Friday, September 26, 2008

There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there is credit card

A man’s credit card was stolen, but he decided not to report it because the thief was spending less than his wife did. The last I heard of this guy, he was divorced.

When Alexander Parkes invented plastic, I am sure he did not imagine it would be used to make money. If he knew, he would not have died a poor man (Actually I don’t know if he died a poor man, but it is not a lie to use a fact without knowing if it is true or false). While we are on plastic, if I cut up my credit cards, did I do a plastic surgery?

The advantage of a credit card is that you don’t have to carry large amount of cash in bags and sacks (the way people shop these days) while shopping and eating out. However, people are not aware that they are spending money they have not earned. Heard of debit cards, anyone?

Smart (read ‘evil’) credit card companies somehow seem to know how to tempt people to increase their credit card use. First, they came up with points for your spending. Only 1% (my own estimate using a highly scientific statistical model called ‘inky pinky ponky’) of card holders actually redeem those points. Then came pre-approved credit cards. I feel people consider being pre-approved for a credit card mean they have to apply for it! Then they came up with add-on cards. It became prestigious to give add-on cards to your spouse and children. I have even given one each to my servant and driver.

I have mastered the trick to evade sales people who jump at you while leaving big stores like Big Bazaar or Food World and are willing to give you a credit card with an ID proof and invoice as the income proof. Now you know why I would never work for a credit card company. It also amuses me that they would not give me a credit card if I came to buy only bread in the morning (because then the bill will be only for Rs 15) even though my salary is Rs 25 lakhs. (I did not want to reveal my real salary; so I have mentioned only half of it!). Please don’t assume that I went to buy bread in the morning because I fought with my wife and she refused to cook breakfast for me.

An interesting thing I noticed about credit card holders is the number of cards they carry. If it is for convenience, then you need only one credit card. If it is for acceptance at multiple outlets, then you need two or three of Visa, Master, Amex, etc. If it is for drawing as much credit as possible, then you need more than two and the willingness to relocate often. And if it is to impress women and to lure them to go on date with you, then you definitely need a dozen.

The sad part, however, is that most of us are walking around with more plastic debt than we can repay in paper. Expecting the credit card companies to be fair is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian. The mantra these days seems to be that the way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it!

Millions of credit cards have enabled millions of people to get mired in millions of debt and have led to millions of bankruptcies. Without credit cards, people wouldn't owe millions of dollars to millions of credit card companies, on which they're being charged millions of interest. (If you wondered why I have used so many millions, I don’t know any number larger than that).

One big problem with credit cards is the enormous possibility of misuse. The statistics on credit card frauds are that one out of every five credit card is misused. Speak to four of your friends. If they don’t seem to have a problem, then it's you who is misusing a credit card! It is interesting that credit card companies always process the payments no matter how you signed the receipts.

An anecdote I read: “I was signing the receipt for my credit card purchase when the clerk noticed I had never signed my name on the back of the credit card. She informed me that she could not complete the transaction unless the card was signed. When I asked why, she explained that it was necessary to compare the signature I had just signed on the receipt with the one on the card. So I signed the credit card in front of her. She carefully compared the signature to the one I had just signed on the receipt. As luck would have it, they matched.”

The most affected people due to the credit card usage obviously must be the street side beggars, what with people no longer going around with change. The next would be the adult and instant entertainment sites, who would be saddled with a very high rate of charge reversals from visitors who claim to their wives when the statement comes that they never signed up for the service and that it must have been some prank or mistake.

While Larry King was interviewing Satan on his TV show, King asked Satan to describe the foulest deed he had ever done. Satan refused to name one, pointing out that there had been so much destruction over the years, so many lives cut short, and so many wars and calamities that none stood out. But King kept pestering. “Surely, if you think hard enough, there must be one dastardly deed you are most proud of.” Satan thought for a moment, his eyes brightened, and he replied, “Well, yes. I guess if I have to pick just one particularly evil thing I'm proudest of, it would be this: Several years ago, I invented credit cards.”

If you aren't saddled with credit card debt, congratulations, you are only a few steps away from sainthood!

Making a friend read my blog ….. $ 10
Buying a reader software that will read out the blog ….. $ 100
Having readers like you who keep coming back for more ….. Priceless!

Friday, September 19, 2008

I am sorry, are you sorry?

