Sunday, April 29, 2012

First time car buyer FAQs

Some friends and relatives occasionally seek my inputs on buying a car. While I’m no industry expert in this matter and own no car of my own, I’ve been able to give some advise, based on my experience of driving different cars and reading industry happenings. In this post, I’m collating some of the frequently asked questions related to car purchase.

How much should I spend on a car?
One can buy a car for an amount anything from INR 50k (a used ambassador) to 20 crores (A koenigseggagera). Right amount to spend depends on one’s disposable income and purpose of buying a car. I propose spending as little as possible on the car. The thought "It'll be an one time investment-let me extend my budget by few lakhs" won't really work, as you tend to get bored and will aspire for a better car after few years. Your car might boost your ego for sometime and get some status symbol, but be aware that if your financials are not strong, money spent on car (insurance, fuel, maintenance etc) will make you wonder if you'll be better off without a car

Diesel or Petrol?
Petrol cars are cheaper, better powered and often come with offers. However, ever increasing price of petrol and huge price difference between petrol and diesel has tilted the favor towards diesel. Don't succumb for diesel pressure if your usage doesn't justify it. Diesel cars are almost at par with petrol ones in terms of durability and maintenance. If you’re not deterred by couple of extra lakhs and fuel savings can justify the price difference , go for diesel

Used or New?
Used petrol cars are now available for high bargain. Instead of buying a new hatchback, a used sedan might be a better bet, if you intend to use it for couple of years and then upgrade. Cars often suffer scratches and dents- if it is likely to cause heartbreaks to you, better be comfortable with a used car for a while. However, be careful from where you buy your used car.

Should I go for an SUV?
Adventure crazy souls crave for SUVs and boast of 4x4 capabilities of their vehicle. Yes, SUVs are bigger, more powerful and are better capable of handling bad roads. But unless your usage pattern demands an SUV, investing in a 15 lakh SUV when you could have managed with a 7 lakh sedan can make you regret your decision. SUVs cost more- so more down payment and higher EMI. SUV’s insurance premium will be more, so every year you’ll spend twice the amount of a sedan in insurance premium. SUVs need more space to drive and park, so not really ideal in city, SUVs give less mileage than normal cars, so spend more on fuel. SO unless your driving involves bad roads, long drives (with a large group) etc, buying a SUV and using it for office commute is not a wise decision.

Should I go for 4x4?
All wheel drive or 4x4 is nice to have. It gives slightly better ability to handle muddy/sandy terrain in which wheels are likely to be stuck. 4x4 gives more confidence to the driver compared to 4x2, while negotiating an unfavorable terrain. However, understand that 4x4 s are not invincible (Watch this video) There’ll be terrains even 4 wheel drive vehicles can’t negotiate. 4x4 variants cost extra money, they’ll have additional mechanics and electrical that add weight and reduce fuel efficiency. And you won’t need 4x4 for every day driving. Over 70% of SUVs sold are 4x2 variants and only 30% are 4x4 variants. Unless you plan frequent trips into forests or villages or sand dunes, not having 4x4 won’t make a huge difference. Validate your need to justify this extra spend.

This car is better or that?
There’s no definite answer to questions that compare two cars. Because everything boils down to an individual’s requirements and preferences. Design of a car is very subjective. Usage pattern and expectation from the vehicle can make the difference between a good choice and a bad choice.

How many cc/PS/bhp we should go far?
There’s no simple formula to relate engine specifications and decide if they are good or bad. Petrol engines are usually lighter and can produce more power per cc. Diesel engines are heavier, so despite higher cc count, power output can be lower. Similarly a lower CC engine can be made to deliver higher power using booster/turbo technologies. If the vehicle is smaller, lesser power is adequate, while bigger vehicles would need higher power. More the power, less will be the fuel efficiency. While overpriced imported cars have engines that have as much as 500 horses or more, we’ll never be using so much power on road in India, unless you get to drive them in a racetrack or completely isolated highway. For a normal city car, about 70PS is fairly adequate. 90PS or more is desirable for bigger cars and for those keen on highway driving. For SUVs, 7 seaters, 100PS or more will give excellent pulling power and triple digit speeds, even when the car is fully loaded with people. 150+ PS may help you touch 200kmph when road permits. Then there’s a concept of torque, power to weight ratio, gear ratio and other things. A more sensible approach will be to have extended test drives in your shortlisted cars, to validate it meets your expectations.
What else I should worry about?
If you’re in a transferable job, you will incur extra expense if you've to use your car in a new state. (you've to pay fresh taxes). In such cases, selling off your car and buying new one at next state makes more sense. So don't spend a fortune on cars

Know how much you'll be spending on your car- insurance, maintenance, fuel, toll fee, interest etc. Don't succumb to peer/family pressure and buy an expensive car, if your income levels can't support it.

