Monday, September 29, 2008

Five years later - a lot to thank and appreciate.....

29th September 2008 - today was the day the US stock market had one more miserable Monday but it is also the 5 year anniversary when we moved into our current home and on this day I have a lot to appreciate and be thankful for.....Honey - this is for you!

Economy here in the US has been slowly sliding down the tube and like most housing markets around the country, values of homes in our neck of the woods have fallen a good bit. In spite of all that - because the timing of us moving into this house of ours was fortuitous thankfully this house we call home has appreciated decently since we bought.

On this 5th anniversary of this house, I have to mention how it all started. It was a winter evening in early 2001 and dear wife (DW) was visiting a family friends of ours. They had just moved into their first house. DW and they happened to embark on discussions about merits of buying a house and DW being a savvy woman that she is, collected all the information needed and promplty informed me about it. Not being as savvy and a bit shall we say....lazy.... I shrugged off her enthusiasm. Why bother with all that I said - we are so happy in our apartment.

But a wise woman that she is - she persisted and insisted that we at least meet the realtor these friends of ours referred to us. We did and he explained us the virtues of owning a house and bluntly told us we should stick to a house we can afford to pay unlike some borrowers he had seen. Thus began our house hunting and we closed on our first house - a townhome in May 2001.
Two years later we were already seeing fruits of DW's wisdom in form of rising home value. Then we began looking for a detached house. Most in the neighborhoods we were looking at were priced higher that what we wanted to fork out. DW (did I say she was wise, savvy and persistent???) kept looking at the listings as I kept saying (now with the benefit of hindsight - it clearly seems stupid) she was just being paranoid.....

Suddenly one of the houses that we were looking at suddenly listed just within our budget. We scrambled, looked at the house several times and put up an offer and luckily - in the days of crazy markets elsewhere in the area - thankfully our's was accepted with only minor negotiations.

And thus five years ago we closed on this house of ours we now call home.

So this post is for you Honey..... had you not persisted and gotten us started on this journey or succumbed to my laziness - we would not be where we are today !!! You go girl......!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reliance Mutual Funds - Forget about a good online user experience!!!

I am back after a long hiatus (which was mostly out of laziness and nothing else.....)

We Indians proudly proclaim our country to be a leader in information and technology. I have used online transaction services of several companies – both, in India and outside of India. I have to confess that the best online experience of an India-based company has been mediocre and that is being quite generous. Today, I will lay out in front of you my experience with Indian Mutual Fund giant Reliance Mutual Funds.

I have two different folio numbers for purchases made on separate occasions. Having received PIN numbers from Reliance Mutual, I used that to register myself and get a user ID. So far so good. Then I tried to map my other folio to the same user id and what should indeed have been a simple step turned into a nightmare. The online system accepted my PIN number and I proceeded to the next screen. After clicking through and accepting the terms and conditions, the system wanted me to change my PIN. I enter the same PIN again (remember – the system had already accepted this once) and enter the new PIN of my choice and click OK and guess what… the system says the PIN is incorrect. Now how is a PIN correct in one place and the same one in the same user session incorrect on the next page?

Several email messages to the customer service about this problem virtually go unanswered. The after about a week, I get an email from a customer service lady of Reliance Mutual Fund but this is a form letter which had zero relevance to my original complaint. Several attempts after this have gone unanswered.

Fed up with this, I finally decide to bite the bullet and set up another user id for the second folio number I have and have no problem setting up the same with the SAME freakin…PIN numbers. I take a deep breath and say OK – at least I got this working and since this folio also has my PAN details, I naively think that I can now do online transactions. I click my way merrily through various screens, select the scheme (where by the way – the list has error – one scheme name is repeated exactly same and has different NAVs – which does not make sense – I am guessing one of those names should be Dividend and other should be Growth – but I guess it is too much to ask for clarity and consistency – but I digress) and as soon as I click to submit my transaction – I get a cryptic message saying “Username cannot be found”.

I am at a complete loss now since I am logged in and doing the transaction through my account – how can a user name not exist?

As usual, my several emails to customer service have gone unanswered. If any of you savvy readers have had similar problems and have been able to get it resolved – please send me a message as to how you did it. I have tried to reach various officials at Reliance (including branch and service center chiefs in Pune and even head of IT for Reliance Mutual Fund) but so far all my efforts have come to a complete naught.

Some of my other observations about Reliance Mutual Fund online access application are:
- Poor user interface
- Very cryptic and unfriendly messages
- Mostly non-existent customer service
- Inability to send message to change any personal information details like bank account number.

If this is the state if affairs with the largest mutual fund company in India, it is hard to imagine what others in the mutual funds business have to offer.

And as I said earlier, by no means is Reliance MF the only one guilty in providing poor online user experience. Most big names will compete fiercely for that distinction. And I personally think, we as the consumers are equally guilty in accepting the poor service offering these companies put in front of us.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

No Right to Information??

As a welcome and much needed reform in the world’s largest democracy, India enacted the Right to Information Act of 2005. Two years after this step, the Government of India announced that it was making available this right to Indian citizens abroad through Indian Embassies and missions around the world. First of all, why it took the Government two years to take this step is unclear. Neither the Citizenship Act 1955 nor the RTI statute differentiates between Indian citizens living within India or abroad. So theoretically, all Indians have had this right from day one.

So I am giving the government the benefit of doubt and taking a position that this announcement meant that Indians abroad could file RTI applications at Indian Missions abroad by paying application fees in local currencies. A quick googling on the web showed me that I was not the only one assuming this. Even the Central Information Commission thinks so because it has on its website the same article that most of us on the web read on Government announcement.

