Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Toilet for Babli

This blog post has been written for Domex's #ToiletForBabli initiative on Indiblogger. Visit http://www.domex.in/ to be a part of the "You Click, Domex Contributes" initiative and help children like Babli live a better life.

Open defecation is one of the biggest challenges that a country like India faces. There are several reasons for this problem, including the inability to reach all the people in the country. However, we can not deny the fact that this issue needs immediate attention and we must put in our best foot forward to ensure that we provide the basic sanitation facilities to everyone, at least considering that we are in the 21st century already, a century that we boast for technology and immense human advancement. Man has reached Mars and yet, our people aren't able to find a toilet. Strange.

It is sad to note that, according to the UN, nearly 1/3rd of the world population does not have access to a proper toilet, and nearly a billion people are forced to defecate in the open. People are choiceless and are forced to defecate outside, without privacy. Open defecation is a leading cause for diseases like diarrohea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitits, worm infestation as well as reduced physical growth. Putting an end to open defecation will not only help people with privacy and reduce possibility of diseases and infection, but will also help children like Babli improve their attendance at school, and reduce their visits to hospitals. There have been several cases where stools are washed into lakes and rivers, and this water is used for consumption by people. In some countries in Africa, diarrohea is the third bigger killer of children below 5 years of age.

In a recent report jointly prepared by the WHO and the UNICEF, it was stated that nearly 597 million people practice open defecation in India (largest in the world).

When we think of women defecating in the open, it is such a shameful thing today. While on one hand, we are talking of becoming the crown of the world by 2025, on the other hand, we are struggling to take care of the people who are unable to catch the pace at which things are moving. It is the collective responsibility of the society to ensure that we move together. Corporate in now taking the initiative through CSR activities to help people get these basic amenities.

One such wonderful initiative called "You Click Domex Contributes" is taken up by Domex. The company has taken an initiative to make villages in Maharashtra and Orissa open defecation free zones. Nearly 443 million school days are lost due to diseases caused by open defecation and this initiative will cause a significant decline in this number. You can help make a difference by visiting http://www.domex.in/ and click on Contribute. You don't have to contribute anything. Just enter email ID and the company will contribute Rs 5 on your behalf towards this cause. Awesome. I just did it. Please do it right away !

Sunday, 19 October 2014

This Diwali, just make it a #GharWaliDiwali

This post has been exclusively written for Indiblogger, celebrating this Deepwali with PepsiCo #GharWaliDiwali Film. What an awesome video this one, truly winning hearts. Check out https://www.gharwalidiwali.com/, share your Diwali story, and win gifts for your family.

Source: www.idiva.com
Deepawali is undoubtedly one of the most favorite festivals that we all celebrate. Holi too. Who doesn't like colours and lights. Sometimes, I wish, Deepawali and Holi should be celebrated on the same day. For a long time, nearly 10 years, I stayed away from mt parents and hence, missed the festival. It is one fantastic moment when the whole family comes together, leaving all their egos and cat fights away, and hug one another, smile and wish that their lives be fulfilled with light.

One of the most memorable experiences that I have is the Deepawali Special Trading hours. The stock market opens in the evening for about an hour or so and this period is considered very auspicious to buy stocks. Thats why the name Muhurat Trading. It also marks the beginning of a new year according to the Samvat calendar. I really enjoy that one hour of trading. Its a pleasure to watch.

#GharWaliDiwali is a splendid experience, especially considering the delicious food that my mother prepares. There are some sweets that are specially prepared for the festival. Apart from them, there is kheer, which is one of my favorite delicacies. When eaten with pooris, it makes a wonderful combination.

Source: www.diwalisms.info
Not to forget, Diwali is a extreme shopping season. Not only people are curious to buy everything during this time, because it is counsidered auspicious, but the shopkeepers also provide exciting deals and offers to further stimulate the desire to shop. Statitics prove that we see highest volumes of gold sales, vehicle sales, gold sales, clothes sales, etc in this season. Flipkart sold Rs 600 Crores worth goods in 10 hours in its run up to Diwali. This is also that time of the year when I get to shop along with my family. It is an amazing experience to go out with everyone and buy stuff that we need.

