Monday, June 24, 2013

The Reliance Digital Store Experience

With an increasing number of gadgets, shopping for electronics is an activity that has become almost as frequent as shopping for clothes!  With an increasing dependency on gadgets and electronic appliances, a reduced life of these electronic items and rapid change in technology that makes our gadgets obsolete in a few months, a trip to the electronics store is usually a must for me every time I visit a mall.

Indiblogger came up with a fun contest that entailed visiting a Reliance Digital store from a select list and blogging about the experience. I chose to visit the Reliance Digital Store at the sprawling R-city mall at Ghatkopar.

A couple of other bloggers had visited at the same time, and we were welcomed by the store manager Arun.  We first presented the printouts of the emails we had from Indiblogger, and gave him our identity details.  Once these formalities were over with, a quick store tour was arranged for us. 
The store

The store manager giving us insights on the store

The store
The store itself was quite huge - about 15,000 sq feet.  Spacious aisles and spaces made movement much easier and the specially designed lighting that was conducive for shopping made for a pleasant visit.  There were designated areas for experiencing various products and appliances and well marked out zones for each product.

A large display of TVs

Kitchen appliances

The spacious gaming experience zone

The Customer experience
The theme of the Reliance Digital store was ‘happiness’ said the manager. And indeed, they had done much right from having the guard to greet customers to decorating the store with bright balloons, and brightening the atmosphere. Unlike a lot of stores, where for example, dummy mobiles are used instead of the real ones, Reliance Digital believes in enhancing the customer experience by allowing them to use and experience any gadget they fancy.

With the latest array of Smart phones, TVs, home theaters, gaming consoles, and other appliances, Reliance allowed its customers to try out everything in specially designated areas. There was a home theater room where one could experience sound, a huge panel of TVs where comfortable sofas were kept for easy viewing, a spacious gaming area where several kids and adults could be seen trying out the X-box or the PS3 and a mobile zone where mobile geeks were seen trying out the newest and exciting phones.

The Home Theater Room to experience sound

Playing on the PS3 using a motion controller

TV viewing

Checking out the latest mobiles

Knowledgeable staff
What was particularly good, was the helpful and knowledgeable staff who were very helpful in explaining features and functions of every gadget, no matter how expensive or inexpensive it was.  I was looking out for blenders, and the sales executive, patiently answered all my questions and even gave me a demo.

Product and service support
The third thing which Reliance scores on is its after sales service which it promises is excellent. I hope it is indeed so!

At the end of the store tour, the store manager, took pictures of us, asked us to take pictures if we pleased and instructed his staff to answer any questions we had. We were promised a goody bag and an ipod shuffle at the end of the visit. Although, this was not given at the time we went to visit the store, the store promised to send it to us later. All in all, I was happy with the experience and came away a happy customer with my blender as well!

This post was written for an Indiblogger promotional contest All the views in this post are mine.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Pedestrian rants

Walking has been well established as a great exercise for years now, and getting chores done around the block by walking to them instead of taking carbon emitting vehicles is an added bonus.  Unfortunately, in the city of Mumbai, one can’t help but rue the state of affairs for pedestrians. I live in the suburb of Chembur and find it downright depressing and difficult to walk outside the confines of my home within a radius of a km without stumbling or falling at least once.  If for the able it’s an onerous task to walk around the block. I shudder to think of how the disabled, old or pregnant manage! Every step I take is riddled with questions for the BMC and government in the order of difficulty I see in tackling the issue –

