Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pak Aid

India has upped its aid to Pakistan to 25M USD from the earlier 5M USD, even as Pakistan continues to dilly dally on the offer, and instead engages in anti-India propaganda, blaming India and US for the floods.

ICICI Lombard - Getting Worse

So after countless follow ups with the agent, then with customer service, and with level one escalation to Ms. Preeti Lochan, Manager - Service Quality, I continue to be angry and disappointed at the complete lack of customer-orientedness from ICICI Lombard, whose disorganised processes and systems have cost me around 20,000 already, and I am sure this is not the end of the saga yet. I get piecemeal responses missing the big picture - for example, instead of applying the 50% NCB to my Endeavour Policy, I have been told that the NCB certificate has been sent to me. This certificate is used when you apply for a new policy, and I should have gotten this 2 days after I asked them for it 4 months back! No word yet on when and how this will be applied to my Endeavour policy. The most irritating part - both policies are with ICICI Lombard, it shouldn't even have been an issue in the first place!

It is said that a good customer will tell 10 people, but a bad customer will tell a 100. I am not sure what lessons ICICI executives imbibe in their staff, but one thing is sure. I will make sure none of my friends and family suffer at their hands again!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bedroom Stories


8.12 am, just before I wake up... my partner

At The Taj, Mumbai

I was in Mumbai for a business visit yesterday, and as soon as we wrapped up the meeting in Worli, Harsha and I dashed over to Colaba for a much-awaited visit to the grand Taj. With the heritage wing having opened up to the public just 2 weeks back, this was the perfect time to soak in the wonderful hospitality and grandeur of the hotel. We got a chance to savour the high tea buffet, and experience first hand the absolutely delightful service of its staff.

We also roamed through the shopping arcade, checked out leather purses worth 1.5 lakh, and beautiful dresses for 90K.

And most importantly, personally, we sat in the Sea Lounge and looked out over the sea, with the Gateway of India out there to the left. A reverse of the very painful view we all endured for 4 days, seeing the rape and destruction of this beautiful monument representing the best India has to offer it's guests. I can't describe the feeling in words, guess you just have to experience it.

Stuck in Office?

For those who detest being stuck in a desk job, check out the Chile mining disaster... some 33 miners are stuck 700 meters under ground for the last week or so, and authorities expect it might take up to 4 months to get them out! Thankfully, a small hole drilled down into the mine is allowing critical supplies and fresh air to go through!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

India - Then and Now

Bloggest Month!

This is the 46th post this month, comfortably beating the previous highest of 40 in Sept 08. And of course, some more to come...

Sometimes, it's trivia like this that ends up being blogged about :)

Tamari @ Taj Vivanta

If you are in Panaji, you have to try the Tamari restaurant at the Taj Vivanta. We savoured some amazing Chinese and Japanese cuisine, served by a super efficient and super sweet Preeti. The crab meat soup, the crab meat fried rice, the lamb with wild wood mushroom, shrimp and crab meat wrapped in water chestnut - pretty much everything was delicious.Wonderful evening.

The adjacent Latitude also has an amazing buffet spread for 800/- or so, but make sure you have a reservation if you try it on the weekends.

How India Looks At The World

Took this picture from the front page of the Fortune magazine... hilarious!


Do click on the picture above to view the larger version!

Movie Goers!


Sometimes, two is old enough!

The Student Returns

Siddha at his school with his proud possession - his spanking new Honda Civic


And how could the gangsters be far behind?


Just Pretty!


Sometimes, simple can be very pretty!

Non-Veg Rice Plate

Goans go crazy about the Ritz's non-veg thali. So what is all the fuss about?


Fried Surmai, Crab Masala, Clams Sukka, a Vegetable, Rice and Prawns Curry, and Galmo - all for a princely 71 Rs!

And of course, if that doesn't satisfy you, you can always have this!

Crazy Invites!

Guess what this is?


Yes, an invitation card, for a birthday party! A pull up box, a dream cut-out scene from a fairy tale, and a pull out chamber with two invites, one for the birthday itself, one for the cocktail party!


You don't want to know what the return gifts were!

E-Recycling



Found a new use for my old keyboard...

Unique Celebration



My bro-in-law  found a very nice way to celebrate his daughter's birthday - at a school for the under-privileged children.



We cut a large cake, sponsored a sumptious lunch with chicken, biryani, bread, and ice cream, and gave return gifts to each and every kid in the school. Was very fulfilling indeed!


