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Let’s cook – part 1

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I realise this is going to be the least expected post from my on my blog. It’s been a while since my last post and although a lot of things have happened since July 2014, I’m choosing to not do a consolidated “updates” post but a very specific post about food I’ve cooked in the recent past.

Why cooking? Because I got opportunities to try it out, I guess?

Before marriage (Aug ’14), it’s mostly been my mother’s dinners and eating out for lunch and occasionally breakfasts at home – especially during the summer holidays when mother is at home. After marriage, things changed. My wife put a lot of effort in taking care of the affairs – laundry, cleaning, cooking – at home and going out to her day job. I thought I’d contribute more than I would’ve liked to but couldn’t. Partly due to my own laziness or the fact that my wife was quicker and better at this.

I recall making my first chicken biryani in the first few months using a recipe from the Hawkins pressure cooker recipe book. It came out well but lacked salt. It even made it to my wife’s Facebook page which garnered attention from all the fathers in her circle.

I later on tried simpler spaghetti pastas and even a bland chicken pot roast. We soon got hold of a OTG (oven toaster grill) which helped us make breads at home and vegetable and poultry/meat/fish grills. They were great to make and eat.

Lately, in the past year I’ve noticed a lot more men share and comment on recipes on a popular Indian automotive forum. Probably surprising to some but it all seems kind of related in an esoteric way. The same automotive forum also hosts threads on topics such as weight loss, body building, Bangalore traffic woes and many other topics which wouldn’t “fit” naturally in a forum about automobiles.

I saw how some members had taken it up on themselves to prepare food quite regularly at home to ensure that they eat healthy and were getting better at it.

The first recipe which I tried out from one of the posts there was a dum biryani. This was in mid-June. Even my sister liked it.

It came out really well. So much so that even our maid commented that it was the best she’s tasted so far. An important note is that we’ve become a big fan FreshToHome and for most non-veg dishes we order the raw ingredients in advance from here.

I tried making it again, this time with white-basmati rice and it was still good.

In second week of this September, I tried preparing a mutton curry in my quest to make something similar to the kind of curries we had begun to like in the nearby Prashanth Hotel. The results were quite good. In the following few days, the mother and wife tried cooking it by themselves when I was away on travel.

Before the mutton curry week, I had tried to prepare almond biscotti inspired by a post in the automotive forum. It came out quite well athough wife didn’t like it much.

Last Sunday, my brother-in-law came over and I was excited to cook again. This time, it was a Malabar-style chicken kurma. It turned out be so good that none of us could control ourselves with the portions and the word has reached that everybody in this house cooks good food.

What have I learnt with these experiments? One, many recipes when followed with care come out really well. This means better hygiene during preparation, better ingredients, better sizing of spices.

We’re so used to eating out or eating quick staple food at home that taking the Sunday out to prepare an elaborate meal has taken a backseat. Or vacation even. A lot of eateries outside indulge in heavy usage of spices or unhygienically handled raw ingredients (such as onions cut with unclean hands) which could end up causing a week-long scene of discomfort and anti-biotics. Thanks to FreshToHome, we get to use good, anti-biotic free raw poultry and meat. This is very easy for me to test because if I eat anti-biotic rich chicken outside, my eyebrows swell up quite easily. We’ve even gone to the step of growing some simple herbs such as mint and coriander up at the terrace.

Before this, wife would cook on most weekends trying out recipes from this cookbook about food from across Tamil Nadu.

Two, it’s de-stressing. Say you’re a salaryman commuting to and fro every single day to the IT corridor and back. You lose maybe two hours or more per day. When you take that one Sunday to focus on a project at home – such as cooking a nice dish – it gives you time to unwind and do something else apart from work or commuting.

Three, you can see the happiness in your family members or guests.

I’ll probably add more and link more recipes in future parts of this series. If hadn’t tried to cook, this post wouldn’t have made it on my blog. It’d been something my mother or my wife have always been taking care of. In a way, I’m dedicating this to all family members who’ve cooked for me.

Written by Naresh

September 21, 2016 at 11:58 am

Posted in Cooking, Home

Customer Service in Bangalore

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I’ve had the privilege of experiencing customer service first-hand as a customer over the past year with multiple service providers — consumer banking, internet, mobile, and online/offline retail. In this post, I’ll describe my experiences and point some fingers.