  • Why can’t that broken tree that has been lying on the footpath for the past two months be cleared up? Are the authorities waiting for the monsoons to break more trees so you can do away with them at the end of the year?
  • I know there is a need to dig up roads and footpaths for work around pipes and cables, but can the rubble be cleared up from the footpath once the work is done? And can the road be restored to its former condition instead of callous dumping of the rubble on the road making it uneven and potholed? The same goes for demolition of encroachments or slum rehabilitation projects. The rubble simply lies there for years!
  • Desilting the drains is great, but when will that filth get cleared away?
  • Can we have those absolutely scary open manholes covered and have the covers in line with the footpath?
  • The road on which the Chembur-Wadala metro is built near the Fine Arts Auditorium road  is really narrow and cannot house pedestrians, speeding vehicles, parked vehicles, bus stops and encroachments. How do we cross the road and where do we walk? Can we have a signal somewhere on this road near the Golden lawn restaurant to help us cross and a footpath to walk on?
  • Is there a lack of civil engineers at BMC?  I see people walking off footpaths solely because the footpaths go up and down, up for a while, then there’s a gate, and down we go and narrowly escape slipping.  And this too, near a school for disabled people! Can we please have more leveled footpaths?
  • I know people love hawkers, but the station road has absolutely no place to walk. Stringent vigilance or fines need to be meted out to free up some space on the road.
  • Lastly, we need more open spaces to walk!  The Gandhi Maidan is the only large ground for a huge radius around. While two corners are used as urinals or dumping garbage, the other corners and sides of the ground are used by smokers, drug addicts and gamblers who have made this ground a den for their activities in broad daylight. Safety of women is highly compromised with high fences, very poor lighting and the presence of antisocial elements. Can we have at least some lights on the ground, lower fences and regular security checks to ensure safety?

I can’t expect any change in the attitude of bikers and vehicles who believe pedestrians should not exist on roads and try and loudly honk this breed away or speed up when we try to cross, but a few simple measures of clearing up the filth, rubble, broken trees, defunct encroachments, fixing manhole covers correctly, and leveling of footpaths, and the addition of signals at junctions will certainly go a long way in ensuring safety of pedestrians. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

It's a sellers market for Mumbai builders

I have been following several reports on Mumbai real-estate being in the hunt of a house.  Most reports I have been reading are positive that there is going to be a correction this year, and the real-estate bubble in all major cities in India including Mumbai is definitely going to burst.   Unfortunately for the poor buyer, reality usually is bleak.
Here is why I think Mumbai is a terrible place to buy a house.
  • The number one is of course the highly extortive rates charged in Mumbai. It was hilarious to see a reputed builder come out with a new housing scheme for affordable housing. Well, the affordable house was at Rs 95L+taxes for a 1bhk  and around Rs 1.4Crores in the suburb of Chembur. Since when indeed did figures of Rs 1Crore become so affordable for all!?  So called ‘luxury’ housing by the same builder started at more than Rs 3 Crores for a 2 BHK (about 1000sq ft) in a farther off suburb. Really wouldn’t you rather shell out Rs 50,000 per month  for the next 10 years (60L) for a similar house and still make more money on interest in a fixed deposit?! (2L per month @8% simple interest). 
    Despite the sops offered by various builders in the form of 20:80 schemes (Schemes where one pays 20% now and 80% after a certain level of construction is complete), free cars and motor bikes, slashed rates, the market appears to be still bleak to the buyer.  Lower rates of interests can make sense only if the capital cost were lower making EMIs affordable.
  • The already inflated rates, cannot seem attractive however many sops are offered. Far flung suburbs with no less than 2 hours of commute from the city at present, try and entice buyers with the promise of new infrastructure projects which are likely to get completed soon (they mean the ones, which have been barely mentioned by MMRDA, and not even the approvals processes are complete). 
  • If you are unmindful of the commute, just look around the city of Mumbai. Broken roads and pavements, garbage dumps galore, slums right outside the building, illegal encroachments, improper entry roads to buildings, and a complete lack of parking and horrible traffic wherever you go. For this kind of pathetic infrastructure, the city of Mumbai is rather too pricey than any other in the world. 
  • After the recent building collapse in the Mumbra region, municipal corporations have gone on a rampage bringing down other illegal buildings.  Where were they when these came up in the first place? My heart goes out to the people who were living in these buildings and have now been rendered homeless because the crafty builder built an illegal building. No less than 35 permits and approvals need to be taken at various levels to build a building. Various inspection approvals also need to be given while the building is being constructed. Several certificates, such as the Occupation certificate are given by the municipal corporation after the building is complete, and the society is formed.  The problem here is, most houses are sold, at the time they get approval to just build it (commencement certificate). How discerning then, during the ‘launch’ of the building, can a buyer indeed get?  If that be the case, no builder should be allowed to sell under construction flats.  What it really takes, is that the inspections really happen instead of being on paper, and the approvals are honestly given so that the builder builds a good quality building within all the required norms.  How can a buyer be evicted from a building where he has trustingly put in his hard earned money believing the builder has flouted no norms?
  • There is another component that makes it further unpalatable for the salaried buyer that no one speaks about. It is the component of ‘black’ money that needs to be shelled out to buy a house. The ‘going rate’ in Mumbai as I understand it currently is a whopping 40-50% of cash.  This is just so that the buyer/seller evades tax or can channel the enormous cash funds that the either the corrupt or the businessmen community gathers. In earlier years, when property rates were much lower, the component of black would run into lakhs in single digits, but now with rates being a minimum of 10K per square feet in Mumbai in suburbs, no less than 30-40L has to be doled out in cash for a tiny 1-2 BHK. For a poor salaried worker, who gets money into his bank account, pays taxes dutifully (as they are deducted at source unfortunately), declares his income to the last penny, how on earth really, can he get this cash? ‘Jugaad’ as they say ‘ho jaaata hai’, spewing another level of transactions which should not be happening.   I haven’t even started talking about the difficulty in trustingly and willingly giving away lakhs of hard earned money in cash to some stranger! This makes it further impossible to zero in on that dream home that can be bought in full ‘white’ money without any law-breaking
  • As a buyer, even as I understand there is a lack of affordable housing in the city, I do get irked that the shanties across the building get free houses in the same vicinity while buyers shell out crores of Rupees for them.  And of course, they continue to live in the shanties after renting them/selling them out to new dwellers. Even as slum rehabilitation projects come up, more and more shanties continue to proliferate.  And most of them continue to be progressively legalized when elections are around. They require no permissions to get legalized really. 

