Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: "Cut like Wound" by Anita Nair

Cut like Wound is a detective fiction by Anita Nair. I bought this book primarily because the story is about Bangalore (Shivajinagar and nearby areas in particular).

Plot revolves around a psychopath who is on a killing spree but not many in the police department are keen to track him down. While everyone believes the killings were isolated incidents, but one person, Inspector Gowda senses a connection and tries to investigate.

Bengaluru's Shivaji nagar area, crimes that happen around it etc are depicted reasonably well in the book. You will also learn a bit about police department functions.

Inspector Gowda's characterization is the key focus of the book. I got a feeling that author is trying to plan a series of books with Inspector Gowda as hero. I checked if there're any other books by Anita Nair, couldn't find any detective books with Inspector Gowda.

I wouldn't say the book is "Edge of the seat thriller" but it retains the interest through out. Though at some point the temptation to skip a few pages and fast pace the reading will be immense. Inspector Gowda's instincts, his subordinate Santosh's curiosity, red tape within police departments, corporator's association with eunuchs add on to the murderous storyline.

Books price is slightly on the higher side, (Rs 250+ on flipkart after discount) compared to other similar books. Any price between Rs 150-200 would have been great deal. I would suggest add this to wishlist and buy when there's an offer or price drop.

Summary
  • Title: Cut like wound, Introducing Inspector Gowda
  • Author: Anita Nair
  • Publishers: Harper Collins
  • Genre: Fiction
  • ISBN 978-93-5029-380-5
  • Pages: 353
  • MRP:  Rs 299

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

​Country club vacations "free gift" experience


This is the story of how I walked into Lion's Den and came back without getting eaten. Read further to find out about my experience going through Country Club's presentation in exchange for "lucky draw free gift". Read, because you might also get invited into this free gift offer and might end up spending lakhs.

When I had written review of Club Mahindra years ago, (continues to be one of the most popular posts on my blog till date) many had asked me why I haven’t reviewed country club. Didn’t happen to come across them until recently. When we got a call that we’ve won some freebies for which we need to go to a mall, I knew the trap, still went ahead to understand what exactly they had on offer.

Last Sunday evening we went to Country Vacations office in Pheonix Market City, Velachery. There were a dozen other prospects in various stages of brainwash.

We took our seat. A lady exchanged pleasantries, collected some basic info and told us that we are one of the lucky 500 families to be selected for this offer (4 free gifts) and subsequently, only 116 families will be offered the opportunity to sign up under a great offer that will be explained to us now. She said we need to decide Yes/No now itself and can’t ask for more time. Then she handed over seat to an executive to explain the plan.

The deal was simple: We had to sit through an hour long presentation, at the end of which we could either sign up for the lucrative offer they are giving or decline it, collect our gifts and leave. I asked if I can take a look at the gifts, but I was told that it will be explained during the offer presentation itself.

First he told us about our free gift, which we will get irrespective of our signing up or not. The free gifts were as below:
  • 1 A seven day access to Gym
  • 2 Some kitchen items (proved to be a set of 6 glass tea cups, worth around Rs 99)
  • 3 A one night stay at Jade Resort, one of Country club property on ECR, can be availed on weekdays only and some nominal fee has to be paid
  • 4 A one week stay at any of country club resorts, valued at Rs 25000, but some maintenance fee of Rs 4000 needs to be paid to avail this.
For next one hour, he went in detail about the Country Club and their plans. Below are some of the key points (As told by sales rep, not verified or endorsed by me. Please use your discretion)

Sales executive did a very good job. He took us through a well-planned psychological path wherein a desire is first created and then the solution to fulfill those desires were illustrated in a systematical way. He began with analyzing our holiday usage, stating that we need accommodation, food, security, site seeing with guide, privacy, transportation etc whenever we go out on vacation. Then explained about various country club properties and how they cover each of above requirements. We were told that what they are offering us is an Ownership scheme and not regular membership scheme. We can carry forward, pre-pone, sell, rent, gift etc etc and we’ll have full control on the same. We were told an en sign-up fee of Rs 135000 is being waived off for us. Photos of nice properties all over India and abroad were shown to us. We were told we are free to use their club facility all the time, conduct family events at the large party halls they have, make use of various coupons they will be giving to us (for Spa etc, some 32 coupons for which we need to pay only Rs 350) and we will be invited to various events country club keeps hosting all around the year.  We can enjoy upto 14 days of vacation every year, with 30% off on food, 40% off on air ticket and many other benefits.