Consumer banking.

Back in early 2011, ICICI’s netbanking barely worked during the day. One had to use it early morning or late at night. It’s come a long way now and the customer service has been quite satisfactory.

Since late 2011, I’ve had to deal with HDFC bank. Enabling a taken-for-granted service such as paying bills through its netbanking portal requires one to submit applications manually. Netbanking (third-party transfer, specifically) didn’t work for me on a couple of occasions and when I vented out on twitter (that’s normal right?) somebody from HDFC spotted that and got in touch from me.

That was a pleasant surprise. It appears there’s a dedicated department that proactively scours the internet and tries to mend the damage caused (if any) called "HDFC-talktous <talktous@hdfcbank.com>."

The second point of comparison is the over-the-phone customer service. While ICICI can be annoying with their long-winded IVR process, HDFC bank gets you in touch with a real person quite quickly. But the quality differs (that’s probably a tradeoff: automate and use few good people or don’t automate and use a lot of not-so-good people; perhaps different target audiences too). Couple of the HDFC folks I spoke to over the phone had trouble comprehending and were just too quick to a "I understand, sir." Fortunately, the talktous@hdfcbank.com folk are quite open to listening to you.

While on phone with the customer service, it takes a couple of hops with ICICI to reach a person who knows his stuff (example: 4-digit CVV codes of Amex vs. 3-digit Mastercard/VISA) whereas in the case of HDFC, the hop hasn’t happened the first time and always through the talktous@ folks.

Internet.

I’ve posted about this extensively in the past. To quickly summarise, Airtel has been a disappointment. Reliance has turned out to be quite reliable — in fact, so reliable that I haven’t had to call their customer service up since I got a connection from them back in September.

Mobile.

I’ve been with Vodafone for nearly 8 years now. They’re the ones who used a dog in their TV adverts while every other mobile service provider used some movie actor or a sports champ. Their ads were simple, modest, and most of all, not annoying.

After procuring an iPhone 4S, I had to get a micro-SIM. Walked into a Vodafone outlet at Koramangala on a Saturday evening. Got a queue-token from the token vending machine, gave a 5-second description of what I wanted, got a light-looking, large-fonted form with limited fields to enter details into that I managed to fill in under 20-seconds, went over to the other counter and got a micro-SIM right there (for free), submitted the stamped form back to the person who gave me the form and was told that my number would move onto the new in an hour’s time. And it did.

A friend’s friend had experienced weird issues with the 4S and other service providers’ networks, my experience with Vodafone’s so far has been smooth. (Too bad they tie up with Airtel for 3G in B’lore, but that’s another story.)

My respect for Vodafone has only increased with time.

Online retail.

Flipkart has been a growing name over the past few years and I’ve made several purchases. I’ve had no complains except for one case where the steam iron had a scratch on the ironing surface. Wasn’t so bad that it had to be replaced but I expected at least a QC pass. There are multiple online retailers cropping up now. Naturally, in the sea of mediocrity and poor service, I expect only the best to survive (is that too obvious?)

Offline retail.

Some of the household names such a BigBazaar when they first arrived stocked up all sorts of stuff. With time, the range has definitely come down. There are newer brands of supermarkets that crop up here and there, they all face a similar challenge. I don’t have much to say here.

Shoppers’ Stop provides these cards where whatever you shop – regardless of the branch – gets accounted into a central database. To relate an experience, I purchased a trackpant at the Koramangala branch, noticed a stitch-issue couple of days later, took it to the Bannerghatta road branch and produced my card so they could confirm that this was bought by me (I wasn’t carrying the bill with me) and got it mended there for no additional cost. Experiences like these are pleasant (and a new thing) to many in these parts of the world.

Conclude

Back at college, the prof. who spoke about competition in the organisational psychology class was right about many things. What we have here is a large population where providing good services makes it profitable only when there are multiple competitors. Had there been just One Internet Service Provider or One Big Bazaar this definitely wouldn’t have been the case.

Written by Naresh

February 27, 2012 at 11:21 am

On Indian (Residential Internet) Service Providers

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One of the reasons a South Korean or a Japanese person would quote to you when asked “Why is it that in your country Internet speeds are quite high compared to the rest?” is “We’re quite densely populated and real estate is costly so homes tend to be much closer to each other which made it a good idea at that time to install fiber optic cables everywhere rather than CAT5” and they’re reaping the benefits of a well-networked country with high Internet speeds.

