Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spell Bee

Kavya Shivashankar - Winner of 2009 National Spelling Bee

Malarghal-idhathey ulla malarndha podigalai araaindhu kondu irukum
kumbi-inathai serndha uyarndha jaadhi vandey,

nee kanda malarghalil,
im-mangaiyin vida adhiga ezhuthu-kootum aatral
veroru malarukku undo?!


Oh honey bee, breeding on the nectar of flowers,
Is there a flower you know of,
which could spell better than our girl?! *

I am sure there won't be a Nakeeran style disagreement for the poem. Or, is there?

Some words which Kavya spelt easily: antonomasia, bouquiniste, oriflamme, guayabera, isagoge, sophrosynephoresy, hydrargyrum, blancmange, baignoire, laodicean (winning word). Phew...

Kavya, go girl!


* Ofcourse, the poem is the spoofed version from this famous movie.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Can I put you on hold thank you

Around 8PM yesterday, I got a call from my mobile company's customer services centre (a call centre in Manila) regarding a new add-on I signed up in my cell phone account. A lady with a friendly voice opened the phone call by asking me to confirm my name, current address, mother's maiden name, secret question 1, secret question 2, previous residential address, blood group...the only personal details remaining was my nakshthram, gothram and undraayer size.

Thanks to her heavy accent and the poor reception of international phone line, we both had to repeat ourselves a few times. For every answer I gave, she'd go "Can I put you on hold thank you". It was really funny the way she said it. It was more of a statement than a question/request. Ofcourse, it didn't matter if I wanted to say yes or no. Ms CustomerFriendly put me on me hold anyway.

Initially I was happy that she was committed to the concept of person verification and customer privacy. 5 minutes into the call and we were still in the identity-check stage - I felt she took the concept a little too seriously. Thinking about it now, I am sure most customers would lose their cool in her sloooow and lengthy identity check.

Having established my bona fides, Ms CustomerFriendly finally came to the purpose of the call. It seems the 'system' had validated the add-on without checking the service charge payment. The service fee was overdue and I had to pay it immediately. I assured her I'll transfer the money ASAP and we ended the call. Half hour later (I made the payment straightaway), when I tried to make a call, I hear an automated message saying that I don't have enough credit. I checked my cell-phone account online, sure enough my credit was gone it displayed nil balance.

Clearly annoyed, I tried to call Ms CustomerFriendly through the customer service hotline.

The great part about customers calling call centres is that if you are a new customer looking to sign up for something, you get straight through. You dial the number, press 1, one ring...tadaaa the operator picks up. It's as if they've been waiting for this particular call all day and the operator has your account information on the screen before you finish saying "2-year contract". No verification is asked(!!). As long you pay the monthly fee, agree to T&C, no one cares whether you live or die.

Try lodging a complaint, however.

"Thank you. Please select from the following 23 options. Press 2 if you are this customer. Press 3 if you are that customer. Press 4 if you are this and that customer. Press 5 if you are totally screwed...".

Out of desperation, you press a wretched number. No matter what number you press, "Thank you. Your call has been placed on queue. We apologise for the long delay, please consider making a hot cuppa coffee, catch a snooze or learn Swahili or bang your head on the wall before you get the hint we just don't want to know!"

I am not trying to be critical on call centres. I have never worked in a call centre and I don't have anything against them. From outside, their job appears to be mundane and most-boring. But they play a key role. They are the front line staff and the link between the public and the company. The outsourcing movement in the last decade has made all major telcos, banks etc to invest in overseas call centres. Rather than improving/maintaining high standards of customer service, companies seem to have cost cutting as their number one priority.

Instead of making underpaid staff work long hours on a regimented customer service protocol in south of Yengiyonesia* or east of Kalavaramistan**, they could invest in quality customer service staff both local and offshore. Perhaps the CEO and other officials, who rake up huge six figure or even seven-figure salaries (plus bonuses) could shed a few thousands from their pay packets for customer service benefit. Hell no. They would rather use it for their next cruise holiday in a tropical island or the impending round of redundancy pay outs.

Another feature in call centre calls nowadays is the voice recognition system. Voice apps works well for me. You say the key words or phrases to the system. It picks it up and provides relevant info or directs the call to the correct operator. Some people, especially old people, have tough time with it. They go on a long narrative about their problem ("Hello. I don't get Internet in my computer. Nothing is working. Bla bla bla...") and end up getting frustrated that the 'machine' doesn't understand them. One elderly person got offended when the Voice app played a message saying that it didn't understand him and asked him to repeat more than a few times. When voice app gave up and transferred him to an operator, he flared up "Why are you people you doing this? Bloody computers in everything. Everywhere. Am I fool to talk to a machine? What telecoms are you running? You idiots are trying to replace everything with technology. Your customer service is pathetic and your system is absolutely useless!". I had a good laugh and I also felt sorry for the operator.

To all of us who have suffered interminably frustrating waits with banks/insurance co/telcos trying to rectify faults, billing mistakes etc don't call the complaints or fault line number. Just call the number or select the option for new accounts and pour your grief to the soul who may be in the other side of the world and/or in the other hemisphere. Do it politely. He/she may have some pity on you and help out. This method worked for me, this time.

I doubt this method will work next time. Ms DontComplaint2Me may pick up and say with a friendly but stern tone "Can I transfer you to Faults thank you".


* yengiyo means somewhere
** kalavaram means a state of agitation, confusion, distress.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Flight Plight

This video reminded me of Pacific Blue.

A clip from Carol Burnett Show. A slightly exaggerated version of the above video.

Foreigndesi found a clip where a flight attendant raps before take off. Check it out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hope and Loneliness

I read this today:
Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.