This is what we were told we’ll get if we sign up on spot
  • Upto 14 days of vacation every year for 2 generations, 3 to 5 star in India, 5 to 7 star abroad (14 days if you book some 30 days in advance for Studio rooms, less if you book 1BR/2BR or book last minute)
  • 30% off on food bill
  • Upto 50% off at the bar
  • Free use of resort facilities like pool, gym etc
  • Upto 40% off on flight booking, if booked via their travel partner
  • Complementary Country club Gold card (this will remain with us even if we sell of membership)
  • Entry to events- we’ll be given 2 passes which can permit 8 people
  • Some 30+ spa coupons
  • Siteseeing with guide (not clearly told if it is free)
We were shown evidence of George Bush sending letter of appreciation and CC getting into Guinness Book of records for lighting lots of lamps simultaneously on occasion of earth day. Lots of member testimonials and other evidence were also shown.

At this point, life appeared so beautiful- all you have to do is sign up for country clubs and forget all pains in life. Access to luxury properties all over the world, as if you own it all for yourself, heavily discounted food, travel, free recreational activities.. what else one would need?

Some tea and coffee was ordered for us

Because I was familiar with Club Mahindra’s scheme of things, I asked how country club is different from Club Mahindra. Below is what I was told


Club Mahindra
Country Club
Week classification
White, Blue, Red, Purple
No classifications
ASF or AMC (annual fee)
Keeps changing based on type, CPI and WPI
Fixed at Rs 7500 per year
Duration of Membership
25 years
For 2 generations
No of properties
Less
More (but the count includes Apartments, hotels, boat houses, resorts all types)
Joining fee
Much higher
Lower

Studio can accommodate 4 people?
I was told Country Club’s Studio accommodation can hold 4 people, 1 BR 6 people and 2BR can accommodate 8 people. When I asked how is this possible, I was told these are big rooms with extra beds etc. Haven’t checked how big.

40% rooms set aside for this select 116 families?
I asked the question what happens if rooms are not available. I was told that such a possibility is rare. As long as you can intimate 30-45 days advance, there will always be rooms.  I stressed further and I was told “40% of our rooms management has decided to reserve for the 116 families that are signing up today via this offer”. At this point I knew this is a lie. For a club with hundreds of properties and lakhs of members, reserving 40% rooms for mere 116 families just doesn’t make sense. No management will do that. If this is true, other existing members will surely revolt.

Finally we came to the financials:
I was told they had over 38 different financial schemes, suiting different customer profiles/needs. I was asked to chose between India scheme and International scheme. I opted for India one. We had to pay Rs 99,999 on the spot, either cash, or card with EMI option. I was asked if I have my card with me, I said "No". We were asked to take some time and decide.

The tea and coffee never came.

I did some mental calculation:
The rosy picture painted in front of me was too tempting. Most of the invitees would feel special being offered with such an opportunity. But I knew for a fact that they invite anyone and everyone who gives their contact details at the mall. There is no lucky draw or anything. Internet is full of such incidents. So obviously they are not doing any charity.

5-star food, even at 30% discount will be costing a bomb. Any money saved in accommodation will be ripped off if 8 people buy lunch at say Rs 300-400 per plate.

Factoring an interest rate of Rs 10000 for the initial payment + Rs 7500 we pay for AMC, it is about 17500 per year for about 7-10 nights of stay. It is possible to get decent accommodation with this money, though not in star resorts. I am not much of a clubbing/party/luxury person. Basic accommodation suits my needs.

The too good to be true marketing offers are often fraud. Success of timeshare membership lies in how a company services its members. If they keep signing up members left, right and centre without proportionate increase in properties, members are bound to be disappointed. Internet is full of such complaints.

Once I pay, I will lose any leverage I have. There is no cancellation option- you can only sell/transfer etc, if you can find a buyer.

It is not like country club will stop signing up members from tomorrow. If it is worth, we can always come back later. It might mean paying little more than current offer, but I would rather pay more for something that I need and is worth, than pay less for something that might not be worth.

I said I don't want to decide spending on such big amount on the spot and I need to check things on internet. "Only bad things you'll find there, no one ever leaves positive feedback there" was the response. It was stressed again that we are the lucky few to have this invite and offer, as other walk-in parties will have to pay another 1.5 lakh more. The lady emphasized that we are capable of deciding for ourselves and we should decide now, instead of asking for more time.

As planned, I said No. This sort of took them by surprise and also displeasure on their face was apparent. They tried to convince me change my decision, but I held my ground. Their reaction was like “Why did you waste our time, if you’d decided already you could have told in the beginning, collect your gift and leave” I kept quiet, they said “fine, we’ll give you your free gift

After sometime, we got our gifts. A set of glass tea cups, probably worth about Rs 99 (that's what the MRP on pack says, sale value could be lower) is the only real thing that we got. The fitness coupon I can't use, as the gym is too far from my home. The other two- one day at Jade Resort and one week at country club resort- let me try using that. If it works out, I will share the details.