Related: Diesel dilemma * Buying vs renting a car * Safe driving tips * Fuel saving tips *

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: Devil in Pinstripes Ravi Subramanian

After enjoying "The Incredible Banker" by Ravi Subramanian, I ordered few more books of his on flipkart.

Started reading "Devil in Pinstripes" and finished it.

Similar to "The Incredible Banker",  "Devil in Pinstripes" is also about the life in Banking Industry, the frauds, internal politics, career growth etc. Makes an interesting reading. But because I'd finished reading "The Incredible Banker" just a week ago and both books have similar plot, I couldn't enjoy the second book as much as I had enjoyed the first. This is also probably because I was used to Author's way of story telling.

Anyways, below is a quick review of the book.

Plot revolves around Amit, who joins a MNC bank from IIM-B and his career progression, challenges, rivalry and conflicts in life. His boss, his peers and wife Chanda are key characters. First half of the book runs casually, without any anxiety (except for why Amit is in jail). The few challenges that come Amit's way appear normal ones. Second half has more exciting revelations on how fraud happens in loan disbursal and also collections.

While the other book (incredible banker) was about credit card fraud, Devil in Pinstripes revolves around loans, credit and recovery. Narration style is exactly same as the other book- begins in present and takes reader back to 10-15 years to begin story telling.

In this book author has given his own name to one of the characters towards the end (lawyer). Names of real world financial & non financial institutions are used liberally (including Anderson Consulting, which is now Accenture).

Plot also exploits the micro-finance crisis that happened in Andhra Pradesh in 2010. Not sure if the book got published after the incident or vice-versa

Book hints how senior management think  Also Chanda becomes Vice president by the end of story. Is it realistic for someone to become VP from fresher in Banking industry in a span of 15 years?

The discounted price of 147 isn't heavy on pocket. Do read if banking world fascinates you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Safe Driving Tips from Ford DSFL

During last week's "Ford Driving Skills for Life" session at Ford Factory on the outskirts of Chennai, I got an opportunity to lean safety tips from international experts. Derek Kirkby and Nicholas of Advanced Driving Institute, South Africa briefed us on several safety measures- in classroom and on Ford's test track. I am sharing them with you here

The 3 second rule: It is recommended that a driver maintains a gap of 3 seconds from the vehicle in front of him. How to calculate 3 seconds? Take a reference point like a lamp-post. From the moment the vehicle ahead of you crosses that lamp-post, there should be minimum 3 seconds gap before your vehicle crosses the same point. To drive home the point, the trainers illustrated the same. First, they drove both cars in parallel tracks at 1 second gap and by the time second driver could sense the brake lights of first driver, react and bring his vehicle to halt, the second car had come halfway into first car’s position. (Since demo was done in parallel tracks, there was no collision. If the cars were one behind the other, it would have resulted in a serious accident.
Then they drove with 2 seconds gap. Even that was inadequate. Second vehicle almost touched the first. 
Only when the gap was 3 seconds, the distance between the two cars were safe enough.
Note that above were demonstrated by experienced drivers on a controlled test track. Real life situations will be worse due to bad rooms, extra traffic, poor visibility etc. Also driver's reaction time not included.

Increase in speed will have exponential increase in safe braking distance. Doubling the speed from 60kmph to 120kmph doesn’t mean car can be stopped in twice the distance. You’d need more than 5 times the distance to stop a car at 120kmph, compared to what it would take to stop from 60kmph. (this is for a small car like Ford Figo with ABS. Bigger cars and cars without ABS will take much longer distance before coming to halt. We were asked to guess the braking distance and almost all of us got it wrong.

Enhance your breaks!: Many car buyers boost the power and performance of their cars with aftermarket enhancements. But they completely ignore the brakes. If you’re boosting power, please work on brakes as well, to ensure that your brakes are capable of bringing to halt an over-powered engine.