Diwali also means crackers. This is a festival that celebrates the homecoming of Lord Rama. It marks the destruction of the evil and the return of the good. Though I may be absolutely wrong, I find it a bit weird when a whole set of NGOs, celebrities and others coming together asking everyone to not burst crackers in the name of air pollution and noise pollution. Noise, yes, I can understand. But it should be okay until, say, at least, 8 PM? Air, I don't know how much an evening's crackers would add to the pollution compared to a days's vehicle pollution, or say, cigarette pollution. I think, we should be happy about the way we celebrate our festivals. May be, take public transport for 2-3 days to compensate. So, this Diwali, go on, have fun.

Source: www.webneel.com
There is no Diwali like #GharWaliDiwali. Go Home. Celebrate. Live the moment !!!

Everything else can wait. Carry some Pepsi, and Kurkure, too :) Everyone loves them

Happy Diwali !!!

Duvayein, Badhaiyan, Mithaiyan, Khushiyan
Iss Tyohar ki Hai Kayi Saari Khoobiyan
Aao Manaye Milkar yeh Deepoan ka Tyohar
Rab Sabko De Sukh, Samruddhi aur Dher Saara Pyaar

Shubh Deepawali

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Crayons of Hope - Episode 2 - Papa Kehte Hain...

After a long break post the first session of the Crayons of Hope program, I returned to the school that I am affiliated with for the second session. A good number of students had left the school due to reasons like parents' transfer, relocation, etc. But then, more than 70% students were present. A few more students expressed interest to join and got in.

The kids were extremely joyed when I told them the meanings of their names. Most of them had faced difficulty in the 1st session when we had a discussion about their names. After a brief chat on what we had done previously and how that impacted them, we started with the day's session on the topic "My Parents".


I started with a pep talk on parents and their role in our life. Slowly, I encouraged children to contribute their views. A couple of students even stood up and give a 60-90 seconds talk about their parents. Most students spoke about how their parents are adding value to their life, about their parents' work and interests. I could see a lot of them saying that their parents buy whatever they ask and that makes them very happy. I uttered a small statement, "Never complain about what your parents have given you, that is all they had".

I distributed the sheets to the children and they got on to business. Over the next 30 minutes, they sketched all that they wanted to say about their parents. It was an interesting session. However, I was able to notice that kids didn't have much idea about their parents. All they knew was their names, occupation and a bit about the dreams/aspirations that they had for their children. Perhaps, that has always been just enough to fill the forms for admission and focus on studying.

I'm not sure if its the phenomenon everywhere but it is definitely a phenomenon in India that children seldom interact openly with parents. Most kids/adults confuse respect with fear. Parents always want to ensure that their children are afraid of them and be under their noses at all times. While this has its own advantages, it can not ensure that the kid is on the right path. You never know what is happening in your absence. I have always had this thought in my mind that to have a strong relationship, there should be more love and not fear. When you love someone, you ensure that you do a lot of right things and when you fear someone, you ensure that the other person doesn't get to know what you are doing.

I encouraged the kids to go back to their homes and spend time with their parents. Interestingly, when I asked them who all help their parents in work at home, everybody raised their hands. I asked them to question them about their lives, their friends, their business, how was it like when they were kids, how was their school life, college life, how their their parents live then and so on. Engaging with parents helps kids to get the fear factor away and slowly, they start feeling connected and the relationship grows to into a more meaningful one. There is always something that you can learn from everyone.

This was another lovely hour of discussion we had and I did enjoy it. Here are some images of what happened through the session as well as the outcome.


Check out this album on facebook for images.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Debit Card Annual Fees - Why most customers shouldn't be charged?

Published on Moneylife at http://moneylife.in/article/debit-card-annual-fees-why-most-customers-shouldnt-be-charged/37624.html

The banking industry has evolved in a great way and today, we are almost at a stage where everyone has a bank account. Those of us living in cities could be having 2 and those living in metros could have 3-5 accounts. I remember reading somewhere that the upper middle class has at least 6 bank accounts per family. From being a privilege for the wealthy and for those working in the Government services, banking has become a basic necessity of life. In fact, most parents get a bank account in the name of their as soon as they get him/her in to the school. How could they not? After all, a whole bunch of bankers run around them explaining the advantages of opening a child account, how it could help the kid become responsible, how it will help in education, and so on. The moment you open a bank account, a recurring deposit in the name of the kid and a life insurance policy are up next. That's okay. After all, the world is growing.