My time was certainly worth more than Rs 100 tea cup set. But then I got some understanding of Country Club way of timeshare business, managed to control my decisions not to give in to temptations.

The modus operandi is simple- invite everyone as if they are the only one invited. Make them feel special and present them with an irresistible offer, accompanied by well structured talks that creates a desire. Make them sign up on the spot and let customer care deal with them later if they are not happy. Even if 5-10% sign up, then it is great ROI.

Going by the internet, there seem to be lots of complaints on country club, similar to Club Mahindra. If you're tempted to take the membership, find an existing member and take his/her experience regarding availability, customer service etc into account before making purchase decision. Best wishes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

7 secrets of the Goddess-Devdutt Pattanaik

7 secrets of the Goddess is a kind of unusual book I read recently. This is not a fiction that I usually read. This book is about mythology, the story, reason behind various female gods worshiped or feared by Hindu community largely, with one from Greek mythology..

The textbook sized, 300 page book has lots of pictures, so that readers can correlate or visualize the explanations given.

Following Goddess are covered: Gaia (a Geek Goddess), Kali, Gauri, Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Vitthai (A female variant of Lord Krishna, followed in Maharastra).

"Seven secrets of the Goddess" has lots of convincing explanations to various rituals and practices that exist today. Book goes on to explain what could have been the original practice and how things changed once human life shifted from nomadic to agricultural based to trading to current world.

The language is very simple. Use of photos and symbols make it even easier.

You will ask "What is in it for me?" How knowing these 'secrets' help in every day life? Or more blatantly put, "Why should I buy this book?"

The book helps in following way:
1 Understand the reasoning/story behind various practices and rituals that exist today, probably explain the same to your friends/children etc who question these practices
2. Probably change your view point about Women gods in particular and women in general
3. Learn some interesting and informative truth about the goddess.

Summary
  • Title: 7 secrets of the Goddess
  • Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
  • Publishers: Westland
  • Genre: Mythology
  • ISBN 9789384030582
  • Pages: 300
  • MRP:  Rs 395 

What kind of existing materials author has studied to arrive at some of the statements, conclusions made in the book. I am sure not everything is not author's own discovery/interpretation and must be supported with some evidence/reference.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Happy New Year" Movie Review

The best part of going to the theater to watch Happy New Year Movie was the trailers of six other movies that were shown before the main movie.

Of course, Happy New Year has made lots of money in its opening day compared to other recent hits. I feel this is because the producers are getting smart in their business. Why bother searching for a sensible/interesting story and work hard on making a good movie? Instead, follow these simple steps:
Get some story- any story or even no story, get some star  studded cast, make a crappy movie, but do great marketing of the movie, build some hype before the release and recover as much as possible in initial few days.

Public is more alert now and movie reviews and feedback spread superfast. So if pre-movie marketing is good, before people realize that it is not a good movie, some good money could be made in initial few days. These days reviews spread superfast online. Even if twitter world gives a thumbs down to the movie, the first few days collection can be used to call a movie a "Superhit" and suppress any negative feedback.

Anyways, coming back to the SRK, Deepika starer "Happy New Year", it seems to have a patriotic touch and a story of revenge, but for anyone serious about the practicality, the plot feels pathetic. There's lots of bang bang- forcefully induced grandeur .

1. Which Safe vault designer will design a valve that opens directly into a sewage line?

2. If it was possible to exit from the sewage line, why not enter through it? What is all the hungama about Dance competition and Room 9C?

But, there're a few good things:
Some very beautiful scenery of Dubai, Palm islands and Atlantis the Palm.
SRK using a GoPro to capture the building plan of the safe
Some forcefully induced comedy scenes

Few other observations I made:
1. They could have shown Dubai Police Lamborghini Aventador and Bugati in the last few scenes... Only a BMW was shown.
2. Duster shown was regular one, not the AWD
3. Emirates could have bargained more before signing up as Airline Partner. If I was the emirates CMO, I would have bargained to include more scenes showing emirates business class, first class as well as other features, including some A380 stuff
4. Fingerprint is so 1990... Current world biometrics at least involve retina scan. Also often fingerprint + a PIN combination is used.
5. I could make some sense of the "India wale" song. Rest of the songs went above my head.
6. Spelling of Diamond, on back of the dress that Deepika stiched was wrong

In a nutshell:
Does it entertain you: Yes, if you leave your brains behind
Should you watch it? If you have nothing better to do for the weekend
Will you miss something if you don't watch it? No.

Friday, October 24, 2014

India Taxi booking: checkpoints and precautions to take

Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community of Indian Bloggers
Of late I noticed a few complaints on facebook about non-arrival of taxis causing spoilsport with people’s holiday plans. Two complaints were about Taxi for sure (one by Vishal Srivatsava and another by Srikant Eswaran) and few others on rest of the brands.