The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology – Red Auerbach

The word sorry is so abused these days that people no longer mean it when they say, like ‘sorry we are closed’ or ‘sorry I kept you waiting’. I was introduced to meaningless apologies by Doordarshan when they frequently interrupted the telecast (it was the only channel those days and one couldn’t even change channels) and used to apologise with a screen that said ‘sorry for the interruption’. In fact, it has reached a stage where if you really mean it you have to specifically say so, like ‘I am sorry and I really mean it’ or ‘I am really sorry’. By the way, I am really sorry I don’t know who Red Auerbach, whom I have quoted above, is.

People are willing to offer apologies for practically anything these days. Apologies don’t cost money and neither is there a tax on it. And it comes with the added advantage of making the other person happy. So the cunning ones (read salesmen, lawyers, bankers, etc; no, not accountants, they are a nice lot) are handing them out like fliers. Like the woman apologizing to her man that she was sorry she beat him up! However, there is still is a small set of uptight folks who are not all that forthcoming with it. They think that it is beneath their self-respect to apologise, however wrong they might be!

My policy on this is very simple. I, like everyone else, at times (ok, ok, most of the times), do things that bother or hurt others, like forgetting something or making an irritable remark. If my actions have caused any harm, offence, discomfort or inconvenience to a person, I apologise straightaway. Like when I met my wife, I told her that I am sorry I came into her life. I am sorry to my parents that I was born to them. I feel sorry to myself for my present condition. Coming to think of it, I apologise to you for this blog.

The timing of an apology is very important. If you delay, the issue could get complicated and the injured party might be less open to forgiving you. But you would always be able to better Vatican’s timing, which apologises a few hundred years after the deed when the injured parties are no longer around, like when it apologized to Galileo in 1992 after 359 years. Another thing to note is that if you don’t ask forgiveness now, it is quite possible that tomorrow you may no longer feel guilty!

There is a set of smart people who are good at giving false apology, which sounds like a real apology without taking any blame for the action. For example, my girlfriend tells me often, ‘I am sorry that you feel that way.’ She is only sorry for my feeling about her action and not her action per se. Similarly when my wife gets angry, she always apologizes saying she is sorry that I made her angry. Another example is the thief who was sorry that he is to be hanged; not that he is a thief.

Then there is the set of folks who get angry if the apology is not accepted. Like this guy who was caught two-timing and was shouting at his girlfriend, “I told you I am sorry. NOW what is your problem?” Another tactic is to resort to the intent excuse. I used it with my neighbor when I shot his annoying dog, “I am sorry, but I didn’t intend to shoot your dog. The gun somehow used its artificial intelligence and fired at the dog.” Don’t ask me what intent has got to do with the harm caused, but it seems to work somehow.

In the corporate world in particular the art that is followed is called ‘it is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.’ Another trick followed is to apologise after stabbing your colleague from behind. That is when I admire my true friends; they don’t stab you from behind, they do it in the front.

A really good method of apologizing is to seek forgiveness by appealing to the other person’s good self. Probably getting a little emotional also helps. Like when I screwed up my wife’s plants I told her, “I am really sorry, but I know with your kind-hearted personality you will forgive me. You know how much I love you and care for you, honey.”

When you are apologizing to a woman, the best bet, of course, is flowers. You get two benefits with a bouquet attached with ‘I am sorry’ note – you get forgiveness for certain, while being actually sorry to the flowers!

I have had a very successful marriage so far and one of the prime reasons for the success has been our willingness to apologise to each other. Whenever I am wrong, I apologise to my wife; and whenever she is wrong, I apologise to her (like a true happily married man). In fact, I have found that an apology is a good way to have the last word!

But the best way to correct wrong actions is to try lying, blaming others, making excuses or justifying our actions. If nothing works, use one of the techniques of apologizing mentioned above and you might get away. Or, you could try singing this.