Forgive me for making the clich├ęd comment, but the system truly needs to be completely overhauled from the root, uprooting the builder-politician-municipal corporation nexus, and a political will to bring the housing issue under some form of control.  A few things that I think need radical change are –

  • Reduce the number of permissions builders need to take that increase costs in the form of bribes to be doled out and ensure that buildings are really inspected and anomalies reported. Bring about transparency in dealings.
  • 50% of Mumbai is landlocked in slums. Encourage slum rehab projects by easing regulations to help to release this space. And please stop any further illegal encroachment of scarce land!
  • Increase FSI so cities can grow vertically and there is more space
  • Reduce taxes such as stamp duty which further push up costs and encourage cash transaction deals. If prices stop going up, profiteering will reduce – speculative buying by investors will reduce and tax on income made will automatically reduce discouraging fraudulent dealings.
  • Find ways to curb dealings in black money so a whole segment of speculative buyers who try to channel their ill-gotten wealth can get eliminated pushing up supply of houses to legitimate buyers.

Till any such major changes are made, buyers and house owners will continue to suffer from over priced housing, buildings of suspect quality, and helplessness because of a complete lack of options that guarantee good quality at a decent price. And I will continue to hope that speculations stating there will be a major correction in this market will come true!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review - Chanakya’s new manifesto – To resolve the crisis within India - by Pavan K. Varma

Living room conversations revolve around politics, the state of decrepitude, ineptitude of politicians, and the general issues that assail our day-today life outside the confines of our homes and beset our country at large.
Pavan K. Varma, the author, has gone a few steps ahead of these idle conversations. In this book, he has pointed out key problems and provided meaningful solutions inspired from none other than Chanakya, one of our finest strategists to date.

The book starts with an introduction to Chanakya’s way of thinking going on to the crisis that currently prevails in India and finally detailing concerns and potential solutions for each area.  Whole books can be written of course, on each the mammoth issues that inundate Indian administration, but the author has tried to condense them and provide high-level suggestions that can ‘initiate an urgent and intense nationwide debate on change’.

The state of affairs have been highlighted for five areas in the book
  • Governance
  • Democracy
  • Corruption
  • Security
  • The creation of an inclusive society

The book does not really talk about a lot of things we may not already realize, but brings things to perspective when all the issues and solutions are put together.

Each area first talks about key issues and then brings some potential solutions to the table based on theories from the Arthshastra, the great Indian treatise on statecraft. 

In Governance key focus areas are lack of economic reform, education, agriculture, infrastructure projects, railways and inflation. Several good suggestions are made such as having a lock-in period for coalition parties so no one can withdraw support and create instability, set up an independent evaluation body for governance, strengthen the president’s role in protecting jurisdiction and authority from interfering bodies.

Democracy was a particularly interesting topic that spoke about the criminalization of politics, the entrenchment of black money in our system and acceptance of dynastic politics. Excellent suggestions have been made in making the political parties more accountable for the finances they own by strengthening certain laws, having more stringent checks in the screening process for nominations for elections and measures to discourage political parties from fielding candidates with criminal backgrounds.

