said Alice.'
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
-Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

"Would you tell me, please, how we can take this forward from here?"
"That depends a good deal on what you want from life," said the Fool.
"I don't much care what --" said the Bride
"Then it doesn't matter how we take this forward" said the Fool.
"--so long as I get something, say a BMW car," the Bride added as an explanation.
-The Fool, The Great Indian Bride Hunt

Politics is the last resort of the scoundrel
- Samuel Johnson, 18th century Lexicographer, Essayist

Violence is the last resort of the incompetent
- Isaac Asimov, 20th century Novelist, Biochemist

Arranged marriage is the last resort of the unromantic
- The Fool, 21st century Blogger, Bride hunter

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces