Half Century and beyond …

Just after my 50th birthday, I was chatting with my friend after he had watched Asuran, we talked about Sivasaami ‘s children were about our age (16-19 year olds in 1988) and having grown-up in reasonably well to do family in Chennai, we experienced a privileged life, we were reminiscing would we have got to where we are today if we were born as Sivasaami’s sons? So at the Half century mark need to start out acknowledging winning the birth lottery was single most important factor. Let me elaborate a bit life expectancy (more data on this subject here ) for 1969 chorts in India was about 46.5 years . This is especially impacted by high infant mortality in India – I had one of my first cousin die a year before my birth and my parents lost their first child as stillborn, so it not exaggeration to thank birth lottery (side note Life expectancy for 50 year old in India today another 30+ year!).

Obviously my parents have shaped lots of what I have become and they at various stages allowed me to grow into person and I always grateful for that and when I started blogging one of the earliest post was – “Parents are the reason, I am what I became …”

Here is some moments in the fifty years to recollect, rejoice and be every grateful

  • 1983 – adulthood . India won world cup and I decided that I had to take charge of my life. I knew I would flunk 7th standard in PSBB , I told my dad I did not want to repeat 7th As explained in this blog post – Carefree Childhood .It was clear to me I had to figure out a way study well or life might not be that good, so metaphorically I graduated to adulthood @ 14, from that point forward I pretty much took every decision about my studies and my life with active support of my dad.
  • 1988 – Early life Lessons Landing in Trichy for under graduate studies (recollected in this post) allowed me discovering how privileged I was – lot of my evolution started by observing people around me and eventually able arrive at this world view on privileges. Probably heading to Trichy eventually led me to MCA at PSG Tech (I was tempted to work after B.Sc about 50% of my class did not study beyond graduation, Santhosh Xavier who was doing MCA in RECT convinced me I should do MCA). These 6 years outside Chennai shaped me both as person and also gave me strong comp science fundamentals that definitely propelled my career.
  • 1995 – wealth might not mean prosperity My classmate Varda introduced me to a recruiter and he was talking me to and convinced me to take an interview for citibank and only after I went to Polaris I learnt it was for position in Saudi Arabia, I just thought what the heck and gave it a shot and got selected to intriguing position and shocked my dad by telling him I am heading to Saudi Arabia. I knew well that I had to compromise on some of the religious rituals but experience there was eye opening – they treated South Asian as second class citizen/slave. They had lots of money but as civilization were 50 years behind India, so I learnt wealth might not mean prosperity ! This also meant I earned and saved about 4 Lakhs rupees in a year and that was biggest reason I started a software firm upon my return and eventually closed it after 15 months
  • 2001 – life gets complicated More than my marriage birth of our son really made me introspect and start thinking about being responsible for another human being. Initially I was really scared and worried about every decision. Every parent wants the best for their children but we are going be influenced by our life experiences and paths we talk are going to be different, so eventually a few years later I figured that “we will do our best as parents but not second guess decisions made many years ago (big or small)”. Another big development in 2001 -we purchased land near Pondy and started construction of home for my parents and they spent close to 3 years living after my dad’s retirement (for almost 15 years we would hear how unfortunate my dad was, as he did not build his own home, so this was a big Goal for me personally).
  • 2005 – Staying the course My ancestor had migrated to distant land looking for better opportunity, so I guess it is natural that I adopt any place, still for me Chennai is home, so I wanted to come back and be with my parents as they aged, this was the plan at the time of marriage and we stayed course returned in 2005, luckily both of us have not regretted till date (Likely our children have a different opinion but my take is they can live their life way they prefer, just like how we live our life our way …. )
  • 2010 – Being at peace professionally I had entered my 40s and it was clear to me the place I was working might not be possible to get fancy title in next 10-15 years, so I had to decide to move to a place where I would have those opportunities or be ok with my cohorts have fancy title (I was slightly ahead or on par with most of my cohorts) . Being a very driven person and workaholic it was tough decision after some deliberation I made decided todo job I love with employer I liked and most importantly continue to live in Chennai .
  • 2015 – Debt Free – Despite the relatively high privileges we enjoyed in our childhood, my dad did not inherit lots of wealth. He had good job but also some big responsibilities and some misfortune which forced him to attempt to borrow from relatives. My teenage experience of pledging Jewels to bridge cash shortfalls left a lasting impression on me. 1980s in India luxuries were not many most of the time we had to take a loan to buy household stuff or my father routinely borrowed against small savings scheme deposits to fund my education. So one of my prime goals in life was to become debt free which I accomplished in 2015, it is very important milestone in life (it is possible we may have to get some loans in addition to funding I provide for my children education but I think they should be responsible for that)