For the most widely talked about topic in India, - Corruption, the author has several suggestions. He suggests combating corruption using financial accountability of political parties, using technology, bringing in transparency in dealings and judicial reform for deterrent action.

Security articulated the importance of an effective foreign policy, defense preparedness and an intelligence gathering mechanism. The inclusive society topic brought to light the dark side of the uncaring and indifferent India that cannot be called progressive unless it includes everybody.

All in all, I must say for a lay person who has a rudimentary understanding of the Indian milieu, this was simple enough reading and much less taxing than I had imagined it to be. The issues were bang-on and are of prime importance for the progress of India.  Not being an expert on any of the topics, I can’t say if the solutions were perfect, but like the author has said, they may not be the best but could be worthy of being considered for a debate.  I can’t say what this book will really achieve either – if it will spark off any real interest in the powers that rule us, or will merely make a few readers blink at the atrocious state of affairs in some areas and grumble a little more or optimistically, bring about some real change by some genuinely concerned citizens/politicians.

The only grouse I had in the book was the fact that, although the areas were broadly structured into five, the subdivision of the topics in those areas would have made for easier reading instead of merely bulleting the solutions.  All it needed was some more headings subtopics for an easier flow.

The language used in the book is excellent and I have no complaints there.

I will highly recommend this book to people interested in politics and the governance of this country. For those who are not particularly deeply interested in politics, but have some interest in reading newspapers might find this book a good read too.

My verdict is 4/5 stars for this non-fiction book.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at . Participate now to get free books!

About the Author

Pavan K. Varma studied history at St Stephen's College, Delhi, and took a degree in law from Delhi University. He has been press secretary to the president of India, official spokesman of the Foreign Office, director general of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and India's ambassador to Bhutan. Having taken premature retirement from the Indian Foreign Service, he now seeks to be actively involved in public life.

Pavan K. Varma has authored several acclaimed and bestselling books, among them, Ghalib: The Man, The Times; Krishna: The Playful Divine; The Great Indian Middle Class; Being Indian: The truth about why the 21st century will be India's; Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity and When Loss is Gain. He has also translated into English the poetry of Gulzar, Kaifi Azmi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review - RIP by Mukul Deva

Multi-crore rupee scams and scandals have caused much havoc in India. Anti-corruption movements have gained ground in the recent past and the nation is seething with anger at the blatant misuse of their hard-earned money.  In light of the public sentiment, Mukul Deva has penned a page turning thriller which has a deceptively simple idea – death penalty for the corrupt.  This book can strike a chord with many a young Indian and I wish, really wish, strike some fear into the hearts of the wicked who rule us.

‘This book was born out of an extreme sense of anger and shame. Anger at the appalling, naked greed so shamelessly displayed by the Indian political class. And shame that they happen to be fellow-Indians.’ – Very well said Mr Deva.   Common Indians feel your anger and shame.

The K-team or the R.I.P –the Resurgent Indian Patriots is introduced in the first chapter where they are about to carry out a deadly assassination of a powerful politician embroiled in several scams.  The K-team, an outfit of a handful of handpicked men from the military forces led by Colonel Athawale, is out to send out a strong message – Stop messing around with public funds or die. Amidst tight security, they carry out the assassination, and send out their warning through media channels leading to shock waves through the country.  Not only do they do this, but also give away hints on their next strikes. With such powerful targets, it is but natural, that the K-team is the target of many. Equally wily forces are hired in addition to the official investigators and the race is on to see which force finally wins.

Alongside, some side romances, involving an obviously beautiful woman, are introduced. I thought these were completely unnecessary although the necessary links were all present. Thankfully, these did not meddle with the climax of the book.

All the characters, right from the K-team were very well etched and had the trappings of the roles they played. The other characters are mostly well known and it wasn’t hard to derive parallels from real life.
Much as Mukul Deva ‘stresses’ on the fact that the book is a work of pure fiction and resemblances are coincidental and fictitious, it is amusing to note that he must have been forced to do so to be politically correct. The names have only been twisted a teeny bit from the originals although the scams that originated from them have been almost named as they are.  For the same correctness reasons and to show that the RIP outfit is secular, the members of the team include a representation from all religions. I almost thought Amar Akbar Anthony when I saw Krishna, Kashif and Kevin in the first chapter! The politicos' hired gun, Raghav Bhagat has been well sketched as the rogue ex-para commando, a ruthless man who can go to any length for the money.