The ICICI Lombard Saga

So, having got no response from customer care for almost a week, I have now escalated the matter to the first level of escalation.

The saga has begun...

And Then We Complain About Traffic...

TOI reported an enormous traffic jam in a Chinese city, now into its tenth day, with the gridlock extending for almost 100 kms. Yes, you read it right - 10 days, 100 km, and authorities are now hoping it will get cleared by mid Sept, when road construction on a new highway is expected to be completed...

And then we complain about our traffic!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crazy

I'm a freak, blogging at eleven twenty pm at some god forsaken highway stop. The kind where all those sleazy english horror movies begin :)

There's No Forever

Perceptions change. Realities change. Priorities change. Needs and wants change. Nothing is forever. There's no point worrying about the future. By the time future comes close enough, you'll have a new reality anyway! So take it as it comes.

Our Kitten

Remember the kitten we rescued with a broken leg last time and took to PAWS? Well god couldn't wait for us to come and take her so he took her himself. Very upsetting, especially for Sanam, although she was happy someone else was taking care of her!

It was a very upsetting visit. Two tiny abandoned kittens with almost no chance of surviving and a poor cat left there by her owners, now refusing food and drink out of sheer depression.

Guys, your small donations can make a huge difference. Let me know if you wanna help and I'll send you across their bank account number. And if you live in Goa or know someone who does, maybe its time you got yourself a pet?

Fun

It's fun blogging from the bus but I wish I could also easily send some pictures along! When it's about Goa, pictures are so integral to the whole experience! Guess it'll have to wait till tomorrow.

Oh, and yes, I've also decide to get out from facebook as much as possible and stay with my blog so I know my updates are mine and mine alone and no one can accuse me of plastering their walls with irrelevant stuff :)

Movie Review: Lafange Parinde

We saw LP in an empty theatre, the seven off other sleepy eyed souls equally desperate for some late night entertainment in rainy Goa. When you are greeted by row upon row of empty seats you immediately expect the worst. Thankfully LP proves your worst fears wrong and actually makes a compelling case for itself.

The story is predictable, the dripping blood and sweat avoidable, and the songs very forgettable, but when Deeps is sizzling the screen with a graceful-and-sexy-at-the-same-time performance, everything else is maaf. She looks beautiful, and dances her way into your heart to leave a very lasting impression. Neil Nitin Mukesh puts up a good show but pales in front of Deeps whose portrayal of a young girl who loses her eyesight in an accident is pretty impressive.

Not a bad movie at all and a treat for Deepika fans!

End of Vacation

No matter how much you want time to stop or at least slow down, it's always time to say good bye. Before you know four days have passed by and I'm back in my berth, this time at the end of the vacation and back to Pune. As always we had a packed trip - a birthday party, awesome dinners, visits to the beach, a long session in the spa (that sounds infinitely better than massage parlour :)), a late night movie and innumerable trips to and from Panaji. The rains provided some beautiful photo ops and the new camera was more than ready to oblige. But like all good things this vacation had to end too. We missed Samara and the cats and our wonderful life in Pune so it's good to be back too, but we're already looking forward to our next trip in too weeks!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bliss

It is surprising how much fun it can be doing absolutely nothing at all. I'm glad I haven't lost the knack of doing that.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Good Morning

Just 430 am but I'm up and running... well not really, I'm in the bus... But you know what I mean. When it's destination Goa it's also a very early good morning :) Checked mail and had some good news waiting too. All in all a great start!

It Worked!

But I also realise I should use an external email server to send my blog updates because otherwise my office mail server puts in all those disclaimers :)

Trying Mobile Blog

Hope this works! I prefer this to tweets and facebook updates but inability to do it in real time is sometimes a serious limitation

Friday, August 20, 2010

Amoeba Poem :)

Amoeba at the beginning
Were not complex
Then they tore themselves apart
And started sex

LOL.. CSI is a masterpiece today!

Yawn

Confused!

Did you hear about this man who became a woman because he was obsessed about this lesbian who was really a man?

LOL...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

East India Company

At a time when we are reading about the Tatas turning around the fortunes of Corus and JLR, another chapter of history is being quietly rewritten.

Over 400 years after it was established and became a symbol of tyranny and opression, the East India Company now has a new owner, Mumbai-born, 48 year old, Sanjiv Mehta, bent on making the EIC a symbol of the new resurgent India.