India is quite densely populated too – at least in the metros – and yet we’re stuck decades behind countries like Romania (which recently surpassed the USA as having a better average Internet speed). I wonder if this is a general trend in tropical countries. The lack of long-sightedness or long-term thoughts or decision-making. Maybe we’re all too comfortable around here (compared to Scandinavia or Siberia, for instance).

The concept of a “good service” is poorly understood in nations with high population densities. It’s a matter of numbers you see. Having been close to one of the largest online service providers (for canned commodities such as web or mail hosting), I’m all too familiar with the sort of attitude an Indian businessman possesses when he markets a service. You’re not important. You’re just another node in the huge graph. If I lose you as a customer, there’ll be another. I can go on losing a customer per day because I’m used to the fact that there’s always another customer (or two) who’ll take your place. So why are you special again?

This is applicable to practically everything around these parts in the mid-sector. What I mean by mid-sector is: the sector that addresses the mass. The middle-class.

A middle-class-style lunch house or restaurant would not have the sort of waiters who’d even recite the menu politely to you. You’ll have to put in extra efforts to get attention. You’re just another customer (of the numerous that go in and out each day).

Oh, and hygiene. Since you’re replaceable or not too important as an individual. I wouldn’t take extra care when it comes to hygiene or even fresh food ingredients (especially the non-vegetarian processed foods). Don’t expect that chicken salami sandwich to be fresh all the time, they will not get rid of it by themselves. And forget about expiry dates on them.

Same applies to roads. Nobody seems to have put in a long-term vision and taken the stand to take the initial losses in order to gain the long-term profits. There was an estimate someone had put out stating the astronomical losses India faces per year solely due to lack of decent roads. Day to day commutes to work and back home is quite taxing – both mentally and physically.

Oops. Let me get back to the Internet service provider issue now.

So, FTTH is still quite costly around here. Sure, there are cables laid around here and there. (And by nature, the first telecom entity that bids and gets fiber optics laid out is always the loss-maker. But someone’s gotta do it). I don’t know if the likes of BSNL are sitting on their butts waiting for people to finally give in to the insane prices or just underprice the damn thing (and take the initial – short term – losses) and reap the long term benefits of increased subscription-base.

Sure, this doesn’t always work: Volkswagon Polo, for instance, underpriced their 10L factory costing car to 6-7L but still haven’t gained the sort of traction the Hyundais or Swifts do. But it’s worth a try – especially in an increasingly net-savvy metropolitans.

Where I live, it seems only Airtel and BSNL are the only ISPs around. We did have BSNL earlier and not knowing that it had better speed plans, I took the plunge of getting rid of them and signing up for Airtel (whom I’ve had a good experience with while I was at Mumbai last year). The 4mbps connection is what I had and was quite happy with it until this August. When the rains began pouring in Bangalore.

The signal-to-noise ratio would deteriorate quite badly whenever it rained. The issue was quite obvious – anybody with half-a-brain would attribute this to poor sheathing of the copper cable – which isn’t in my home – out there anywhere between the CO and my home.

Half of August (beginning late July) had near to no connectivity and almost everyday I had to call up the Airtel customer service (a. annoying ringtone and b. poor internal communication). I resorted to trying to get in touch with their “social” faces: @Airtel_Presence and the airtelpresence email contact.

I got a call on two occasions from two different people (Airtel_Presence), the first time, I had to explain how this wasn’t an issues that requires modem reinstallations or any of the usual circus the technicians tend to do (especially around these parts, you know “Dell Support, how can I help you?”) and the second time, I had to report back saying “nope, hasn’t been fixed”.

I ran out of patience, signed up for BSNL somewhere in early August and placed a cancellation request with Airtel. Someone calls me up again (and again) asking me why I was going to cancel the connection and I regurgitate the same set of sentences and so did they “Sir, I assure you that this will be fixed”. Which rarely does.

It seems that they finally figured what the real issue was. Perhaps a lot of complains from around this locality might’ve hinted at the root cause. And soon enough, the connection started faring better since mid-August. But on one bad day in late August, the issue resurfaced. And I raised a cancellation request again. The next day things were back to normal so I got the cancellation request cancelled. Or so I thought. Until last Wednesday.

