Sunday, June 22, 2008

Travails of living in a foreign country

Living in a foreign country can be difficult. Here I enumerate some of the problems you can face when you decide to call a foreign country home. Especially when that foreign country is much closer to home than the other foreign country where you have lived last 6 years of your life.

(Yeah Sankar - the foreign country I am referring to here is South India - rejoice!)

Language problems:
Friendly advisors informed me that more than 90% of the people in Hyderabad would speak Hindi or English. I'd say I have it confirmed empirically. You wonder what this language problem I'd be referring to then? Bear with me.

The problem is in guessing whether to use Hindi or English with the object of conversation. The Airtel Rep speaks Hindi and Telugu (and tooti-footi angrezi). Two representatives from my cab company speak English and Telugu (and tooti-footi Hindi). The third rep likes to speak in Hindi exclusively. The guy from pharmacy who attended to me speaks Hindi and the one he referred me to speaks English.

What is worse is that if you start a conversation with someone in Hindi and he does understand English, he might either take umbrage at the insult or even look down upon you.

For example, yesterday I had gone to Hyderabad International Convention Center for this World Music Day concert. It was a free thingie and I was wearing my usual torn jeans and a simple T-shirt. Thankfully I had shoes on (commentary on dressing in India some other time).

As I did not have my cell phone (see why) I needed a public phone to call my cab. So I walked out of the hall and as I walked towards him, I looked him up-n-down and started guessing whether I should start the conversation with this doorman in Hindi or English. I decided Hindi was better. I asked him "Yahan koi public phone hai kya?".

Now it was his turn to look me up-n-down. He must be thinking (dunno whether in English, Telugu or Hindi): "Phone hai nahin, Kapde dhang ke hain nahin, free show pata chala to aa gaya...". Almost rudely he replied (in English): "No, there is none". Its a separate issue that the reception 10 feet from us actually did have public phone facility for which they charged an exorbidant Rs.8 per minute for local calls. My friend, Mr. Doorman might have guessed it is not something I would be interested in.

Food Problems
I'd be the first to admit I have always been a wuss when it comes to spicy food. Moreover, over last few years I have developed a liking for light soups and salad or soup and sandwich (no cheese) kind meals. So when it comes to nawabi food here with tons of ghee and extra red chilli powder - I seemed to have lost the palate to appreciate it. I have not yet had a chance to offend anyone with a comment about food yet (unless you count the mini-altercation between me and mom about ghee on chapatis) - I am sure that is just around the corner.

(Yeah Mohit - sahi mein nahin pach raha hai ghee.)

Information about stuff in general
So your parents always worried about you having to leave home and live in a foreign country where you did not know anyone. You never felt a pinch. You thought your parents did not know enough and you were the tough kind, right? Wrong!

In their world, without world wide web, living in a different city without any locals to help is plain incorrigible. And in comparison to US, finding information about stuff for things in desh is much more difficult. There isn't enough information (from product reviews to apartments for rent) on the web.

Plus you have been warned by friendly advisors, "Do not tell people outside that you work for Microsoft, if you don't want to be fleeced". Now when you need information from someone, you are not sure how much to divulge about yourself and your needs and how much to trust this person's advice (since just looking at you he has surely already classified you as a rich IT kid).

For those of my friends who started working in Hydy or Bangalore right out of college, at the risk being accused of giving excuses, I'd say our cases are different for two reasons. Firstly, you did have somewhat of a support structure in terms of moving to the new place with a group. These things are always easier in a group. Secondly, I believe one's expectations from life change with age and experience. At 22, I would not have given as much thought about things like which apartment/locality/car I like as I would now.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sajan ve jhooth mat bolo, khuda ke paas jaana hai...

...or why I still do not have a mobile number in Hyderabad!

So I had to cut short my vacation in Delhi to join Microsoft Hyderabad office on 18th. This Tuesday, 17th of Jun, 6pm I landed in the city of Nawabs (awesome new airport, btw).

Searching for the best mobile carrier and plan for me, to say the least I was overwhelmed with the number of options available. After much online research and offline chat with 3 people about which carrier has reasonable coverage in Microsoft campus, Hyderabad, AP and rest of India, corporate discount details and which of prepaid or postpaid plans will suit my calling patterns, I decided to go for the Airtel postpaid plan with corporate discounts.

Day 1 Thursday
Thursday afternoon at 2pm, I call the Airtel representative on campus.

Airtel Rep (AR): "Sir, I am in building 1 right now. I'll come to building 3 (my building) in 1-2 hours. Tab aap signup kar lena."

I called up at 4:15pm.
AR: "Sir, I am walking towards building 3. I will be there from 4:30 to 6. Please come down to the reception in 15 minutes."

At 4:50, I go down to the reception. He had not come yet. So I decided to take a walk to the cafe for a snack (free snacks in MS cafes from 4-6) and came back at 5:15. Still no rep. Went back up to my office and called up again. Could not get through. An afternoon wasted. No progress.