Conspiracies!

Here's a piece of news from our friendly neighbouring country, which, if not in such a sad context, would actually be pretty funny. (Snippet below edited from a Times of India news article)

Hardliners in Pakistan have started a massive campaign through a rash of reports in the Pakistani media blaming India, principally, for the massive floods, purportedly because New Delhi had deliberately diverted waters from dams in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and from the ones it "controlled in Afghanistan”. Some reports also charged that US was manipulating weather patterns over Pakistan. US officials dismissed the idea with incredulity. "So it was the United States and India that conspired to have the monsoons come to Pakistan? I don't find that credible," Crowley said in response to a question about such reports in sections of the Pakistani media considered close to hard-line elements in its intelligence agencies and jihadists.

Read more: US urges Pak to accept Indian aid; hardliners blame India, US for floods - US - World - The Times of India

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some People

Some people always stay special to you - no matter how long it is before you see them again, no matter how much you fight, no matter how much the world tries to tear you apart.

Had an awesome reunion today.

Maybe it'll be another two years before we meet again, but what the heck.. even at that rate, I have another 20 wonderful hours left in this lifetime :)

New Look

After experimenting with the Black look for the blog, which made pictures really stand out but made reading strenuous, I have settled on this cool blue look.

Do you like it?

Let me know! Comment, or take the poll, please!

Thomas Cook

A friend of mine had a pretty harrowing experience with Thomas Cook recently when she inquired for a ticket to Europe, and the agent went ahead and booked the ticket for her without a visa confirmation, and later professed inability to refund more than 50% of her money saying the ticket couldn't be cancelled now without a significant cancellation charge.

Thankfully, when she complained to the manager and threatened legal action in the consumer court, not only did TC agree to refund 100%, but more importantly, sent an apology letter, and a rose, hand delivered to her in office.

Every one makes mistakes, it's the way you recover that matters. Kudos to TC for a great job!

Now, if only ICICI Lombard was listening!

ps: It was pretty heartening to see ICICI Bank take cognizance of Aditya's complaint on my earlier blog post... must say, there's still some hope left!

Trust Deficit

At a time when Pakistan is suffering the worst floods in history, with millions and millions of people affected, it's facing a very rarely seen shortage of relief funds from the international community, a clear message that it's support to terrorism and misappropriation of funds is not being looked at too kindly. Interestingly, by far the biggest offer of help, 5M USD, has come from India, and even Afghanistan has shown it's large heart by donating 1M USD, two countries that have bled most from Pakistan's terror agendas. Most affluent European countries have pledged far less.

A few days ago, CNBC Pakistan ran an interview with some firang business guru asking him why foreign investors weren't treating Pakistan the same way they were flocking to India, and his answer was crystal clear - no one trusts you, no one believes this country can provide a safe and secure environment like India. At some point, you almost felt sorry for the Pakis... they are just like us, they always beat us in cricket when we were kids, people always talked about their never-say-die spirit, and yet, today... they almost aren't even on the map any more.

Evil never pays.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tour Time

Goa this weekend, Konkan the next - looking forward to some great weekend action in the rains...

Anyone wanna join?

Cricket Tips

If you are bowling to a batsman at 99, with the batting team needing one run to win, and you want to play spoilsport and deny him a well-deserved century, then it's simple - bowl a no-ball. Even if the ball gets hit for a six, the batsman will be denied the runs, since the no-ball run ensures the end of the match, and the six doesn't get counted.

Sri Lanka did it to Sehwag last night :(

ICICI Lombard Saga

As the next chapter in my ICICI Lombard saga opens, I have now registered a formal complaint with them against the agent, using their customer service email address. Will wait to see how things go from here and update you folks :) (as if you care! lol )

Interestingly, their site provides a pretty long chain for escalation, starting with the first step I have mentioned, and going all the way up to Manager - Service Quality, National Manager - Process Excellence, and finally, Head - Operations.

Will be a good exercise for me, and a test for ICICI Lombard to redeem itself.

WhiteBerry

BlackBerry was always a strong favourite of politicians and criminals alike, primarily because it allowed encrypted peer-to-peer messaging that couldn't be intercepted by security agencies. Good to see the government taking it on, and making it clear that this won't be accepted. With the latest ultimatum to service providers to provide access or take the service off the air, looks like BlackBerry won't be so black any more.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

ICICI Lombard Sucks

OK, I am generally positive, and tend to appreciate the good things and overlook the bad, but here's one instance I just cannot ignore any more.