Banks want to have their cake and eat it too. Guess what, they have been successful at it

Over the last many years, I have been looking at the changes happening in the banking sector. After computerization of the banking industry, banking has more to do with marketing that with calculations. The computers and software take care of all the calculations and thus, the banks are now better positioned to use human resources to generate revenue. Not so long ago, a bank employee would spend majority of his time in accepting deposits and making payments across the cash counter, making him a cost center for the bank. Modern bankers (like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, etc) aggressively marketed their products by showcasing their services like the ATMs, Internet Banking, Phone Banking, etc, making them a revenue center.

Inter bank fund transfers through internet banking attract charges too. The internet banking was supposed to benefit the bank by reducing the cheque clearing work, thereby leaving behind a lot of time for bank employees to work on other fronts. Its a different story that the phone banking, which was supposed to help customers on a toll free number, is now offered on a paid line. So, all these services that came up to help the customers have helped the banks more than the customers. Of course, no one can deny the great volume of convenience we enjoy today. The point I want to make is that, all that was free, now comes at a cost.

Even SMS sent to customers are subject to charges now. The SMS initiative came as a measure to ensure safe banking and now, it costs the customers to ensure that he banks safely. Somehow, it doesn't convince me that my bank account is not safe with the banks with this paid SMS facility.

Debit Card Annual Fees - A trap

Before declaring charges for SMS facility, the banks introduced annual fees for debit cards. This one is perhaps the most annoying charge that today's customers pay. On a personal front, I had nearly 10 debit cards on my name, some time ago (side effects of working in the banking and financial services industry). One day, I realized that I am paying a lot of money in the name of 'Debit card annual fees'. At Rs 110 per card, I was paying almost Rs 100 a month. But then, I would hardly use those cards. I started closing those accounts, one by one, and yet, I was left with 5 of them. Yet again, paying Rs 500 plus taxes for no reason whatsoever made no sense to me at all.

Banks benefit more in terms of times and cost than the customers

Banks came up with an idea of ATMs in order to save time for customers and more importantly, for themselves. While customers do benefit from these cards, the banks benefit far more. Imagine the bankers sitting around and processing cash withdrawals of Rs 100-1000 to thousands of customers everyday in today's world.

A large number of customers still do not extensively use cards

It is a well known fact that a large number of customers who possess these cards, especially the ones in rural areas or the ones in business, seldom use these cards. Sole proprietors and, to some extent, Partnership firms have cash on hand, which they use for their daily expenses and this cash is received by them in the course of daily business. Most of their withdrawals are in the form of payments to third parties by cheques or transfers. So, the card lies in their pockets or lockers and they keep paying the annual fees.

Use of debit cards for shopping is very low

Banks promoted debit cards saying that these cards can be used at other bank ATMs as well as be swiped on merchant terminals. However, the number of customers using debit cards for shopping is very low. Most customers who have a credit card would consider swiping their credit card and thereby, getting more than a month's time to pay the amount, rather than swiping a debit card where the amount goes off immediately. It is only when there are some offers, discounts, cash backs, etc that customers consider swiping their debit cards.

5 transactions only - you are anyways taking money for 6th one

The banks' promotion of debit cards quoting that these can be used to withdraw cash from any ATM doesn't appeal anymore. After all, only 5 such transactions in a month are free and the customer has to pay for the 6th transaction. However, banks have continued to offer unlimited transactions at their own ATMs even today.

Banks should bring back the ATM card

While adapting to technology should be encouraged, banks should also provide for such customers who do not want to use technology that doesn't help them. Its like asking a banker to learn Hadoop or Big Data, as they are the latest technologies. I guess there are some banks who are still issuing ATM cards on request. In fact, I got an ATM card from one of the leading private sector bank on placing a request for the same.

There was absolutely no need for the bankers to do away with an ATM card and make the customers opt compulsorily for the debit card. An ATM card is a boon for those customers who do not use the ATM often or do not intend to shop using it. Banks are making big bucks with these charges but it is time they realize that they focus on tailored solutions than making generic products. While many appreciate the progress from ATM cards to debit cards, there are many customers out there who do not find any meaning in shelling out a hundred rupees every year for no real reason. In fact, there are awkward situations when such charges result in a drop in balance, and such drop results in a cheque bounce. Online consumer forums are filled up with such complaints.