The Airtel Presence folks mailed me back:

Dear Customer,

Thank you for writing to Airtel.

This is with reference to your e-mail, where in; you requested regarding
the cancellation of services towards your Airtel landline connection
0804168XXXX.

However; later you confirmed us that you would like to continue your
patronage with Airtel. Please be informed that we are glad to have you
with us and look forward to an opportunity of offering you the best of
our world class products and technology in the times to come.

It is our privilege to have you as our valued customer and would like to
thank you for your continued support. We look forward to a warm and
fruitful long-term association with you.

Should you wish to take a landline/DSL connection with Airtel in future,
kindly contact the undersigned at airtelpresence@in.airtel.com.

Regards
XXXX Kachroo
Airtel Presence (Airtel Customer Service Team)
Bharti Airtel Ltd
airtelpresence@in.airtel.com

I was somewhat impressed at this point. “Man, Indian service providers are finally taking things like Twitter and customer service seriously”. I guess I was happy too soon.

Last Wednesday, my line goes dead because someone de-activated my connection due to some miscommunication (or so they claim).

I reply back (5 days ago):

Looks like there’s been a miscommunication on your side. Airtel has
discontinued my connection without any intimation. As a person working
in the IT field and relying on being able to connect to corporate VPNs
at odd times, this is very a very unwelcome experience. Please
re-enable my connection ASAP.

and got no reply. I call up the customer service each night after work, hoping for a positive response and on day one, support executive A listens to the issue, but forgets to log a request (I have no request number with me). Day two, I re-explain the situation to another support executive B and get a request number who says that “the issue would be fixed” (standard phrase around these parts) by 23rd September and gives me another request number.  So I don’t call them on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

There goes another night of unproductive work. Honestly, why is it so
hard for an Indian company to take service seriously. Does it always
have to be the likes of an Amazon?

I call them up on Monday morning to see what the status with the previous request is. And support executive C has no information regarding this request number. So she takes a fresh request and gives me yet another request number and states that “the issue would be fixed” (what did I tell you?) by 5:30pm the same day. I sighed a breath a relief. “Finally I’d get my Internet back” and go out. I reach back home with great expectations by 8pm only to be disappointed again.

I call up the service line again, speak to support executive D, who puts me on hold but the call got cut.

I call up again, speak to support executive E, told him that the previous call got cut – “could you please check request number xyz which I got this morning.” Puts me on hold, call gets cut again.

I call up again, speak to support executive F, requested him not to cut the call and check my request number xyz – which he claims didn’t exist. He puts me on hold and the call got cut again.

I call up yet again, speak to support executive G, told him how three calls of mine were cut; so he escalates to his senior (or so he claimed) and I speak to person H who couldn’t find anything regarding request number xyz (so I was under a false hope all day… expecting “the issue to be fixed” by 5:30pm. I explain the whole situation again explaining how all of this has been a giant miscommunication and that I didn’t had to have my connection de-activated and requested him to contact a backend team person immediately and flip that switch which gets me my connection back (all the hardware apparatus is here BTW, even the “Link” LED is blinking just fine – barring the “Data” LED).

Support executive H has given me yet another request number and claims that “the issue would be fixed” by 22nd September. And that I should expect a call from the backend team soon.

I plan to call them up again and quote the latest request number I have to see if their CRM if fucked in head. Because it has eaten up two request numbers of mine already, it’d sure be a hat-trick if this one gets eaten to.

So that, gentlemen, is a primer on Service Providers in India.

Note-to-self: visit the nearest BSNL office if the third request number really does get eaten up tomorrow and find a data card for my sister who is being affected the most by this because she’s working on her final year project and relies on a lot of Javascript/NodeJS foo that’s not really selling in books yet – making online references mandatory for her.

 

UPDATE (2011-09-23):

Hello again,

Despite your phone calls and promises on Tuesday that the “issue would
be fixed” in two days, on calling up the customer service today I
found out that the comments were added in the wrong category and
tickets were closed leaving no traces of the grievance I’ve been
facing since last Wednesday – been more than a week now.

I have no words to describe this situation at the moment. I seriously
hope things will improve – at least in terms of available alternatives
to the horrible levels of service you seem to provide.