When you see an emergency in front of you, braking abruptly is not the only solution. You should be able to think of other alternatives and act instantly. Ability to think of other alternatives comes with experience. It is important to be giving full attention to driving, to be able to react fast.

While Airbags are supposed to save your life, Airbags+Unfastened seat belt can make a deadly combination. Airbag pops out at a speed of 380 kmph. If the driver & passengers are not wearing seat belts, during collision their head can come very close to steering wheel/airbag and an airbag popping out at 380 kmph, exploding on one's head can instantly kill the individual. So do wear seat belts.

Not just for driver, all passengers should wear seat belt. During collision, if those sitting in second row without seat belt can be pushed forward and crush the driver. Only 15% of driving is physical. (knowing how to use various mechanical controls of the car). Rest is mental-knowing what to do when and being able to judge well
Drivers should also be aware what to do in emergency- when a tyre bursts, if brake fails etc. Though there's been several improvements in technology which increases safety, technology has its limitations and nothing is a replacement for sensible driving. Drive safe.

Also read: Safe braking distance *

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review: The Incredible Banker by Ravi Subramanian

I had my eye on the Incredible Banker since sometime. Since the discounted price in flipkart was about 137 and it didn’t qualify for free delivery, I’d added it to wishlist and recently bought it with another book. 

The incredible Banker is an excellent thriller. It doesn't have extreme actions and chase sequences of an action movie, but has all ingredients to excite readers. Gives inside details of how banks function-particularly the loans and credit card divisions and office politics that goes on. In parallel, another track details developments related to naxal movements in Orissa and WB and in the end both tracks merge, with the bank being accused of waging a war against the nation, by facilitating money laundering for naxal movements. Story begins with a Maoist suicide bomber blowing off a late night bus in Odissa and one would wonder what it has to do with a novel which is supposed to be on Banks. Then the CEO of a foreign bank is summoned by the Governor of RBI. From then chapters of the book navigate smoothly between the past events and current events. Slowly the story falls into place.

Unlike many other books in which lead character's spouse would discover his/her partner's affairs in second half of the book to create some scene, divorce etc, in Incredible Banker Deepak's wife remains unaware of his husband's affairs forever. Not much mention of them post climax.

I also learnt the amount of incentives sales folks get- Rs 3 lakhs for selling a loan amount of 5 crores. Recovering that loan is another department's headache. Should the incentive be linked such that a part of it depends on customer successfully repaying the loan?

Another key useful thing- if you're applying for a loan or credit card etc, do it towards the end of the month. You'll have better chances of approvals and getting additional benefits (discounted interest rates, freebies etc). This is because sales team will have a monthly target to achieve.

Book also gives hint on fabricated press meetings, wherein those who have a probability of asking unfavorable questions are smartly avoided. While the book is supposed to a fiction, fraudulent practices listed in the book are very likely to be in use in banks around us. Do grab a copy and read "The Incredible Banker" if banking world fascinates you.

Just like how Chetan Bagat used citibank's name in 2 states, here also author uses names of all real entities- Times of India, Standard Chartered Bank, Citibank etc. Author Ravi Subramanian has written 3 other books and is reportedly working on the next. I might order few other books soon

July 2012 Update: HSBC is facing similar charges of money laundering as explained in the novel, of failing to monitor/control funds transferred for or between terrorist groups (link)

Other Reviews: I am Number 4 *

Images from Author's website

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fuel saving Tips from First Gear

First gear, a recently launched book by Ford aimed at providing safety, fuel saving and eco tips to first time car buyers, offers lot of tips which are useful even to the experienced drivers. Below I'm listing some tips which help saving fuel- sourced from First gear and based on the Driving Skills for Life training initiative undertaken by Ford.

Fuel Saving tips:
While driving downhill, driving in Neutral doesn't save any fuel. When in neutral, vehicle will be idling and pistons will be moving. Driving in appropriate gear will be the more efficient option.

Asked the trainers why there're no sensors and gadgets to indicate low tyre pressure (There seems to be sensors and dashboard indicator for almost everything else). Trainers told me that though technology is available to monitor tyre pressure and alert the driver, it is very expensive at this stage to include in everyday cars. After market equipment are also available which can monitor tyre pressure. A more viable approach is to  check tyre pressures once a week manually.

Spare wheel can loose air more rapidly than the wheels which are in use. Strange but true, since wheels which are in use are subjected to compression.

