Friday, April 25, 2014

Bhuj - Oh My God!

`Saigon...shit.  I'm only in Saigon.

Some of you may remember that line. It was the opening line spoken by Martin Sheen in his character of Captain Benjamin L Willard in Apocalypse Now, one of my favourite movies.

`Bhuj...shit.  I'm only in Bhuj.

Yes folks, of the entire God dammed, God forsaken places in the world, I have got a transaction in Bhuj. That is why I was there a couple of days ago. Bhuj is shit. Go there only if you are being paid, preferable, a lot.

Now you may well wonder why anyone would have a transaction in Bhuj. The reason is that Bhuj and the areas around are rich in minor minerals. One such mineral in something called Bentonite. Bentonite is very useful clay. It is used in purification of things like wine, beers and so on. It has medical uses as well as uses in the drilling industry. Bhuj has lots of Bentonite mines. So if you need a regular supply of Bentonite, you need to be in Bhuj. So here we were in Bhuj to meet a potential target.

Bhuj is in Kutch, got it? HRH the Queen of Kutch was pretty excited that I was going there. She asked me to take photos of what I see. That I dutifully did. The quality is a bit dodgy as they were taken with my mobile phone.

Bhuj Airport is an Air force base and is a mere 30 miles from Pakistan. That is really close. When I boarded the flight I saw that there were a lot of foreigners on board. I was curious as to why a foreigner would want to go to Bhuj. All was revealed. The port Kandla and Mundhra are accessible by air only from Bhuj. That was the reason.

The town was very small, very dusty and totally uninteresting. I must say that with the absence of pollution in the air and the hot dry climate, the light was excellent, you could see for miles and the Bougainvillea looked beautiful. Honestly.

A Temple under construction. 

Man and Beast washing. In the background is Prag Mahal the Palace

The Prag Mahal, I think, with a library in front.

The best apartments in Bhuj. Overlooking the water body

Since we got in very early it was time for breakfast. Seven Sky’s hotel was the place to eat. On entering I saw a mini Eiffel Tower, wow, why go to Paris to see the real one or Las Vegas to see a replica. Eiffel Tower is in our backyard, Bhuj. Gujjus are completely bonkers.Surreal! 

The Eiffel Tower - Bhuj Edition

The obligatory photo in front of the Effiel Tower. If you do it in Paris why not in Bhuj?

Breakfast was ghastly. A hastily put together unsalted Masala Dosa in deep Gujarat! More surreal. Wasn’t the Dandi March held in Gujarat to ensure we didn’t pay needless taxes on salt? Why then are they skimping on it in Bhuj?

Then it was a drive along the wide expanse of soulless roads of Bhuj to the office. A couple of decent sights. A lake, a fort a museum. Pleasant. A word about prosperity in Bhuj. Well judging by the cars there, Bhuj is not prosperous. I saw no `imported’ cars and no car I saw were much more than Rs 10 lakhs or Rs 1 million. Tata Aria, Indicas, Marutis of all types and Mahindra vehicles were all I saw. Not even a Honda Accord. Nope.

Time passed slowly and painfully. Soon it was lunchtime. We breezed to Hotel Prince, the swankiest place in town. We had a Thaali lunch, a Gujarati Thaali. Honestly a Gujarati Thaali is often very nice, damn filling but tasty but definitely not a working lunch. But who cared? That was the highlight of the day. The Ritz, sorry, Hotel Prince had a dedicated Thaali restaurant complete with waiters dressed in traditional clothes wearing turbans. The Thaali cost Rs 200 which, if you ask me was very cheap. It was decent not good. Though I have not been to them in years, I would imagine that Samrat at Churchgate would serve as good if not a better Thaali. After lunch a few more hours of discussion and we left for the airport.

I am dreading the next visit there. I cannot imagine staying a night in either of those disgusting hotels. Why do we have to fall off the map the moment we leave Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, etc?

Don’t go to Bhuj.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

HDFC Bank - Return to the Dark Age

I had written about my trials and tribulations with opening an account with the venerable HDFC Bank.

Have a look at their logo. How utterly wrong they are. They do not understand our world at all. Why should I speak for all of you? Actually they do not understand my world, and I am sure many of you are from my world.

It was a mistake. I should not have opened the account. I foolishly thought that having a second bank would be useful and a sensible decision. But, I was wrong.

In the one year the account was open, there were no transactions at all. All I did was deposit some money to open the account and then I placed half of that in a fixed deposit. Thereafter there were no transactions at all. None. Despite this I had to visit the branch many times to get statements issued, get Sister Stonethrowers address corrected and so on and so forth. Every visit to the branch was like visiting a Shiv Sena Shakha office. I have never been to a Shiv Sena Shakha office, but visiting the Turner Road Branch painted a vivid picture of what it would be. Everyone spoke Marathi, everyone, except the branch manager who was a Tamilian. I know this is Mumbai, I realise Maharashtrian chauvinism, but, this was a bit much.

Anyway, things got from bad to worse. Out of the blue we all received a slightly substantial envelope. This contained a letter and, believe it or not, a pass book. Pause here for a moment. Cast your mind back to the mid 1980’s and beyond. The only banks around were SBI and the other nationalised banks. Every time you had to deposit a cheque you went to the bank with a pay in slip, the cheque and the pass book. You stood at the teller and soon your passbook was updated with the magical words `Clg’ meaning clearing. Similarly, each time you wanted to withdraw Rs 500 to pay the servants salary the `self’ cheque and the pass book was sent to the bank. After the debit was made you eagerly looked at the page ensured that the debit `entry’ had been made and that the balance was indeed correct. I recall everyone doing this, and, people had been doing this for years. 