Particularly during festive seasons, taxis have high demand, drivers are asked to do multiple back to back trips without rest and often a high profitability demand (say for a long trip) makes operators either re-arrange or at times completely ignore smaller booking (say railway station drop).

If you’re booking tourist taxis in India, here are a list of things that can go wrong and possible preventive/alternate measures.

If you've booked cab for local transport (to reach airport/station) you might be able to manage an alternate transport.But if your entire outstation trip depends on this cab, you should be even more cautious.

#
Checkpoint
Description
1
Assigning Pickup time
20-30 min delay is deemed standard by Indian practice. When you plan your trip, suggest keeping at least 30 min buffer for possible delays and traffic jams. More if you need to cross popular traffic bottlenecks (like Tin Factory, Bangalore) or peak hours. Better reach 30 min early and wait, than miss train/flight by a few mins.

If everything goes as per plan, then you might arrive very early, but that is more manageable situation than scrambling for options last minute. Carry a book to read.
2
Booking Confirmation by SMS/App
Most taxi operators now have a system in place that sends a proper booking confirmation, either by SMS or by app.

If the operator can’t send a confirmation and only orally confirms, then you might have bigger risk. Unless the agency office is closer home or you know the operator in person, avoid such operators.
3
Communication of driver & vehicle details at least 30 min before proposed departure reporting time
Non communication of driver details should be your first sign that something is wrong. If not received in time, check with operator. If no satisfactory answer is given and if you can’t get through to the driver, initiate Plan B (alternate mode of transport)
4
Get the truth out from driver
When you first talk to driver, ask for his current location and assess for yourself if he/she can reach your pickup point within reasonable time from there. Some apps show cab location in real time, which is good.

It is common for drivers to claim they are just 2 kms from pickup point, when in reality they could be 10-15kms away. If you feel the driver is bluffing, tell him that he can wait there only (2km point from your home)- at this time he is likely to communicate real distance.
5
Dealing with customer care
Folks manning customer care are used to angry customers and over time become insensitive to the urgency/frustration of the customer. (We call them only when there’s trouble and after listening to complaints and abuses all day for no personal fault of theirs, they get immune to such situations.

Most of the time they are likely to try get rid of you by giving some standard answers (it will be coming shortly etc). You should be smart enough to decide if you want to trust them or stop relying on them and opt for your own Plan B

Bottom line: Do NOT waste your time and energy on customer care. If you get a feeling that they are not being honest, realistic and helpful, start working on Plan B
6
Having Plan B
What can you do if the cab doesn’t turn up at all?  Below are some options, there could be more. Shortlist whatever is convenient to you and keep your options handy

Option 1: Drive to destination in your own car
Option 2: Hire a call driver to drive your car to destination
Option 3: Hire a self-drive car if available (if you don’t own a car)
Option 4: Check with other cab operators (could be difficult during high demand season)
Option 5: Public transport (helps to pack such that if there’s no cab you can drop one bag and travel light)
Option 6: Friends who might be willing to lend their car
Option 7: Change of destination/travel plans, if cancellation charges (for hotel etc) aren’t too much
Option 8: Re-align your plans to suit cab availability (you may lose a day etc)
Option 9: Can a neighbor/friend drop you off till the station?
Option 10: Is it possible to fly to the destination at reasonable cost instead of taking road?
7
When cab arrives late
Assess if you still have time to make it to station/airport etc. Most of the train, flight status, location etc can be checked real time. If they are running late, you will know.

See if you can change boarding point (refer next point)

Is there an alternate option if you miss your train/flight?
8
Select alternate boarding point
Main railway stations/bus stands in the city are often crowded and involves lots of time to locate your bus/train, walk long distance, sometime climb up and down stairs etc.

Where possible, see if you can go to a boarding point in city outskirts. Such stations will have less platforms,  hence easy to move around and less crowd.

Only disadvantage is that train/bus may not wait for long in these stations and you’ll have to be quick.

It might help sending one person from group to origin station in advance (say using public transport) while others board at next station.
 9
Checking if driver had enough sleep
 At times, drivers are forced to do back to back trips without enough rest. If you're about to start a long trip, check if driver is fresh. If not it might be worth delaying your trip by 2 hours and ask driver to sleep properly. This is in safety interest. Or plan such a way that you visit a nearby attraction on the way, while you visit the attraction, driver gets to sleep.
 10
 Factoring interstate permit fee time
At state borders, tourist vehicles need to stop, pay entry permit fee etc. This process can take few hours if there's huge rush. Provide for this in your tour planning.

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