I am very happy about how these 50 years shaped, I have dealt with various twist in life and have been lucky to recover from some blunders in life thru ton of effort and grit but because of privileged position I begun all I had to do was to just minimize my unforced errors in life, which is real low bar in life. I want to conclude this post by recollecting brief conversation in our college WA group, one remark was “Dude you turned 50 Already” . My reply was “25 years of education and 25 years of work (15 month interlude with entrepreneurship)”, so someone asked what about next 25. My response – “wish is to lead a content healthy life while not being a burden to others”.

Carefree childhood

I have some faint recollection of going to christian school in Vadalur but not much details. I do recollect quite a bit of details of studying in Annie Besant school in Ashok Nagar near Ashok pillar, studied 1-3 standard their. Then much reputed PSSB opened shop at that I, my brother and cousin joined the school in 4th standard. I flunked 4th and had to repeat 4th standard, it was no big deal at home and parents just wanted us to study well.

I managed to have get thru till 6th and in 6th my dad was always fascinated with sanskrit and I was struggling in Tamil, so he changed to Sanskrit as second language and by default hindi had to 3rd language. I recollect being thoroughly confused between two languages and in 7th std was alternatively passing in each of them. By middle of 7th Std I started realizing I may again flunk my exams. I was hearing stories classmates moving out with “Pass TC”, so was wondering will it be my turn. I remember anxious summer holidays and when the results arrived my parents were bit taken back.

I told my dad that he needs to go geta “Pass TC”, so that I can start in another school and told him I do not want to repeat 7th Std. We had secured admission from SKMHSS in the same neighbourhood and my father approached PSSB for “Pass TC” but they refused saying I had fared very bad. My father was furious and vowed to start in 8th standard. After some research he concluded that there is provision to join 8th std after private study if a B.Ed person certified. Simultaneously our land lord who was reasonably influential arranged for a TC from school in Saleem. Ultimately school and education board accepted this certification and private study and after nervous 3 months started figure out how to master to get better and score marks.

When I look back as 14 year old, I had the conviction to say what I wanted and grabbed new opportunity presented because of the privileges bestowed on my due to my berth . I was lucky to get thru this tulmonous period and still be going to school. My parents never hated me when I was not doing well and my dad always used to say do better next time when signing my report cards. I am ever grateful for my parents in providing a stress free childhood, single biggest contributor to where I am today.

FasTag Fiasco

I believe a country like India will get better if we remove various fictions in our peoples day to day life, so I get excited about every time I see some change and I can imagine how things would be vastly different.

We made trip to Bangkok in March 2016 and I was fascinated by the city probably never got around writing my experiences. One thing that struck me was the toll plaza in highways I noticed most taxi had a smartcard (like in US Bay area my guess it was mandated by law every new car should have one) but they all used cash (>80% of vehicle I noticed),so within few months when I read about FasTag my excitement was very high but I was also very concerned if same fate will happen in India.