Friday, September 12, 2008

You da man, Maveli

[Legend has it that Maveli, aka Mahabali, ruled the state of Kerala in India, and was renowned for the justice and goodness of his rule. As Maveli was an asura (demon), devas (divine) felt threatened and plotted to end his reign; much like in the corporate world where established power centers plots against upcoming ones. Vishnu, the protector among Hindu gods, disguised as a poor Brahmin called Vamana, approached Maveli and asked for three steps of land. Just as the generous Maveli agreed, Vamana increased in size to cosmic proportions. With his first step, Vamana covered earth and with the second, he covered skies. Maveli, with nothing left, offered his head for the last step and Vamana pushed him down to Patala, the nether world. Vishnu, pleased with Maveli, granted his wish to be allowed to visit Kerala once a year to see if his people were happy and content. Onam, the biggest festival of Kerala, marks the annual visit of Maveli]

Our story happens in the United States of America. Maveli has lost hope on Kerala owing to his bad experiences with mosquitoes, strikes, transport bus, ration shops, monsoon, pollution and thattu kadaas (road-side eateries) in god’s own country. Armed with a special invitation from Bush (not WMD), Maveli decided to visit US this Onam to see the welfare of Keralites in US.

Maveli took the Air India (being ex-government, he insists on using government services) non-stop flight from Mumbai to New York. He wondered why the lemonade served on the flight tasted so horrible, not knowing that it was beer. Maveli asked the stewardess for a massage and could not understand why she refused, as devadasis (he was an asura king, remember?) in his Patal Force One flight used to give him a nice Ayurvedic massage.

Finding a mallu family in the back row, Maveli tried to engage into a conversation. To the question if he knew Onam, the teenager in the family replied, “There was this dude called Maveli, like he was really cool king and stuff, but some guy squashed him unda’ the ground. He comes visiting them Keralites every yea’, you know, and they celebrate Onam.”

At the New York airport, Maveli asked the blonde behind the information desk, “Can you tell me the time difference between India and US?” She replied, “One second.” Maveli replied, “Ok, thank you” and rushed to collect his luggage. Though Maveli did not know English, he carried an electronic translator that his friend James Bond had gifted him. Maveli had attempted TOEFL after reading the book ‘Spoken English in 32 days’ that he bought from Kottayam bus stand, but failed miserably.

Maveli was impressed with the developments made by America. He felt proud of the fact that while Americans made turbines work using steam, Keralites atleast had found that steam can be used to make idlis. Maveli bought the latest 3G iPhone and immediately send an SMS joke to his friend in Patala (not to Sidhu; that is his friend in Patiala) - “Do you know at what time Keralites and Americans stand on one leg? Scroll down for the answer…… when they are wearing their underwear.”

Maveli was amazed at the two shiny silver walls that moved apart and back together again by themselves. He saw an old woman walking up to them, pressing a button, the walls opening and the lady entering a small room. The walls closed and Maveli saw small circles lit up above the walls. The walls opened up again and, lo behold, a beautiful twenty-something-old woman stepped out. Maveli noted in his mental diary to remember to bring his wife the next time he visited US.

But Maveli found it strange that people were kissing in the public, which was a very private affair in Patala. He even found that the reaction of the women were different. While all women in US were responding “kiss me gently”, “kiss me softly”, “kiss me like there’s no tomorrow”, the reaction he got while kissing in Patala were “don’t tell anybody” or “don’t tell my husband”.

Maveli went to visit the Statue of Liberty since he had heard a lot about it. As he stood admiring the crown on the statue, a Mexican told him that it is for sale for $1000. When Maveli gave him the money, the Mexican said he will get a ladder to remove the crown and never returned. When Maveli passed by in the evening he again couldn’t help admiring the crown. The same Mexican came and told that it is still available for sale for $1000. Maveli becoming wise this time gave him the $1000 and asked the Mexican to wait and said he will get the ladder this time.

Maveli then proceeded to Washington DC to meet Bush, where he signed an agreement to supply oil to US in return for uranium to power the proposed nuclear plant in Patala. The prices of oil fell dramatically and Bush was forced to make a public statement: “They misunderestimated me. There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again.” [these are actual public statements made by Bush]

Maveli then proceeded to meet Keralites. He asked a young Keralite who was a heavy smoker, “Don’t you know that smoking is injurious to health?” The Keralite replied “I came to know the dangers of smoking after reading newspaper. Therefore, I have stopped..; reading newspapers, that is.”

Maveli subsequently went to Charlotte as he knew that Salil’s cousin lived there. Since he reached late in the evening, he visited a bar. The man on his right ordered, “Johny Walker, single”. The man on his left ordered, “Peter Scotch, single”. So Maveli ordered, “King Mahabali, married'. Maveli then flew to Fremont to visit Salil. But unfortunately, Salil was on his usual cross-country IR trips. So Maveli left a voice message and returned to Patala.