It's been 4 months since I bought my Endy, and ICICI Lombard, with whom I bought my insurance, is yet to issue me the NCB and some other refunds, including cancellation of my earlier car's policies. I have sent a million reminders, by phone, email and SMS, and each time I am given a new excuse, a new promise, but no timelines, and of course, no closure.

I am so sick of ICICI Lombard at this time, I do not even feel like following up any more, and just want to sit back and wait and watch to see how bad they can get.

After my earlier terrible experiences with ICICI Home Loans, and horror stories I have heard about ICICI Direct, and some recent experiences with ICICI Prudential (they tried to sell me an insurance policy and then a pension plan as a mutual fund investment), especially when contrasted with the absolutely wonderful experiences I have had with HDFC Bank, HDFC Home Loans, HDFC Car Loans, and HDFC Standard Life, one thing is clear - it's really all about corporate culture and ethos, and the customer will always feel it.

Siesta Time

Casatta catches 400 winks
Not to be left behind, Catrina curls up too!

BBQ Nation and Esca

Two great restaurants in town that I wanted to invite my readers to try out soon...


BBQ Nation isn't really new to Pune, but I had never managed to go there in all these years. BBQ Nation has a fantastic concept - a live grill on your table, with unlimited veg and non-veg BBQ starters including some absolutely delicious fish and prawns, followed by a sumptious buffet.



And make sure you have ample space left for the outrageously irresistable desserts. If you don't believe me, check out my plate below.


BBQ Nation has one branch (the one I went to) near Aga Khan Palace off Nagar Road, and another one in Wakad (I believe somewhere near Sayaji).

The other wonderful new place in town is Esca, a fine dining restaurant with excellent service, which recently opened beside Pulse in Aundh. We've been there twice, and have been super impressed with just about everything.


Try the Watermelon with Ginger mocktail with the Kali Miri Lamb starter (absolutely succelent pieces of lamb with a wonderful spicy crusty layer on top), crispy Calamari (squid) with mango sauce, or simply the perfectly-done tandoori pomfret. If you love soup, you will absolutely dig the smoky flavours of the chicken and mushroom soup.

If you prefer Indian food, there's a nice spread, whether you like simply veg, chicken, prawns or lamb. And yes, the duck and some other creatures too :)

4 Years On...

It's 4 years to the day I started my blog. Today, more than 1000 posts later, I look back at pride and happiness that I have been able to sustain this for so long, providing myself an outlet to touchbase and take stock of my heart, to share and get in return. I would like to thank my readers and followers, a small but precious bunch that I value deeply, and long to hear from every time I write. An average 40 hits a day may be too small to win me advertisements, but for me, it makes life that much more worth sharing!

Movie Review: Despicable Me

Despicable Me is a sweet, short movie about 3 little girls, two not-so-bad villians, a scientist, some cute robots, and a plan to steal the moon. Most of the 3D is limited to depth within the confines of the screen, with a few flashes of brilliance when stuff comes floating close to you.

For spectacle wearers like me, the extra weight of the 3D specs can be a real pain on the nose. It's time someone found a spectacleless solution.

And yes, don't expect too much from the movie, though. Bolt, Ice Age, even Shrek, was a lot more fun.

It's Hot to be Indian!

Happy Independence Day! On this occasion, let's reaffirm our faith in the country, in our democratic values, and stand by our people, our politicians, judiciary, armed forces and media, and help in cementing our top spot on the world stage!

Cheers!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Taj...

...opened the Heritage Wing today, more than 20 months after the horrific 26/11 attacks. Must visit on my next Mumbai trip.

Crime Shows

Just realised I've got a real fetish for crime shows these days.. many good ones on Star World and Fox Crime:

Bones - focussing on, as you can imagine, bones
CSI (Vegas), CSI NY and CSI Miami - everything about crime scene analysis
Castle - just a beautiful detective serial
Criminal Minds - focussing on profiling criminals, pretty intense at times
Rush - Australian show on hostage negotiations
Monk - quirky detective stuff
Numbers - pretty interesting, based on number crunching

And of course, we have World's Scariest Police Chases, Caught on Tape and so on... on AXN.