Reintroducing ATM cards would be a friendly step to help customers who have too many debit cards, or those who seldom use them. Levying an annual fee on all cardholders could be legally right but when you look it from the moral or customer delight perspective, the business has got it wrong. Abolishing the annual fees in totality would be more of a dream for customers.

Customers who are not happy with the debit cards should walk in to the branches or write to the bank and ask them to issue them an ATM card in lieu of a debit card.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

An Open Letter to Ms Kamal Kant Batra

Dear Ms Batra

Vikram is a hero and I salute you and all the mothers who toil day in and day out to ensure good upbringing of their children. I had this dream to join the Armed Forces but despite all efforts, I wasn't blessed with this supreme profession. I was in school when the Kargil war happened. Being an army school, we were extremely concerned with what happened in Kashmir as many of our alumni were right up there. Nobody joins the Army to get name, fame, money, or Godliness for their familiies. The ones who join are selfless souls who want to live their life serving their motherland. I dare say that Indian Armed Forces is the only institution under the Government that still commands respect and can be example for high moral grounds, ethics, and culture.

However, it deeply hurts me when you facilitate the use of Vikram's name by the Aam Aadmi Party for political gains. I welcome your brave decision to contest polls and do good to the nation. However, don't you think that you should be doing it without quoting that you are Vikram's mother and by speaking about what you can do for your constituency and the nation? Modi only paid tribute to Vikram and it should be appreciated rather than protested (just because protesting is the characteristic feature of AAP). Even if we are to assume that it was a political stunt, it is also a fact that the moment you and AAP decided to use (or abuse) Vikram's name for political gains, the other political parties too get ready for the same.

Narendra Modi said Yeh Dil Maange More, reminiscing Vikram's valor and paying tribute to him. I guess, any mother would be proud of this. But then, this happened just before your party's plans to campaign and ask votes in Vikram's name for you and for them (AAP, like Kejriwal does that Bahut Krantikari with Prasoon Bajpai). Thus, this masterstroke has greatly upset you and disturbed AAP's equations. Is it not so evident that you are being used by the AAP because you are Vikram's mother? Would they approach you if you weren't Vikram's mother or if Vikram was alive? Would he let you join them? How would he feel seeing you join a political organization that wants to separate Kashmir from India, while he laid down his life to ensure that Kashmir remains an integral part of the Indian Union.

Please correct your statement in your open letter. Vikram was NOT killed. He attained martyrdom. Who drafted your open letter? And what you are you asking Mr Modi? To withdraw candidate against you? I am almost One Hundred Percent sure that you didn't draft this letter. You simply can't. You are Vikram's mother and Vikram went there on the battlefield, took his enemies face to face, and fought for the nation until his last breath. He didn't plead the enemies to leave or withdraw. Escapism is the prime characteristic of the AAP and its leaders. I only wish it doesn't brush up on you.

Madam, you must understand that terrorists or anti nationals do not come only from outside. There are internal terrorists as well who are equally harmful to the integrity of the nation. You could have taken a clue from Gen VK Singh joining the BJP, despite being a part of the India Against Corruption movement, rubbing shoulders with Anna Hazare and his associates, including Arvind Kejriwal. You could have looked around to see that none of these guys who started their fight against corruption are with Kejriwal or his party. Kejriwal has no plans to fight corruption. He is only fighting elections (in the name of corruption). Corruption is neither the only problem India faces nor can all problems that India faces be linked to corruption. We all know the problems but we need someone who can speak of solutions.

Why is it okay when AAP uses Vikram's name to campaign for you? I fail to understand AAP's logic in asking votes from people for being slapped, for being a common man (which of course they are not), for having only Rs 500 in pocket (against Rs 2 crores in affidavit), for being attacked, for being victims, etc. AAP should stop presenting itself and its candidates as victims and rather promote leadership traits in the party. Unfortunately, that may not happen because the entire political foundation has been based on the victimization culture.

Bravehearts like Vikram continue to inspire us all our life, no matter what happens. Lastly, I have no points to quote or suggest. After all, I am just one real common man, not the one who proclaims to be so wearing the AAP topi. I can only hope that you and your party stop politicizing a national hero. I welcome you to the political battlefront. I wish you all the very best for the elections and may the best candidate win.

Read Vikram's story at http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/jun/17batra.htm