Then we suddenly had `private’ banks and everything changed. Soon the stodgy banks also changed, not without a few strikes by the Leftist Unions protesting against `computerisation’. Then came the internet wave and with that came internet banking. Everything changed. You did not have to go to the bank. Now the Mobile banking App wave is starting and you can do all your banking on a Smartphone. Is that not amazing? Honestly. All this has happened in the last 10-15 years. Today there is really no reason to actually visit a bank. You can transfer and make payments online, you can get cash from any ATM, you can have your dividends credited directly and electronically into your account and, you get your monthly or quarterly statements delivered home.

In a stunning return to the Dark Age, the venerable HDFC Bank has given me a pass book and a letter of explanation. The point made in the letter is that from April 2014 HDFC Bank will not send any statements. The passbook is what will be used. Also, if a customer wants a statement, he can access his account via net banking and print his own statements. This means that I will have to visit my branch every so often to have my damn passbook updated. I have one simple question. Why?

No sooner I got the letter and passbook I was enraged and frothing at the mouth. I rushed off to the branch and vented my spleen at the fools. Then I asked the Shakha Pramukh what this was all about. He, foolishly said it was a RBI Mandate, to fob me off. I checked the RBI website which clearly said that at the customer’s request a bank was obliged to provide a passbook and not otherwise. So this RBI mandate is total rubbish. I must clarify that this was told to me by the Shakha Pramukh and is not contained in the letter.

The letter says that the bank will now not provide printed statements that are posted to your address consequent to (i) a request by account holders and (ii) as a `green initiative’.

On (i) I have no knowledge. However, it seems farfetched that customers who get statements at home/office would suddenly find that so inconvenient that they would want to return to the dark ages. Who knows, it may even be true. One has to keep peons and drivers busy these days. Send them to the bank every time you issue a cheque to update the passbook. Gainfully employed, and in the interests of transparency your domestics will know exactly how much money you have. Excellent, you can rest assured they will either rob you if you have a lot, or never ask you for a loan if you have no money. `Ekdum changla, no’?

How does the `green initiative’ argument work? Your Chartered Accountant would want a statement when filing returns, when applying for visa’s you need to provide statements; every stupid KYC requires a proof of address which is your bank statement? All that the `green initiative’ argument is, is that the Bank will save lakhs on printing and postage. The job of printing has to be done by you. So how is this furthering the `green initiative’ argument? I am at a total loss. All that the bank is doing is increasing its bottom line to your detriment and being deceitful about it.

Bottom line folks. I have shut the accounts. Considered the whole exercise as foolishness on my part. I am back to having just one bank as my banker.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mumbai and Vadodara

We returned from London on 2nd April. As I write it is 10th April. The return was rather uneventful. We arrived late at night or early in the morning, depending on whether you look at the glass as half full or half empty. It was a long walk, and I mean a long walk from the aircraft to the Immigration counter at the new T2 Terminal. As is our wont, in this desperate need to get to Immigration before anyone else, we set off at top speed. The walk never seemed to end. We arrived literally breathless at the Immigration Hall. The Hall was devoid of passengers, thankfully, and surprise surprise, had many unoccupied Immigration officers. We were thru in minutes.

Our hired car and dolt masquerading as driver were waiting for us. This is when the fun started. T2 has some 6 levels of parking. The dolt driver said `Mein parking mei hoon’ - `I am in the parking lot’. I asked him which level. Promptly comes the answer `seedha saamne aane, mein udhar hi hoon’ -`come straight ahead, I am right there’. No he was not. Many phone calls happened. I was rather cross, HRH the Queen of Kutch was in a right royal uproar.  Finally, 25 minutes later, many phone calls spoken in a terse voice later, much under the breath cursing later, the dolt and us were united. Frankly, the man is a king sized dolt. The parking bays have pillars, each pillar has in big bold letters the level number P3, P4, P5 and so on as well as the slot number so P5 31. T2 is not to blame in the least. Just the Dolt. Dolt did not read any of that. Dolt shall not be used again.

On our return I plunged headfirst into a transaction I have been advising on for a few months now. My clients are in Vadodara, a most famous city. It is from where our future Prime Minister has filed his nomination. The transaction was in the final stages of closing. So, in the course of the week I have spent 3 days in Vadodara. You may have read about my difficulties in getting a drink in Vadodara in this previous blog.

Here are two quotes to whet your imagination:

“Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer.” – W C Fields

"Drinking is a way of ending the day." - Ernest Hemingway

Well, this is that very same transaction that I keep going to Vadodara for. Finally on 8th April after many many hours of hard work the documents were signed. The ceremonial signatures were inked on the documents by the primary protagonists. Then it was time for celebrations. Watermelon Juice and non alcoholic Mojito were offered. It was totally weird. Drinking Watermelon Juice, a lurid red colour, was unthinkable. I settled for a virgin Mojito. It was ghastly, sweet and something a child drinks. I request a person present in the room to take a photograph of me and my opposing lawyer `toasting’ the closing. Let me assure you that no alcohol was drunk in the taking of this photograph.    

A closer shot of the virgin Mojito

Yes that is the document signed by the parties.