Having finally found an avenue to file RTI application, I sent 3 different RTI applications to the Indian Embassy in Washington DC along with proof of my citizenship and requisite fees (I personally think charging equivalent of Rs. 10 in foreign currencies is ridiculous and that it should be at least $1 considering the local costs. But that is besides the point of this article so I won’t digress). Now, just because they are located outside does not mean GOI babus work any differently. Dutifully, the designated PIO at the Embassy replied that such information was not available with the Embassy and that I should apply to concerned PIO instead. Even the Embassy website was updated with that interpretation.

I am no lawyer, but even a cursory reading of Section 6 (3) of RT Act of 2005 and I quote

“Section 6 (3): Where an application is made to a public authority requesting for an information,—
(i) which is held by another public authority; or
(ii) the subject matter of which is more closely connected with the functions of another public authority, the public authority, to which such application is made, shall transfer the application or such part of it as may be appropriate to that other public authority and inform the applicant immediately about such transfer:
Provided that the transfer of an application pursuant to this sub-section shall be made as soon as practicable but in no case later than five days from the date of receipt of the application.”

makes it clear that it is the responsibility of the Embassy PIO to forward my application to the concerned PIOs. However, the position of the embassy that it will only accept applications related to information at the Embassy itself defeats the basic purpose of providing RTI facility through the embassies and high commissions. So I guess if you are an Indian citizen living outside India – you have no right to information at least as it stands now because you really have no way to send your application with requisite fees in Indian Rupees.

I have filed an RTI application with the embassy to find origins of this interpretation and validity and I will keep the readers posted.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One Year Later......

Today, it is one year since the terrible terrorist bombings on Mumbai’s suburban trains. Let’s pray that those 187 unfortunate and innocent souls rest in peace…..

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Suni who?????

Sunita Williams is back on earth – thank god! Her achievement is definitely a great one and good for her!! However, the obsession that we Indians have shown about her being of “Indian origin” is borders on being the most ridiculous. Let’s face it…. Sunita Williams is NOT Indian but an American.

Last few years, with the burgeoning number of news channels and news outlets, we are increasingly seeing a flood of non-sensical reports passed on as news. Along has come the race to report about achievements about people with even remote Indian connection. Most times, their achievements have nothing to do with India, these individuals do not care one bit about India nor do they contribute in any way to India’s betterment. Why then do the Indian media have such an obsessive compulsive disorder of covering these people of so-called “Indian” origin?

When Suni (that’s the name she goes by – the fact that she does not even use her “Indian” name but chooses a more palatable American version shows how “Indian” she is) was in space, we were endlessly served with news about how her days were at the International Space Station, how she missed her pet Jack Russell Terrier named Gorby, how she ran the Boston Marathon in space, how entire India was worried when her return to earth was delayed and so on. The coverage was nauseating at best and also about the most trivial happenings. There was a similar slew of coverage a few years ago when another PIO - one Bobby Jindal ran for the office of the Governor of US state of Louisiana and lost and then ran and won the race for the US House of Representatives.

Why is it that we Indians have a desire to be associated with achievements of people who are Indians remotely at best but associated with “the White and Western world” while not giving enough recognition to our won – people who struggle to beat all the odds and do real work for the progress of the Indian society? Should we not celebrate more of what is really our own?

I guess it all begins at the top. When even our senior most politicians and leaders would gladly be water carriers for Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and claim her to be worthy of a position no one else ought to desire, why are we surprised that generally speaking, most of us still tend to view anything associated with white skin to be qualitatively better?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Race to the bottom….

The recent clashes between the Meena and the Gujjar communities in Rajasthan illustrate well the race to towards the bottom. India is probably the only country in the world where people actually strive to be “backwards” thanks to the generous reservations policy under the Constitution.

The current crisis in Rajasthan also highlights an important issue on the subject of reservations that it does not matter how much a caste or tribe is indeed deprived or the need for affirmative action by means of reservations. It however does matter how much of a clout it holds in politics of the state so as to be included in the coveted list. In India, many of the so-called “backward classes” (a.k.a. Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes) are actually the most powerful in terms of influence on matters of state. In Rajasthan, Jat is one of the most powerful communities and are still included in the OBC category. Meenas are included in the ST category but dominate the civil services like no other caste or tribe.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar who himself came from a Harijan family strongly advocated limiting reservations for first 10 years of the new Republic. Sadly, politicians who came after him did not see the real logic behind his thoughts and have taken over the reservations issue as a convenient weapon in electoral politics. As long as this populist game continues, the unfortunate casualty will be the people who really need the reservations – the economically backwards from every caste, creed and religion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Massacre at Virginia Tech

The shooting rampage on Virginia Tech campus at Blacksburg VA will surely be the darkest day in the University’s history. My deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this horrendous tragedy.

I am an alumnus of VA Tech. I have never been to the main campus in Blacksburg because I studied at one of the extension campuses. However, that does not lessen the shock or sadness of this tragedy. I think everyone – whether related to the University or not, will definitely be shocked and saddened at this cowardly and heinous act.

This attach again brings to the forefront the need for gun control in the US. Having lived here for over a decade now, I am yet to understand the fascination in this country for firearms possession by individuals. These have no place in a civilized society and the quicker people understand this, the better off this country be in the long run. US is probably the only country in the civilized world that has minimal, if any, restrictions on carrying firearms and somehow, people and politicians do not seem to learn from tragedies like Columbine at Littleton CO, Jonesboro AR, Padukah KY and now VA Tech in Blacksburg VA. It is about time that the Federal and State governments pay attention to this menace before it becomes a bigger problem than it already it.

If I had to take a guess, the CNN s and MSNBC s of the world will incessantly cover this story until something new comes along and after they get a new fodder, nothing more will happen. There will be no serious debate on the issue nor there any legislative change in favor of gun control. The life will go on as usual. Oh well….

May the departed souls rest in peace.