Janet Fitch

I have conflicting thoughts on the sentence "Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space". Yes, it is very hard to find such person - someone who is in sync with you. Even good, close friends, don't necessarily understand you. They may just accept you. It's just that we can not afford to lose hope in finding that person. Hope can drive you crazy. But, in Andy Dufresne's words "Hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, no good thing ever dies".

I strongly agree with the last sentence "
The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself...". It echoes my views in the last para of this post.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Orchid

Of all the posts I've written so far, I find this post the hardest to write. The toughest tributes have got to be the ones written for people you've known the longest and loved the best. Nothing I say can be enough.

In life we form relationships with many people. Some relationships are strong bonds with people who mean a lot to us (e.g. parents, siblings, close friends etc.), some are in the middle ground - neither this nor that, and some relationships exist because both individuals are alive and kicking and/or because the path of individuals intersect somewhere in time (e.g. hi-bye friends or relatives whom we meet sporadically).

Of all the relationships that exist in this world, the one between grandmother and grandson is THE most special. It is a special bond that is very difficult to put in words.

My Paati (Paati is the tamil word for grandmother) is an influential figure in my life. She is everything to me. After my mum, she is the first person to see me. From paaladai to ooti-vittufy, she has fed me. She has told me stories. She introduced God to me. She taught me how to pray. She taught me the value of having values, the importance of doing one's duty, to love unconditionally. From her, I learnt how to be soft and yet strong, how to be innocuous and still be assertive...Most importantly, I learnt who I am and who I can be.

My Paati is not a run-of-the-mill Paati. When I say 'Paati', if you picturize an old lady, frail, wearing a white sari, lips silently chanting a sloka with prayer beads on fingers - you are greatly mistaken. My Paati is very enterprising and dynamic. She is a businesswoman and entrepreneur. Born in the generation where women from orthodox Tamil Brahmin community were married before they finished high school, she also got married in her early teens and was determined enough to finish her Masters degree in Cosmetology. In the era where most married women with more than 2 kids were content being a housewife or at most work in the safe haven of a Government job, she established a herbal beauty clinic, expanded it and ran it successfully for 20+ years and along the way did a splendid job of raising three successful kids. In the age where people settled with decent income wouldn't consider upgrading themselves professionally by studying further, she ran the family and studied to specialise in Aroma therapy. Finally, when she is physically old and the body seem to dish out the vagaries of old age, the last thing you would expect her to do is a gruelling trek in the Himalayas. My Paati did a 1-month trip to Mt Kailash and Manasarovar Lake in the Nepal-China border. She did extensive preparation for the trip to be physically and mentally fit. She did it!

My Paati is a lady with strong sense of style and class (No wonder she is a beautician!). A class that you will feel with the way she speaks, carries herself and her immaculate dress sense. She moves with great poise and dignity. Her generosity of spirit and her unselfish capacity to care has touched many people. In more ways than ever, she is a source of inspiration to me and to everyone around her. She always tells me "Sriramaaa, saadhikanum! Namma unnum yenna pannalaam-nu paakanum. Seiyara kaariyatha, innum eppdi nanna seiyalaam paakanum!. Nambaloda kadamai thavaraama seiyanum". Words that'll always hold true.

People dream. They aspire to do lots of things. Many aspire, but only few steadfastly work towards it and realise the dream. My Paati is one of the few. I believe she has achieved her dreams. Her life is punctuated with many challenges which she has overcome with grit, hardwork, determination and sense of faith. To me, my Paati is a real achiever and a true all rounder.

Today is Mothers day. My Paati turned 66 last Friday. Whatever I've written is a humble attempt to say thank you to my Paati. Paati, I love you.

My Paati. My inspiration.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Labour Day

'Triumph of Labour' - Statue of Labour at Marina Beach, Madras

Brisbane staged the Labour Day march today. Workers representing unions from cross section of industries participated in this march.

Due to the troubled economic times, some people/groups were quite vociferous in their slogans and chants.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The moment of blankness

The moment of blankness? Let me explain.

This is the state your brain momentarily goes in when:

a. you are asked a question or an opinion. You give a monosyllable answer. "xyz is like that. Don't you think so?" "ya". Silence. The other person waits for you to elaborate but quite simply you don't have anything else to add. Sometimes, you know what to say. You have lot more to add. But, suddenly, in that particular instant of time, you blank out. If I can put a picture to this moment of 'thinking', it'll be a bright white image. 2-minutes after that, all the ideas/thoughts come flooding in. Arghh!

b. you've been chatting with a complete stranger. All common conversational topics are dealt with. The conversation is now interspersed with long awkward pauses and it finally comes to grinding halt. You both experience a loud silence. You try to conjure up a question/topic but nothing comes in mind. Not a zilch! A quick blank look and an artificial smile are exchanged...both parties desperate to bail out of tete a tete. (I don't experience this anymore. My friend does! If need be, I tactfully wriggle myself out.)

Social butterflies don't seem to experience this at all. They seamlessly move from person to person. One conversation to next. Being masters of small talk, they can keep going on and on without communicating anything significant. Certain traits are in-born I guess.

It is interesting this 'blankness' rarely happen when in company with a close friend or family. Is it because there is an inclination to communicate? A willingness to open up? We tend to listen more and we actually care?

c. you are hard-pressed to make a nothing-to-say-but-u-better-say-something-to prove-u-mentally-exist-in-this-room statement in a group discussion.

d. learning a new subject (you read the theory and go um-humm...then? and go back reading)

e. writing - a blog post or a letter - esp. writing philosophical, arts topics. God!

Have you experienced this?

Speech seems to be idiosyncratic to the level of person's thinking 'processes' at a given time.