Let me articulate why I think FasTag is right approach for India

  • The sheer waste of time and fuel in toll plaza is not something we can afford as a still developing economy
  • I have driven around in Dallas there they use camera to identify number plate and charge vehicles. Such a system is not going to work in India at this present time.
  • It is a reasonable trade -off of privacy (they have camera recording every passing vehicle and can potentially track vehicle if they desire so)
  • This is imposed on folks who own operate vehicles which is sub-set that is more than likely to be already banking

So in January 2017 while in my native for Pongal vacation, I noticed in my morning walk that toll plaza nearby was being prepared for FasTag lane but I was disappointed that it will be one specific lane and clicked these pictures thinking I will blog at some point!

  • But progress was very slow and in most toll plaza to enforce only vehicles with FasTag passed thru they employed a security guard to open and close the lane!! The used handheld RFID reader in some toll plaza.
  • Then Govt made it mandatory for all new cars in Dec 2017, which is good move they cost less Rs. 500 to get set-up.
  • They started forcing toll operators to make all lanes equipped with FasTag Reader and my colleague Sudhir pointed to me that in Chennai to Villupuram you can use FasTag in any lane about a year ago (there was absolutely no indication about this)
  • Then after elections in July 2019 they announce from Dec 1st 2019, it is mandatory to have FasTag or for cash there will be double the charge.
  • Then when Govt noticed number of FasTag usage is low panicked and announced fee FasTag on Nov 21st 2019
  • Today they announce implementation postponed upto 15th Dec 2019, now looks like they are unlikely to make it mandatory anytime soon.

When was 17 or 18, my friends used to rail against the exam system, so I was not sure what my stand was. Then I formulated a logic if I have to critique something then I should be able to come-up something better than existing system. So this how I think about every issue or ill in the society. So let me articulate How I would have implemented FasTag

  • I have no problem with how the government / NHAI approached this till July 2019 expect may be one thing , With New cars load them up with 1000 (or 2000) rupees as first time load, you have money and you need to use it. Today lots of car have FasTag and do not use it, I am sure if folks try it they will start using it because you do not have struggle for change and it is faster than buying toll ticket.
  • Make these FasTag issued by banks more easier to use, they should have just made each FasTag a UPI recipient and we could have transferred money (today you need to login and to web transaction), heard PayTM once are lot easier.
  • Next instead of penalizing people for not using FasTag design a nudge (must read book) I would start giving concession for folks using and publicize it.
  • Get school and college students from near toll plaza and run a education campaign, engage cars as they approach Toll Plaza this is the most effective form of communication.
  • Concession Do not take it from Toll operator kitty (they will sabotage it) instead use this as subsidy, according to this article per day toll is 50 crore, let us say for first 90 days 20% discount for Toll users maximum loss is going to be 900 crore but let us assume about 500 crore subsidy, my guess we Indians are suckers for a good deal probably within 90 days would be able get closer to 40% vehicle to use FasTag. My intuition is 40% would be Tipping point (interesting book) ?
    • You can probably come-up with more complicated sliding scale nudge but nudges are powerful if they are simple to implement
  • You can essentially implement Non FasTag – FasTag lanes 30%-70% and double penalty for using cash in FasTag lane for two months. You can continue to use cash lanes but this makes FasTag lanes faster and hopefully does not clog those lanes
  • Finally have one Cash lane and all other FasTag lane (with double cash penalty to continue)

Driving License Renewal

I wanted to capture my experience of License renewal because as I went thru it there were many small things that if proper information was available it would have helped me but also these government office workflow automation excites me as I have captured about my passport experience in two post – Passport Seva Kendra and Return to Passport Seva Kendra.

As outlined in previous post I had on all three prior occasions used an agent to get my DL related activities and I was keen to avoid using one again. My Prior experience at Thiruvanmiyur RTO for removing my loan hypothecation endorsement on my car was good and got it done within a day. Anyhow as usual I was procrastinating and was within a week of license expiry , so I started googling for information and learnt most operations are to be done thru this website – https://sarathi.parivahan.gov.in/ but I was not able to get my license to list. I also read there is no need to get NOC but that new article was referring to Rajasthan RTO. Anyhow I tried to go to my neighbourhood driving school and that person said he does not deal with KK Nagar RTO (TN09) and I should go and get NOC myself.