Day 2 Friday
I call up the rep at 11:45am telling I was waiting for him downstairs asking why he didnt show up. Ignoring my rant, AR says unapologetically: "Sir, mein abhi neeche building 3 reception mein hoon. Aap aa jao."

At 12:30 we sign the paperwork. He informs me that I need to send a request email from my official account to this address and my number will be activated by Friday evening. I send the email immediately.

Happy, happy I wait till 7pm and switch on my phone with the new SIM. No luck. I had already tried a vodafone SIM with my US GSM phone - so was confident it was not the phone.

Playing the considerate citizen, thinking Mr. AR must be done for the day I called up Airtel 24 hour customer support (ACS).
ACS: "Sir, this number is not in our records."

I call up AR.
AR: "Sir, I just came to my office. I am activating your number right now. Your phone should start working in 1-2 hours".

At 10:30pm, still no signal, I called up ACS and to my shock, they informed me: "Sir, this number is not in our records....No sir, this means no one has submitted an activation request for it yet."

Considerate citizen. Let us not call up AR at this time of the day on Friday.

Day 3 Saturday
Called up AR at 11am.
AR: "Sorry sir, kal activate nahin kar paaya. I just activated it. It should start working in 1-2 hours.

2pm. Still no signal.
Called up AR. His phone is switched off. I guess Saturday must be half day for AR.
Called up ACS.
ACS: "Yes sir, we got the request to activate it this morning. It can take 24 hours before it is activated. Thank you for your patience."
(24 hours or 1-2 hours. Why can't salesmen (esp desi salesmen) tell the truth!)
Me: "But the sales guy said 1-2 hours."
ACS: "Yes, it can be done in 4-5 hours. But we guarantee 24 hours."

The whole day I carried my phone. Playing with Network tab, hoping it would start working any time. Nope. (As an aside, ended up paying for a 3 minute local call @Rs. 8 per min when I had to call up a cab from Hyderabad International Convention Center).

Day 4 Sunday 11am
Still no love for my phone. Called up ACS.
ACS: "Sir, it can take upto 48 hours after activation request is received"
Me (WTF!! 1-2, 4-5, 24, 48. What?): "But the person I spoke to yesterday said 24 hours."
ACS: "Let me double check...please hold...Yes sir, it should be done within 24 hours. But your application is missing some information, because of which the activation process is delayed."
Me: "What information?"
ACS: "Let me check...please hold...system is not telling that to me, Sir."
Me (exasperated): "You said you can not activate it because you need some information. Please tell me what information I can provide so that this process can be moved forward."
ACS: "Umm..aah...Sir, can you give me your SIM number?"
Me: "You should have my SIM number in activation request."
ACS: "Yes sir, can you please give it again?"
Me: "Here take this all the information you need?"
ACS: "Where did you fill in your forms?"
Me: "Blah, Hyderabad."
ACS: "Thank you sir. The system is telling me that your number will be activated by 24th Jun (Tuesday!!). Thank you for your patience."
Me: "But you said 24 hours."
ACS: "Yes sir, it should be done within 24 hours. But the system says Tuesday".
Me (!!!!): "ok"

And that is why, at noon this Sunday I still do not have a phone in Hyderabad.

Would you say it is time I talk to the Vodafone rep for Microsoft tomorrow or do I wait another 48 hours?

Update at 1am Jun 24:
I called up AR at 3pm on Jun 23.
AR: "Sir it will be done by today evening."

I called up ACS at 1am Jun 24.
ACS: "Sir, I can not find your previous complaint details. I will lodge a new complaint."
Me: "I want to cancel this request with Airtel. I want to go with some other provider. Can you please cancel this?"
ACS: "For you to cancel it, it needs to be activated first."
Me: "Is there a way I can get out of this and not have to pay a single rupee for the mistake of thinking about going with Airtel?"
ACS: "No, sir."
Me: "Ok, lodge the new complaint then."
ACS: "Thank you sir. ETA for this complaint is Jun 25..."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Turn the page...

Six years back when I was boarding my flight from New Delhi to Raleigh, some very close loved ones had asked me, “Are you planning to settle down in US or would you come back?” I had said, “I would come back, but when – dont know. Maybe 5-6 years”. I had started thinking about how I wish to lead my life couple of years back and started considering if I should go back to India now.

Being close to family has always been the single biggest factor in this decision. I want to be there with them in times good and bad, happy and sad. Especially my ma - she has devoted her life to the happiness of the family and to enable me grown into the man I am. It is time she starts reaping fruits of her labor - be with her kids. And I miss ya ma...

However, what sealed the timing for me was my annual vacation ritual in January 2007. I was amazed at the pace at which things were changing back home. I decided I could not afford to lose out on the history in making and the exciting times India is going through.

The United States has given me a lot – acceptance, love, growth, most of all a perspective to look at things the way I could have never imagined. I am truly grateful to this great nation. I am going back home though. Maybe my true calling lays elsewhere.

I start this journey back home tomorrow...

Here I am, on the road again. there I am, up on the stage.
Here I go, playing star again.
There I go, turn the page....