Trainers told it is more advisable to drive full tank, when I presented them with 2 options. Option 1: Do a full tank, drive whole month without re-fuelling again (you save additional trips to fuel station, but have to drive with extra weight of fuel all through the month) Option 2: Fill up say just about 10 litres, visit fuel station again, say 4-5 times a month. Another caution was not to use up reserve and top up before that. When in reserve, all dirt and sediments which have accumulated at the bottom of the tank will be stirred up and might get sucked into the engine.

First gear book says "Buying Fuel in the morning won't save anything". It is believed that density will be higher in the morning due to low temperature. But the book claims since underground fuel tanks are well insulated, effect of outside temperature on them is negligible. I believe we can still prevent save some evaporation while fuel nozzle is exposed.

Do switch off the engine if stopping for more than 20 seconds. Life of starter motor won't get reduced because of frequent start/stop. Every 3 minutes of idling consumes same fuel as it takes to cover 1 km at 50kmph

The trainer shared an experience from South Africa-Owners of SUV would complain about low fuel efficiency. When inspected, this is what engineers found: Owners would make weekend trips and store lot of materials on rooftop- tents, cycles and other materials. Once back, they are too lazy to remove the extra load and all through the week, they drive to work with extra load on roof. Extra baggage on roof increases drag and increases fuel consumption. Unload unnecessary weight- either in boot or on rooftop.

Aftermarket roof top racks increase drag and reduce fuel efficiency. Learn to unscrew them, so that they can be fitted only when really needed

Riding in right gear is important. We're told to shift to 5th gear for 50kmph and above. Most of the cars won't have pull in 5th gear for 50kmph. 4th is most likely, with 5th gear ideal for 80 and above. But again, this is dependent on vehicle and driver dynamics.

High Octane petrol (Speed and Extra Premium etc) is practically useless. Since engines are not designed to take advantage of extra octanes, it is just waste of money buying that fuel. Ordinary petrol and diesel would do just fine.

Read about Safety tips

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ford Driving Skills for Life (DSFL)

I took a break from regular work and visited Ford India factory on GST Road yesterday, to attend Ford's CSR initiative, Driving Skills for Life (DSFL)

Driving Skills for Life is an initiative by Ford to train drivers around the world on safe, fuel efficient and eco friendly driving. I had attended this training in 2010 during Discover Smart Drive. The difference in yesterday's event was that trainers were from Advanced Driving School, South Africa and we could get safety demonstrations on Ford's test track.

Ford also launched a book called "First Gear", giving out complete set of tips for first time car buyers and kick started an online initiative wherein users would Pledge to drive safe. In the pics above: Tom Chackalackal, Executive Director, Manufacturing, 2nd from left and Minnie Menon launching the book.

Why programs like Driving Skills for Life are important? Because of multiple reasons
  • In India, getting the license is easy. We should be lucky if most of them at least know how to drive, let alone safe driving
  • Many of us think we're invincible. We see accident news everyday, but when behind the wheel, we have a super confidence that nothing would happen to us.
  • There're lot of myths circulating, w.r.t safety and fuel consumption. These need to be corrected
  • Advanced technology in our cars may give us false confidence. Technology has its limitations
  • Only 15% of driving is physical (changing gears, pushing accelerator, turning steering) Rest is mental (Judgement, estimation, knowledge of vehicle, road etc, decision making)
What DSFL Does?

DSFL trains drivers on factors related to safety, fuel economy and eco friendliness. More sensible drivers, less the number of accidents. Ford India has trained over 4500 drivers so far, including employees, police, truck drivers and students. (50k in APAC)

After the event we were taken to Ford's test track, wherein the trainers demonstrated various safety aspects. Seeing is believing.

Detailed tips I learnt from the event and the book will be shared in a separate post. For now, Check Ford India page on facebook or visit for details. Any interested individual can register for this program. Once there're adequate no of interested people in a City, Ford would arrange for a session and notify the interested people.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A lone Tree- Baba Budan Giri

A lone tree surving on top of a rocky hill- clicked near Baba Budan giri hills, on the way to Manikyadhara falls

Below: A wind powered pump at Amrithapura-Tarikere

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shivappa Nayak Palace, Shivamogga

Though I have been visiting Shivamogga town of Karnataka quite frequently, Shivappa Nayak's palace is a place I've not explored till date. During a recent visit I ticked it off

Shivappa Nayak is probably Shivaji equivalent of Karnataka- a small but very brave and popular ruler and war strategist of Keladi dynasty. More about Shivappa Nayaka here

We reached the campus on a Sunday afternoon. It was all shining and spic and span. We learnt that the palace had got a round of polishing and maintenance just a week ago. Teak and Rosewood pillar and structures look great with a shine.