KK Nagar RTO Visit 1 – RTO opens at 10am, so I arrived around 10:15 (traffic was light and arrived 15 minutes earlier than planned) and about 75 folks but all were seated having submitted their forms, so I walked up to person accepting forms and told him I need NOC to renew my license in Thiruvanmiyur. He immediately said you do not need NOC now for transfer within state, so approach Thiruvanmiyur RTO.

Thiruvanmiyur RTO visit 1 – So I immediately took a bus to SRP and crossed road and took an auto to RTO, as I entered I saw this desk where three people were seated and one had PRO board (person visible seated in the picture below)

Once he heard my details, he asked me to key-in details of License which tried again and showed him the message. Then he said your data needs to be backloaded, you have to go KK Nagar RTO and give a copy of your license and they will get it done. if they are refusing to do go meet the RTO and he said wait there and verify your details are available in the portal before leaving. He also asked what ID and address proof I have and when I mentioned adhar he said you can apply online and then come to RTO License renewal will be completed in 1 hour. It was late in the day so I decided to go next day. While the RTO person in KK Nagar was factually correct but he did not tell me I need apply for backload which would have saved me one day

KK Nagar RTO Visit 2 – Next day I arrived at around 10:30am and went to the same person, he asked me to write phone number and blood group and show original DL. He accepted mine and said backlog will be completed within 3 working days and you can check online. Once bitten and what not, I walked back asked him which number should I type to verify, he flipped the card and said the very first Number given to you. Again this person is factual but did not provide another piece of information (that might have saved me few days of wait)

I started checking the website every day and there are three components and 5 digit number, TN009, 1988 . Being the smartass that I am I opened a notepad and created combinations of these including one with TN091988-5 digit. but even after a week the portal was not displaying my license.

KK Nagar RTO Visit 3 – So I finally choose to go on Friday around 11:00am. The RTO is pretty deserted and I asked one the folks my backlog entry is not complete and he pointed at one stack of paper (their were two) and told me to look for my DL copy. I started my treasure hunt combing thru a week worth of License and finally found my DL copy and the back side they had written the code and it turned out that the number was TN091988-7 digit (they converted 5 digit to 7 digit by adding two 0s at the beginning). I was able to put the number and validate the data in portal.

I came home and started the process of applying I selected Address change + License renewal and filled details and it spit out pdf with 3 set of forms. Now to proceed further for those above age of 40 need to get medical certificate form 1A by Govt Doc, so more googling I could not find details of who is authorized to do this form 1A there was some old information about Bangalore RTO. I tried to check with one driving school in Adyar but they refused to give information offering service for Rs. 2000.

Thiruvanmiyur RTO visit 2 – had to wait till Monday and head back to Thiruvanmiyur RTO the ask the friendly PRO person who can sign form 1A and he just said any Medical practitioner. So next day I went and got form 1A by Dr in neighbourhood. Then I scanned my form 1A and went back to uploading . The portal accepts only 200KB size files so I had to take help of colleague get some of document size reduced and uploaded the files and paid fees of 700 and then picked appointment time 12-1pm.

Thiruvanmiyur RTO visit 3 – I arrived around 11:20 am and checked with PRO desk and they asked me to go the second counter, practically no one was around. I was asked make entry in the register outside and come back and give documents plus orginal Aadhar and original DL. One person verified documents returned my Aadhar card (asked for a copy of Aadhar which I had) and then next person entered my appoint number and quickly verified documents submitted online by clicking the links and took a picture and asked me to sign on the digital pad. They told me your card will be ready in 1 hour wait outside. Around 11:40 a person came with bunch of cards and read our names and asked us to wait for 30 minutes as the smart card will be activated. @ 11:55 they came which a bunch of card read our names and who was present they started issue card after getting signature in registry (they wanted a copy of receipt for some reason!)

Overall quite happy I got it done, had to drive about two weeks with expired license. Most frustrating thing there is not proper information available and someone with my resources had to make multiple trips. In country like India still majority of folks would have depend on others to fill forms this online service is big improvement but possible not adequate step.