For the young audience the book targets, a romantic angle has been thrown in for good measure with the character of the pretty news anchor Reena.  Although she takes up a good chunk of the book, she is like one of those Bollywood heroines, who are nice and pretty but needn’t really have been there in the world of cold, steely men with missions!

The language of the book was not exemplary, but was the typical Indian conversational English and easy to understand like most new Indian authors.  There is some use of expletives.

My view
Overall I enjoyed the book for the topic and the a-la Rang de Basanti storyline. I don’t think I would exhort this kind of justice, but like the author said, I wouldn’t shed a tear of sympathy if any of these corrupt politicians are done away with.  I would rate this book a 4/5 for the entertainment value and for the fleeting pleasure it gave me in thinking of a corruption free country.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at . Participate now to get free books!

About the Author
An alumnus of La Martiniere College, Lucknow, the National Defence Academy, Pune and the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, Mukul Deva was commissioned in December 1981 into the Sikh Light Infantry of the Indian Army. He took early retirement from the army after fifteen years of service, including a decade of combat operations in India and overseas. Now settled in Singapore, he is an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and an executive, business and creativity coach. He is also a Mentor on the United Nations Institute of Training and Research Afghanistan Fellowship. He is India’s leading writer of military thrillers, including the bestselling Lashkar series.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Book Review - Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai by Rishi Vohra

I don’t usually read romantic novels, but a few comments on the book intrigued me enough to read Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai, a debut novel by Rishi Vohra. It promised to be a cross between romance and drama backed by some strong characterization. 

The Story
The story is partly narrated in the first person by the protagonist, Babloo who has ‘psychiatric problems’. The story revolves around Babloo who lives in a railway colony at Bandra with his parents and brother. He has managed to study and graduate but cannot find a job given his limitations. His parents dote on his ‘normal’ younger brother which Babloo resents. The only light he perceives in his dark life is Vandana, the ubiquitous girl next door who always has a kind word to say to him that sets his heart fluttering.

Babloo deeply in love with Vandana, takes the help of his sinister loafer friend Sikandar who is up to no good, to woo Vandana.  The story goes on about Babloo’s pining after Vandana,  Vandana’s quest for the perfect man and Babloo’s fantasy of a super hero ‘The Rail Man’.

My view
What worked -
What I liked was some of the typical things pointed out in the book around Indian families. Like the arranged marriage scenarios, compromising attitude of the girl’s parents, the importance given to the son who earned as compared to the one who did not, and a girl’s basic expectations of her life partner. 

Characterization -
Vandana’s character is well etched out as the typical ambitious middle-class Mumbai girl with strong values and expectations of a decent guy to marry who will care for her. I also liked the character of the kind taxi driver who saves the day once and that of Sikandar, Babloo’s wicked friend.  However, The author didn’t seem to make up his mind if to make Babloo autistic, schizophrenic or psychotic. So he labeled him as all three, despite the fact that Babloo could do pretty much everything! I am sure it is difficult to get into the mind of someone who is mentally challenged, and I am not sure if the author scored really well on this count.  

Narration –
The book started off with a first person narration which seemed to work well, but later wavered between third person and the first person which I found a bit distracting. The language was lucid and descriptions were vivid. The pace was good and kept me hooked to finish the book in one sitting.

The story was not bad at all as compared to many Indian authors I have recently read – it had all the elements required in a Bollywood potboiler which I strongly suspect was the main reason behind writing this book! There was romance, drama, action, and some good characters audiences might like, but what is required importantly was a strong reality check!  I didn't really concur with the end, which seemed highly unrealistic to me, but well, it was expected right at the beginning of the book! All in all, this book provided a few hours of entertainment and will certainly make a worthy film not unlike My name is Khan.

My rating for the book is 3 stars out of 5.

About the Author
Rishi Vohra recently relocated back to Mumbai after completing a Green MBA from San Francisco State University and a Masters Diploma in Environmental Law, prior to which he had a successful career in the Indian entertainment industry. Having been a guest columnist for various newspapers in India, he currently writes for delWine and is a Certified Specialist of Wine. This is his first novel. Visit for more information.