After returning to Patala, it is reported that Maveli has started using nope (for ‘no’) and yep (for ‘yes’) to answer questions. He has started saying hey (instead of ‘hello’) and eating candies (instead of ‘chocolates’), cookies (instead of ‘biscuits’) and yogurt (instead of ‘curd’). He has switched to diet coke (instead of ‘buttermilk’) and pizza (instead of ‘dosa’) for dinner. He has started taking cabs (instead of ‘taxi’) to go on the freeway (instead of ‘highway’) even if he has got to go (instead of ‘have to go’) to a place less than a mile (instead of ‘kilometer’). And it seems these days when Maveli listens to music, he says ‘yo man’ often.

God save US.. sorry Maveli!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I Don't Forget Anniversaries

“Memory is what tells a man his wedding anniversary was yesterday”

Today is my marriage anniversary. I have been married for n years (I won’t tell you the value of n as it is a very large number and you will start guessing my age!). Coincidentally, Ambika, my wife, has also been married for the same number of years.

Ambika has been the best thing that has happened to me. If you wonder if she feels the same way, feel free to ask her and I am confident she too will agree that she has been the best thing that has happened to me. I am glad that I fell in love with Ambika over the few other girls I thought I loved. I am told by my women friends that the reason why god created man first and woman second was because he needed to have a rough draft before he made a masterpiece. If one sample couple can prove the hypothesis, look no further.

I met Ambika at a Chartered Accountancy class. I did not want to fall in love then, as I thought that it would be like learning how to cycle – would take a lot of time and would get injured in the process. But to my surprise, it was love at first sight. Then I took a second look. And a third. I have never looked back again. On our first date, like all men, I told her a bunch of lies which got her interested enough to go for future dates.

Being an extraordinarily handsome man, I assumed it my responsibility to marry the perfect woman so that we could produce children beyond comparison. So I immediately decided to marry Ambika. Of course, she decided a lot later. Ambika believed that the poorest people are the happiest. And now that she is married to me, we are the happiest couple. We used to always hold hands after marriage because we wanted to make sure the rings did not fall off since we paid good money for them.

We have been sharing things ever since – we use the same toothpaste though different toothbrushes, the same bath soap though different bath towels, the same dining table though different plates, the same closet though different clothes, the same television though different shows, the same bed…. Sorry, this is a family blog, remember?

All married men contend that marriage is not a word but a sentence. However I don’t agree; I would like to look at it as an ‘investment’ that pays big ‘dividends’ if you manage to keep up the ‘interest’ (from this you would have guessed my profession – yes, I am an accountant). My wife and I always compromise which has been the secret behind our co-existence; I admit that I am wrong and she agrees with me.

We have had a very successful marriage so far, because I practice in my life what I preach at work. I work for an outsourcing company and as a true-blood loyal employee I have outsourced the decision-making process to my wife. She is the boss in our house. I have seen the kind of things she does in the house as part of this job and honestly, I do not want it.

This does not mean that we have not had our rough times, like when I send my wife an SMS ‘I wish you were here’ thinking that it was a smart thing to do, but mistakenly missed the last e in ‘here’, or when I forgot my wife’s birthday. I realized at that time that our marriage can be defined as the alliance of two people; one who never remembers birthdays, and the other who never forgets them. During the process I found that the best way to remember my wife’s birthday is to forget it thrice. But I cannot ‘remember’ the last time I ‘forgot’ her birthday.

We have stuck together during the good and bad times all these years. Just a note of caution for the readers – families that stick together should bathe more often. We have a little girl amongst us now, our daughter Niharika. The store had run out of the big ones. And even the little one took nine months to download. O that note, the child experts say that men should not have children after 35. It may sound very restrictive, but they say that there is research evidence to support this. 35 children are enough!

Finally, you may ask what the gifts that we exchanged today were. My wife, a wonderful and great lady that she is (no, no, believe me, I am not saying this because of the gift!), gifted me a $1,500 digital SLR camera with multiple lenses and other accessories. And I returned it with an even more costly one – this blog! (because ‘little time is a lot of money’; yes I added additional words, but remember this is my blog?)

PS: If you assume that I was coerced by my wife to write this blog dedicated to her, then you should be married. Oh by the way, didn’t I mention that this is dedicated to her!