Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lesson of the Day - 3

Say your boss is addressing a meeting, and you, succumbing to a curiously strong urge, send a corny webpage link to every other person in the room. As all stare at you inquisitively, it is advisable not to wink back in delight at one of them because if the former act doesn't incriminate you, the latter surely will.

Previous Posts
Lesson of the day - 2
Lesson of the day - 1

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I should have never answered that phone

Three weeks ago, as I was spending my Sunday sans activities, I received a phone call from a caller ID titled UNKNOWN.

I should have never answered that phone [to be read in a thrilling, Hollywood baritone].

It was a tele-marketing from Packtrue - an international calling service with affordable rates. As the agent Pooja spelt out the fantastic offer of 4cents/90sec, I had no clue whether that was a good or a bad rate. Having finished Predictably Irrational recently, I thought I shouldn't turn down the offer without assessing its value. A normal person would have grunted and ended the phone call. Instead I chose to continue the conversation.

'So how is this rate compared to the competitors?'
When they didn't have a decent answer, I, being in the business of marketing, thought that it was my added responsibility, apart from those of a rational consumer, to educate them about having effective claims for value and differentiated services.

Hence Pooja politely heard everything I had to say about their business and how their managers should review their strategy. In turn, I voluntarily gave my email address and promised to follow up on registration from the website.

From the website banner
Well to their credit I did check out their website. It had too many rate lists and too little direction - a montage of forgettable people posing with cellphones and flashing banners giving the layout the flavour of a 30 year old web designer who didn't learn any new skills since 2001. I cannot give you more details about their service because I never gathered the will to learn more. I know if I search hard enough on the website, I'll find what I need. A rational consumer is supposed to evaluate cost and utility to be derived from goods and then prioritize his options. This model never took into account consumer lethargy, and a predisposition to review stuff instead of actually doing stuff.

As the retail adage is 'Location, Location, Location', a similar one for call centers would be 'Persistence, Persistence, Persistence'. We received repeated calls (unanswered) on our landline through the week. Being at home on the weekend, I picked up the phone, forgetting to check the Caller ID.

I should have never answered that phone, again.[to be read in a thrilling, Hollywood baritone].

Her voice sounded disgruntled, like a friend who got stood up at the movies.
"Hi Sir, this is Pooja from Packtrue."
...
"Sir you never pick up my calls. I tried so many times."
"Sorry Pooja. I wasn't at home."
...
"So when will you register on the site?"
"I'll try during this weekend."
"So when do I call you again?"
"Amm...."

It is quite a challenge to balance objectives of being rational, truthful and pragmatic. Another week passed by. Another set of missed phone calls and a poorly perused website.
This banner almost convinced me
"Hi Sir this is Pooja from Packtrue."
...
"Yes Pooja. I still haven't seen the website in detail. I might go for a $25 or $50 package."
...
"Sir, go for $50....just for me...." [Note: Flirtation FAIL]
...
"Sir, so when will you register on the site?"
"I'll try during this weekend. You don't need to call back. If I don't register, then please assume that I didn't like the offer."
"Ok Sir. So you'll register now?
"No, give me time. Like I said, I don't need help on registration right now."
"Ok Sir. So when do I call you again?"
"Amm...."

Out of fears of confronting Pooja, I have begun avoiding all UNKNOWN phone calls. I do not have the courage to explain to her why I've been missing her calls. Or justifying why I haven't registered yet for their service. If I do sign up, what does that make me - A sucker for frequent, flirtatious, annoying agent pitches? And if I don't sign up, can I bear being an irrational consumer who doesn't switch brands at all? And how do I objectively dissuade a ram-headed call center agent?

Life's tough for rational fools.
-----------------------------------------------
If you liked this, you might also like to read:
The Right Price
[Agent's name changed for anonymity. I am still being the nice guy!]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wait Until Dark


On May 17th 2009, a long gap of over 5 years since the incident, Ambuj Kumar confessed to having slapped Nimesh Priyodit in the dark RajMahal theatre of Jaipur. This information was shared with his remaining eleven batchmates and it was a euphoric day for all of us.