And of course, our very own megaserial, CID :)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Movie Review: Eclipse

The vampire saga continues... right where it left off last time. Edward is just as white, Jacob is still shirtless, and Bella is just as wow. But this time, there's a new threat - a bunch of "new born" vampires, out of control and out to get Bella, under the direction of the much-upset-at-having-lost-her-lover Victoria.

And while Bella oscillates between Jacob, whom she loves, and Edward, whom she loves more, the threat forces the vampires and wolves to come together, although grudgingly, to protect her.

Some of the dialogues are silly and repetitive, the action too is much muted than before, the story has lost its appeal and originality, but for Bella fans, none of that should matter :)

Not a bad watch, really.

Trip to Shirdi and Shani Shingnapur

I had never gone beyond Wagholi on the north eastern border to Pune, so when my mom, dad and cousin proposed a trip to Shirdi, I jumped at the offer. And since my Konkan trip this weekend had failed to materialize, both Samara and I were desperate for some action.



After tanking up on food and diesel, we hit Nagar road by 1000, and after a beautiful drive in the intermittent rains and a stop for tea, we reached Nagar around 1200. The road is well maintained, 4-lane all the way, and the drive was very smooth and relaxing. Nagar was a disappointment, a muddy, crowded 15 mins through the city thankfully ended with another nice stretch of recently-4-laned state highway to Shirdi, where we reached before 200, the rain progressively increasing until we parked in the muddy lot in front of the temple complex.

A couple of phone calls had ensured we had our VIP passes, the darshan took less than 15 minutes.

It was barely 300, and we had the whole evening to ourselves. We stopped for lunch at Nisarg, a nice, simple garden restaurant a km or so outside Shirdi, and gorged on some wonderful gavraan chicken fry and hot tandoori rotis washed down with Pepsi.

Next stop, Shrirampur, a few kms from Shirdi, 20 km off the road to Nagar, my friend's hometown, and a place I had always wanted to visit. Unfortunately, the highly recommended lassi joint Parijat was closed, and we decided to move on to Shani Shingnapur, famous for its door-less houses.

That's when the fun began.



My Navigator seemed to have clue on how to take me directly from Shrirampur to Shani Shingnapur, and later we found out the reason why - Google Maps showed roads radiating out from both places towards each other, but ending over 20 kms apart.




Well, we just trusted our instincts, the ever-willing-to-help villager, and Samara, and set off on one of my rewarding drives through beautiful villages with hard working, poor but happy farmers that depend on mother nature and their efforts to eke out a tough living from the rolling fields and herds of cattle and buffaloes, places that seem to sometimes just fall off the map, even though we were barely 150 km from Pune, where roads were defined more by the shrubs on the sides rather than the tarmac underneath.



And though Samara took a flat and bravely pushed on till we got onto the highway again (the emergency air pump came in very handy as a temporary measure!), never once did we feel like turning back.

By the time we reached Shani Shingnapur, it was almost 730, the night was falling, and we still had to take care of Samara's flat tire, and decided to move on rather than hang around for a darshan.



An eager to help mechanic got our tire repaired in flat 5 mins, and we were back on the 4-laned highway to Pune by 800. 150 Km and 2 hours later, the drive aided greatly by the Xenon lights, we pulled into the parking lot at BBQ Nation near Kalyani Nagar, tired from a long day, but excited, energized and filled with some beautiful memories of a wonderful outing.

Some more beautiful pictures from the trip below.



Greenery envelopes you, welcomes you every where you look, including the sky!



We were amazed to run into this herd of over a hundred exactly identical brown cows.



Bullock carts are still the preferred mode of transport in these parts.



Beautiful rolling hills as far as the eye can see, this is not Montana! Just a few km away from Pune, these are the farms around Shrirampur in Maharashtra.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Sony HDR-XR550

Bought a very sexy Sony HDR-XR550 videocam today. I am still exploring the dozens of things you can do with it, but for those who love specs, here's something to chew on: Full HD 1080 (AVCHD), 12 MP Wide Angle Still Camera, Night Shot, Steady Shot, 240 GB HDD, 23 h recording time on max HD, 60 h for standard video.

Also, features include support for burning DVDs as well as Blu Ray disks, in-built GPS to capture coordinates, video plus photo dual recording, auto-detect and capture faces while taking video, support for uploading videos and pictures to social networking sites, support for additional external mike and flash lights...

Can't wait to get started on some movie making... Ashutosh Gowarikar, here I come!