I am in no state to receive a call from you ever again only to tell me
“issue would be fixed” in yet-another-two days. Save it. Don’t call if
you can’t get this resolved ASAP.

Yet-another-new-request number issued: 4543080 (I hope this isn’t fake)

 

Nope. Hasn’t been fixed yet.

Written by Naresh

September 20, 2011 at 1:00 am

Updates as of 23rd July, ’09

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It’s been a long time since my long post and unsurpisingly, I’ve hardly had anyone enquire about my blogging status – barring a workmate who told me I should continue blogging. I was going to anyway. It’s just that the sweet pleasures of having a 1Gbps internet connection isn’t available anymore.

I landed in Bengaluru on 2nd June. For about a two weeks there was no internet. I looked into the various options that were available – the usual ADSL connections from BSNL, Airtel, TATA or the CDMA datacards from TATA, Reliance. I signed up for TATA’s ADSL and after getting a demo on TATA’s Photon+ (CDMA datacard), I decided to cancel the ADSL connection and go with Photon+. Pros: Good speeds for the price, cons: no scheme with unlimited downloads available.

Anyway. On 18th Jun Tirupam and I left Bengaluru for Thrissur. The occasion being Vishnu’s marriage! It was good to see familiar faces in a setting such as this. Lalit, Mitesh, Ankit: it was good to see you all again. Thrissur, as a place, wasn’t half as bad. Kerala as a state seems to be gifted with plenty of natural resources – the greenery, water, weather. Given such naturally endowed excesses, it probably makes the society somewhat mature and financially pretty well off compared to the neighbouring state – Tamil Nadu – which continues to be a large exporter of ground-level labourers (I realise that it’s not that simple, but, yes, Keralites are lucky).

Moving back to Bengaluru now, I’m still identity-less. My College’s I-card has expired, and more importantly is of no use here. I have no driving license yet. No PAN card or any of those fancy things yet. Recently, Nilekani has taken up a role in the Indian government to work on an nationwide ID card for all. I wish him all the luck and I hope I get one soon. I’ve even postponed buying that TATA DoCoMo SIM for that!

Oh, and, I’ve started working in a Free Software company now. I’ve still got a long way to go before I shed my lazy lifestyle that I had so gotten used to in college. Work needs to be done.

Lately, my blog posts have become less technical. Those Howtos and whinefests have seen a decline. I’m hoping to fix that soon as I can. I’ve been looking at how Kerberos, LDAP and ejabberd are expected to work together and since it’s taken me more than a week I think it deserves a blog post. Well, Kerberos is optional at the moment, but it’s something I’m hoping to understand why and where it’d be useful. Makes me miss Gentoo now – where I’d know exactly what’s changing. dpkg-reconfigure, although friendly, does things and assumes certain defaults which I have no idea if they’re sane or not. More on that later.

Work place is a really cool place. I had an image of cubicles and serious faces but this is kind of homely and somewhat relaxed. We even play some football on the rooftop once in a while. I miss some good folks whom I spent a lot of time with during the last few months at college – Settem, Basit, and co. and Shanks.

Last Saturday, I caught up with Tirupam and we went to visit UB City. It’s a fabulous, albeit affluent, supermall. We looked around, window shopping mostly and settled with having a close-to-authentic pizza at an Italian restaurant up there. As it turned dark, some live music lightened up the place. It’s good to see Bengaluru getting more and more musical.

A couple of days before that meet, I was looking for a music store that dealt with double bass. Lucky me. There was a place right behind my work place. Unlucky me. It costs quite a bit (he quoted 16K – which by international standards is very cheap and probably not even worth it; but I’m just a beginner – and I told him that I’d be back when I had the money). I’m having trouble deciding if I should go with a modern bass guitar or with a somewhat large and bulky double bass. Bengaluru is kind of crowded too, moving around with such a thing, in a bus, would be interesting, if not dangerous. Oh, and boo at all the affluent folk who travel alone in their cars on every-busy streets of the city.

Must get back to work.

Written by Naresh

July 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Holidays…

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my holidays started in early may, and goes on till the end of july.
sleeping a lot during the holidays….wake up at around 11 or 12 !
all my friends back here in bangalore have colleges … none of them are free…
and by the time i pack to go back to my college these guys start their holidays !

Written by Naresh

June 17, 2005 at 5:49 pm

Posted in Home

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