Monday, April 30, 2007

Awwal number

Bachpan mein I was urged by my well-meaning parents to always strive to come first in class. One may argue that coming first in a class 4 exam has no relevance whatsoever with what one does later in life. Although this view is largely true, such an attitude of irreverence does not contribute towards a fighter instinct, where you do your best to come out tops. Anyway, this post is not about such philosphical stuff.

Coming back to coming first, this was to remain an unfulfilled dream. There was another chap in my class who always used to come first. Every year. Every terminal exam. Almost every exam. Every unit test. In short everything. My luck with getting the prized number 1 was so bad that even though my initials were AA (not AC for anon coward ;), there was a chap whose surname was Abraham who piped me to the post. Later on it was Abel. *#%I#**#)(&$@#

The chap who always came first (lets call him ASC for the want of a better name) was a nice chap, but a maggoo kutta fighter in every sense of those words. The stories of his maggai were legendary. It was alleged that he mugged up entire chapters in Hindi (or was it someone else ?). With as much certainity of an Aussie victory in the WC final, his coming first was also a certainity. My poor ego took a big battering on account of this. It wasnt that I was not good enough to get more marks or anything, it was always that he was so much better.

We were on reasonably friendly terms and had taken part in quite a few quizzes together. In class 11th, he took Sci with Eco and yours truly with CS and so our paths diverged. Apart from the occasional contact, we didnt talk much about acads. While I whiled away my time in 11th, he had joined a prominent coaching center for IITJEE.

I had no idea about the 'level' of JEE or what one needed to do in order to clear it, but it was graudually becoming apparent that ASC might not clear it. Many people from other schools had joined my school in 11th. They too had joined various coaching centers, and while there was lot of talk about their marks in various phase tests, ASC's name was conspicuous by its absence. He was also not mentioned when people talked about the BIG studs at the centers.

I think it was in 12th that he stopped going to that coaching. People were uncharitably saying that usski fat gayi thi and that was now trying to get good marks in the boards and go abroad or to some good college in DU. By this time I too had joined a coaching and with 7 days working, I had no time to listen to what others were saying.

I had pretty much stopped going to school before the screening. Except for the one day that there was a phone call from school that I was required to sign some board related document. So the week before the JEE screening, I relucantly went to school (wearing the uniform - BIG mistake). My smart friend came in casuals, signed and went away, whereas I on the other hand sat in an almost empty class with less than 10 others. I probably met ASC for the last time at the end of our last common board.

Through friends, I heard that he had got into Venky. By now, I too was busy with college (and having healthy interaction with my seniors). I never heard of him, till day before yesterday. I had met an old school friend of mine who was a common friend of ASC and me. He told me that ASC had finally gone to Canada for studies, but 2 years hence, an eye problem forced him to return. After that matter was resolved, he joined Venky in 1st year and had recently completed his degree. This was certainly not the future I had thought a person of his calibre would have. Even though I have said he that he was a maggoo fighter, it didnt take a genius to figure out that he was an extremely intelligent chap.

I was stunned to know that this person who always topped in class was such a cruel victim of circumstances. We take so many things for granted. Eye sight, hearing, speech, health limbs, mental health are all taken for granted. Do we ever pause to think what would happen to us if any of these things were taken away from us ? Fate can play havoc with even the best laid plans.

To conclude, as the poet Robert Burns said

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

An unfortunate and sad fact of life, but karm is our duty and throwing up hands in despair at the vagaries of fate is a big no-no.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My right to privacy

I am extremely pissed off and I have every reason to be. Left, right and center, companies are invading my privacy. I get irritating SMSs from cell provider, emails and phone calls from banks for everything ranging from low interest rate loans to lifetime free credit cards. I dont even want to talk about my poor email inbox, which is perpetually overflowing with spam. I have been reduced to object who can be bombarded with advertising crap against his will, even in the privacy of his home. Personal information can be blatantly demanded from me, as a matter of right.

This post is mainly about my gripe with a big retail chain in the neighbourhood, but no post about this unwanted soliciting can be complete without a mention of my cell provider. I got an SMS on V-Day, informing me that should I need some tips to patao girls, I just need to call on xxx number. Call charges of Rs6/min. Cool, they are so concerned about my love life. Another priceless example of their mindless stupidity was the afternoon after India got thrashed by Sri Lanka and put out of their WC misery. The SMS, as thoughtful as ever politely asked the reader if they were unable to find the result of yesterday's match ? Perhaps they were sleeping it suggested. So have no fear, coz we are here, just send an SMS to this number and we will tell you the complete scorecard.

This SMS came around 3pm in the afternoon, by when probably India's disgraceful defeat would have been discussed in the Parliament. Of course, charges of Rs6/SMS applied. Only the cost of my cell phone kept me from hurling to the other end of the room. I have tried calling the provider and asking them if they knew that something called the DND registry existed. But I have been told that DND is only for phone calls, we are still free to bug you with SMSs.

What literally broke the camel's back was the experience had a couple of days ago at a big retail store, owned by a BIG Indian company, which sells fruits and vegetables. The store had newly opened close to home and a friend and I decided to check it out if it offered anything better than the friendly neighbourhood sabziwala. Apart from the lack of choices, low prices and a 30 min line, it offered some pretty rude and intrusive staff. Like all big chains, this store too had a system of collecting 'points' which could later be redeemed. Since this was very close to home, I decided to get the free card made and got down to filling up the form. One page of the form had the 'mandatory' information. Stuff like name, address. It also asked for date of birth and sex, which I think were unwarranted. My email and phone number ? Dont have either!

The next page proclaimed that the information there was to 'know me better'. Aha! It didnt say it was mandatory, so I was pretty much within my rights to refuse to cough up the info; something which I did. After all, what the hell did that company want my PAN number for ? Why did they want to know in which income bracket did I lie ? Why was my profession important to them ? Did they intend to discriminate against me on the basis of that ? I filled up the mandatory section and handed it over. The person at the counter asked me to fill up the remaining portion too. I protested, saying that it was not mandatory. Why do you need my PAN number anyway ? Its not like they were issuing some ID card and needed government identification.

That person told me that the company was going to launch some financial services soon, and needed the PAN number for that. The question which immediately comes to mind is why ? Will the government allow them to launch it only when a particular number of taxpayers have given them a vote of confidence ? What do the services have to do with the retail chain's shopping card anyway ? The chap refused to listen to my point of view, assuring me that they were not a front for the IT dept and anyway, everyone had filled up that section of the form, so why was I being so paranoid.

He was correct on the last count, everyone had filled that section up, like sheep in a herd. Whether the information was correct or not is a different issue, but people had dutifully done the needful. Have we become so used to random people asking us for personal information and giving it up without a thought ? Have we started thinking that its for our own good (the store chap seemed to think so) ? Do I need to cut off myself from the outside world in order to have some semblance of privacy ?