So couple of tips for folks having white plastic license card, please enter your license details and see if it is available in portal. If it is not available when you visit your hometown give your DL copy and ask them to back load. Once you have blackload done any further services can be availed at any of the RTOs in TN.

Most often Government employees in places like RTO are very sincere and they are under stress because they are understaffed and have very old convoluted process. They have to deal with huge number of folks and so their responses might not be friendly or have time to provide relevant information

Return to passport Seva Kendra

I wrote about my first experience with Passport Seva Kendra , I had to renew my passport and had been as always my way – procrastinating and not getting it done.  So finally when I got to within 2 month of passport expiry, took the plunge and tried to get appointment on 21st Jan 2014 and it took 10 minutes and presented with appointment for next day Jan 22nd 12:15pm, after some deliberation took that slot. We were leaving on Dec 22nd for 3 day outbound training event with team members, so if I missed that window might have to wait one more week. I got my new passport about a month on 24th Feb 2014 from the postman assigned for our apartment, here are the details.

Kudos to TCS team for making people pay to Get Appointment and looks like this has resulted in appointments being more readily available. Got appointment for next day this was rather painless process !

3 hour visit application process done

  •  I arrived around 11:50am to full parking lot, I did  what Indians do – “Park on side of the road”. Tried to find a spot with no visible NO Parking sign and made sure not obstructing traffic.
  • Got initial screening done within 5 minutes, before entering the ground floor waiting area
  • After  20 minutes was assigned a token and took stairs to first floor,  TCS ladies who do first level application screening and entry were getting ready for their Lunch break but the lady I got assigned to was trying to squeeze one person before break and got my picture and fingerprint taken and moved to the waiting are where around 30-40 folks were waiting
  • I hit the inevitable 1pm Lunch break, all passport officers who do first level screening had lunch break at the same time, so suddenly the waiting area was filled with close to 75 folks and everyone was fidgeting and standing. Once I saw that it was lunch break, I took one of the vacant chairs started browsing on my phone!
  • Around 2:15, the first level passport officer reviewed my application she did not like the fact the I had only my wifes passport for address proof, I produced Voter Id, which she deemed to be good but I had to go back and get this scanned and back with the same officer this added another 10 minutes.
  • Second level officer looked-up my application and was not happy with the fact I did not register my spouse when renewed last time and sited me for a minor offence and fine of Rs. 500, my cheeks turned red but better sense prevailed and I meekly protested “maybe Consular office in SFO missed it” but the officer said “pay the fine”, Another treck to Counter 45 to pay the fine and  come back to same counter to get the process completed.
  • Finally a wait on the way out to get the acknowledgement done

Rest of the process

  • Since I had change of address, I knew I would get a police verification visit.
  • For some reason this works good. Next week + 5 days get a visit by local policeman to apartment review done get passport about 1 month latter

I did not complete this post made on March 17 2014 and sat in draft all these years !!

Driving License

I have probably tried to get my driving license done about 5 times so far in life, as I am gearing to get my license renewed I was thinking about all my encounters and thought of chronicling my recollection

#1 1988 – Two wheeler – I started driving my dad Lambretta when was pretty close to 18 years mostly to get to Volleyball practise in school in the mornings this is about 1 km. It was fashionable at that time to provide fake Date of Birth and get license early but I was particular to apply only after turning 18 (probably influenced by my dad).When I wanted to apply for driving license, one my friends mentioned an agent who in Ashok Nagar, I went to his house and paid money and he got me learners license but then I was studying in Trichy and had to wait for semester exam vacation to come for driving test when my learners permit was about to expire. I had borrowed my friends TVS 50 and gone to Vijayaraghava chari road in T Nagar. The inspector asked me to drive straight and do 8 and I got my license – this was a paper booklet.