Originally believed to be a much larger campus, only one building(Durbar Hall) remain erect now. Others are reportedly lost/damaged in various wars

Shivappa Nayak's palace in Shimoga (whatever is left of the original) is a two story building. Has just about 4 rooms and lots of open space. One of the room houses his weapons. Several precious stones and monuments of his time is preserved behind the palace.

The campus has a big tree, a garden with lots of flowers, a Bell and few others things. Facility is maintained by ASI.

There're no entry fee or camera fee to visit this place. However a caretaker there may ask for "Coffee money"

On the floor, these holes are made. They are used to play a game called "Channemane".[A related poem here]

River Tunga flows adjacent to the palace

Nearby places: Honnemaradu * Mattur- Sankrit village * Thyavarekere Tiger safari * Mullayyana Giri * Sakrebailu elephant sanctuary * Amrithapura *

Book Review: "She's A Jolly Good Fellow" by Sajita Nair

I got the book "She's a Jolly Good Fellow" about a month ago and what caught my immediate attention was the colored edges. Most of the books would have the white edges while few get golden colours etc, but this book appeared different.

I was reading Sagarika's "A Calendar too crowded" that time, so kept this book for next. Eventually completed reading "She's a Jolly good fellow" during a recent train journey. Here's a quick review of the book.

Traditionally, Army isn't believed to be a place for women. World wide armed forces have been dominated by men and role of women, if any is often limited to support roles and not combat roles. Particularly in Indian context, no family would willingly send their daughter/daughter-in-law to work in the armed forces. It is often the girls who take the initiative, brave all odds and resistance, clear various tests and start their career in army. Even then, survival and career progression has its own challenges.

Sajita Nair's "She's Jolly Good Fellow" is about two young women officers in the Indian Army- their story over the years and challenges encountered. The two girls who pass out of Military Academy together, get posting in the same unit and make their way up against all odds. Though both were committed to be at par (and better) with men and command respect, various situations test their commitment, ability and endurance. Menfolk, including very senior officers are doubtful of their abilities One of them suddenly drifts away-she falls in love with a senior (older by 20yrs), marries him and takes life easy, while the other battles all obstacles, handles every job assigned to her much better than her male counterparts. Novel has all ingredients- love equations, office politics, gender bias, army life, family pressures and so on.

The first person narration gives an excellent exposure to what happens in an Army unit. Various challenges men in uniform face, in their passion for uniform and duty. The level of details mentioned in the book can't be narrated by an outsider easily. I first thought the author would have consulted someone in army to know inside functioning of an unit. But after finishing the book I read the first page again. Author has lived the talk- she was commissioned in the Army in 1994 and served in Army for certain years (exact duration not known) before taking up writing and HR. This increased my respect for the author and the book

Additional thoughts:
  • As the Kargil war story unfolded in the novel, I was expecting a character equivalent of Barka Dutt to appear in the story and talk to Dips.
  • The end is not clear- What happened after Dips went to Mumbai to meet Major Joseph's mother- Dips decided to exit the uniform (this is a question book attempts to find answer all through- is any man in a lady army officer's life worth more than the uniform). May be a sequel of the book would cover that
  • Couldn't identify what happened to the haunted bungalow at Ahmadabad. Were those noises human initiated?
  • Looks like Anju was promoted to Captain's rank, but there's no reference of lieutenant Deepa's promotion (did I miss a few lines?). What was her rank by the end of story?
  • An appendix of army ranks and NATO phonetics (Alpha for A, Bravo for B etc) will be a nice value add, as it helps reader get the context easier
While reading books like this increases our awareness and respect towards Army, news of President Pratibha Patil grabbing acres of Army land for personal use injects further hatred towards the political class. [Read details here, the area is 100 times a normal 40x60 site]. Also I hope the news of ammunition shortage in army is fixed asap.

The book is published by Hachette India and is priced at INR 250. Do start reading first few pages, rest, you'll read automatically.

Note: Photos of women in army are sourced from an old email forward, as I found it very relevant to the context here. No offence.