Aside from immediate curiosity about the slap protagonists, you may also be wondering why such a nonsensical confession is precious to us. Here's the full story. Trust me, it is absolutely superficial and quite bizarre.

The slap took place during our IIT Kharagpur Architecture Dept's annual tour in December of 2003. The tour involved close to 40 students, two randomly selected overzealous professors with a broad objective of introducing us to the best of architecture across India. Overall it was a wonderful 12 day experience except for the architecture elements. As evidence for their interest and observations, the students had to carry sketchbooks.

The quality and quantity of entries in the sketchbooks would rapidly plummet as we went from 2nd Year to 4th Year of the course. A few devious ones would take the farce one step further. Having carried an empty sketchbook through the tour, Swapnil would authenticate his virgin sketchbook with some ill-copied sketches, some imposed creases and tears, a few original entries and some creative streaks of dirt and scum for finishing touches. The final output was a masterpiece.

As you can imagine, the notebook was at best an outlet for misguided creativity and at worst a deplorable symbol of conformity and loyalty to an ill-designed architectural course. It signified everything boring and imposed about the tour. So at Jaipur when Nimesh took charge of managing all 36 notebooks, we were in no doubt that it was a stupid thing to do. A slap was inevitable.

Day2 at Jaipur ended with a movie at the RajMahal theatre - meant to be a rejunvenating experience from an exhausting tour of the city's wonders. The theatre had some ostentatious, gliterring interiors meant to seduce Indians into a mock elite experience. But apart from that, it was a normal theatre designed to impose darkness during the movie - the least ideal environment to distribute 36 repulsive, identical sketchbooks amongst 36 students who didn't want them. But Nimesh thought otherwise.

Hence during the movie sketchbooks began to flow from one end of the seating rows, with intermittent excessive instructions from Nimesh. His blocking the view of the movie screen didn't help either. Some tried to stall the flow of the sketch with some muted expressions of noncooperation. But that only increased the quantity of orders from the top. All the notebook passing, frowning, twittering, squinting drove people mad in the theatre. And suddenly Nimesh received a slap in the dark.

The beauty of the act was that any one of the 35 students could have done it. We all had enough pain within us slap him that night. Hey, make that 37 - even the professors could have planted that mighty whack! The mystery haunted us all these years - who could have done it? The villain (hero) never owned up to his act till last week. But now we know it was Ambuj.

Peace.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Finding the right one

Firstly, I must congratulate Bharat Matrimony for placing so much faith in Orkut and its patrons by consistently grabbing banner ad spaces for the last 6 months. While every self-respecting Indian social networker has fled to Facebook to poke and chatter (or at least has stuck a leg into that ecosystem), this wedding website still expects some healthy ROI from Orkut. When the fraandship dudes make the final jump, obviously the key clientele for marriage, I am sure Bharat Matrimony will follow them too.

As seen on Orkut, May 12th 2009

What I found particularly interesting about this advertisement is the generic Indian girl personality it tries to capture. Do go through the ad once. My strong contention is that the copywriter is a male; and he decided to pen the first few thoughts in his head and froze the final output - which in order were Cricket and Food.

As a general rule, Indian girls don't enjoy sports. Stuck between playing stappu games and cheering their elder/younger brother's sports efforts, girls rarley stir up passion for sports. They may occasionally comment on how Rahul Dravid looks like a squirrel (true story) or how Kumble should grow his moustache back (true story, same girl). Rarely are they interested in the actual match. Apart from this, cricket telecasts strongly compete with the girl for the guy's attention. Hence, cricket will always be the enemy. My dear flatmate times his phone calls and coo-chee-coo girlfriend conversations around the IPL matches. Cricket can never be the favourite sport of any girl. So in case you set off on a treacherous journey into Bharat Matrimony and do bump in to a girl you like, do not trust her if she says "Mine too!"

