Saturday, December 31, 2005



Friday, December 30, 2005

Possibly the last post of 2005...

It's been a busy time, these last three weeks or so - a hectic amount of work to do in the office with an equally hectic 2-week trip to India thrown in... not just me, but Pete and his daughter Rebecca as well. (Although that requires a separate post in itself!). Now I'm back in England, having done very little of what I wanted to do in Chennai, even though I was constantly on the move. I didnt even have the time to meet up with (or email, thanks to a recalcitrant Sify Broadband) any of Chennai's friendly bloggers.

On the plus side, though, friends whom I had not seen in a few years, and whom I had certainly not expected to meet in the near future, turned up in Chennai, and THAT was an unexpected bonus. Especially as two of them had made the trip down to Chennai especially for me. There's nothing quite as heartwarming to find out that your friends are willing to put themselves out just to come and see you. (You know who you are, and I love you guys!)

Apart from friends, some cousins of mine had come down from the US - no, not just to see me :) Theirs was more religion-oriented, but it was lovely to see them after so many years, all the same. The culmination of this love-fest was a big party at the Deccan Plaza hotel for all my relatives on Christmas Day. I dunno about other people's families, but when my folks get together, the decibel level is unbeatable.


Did anybody know that jilebis are practically impossible to get in Chennai? I'd been priming Pete for a long time with tales of yummy authentic jilebi available in India, and in the event he didnt get to try any at all! I believe they get sold out before noon, there's such a demand for them. I tried three well-known sweet shops in the Adyar area - Ananda Bhavan, Grand Sweets and Sri Krishna - at different times of the day (after noon, that is) with absolutely no luck. Getting to Adyar (the nearest point of civilisation) early in the morning was somewhat difficult for a variety of reasons - the area we were staying in, the TERRIBLE condition of the road and the difficulty of getting transport. And did I mention the TERRIBLE roads?

Actually I DID try a type of jilebi that was new to me - made from paneer. The less said about THAT, the better. There's something to be said for being a fussy purist when it comes to certain classic comestibles - that way you dont end up with sweet chewy cardboard passed off as jilebi! I'm happy to stay a fussy purist, me.

Anyway, end result - Pete's gonna have to be satisfied with the jilebi I get from a little sweet shop in Birmingham. Luckily the jilebi from there are as good as any I've ever had, so that's not a problem. It's just that we were SO looking forward to having them fresh and hot and authentic, in good ol' Chennai. Oh well.


Ok, that's the good part. I've had a long-standing grumble about Indian customer services ever since I found out that other countries actually PROVIDE service to customers, listen to their problems and sincerely try to sort them out.

I'm talking about the 24/7 phone technical support services in Chennai - yes, Sify's. Again, I dont know how good a service is provided by Indians who have been outsourced by foreign companies and speak to clients in the West.

But I have to say that the standard of service from a local company is not up to the mark. Maybe the best of the call centre people are hired by foreign companies, I dont know. In the two weeks I was there, I ended up calling Sify's customer support line nearly every day, twice a day, trying to get a problem fixed. They made all the right noises ("Your call is important to us" "Thank you for calling Sify" "Have a nice day" "Thank you for waiting") but there was never a solution given, other than putting the blame on the hardware engineer. And every time, since the tech person who answered the phone was a different one, I had to go through the entire history of the problem, to be given the same annoying answer!

I guess the person who answers the phone can hide behind anonymity and the near-certainty that he/she will probably not answer the next phone call from the same customer. Also, there is no way for the customer to find out the physical address of the call centre and demand a face-to-face solution of whatever problem with the support technician who answers the phone. The benefits of anonymity are not for the customer.

It's not just Sify's attitude. I dont think the Indian sales staff (in ANY store/company) have actually got the idea of customer service. In supermarkets, for instance, salesgirls for a particular brand of cosmetics pester you to death despite being informed of your disinterest. Other employees either follow you around like you're about to shop-lift at any moment, or else they stand around jabbering amongst themselves and ignore you. The cashier at the till with no customers will not look you in the eye, in case he/she has to interact with you and perhaps (god forbid) shorten the line at the other till.

Yes, some of the "managers" make the superficial gestures and noises, but as for understanding the purpose behind it - well, they're light years from it yet. They've acquired all the annoying bits without gaining any of the helpfulness.


I bought "Shantaram" at last - at Chennai airport, of all places. (I wont go into the attitude of the guy behind the book counter!). It's a book that I've seen recommended by a lot of people and I was pleased to get my hands on it at last. Thus far, I've finished Part 1 of the book. It's a good read, yes, but it does romanticise poverty somewhat.

Just because there are people with lots of money who are not happy and who do not have a good family life, it doesnt mean that people who are poor are leading contented lives! Drink, drugs and disease affect even more poor or low-income families (chances are that they wont be highly educated either) than the high-income ones who SHOULD know more about the hazards of excess.

A good friend said that those with low incomes might not miss what they've never had and thereby live happier lives. I dont think so! Although I've never been in a position approaching poverty, I can remember what it was like not to have enough money, and I can remember wishing I could buy more books, travel more, get more things for my family. I can remember WANTING. I do not for one moment suppose that it's any different for anybody else, unless they're saints.

There is nothing romantic about being poor. Not a thing. Being poor doesnt make you inferior as a person - dont get me wrong here - but it does make you feel at a disadvantage... possibly because it IS a disadvantage! That said, being rich does not automatically brings happiness. In the end it comes down to each person's common sense and sense of self-worth.