#2 1998 Car – I was waiting to get my B1 Visa for my first US assignment and it was customary to get Indian driving license, so I enrolled in driving school and my class in Maruti 800. The person teaching me had to drop his sister in T Nagar Saradha school, so most days I ended-up driving from Ashok nagar to T Nagar and back which was reasonable traffic area so could claim I had got reasonable training. By now RTO road test had shifted to some deserted part of Valasravakkam. And driving test was is Gyphys Jeep and I struggled to drive and the inspector had to do the gear shift for reversing the car! I got my paper driving license endrosed with for driving LMV.

#3 1998 DMV California – I had to wait until I got my H1B visa in April before I could apply for Driving license. At that time there was underground Desi network that accumulated some questions for written test and we used that to prepare and write the written test to get learners permit, I remember having to call DMV and book a slot for test and then go and take the test. After getting learners permit we had russian immigrant who ran a driving school and used his Toyota corolla to train us. One trick I still remember he used to have cylindrical coin box and place in the dashboard and challenge us not to topple it when we brake!! California DMV was notorious at that time for having very difficult driving test and we were 4 roommates and 2 of us cleared on first attempt and 2 of us failed. My driving test somewhere in downtown LA is what I remember, I did ok and when it ended the inspector said I failed. He explained I did not yield to pedestrian who was about to cross the road but somehow I overlooked it. It was frustrating experience and was really anxious as all stories about folks needing multiple attempts was causing some sleepless night. So I had to wait for some weeks and reappear and cleared the test on second attempt and finally got my plastic card after few weeks.

#4 1999 Idaho DMV – After marriage and joining Rapidigm we moved to Boise ID, so I had to get new License. But if you had another state valid driving license all you had to do was clear a written test and they issued driving license, so I went and wrote the test and got my license in one visit (compared to California things were a breeze).

#5 2001 -License renewal . I was visiting India and started driving Rx100 which by now was my brothers vehicle and suddenly realized my India driving license had expired. I went back to the same driving school that got me car driving license and he used his influence to get an appointment within week and I had to go and get my picture taken and wait almost the whole day but got the plastic driving license issued. My guess it was at this time they were transitioning to computer based system and hence whole process was Chaotic and by now RTO had shifted to Bharathidasan Colony in Ashok Nagar. I got license renewed until day before my 50th Birthday.

I have been into week two of getting my license renewed, will blog about once I get my license. Look at the contrasting experience few things stand out population density is major factor in government services accessibility. In India complicated opaque processes breed corruption and to take easy way out we employ intermediaries which leads to circle of corruption.

Music & Me

Recently one of my schoolmates – Sundar was visiting India and he called me after arriving and he was all excited about Illayaraja show that evening with another classmate Paddu. He called me couple of hours after enquired would I be interested in joining, I told “definitely not my cup of tea!”. Only reason to do that would have been spend time with friends but I did not fancy the crowds or hot june evening, so passed on the opportunity. This kind of triggered recollection of childhood experiences.

I still remember the conversation I had when I was about 12 years old, my dad wanted us to learn music – I instantly said sorry I am not sure I want to do this and maybe because my brother was too young or he was more enthusiastic he was signed-up for Mridangam class (not to digress those classes would be post by itself and probably played a large part in how I dealt with Kids activity classes). As Children we would attend Villu Pattu by Subbu Arumugam and other programs in the club my dad was part of but never found music of any type to resonate with me.

I have been to couple of musical performances few decades back – I shared a room with Palani in 1996 and he insisted that I should join him for one of kutcherries during Chennai music season. I went with him and we got some free ticket or low priced ticket sat at the back and listened to a program as good sport! Few months later 1997 I tagged along with bunch of polaris friends for the show – Colonial Cousins and after the show my friend and his sister were critiquing the songs and I was like “ok I had a good time”. I had purchased CD of that album and still can hum along a few verses but never got into music.

Recently started reading about “ Musical Anhedonia” and research around how differently brain functions for people like me. I was always comfortable with the fact that I was not musically inclined but it is a bummer because music always is a good conversation starter.