Other book reviews: Topgear magazine * Comical Saga Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding *  I am Number 4 *  It happened in India * Raga Chintamani * 2 States by Chetan Bhagat* Not a penny more, not a penny less * Zero percentile -Neeraj Chibba* Colours of life by Ravi Sidula * The 3 mistakes of my life by CB * Bala Takes the Plunge-Melvin Durai * The Incredible Banker * Songbird on my shoulder * 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Egrets in flight

These are some photos from the fields close to my hometown.

As I went for an evening walk with my 5100, these field workers were at work on the field. They were extracting the harvest. As they uprooted the plants, several egrets were watching eagerly. Egrets were there hoping to catch any earthworm or other eatable worm that might emerge as the workers uprooted the plants. The birds were not afraid of the workers and ventured so close to these workers, workers would have touched them by hand if they chose to. 
However, me being a stranger, birds would fly away a bit to maintain safe distance from me, anytime I moved few steps closer.

Using the burst mode, clicked a set of photos of these birds in flight. Few of them appear to be pretty good, in the backdrop of sunset.

Limitations of a 55mm lens is evident again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A rescued Cobra

What would most of us do when we come across a snake battling for like? We're most likely to flee from the scene.

During NH17 4 lane road construction in Udupi, Karnakataka, an unfortunate snake came under the mighty jaws of a JCB and was cut into two pieces.

When the news reached Sudhindra Aithal of Animal Rescue centre, he rushed to the spot, retrieved the snake and set on a mission to restore its body. He joined the two parts with lot of herbal medicines. 3 months since the accident now, the snake is recovering well. Though there isn't much motion in the tail section, Sudheendra Aithal feels it would recover fully in another 3 months.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Mullayyana Giri peak, Chikkamagalur- Revisited

Mullayyana Giri is the highest peak in Karnataka and is a must visit spot if you’re touring the Malenadu area (Shivamogga, Chikkamagalur, western ghats etc). Mullayanagiri is at 1930 meters above mean sea level, twice the altitude of Bangalore.

First thing that excited me about Mullayanagiri is the drive till top. We’d driven to Mullayana Giri during October 2011 in an Aria- that was my first visit and I wasn’t familiar with the territory then. It was evening time and was getting dark. The uphill drive was exhilarating. The last few kms were breath taking- the road was narrow, just enough for one car at a time. On our right was the deep valley- one wrong move and the entire vehicle would have slid off. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to encounter a face-to-face situation with a vehicle returning from opposite direction.  

Not contended with the first visit, we made another visit this March, this time with enough time to spare. The drive was as good as earlier, but my familiarity with the turns ruined the thrill and suspense. Once on top, we spent more time exploring it. A small hike from parking lot took us to the peak- which had a Lord Shiva temple on top of it. Adjacent to the temple is also a police booth housing wireless relay station.

Mullayyana Giri is also an excellent trekking destination. One can trek to Kemmannugundi/Habbe falls, Baba Budan Giri or other nearby places from here. Readymade trails exist, but expect reduced tree cover during summer months and carry enough water. The destination is also an excellent choice for cycling. Roads are good and traffic is less. View is amazing.
Thankfully there’re no shops in Mullayyana giri selling cigarettes and other petty stuff. Probably for this reason, there’s very little littering and location remains clean. Hope it remains that way
Seethalallayyana Giri Matt is a stopover place 3 kms before Mullayanagiri. Bababudan Giri and Manikyadhara falls could be your next destination once you’re done exploring Mullayana Giri.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Security tips while using ATMs

Given the fact that ATM related frauds are increasing, credit and debit card users need to exercise extra caution while using ATM centres. If you’re careless or if you’re unlucky, a smart fraudster might end up stealing your card details and empty your account.

This post shares certain tips related to usage of automated teller machines or ATMs.