Of course it is no easy task to find partners through a sterile online medium.

From Seinfeld
What's brutal about the date is the scrutiny that you put each other through. Because whenever you think about this person in terms of the future, you have to magnify everything about them. You know, like the guy'll be like 'I don't think her eyebrows are even. Could I look at uneven eyebrows for the rest of my life?' And of course the woman's looking at the guy, thinking 'What is he looking at? Do I want somebody looking at me like this for the rest of my life?'

The matrimony conversation will have to be a nice gist of our likes, dislikes, beliefs, values, and all with a dash of LOL humour. Hence it is important that one spaces out all the little quirks of our fine Indian male personality. If I were the fake Bharat Matrimony guy, I would not mention my predilection for Bhel Puri right after talking about cricket. Yes, maybe I am the stereotypical cricket-loving, BhelPuri eating guy that the copywriter unfortunately turned out to be. But that's something the girl should discover an year into the marriage, when IPL 20xx is on. Don't ruin it for yourself during courtship.

So simply put:
1. Don't accept her lies.
2. Lie well about yourself.
3. Don't miss IPL matches for anything.

I guess real marriage partner searches are a little more complicated. I shall share more robust theories with you as I form them, like - "Ideal Movies to Check Compatibility" :)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Rubik's Cube: A Guide to not appearing Stupid

We, the chummy male company enriched, happy go lucky, sniggering, T-shirt wearing, loud desis found ourselves to be complete misfits in the ToysRUs store. After failing to find the game we had hoped to purchase, my friend Kunal and I found Rubik Cubes stacked up in the adjacent shelf. Succumbing to unexplained temptations, we each ended up purchasing one.

As we left the store, we faced typical post-purchase dissonance pangs. We gazed at the multicoloured cube, unsure about whether it would serve any purpose in our lives. Eventually I spoke in favour. "Hey we can use it to kill time while waiting at the bus stop.". His eyes lit up.

The movie Pursuit of Happyness may have revived popularity of this mathematical contraption. But real life serves it up differently. Even on bus stops, a person makes his first impression with these accessories. While the venue does have a congregation of people who have no role to play in your life, it is still important to make a good impression. Appearing cool is highly underrated. So here's a brief list:

Playing on a video Game Console - nerd
Gazing and doing nothing - general guy
Tik-tik on mobile phone - general guy with a mobile phone
Tik-tik on Blackberry - show off / workaholic
Clicking pictures with friend at bad angles - self absorbed nut
Reading a book - intellectual (assuming it's not a comic)

Now with a Rubik's cube, you have to walk a thin line between appearing intellectually superior and downright retarded. There are 2 simple guidelines.

No 1 - Don't frown with crunched eyebrows. That's the first sign of mental degradation. What is a genuine mathematical perplexity in your head, will seem to others like an intense motor struggle to turn the cube. In this society, not appearing retarded is a higher priority than solving a mathematical puzzle.
No 2 - Always look like you are on track. Unless you follow the cheat sheet they provide with the cube, or look up the procedure online, it is unlikely you will solve it. Still, it is important you fake it.

Also, a Rubik Cube does not share the same space as books. Do not share it with your friends. The desire to solve a Rubik Cube is a mirage, a delusion which dissapears the moment you possess it. Your friends, if they do insist and borrow the cube, will ditch it 30 seconds after they play around and fail to make any progress. I first portrayed this behaviour in Kharagpur, when I borrowed it from a mellow research student in the department who could not find enough reasons to refuse. The cube stayed inert in my room for a couple of months. Then one day a boisterous wingmate barged into my room and got overcome by the typical desire to conquer the cube. When his brains failed him, his muscles took control and in one swift motion it crumbled into cube fractals and died. I spent the next few years avoiding conversation with the bearded researcher.

This time I hope to solve it all the way without destroying the cube. I am sceptical whether I'll receive cheers or ovations from indifferent bus stop junta. But to all my friends in Singapore, stay away from the cube. It's an addiction!