  • If there’re ATMs inside your office campus, use that to the max. ATMs in IT parks, SEZs or other office complexes, which are often manned by security and visitors aren’t allowed inside without scrutiny are much safer than an unguarded ATM by the roadside. If you’re working in such a facility which has ATMS inside, use them the max, since chances of tricksters entering in and installing card readers and such devices is very less.
  • Use your bank’s ATM as much as possible, instead of other bank’s atm. In case of a fraud, it is relatively easier to deal with the bank you have account with, than dealing with other banks.
  • Split your money into two accounts. Assume you have 1.2 lakhs- Keep 1 lakh in Account 1, keep 20k in account 2. Carry only Account 2 ATM card with you. It is very unlikely that you’ll need all of 1.2 lakh at once. Even if you need, there’ll be daily withdrawal limits, so you can’t withdraw more than 20-30k per day. So carry the card with less money. At any given point of time, your risk exposure (in case of fraud) is only 20k and not your entire 1.2 lakhs
  • ATMs which are part of a bank branch, ATMs which you know have security cameras are usually safer than other ATMs
  • Subscribe for SMS alert facility given by your bank, so that you get alert whenever money is withdrawn.
  • Avoid giving your primary debit card and PIN to your family members. Create a separate account/card for them with lesser limits
  • ATMs which completely swallow the card and return it after transaction are safer than ATMs which require users to swipe in and swipe out the card. This is because it is easier to attach a magnetic reader device on the protruding part of the machine. Some ATMs (like SBI) need you to insert a debit card to open the door. While this is a good measure to prevent entry of unauthorized users, these doors result in another point of weakness, as magnetic readers can be fixed to these doors much easily than the teller machine.
  • Watch out for any unusual wires/thick cello tapes or other suspicious substances around the machine.
  • When in doubt, cover the keypad with the other hand while entering PIN
  • Also avoid situations wherein you know you’ll need cash, but forget to withdraw it till last moment (like when leaving for a trip, getting late for train and you need urgent cash but no ATMs are to be seen around). last minute tensions make you ignore all safety aspects.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Book Review: A Calendar too crowded- by Sagarika Chakraborty

Just finished reading a book, "A calendar too crowded", written by Sagarika Chakraborty.

When I first heard about the title, I mistook it to be story of a busy corporate executive whose calendar must be too crowded with meetings and travel plans.  I was wrong. The book is about women- their various phases in life and challenges faced.

Book is laid out in about 12 chapters, each representing a month of the year. Begins with a yet to be born girl child narrating from her mother's womb in January to the an elderly lady who'd to stay at senior citizen facility despite having children.

The book is not a fiction and the chapters have different characters, independent of other chapters.

What's important is that the book brings out several facets related to women, most of us never cared to understand or worry about.

First few chapters talk about family's desire for male child, difference in treatments offered to a girl child vs boy child.

Another chapter talks about treatment given to a war widow, who is kept in forced isolation to keep family honor intact.

Another chapter narrates the harassment at work, in a modern world of designing and modelling. One more illustrates society's nature of criticizing the character of a young women, who's been drugged, raped and abandoned by the roadside, without any intention of catching the culprits or providing her with some treatment

One chapter (April) talks about a women whose forced into flesh trade, who is determined to keep her daughter away from the mess and get her educated.

Then there're illustration of rich families- their crave for male child, and other internal family matters, including treatments given to mother in law and daughter in law. Suddenly there's a conversation between Krishna and Panchali, discussing how women were empowered way back in pre-historical ages.

Book is also useful on few other aspects- it lists several important days of each month, has occasional statistics related to child deaths and other topics being discussed in the book.

Book ends with story of a girl who's subjected to human trafficking

There were few poems, which I've skipped.

Only statement in the book that related to menfolk is this: "The centre for Social Research indicates that 98% of the cases filed under Section 498 A are false and more than 5 % of men commit suicide unable to bear the harassment of dowry cases"

We're so absorbed in our lives that newspaper reports of dowry related deaths, girl child abuses, human trafficking etc doesn't make us think on these issues. "A calendar too crowded" makes us take a serious note of these every day incidents. It is important to take a break from reading fiction, romances and read books like this once a while-they help us get whole new perspective to life.

An audio trailer below, if interested
"A calendar too crowded" is published by Niyogi Books and is priced at Rs 295

Author is currently working her second book and also leading an initiative called The Purple Project, a health research society which aims to address lesser known diseases in India

Other book reviews: Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding *  Topgear magazine * Comical Saga Fate, Fraud and Friday Wedding * I am Number 4 * It happened in India * Raga Chintamani * 2 States by Chetan Bhagat* Not a penny more, not a penny less * Zero percentile -Neeraj Chibba* Colours of life by Ravi Sidula * The 3 mistakes of my life by CB * Bala Takes the Plunge-Melvin Durai * The Incredible Banker * She's a jolly good fellow * Songbird on my shoulder *