Friday, January 23, 2015

The hazards of being a credit card customer AND a moron

Here's some nuanced advice guaranteed to bring you peace and prosperity, advice which no one else will probably give you.

Do not be a credit card customer AND a moron. You can be one or the other but not both.

There. I have got it off my chest. The world knows now and is already a better place. As you heave a sigh of relief, dear reader, you are probably wondering how I was enlightened. Well, here is the story

I am a customer of ICICI bank for their credit card. I have been a customer of ICICI bank for many things (including a demat account, a trading account, a savings bank account and a current account) and with great reluctance, have had to let go of each one of these because I would steadily find myself losing out to the sharp minds in that fine organization. With artistic flair and surgical precision, clauses, terms and conditions that they inserted into these relationships would quietly but surely ensure that they eventually got the better of me. If ICICI bank gets into a revolving door after you, and I mean this as a compliment, you can rest assured they will emerge ahead of you.

I sportingly admitted defeat. It was a fair fight after all. They with their IIM Mbas and NLS lawyers, me with my, well, wits about me. I let them go, one after the other. But I hung on to the credit card. What, I figured, could go wrong? First, I had had it for nearly a decade and second, all I had on it was my cell phone bill payments which, to tell you the truth, I had no clue how to change to another subscriber while discontinuing this one. I had visions of two companies now paying the same cell phone bill to Airtel, resulting, of course, in the latter getting fat and lazy and probably acquiring a drinking habit. I love airtel dearly, as I would a child reared on my own money (which it is, sort of) and I wouldn't want it going to seed. The credit card stayed.

So when one lovely December morning I got a call from some jolly old chaps purporting to be from the credit card department of the ICICI bank, I answered with nary a premonition of danger.

The jolly chaps were worried. My reward points were expiring, they told me, and the only way to salvage anything out of it would be to buy this gift hamper containing shoes, sunglasses, a watch and some tremendously valuable discount coupons from a company called Deal@Once. I did find the thing rummy - they were asking me far too many questions, for one - but the jolly chap sent me an authentication message or something which seemed to come from ICICI, my trusted friend for so many years, and I fell for it. One thing led to another and before I knew what was happening, I had agreed to receive their gift hamper in return for 6999 reward points which were going to expire anyway.

In the course of all this, I ended up giving them my credit card details and authorising the transaction  - because I am a moron - all the while thinking I was authorizing the deduction of 6999 reward points from my account. And got a mildly nasty shock when I found it charged in my credit card bill in the good name of Amtec Engineers of New Delhi.

I checked on the net and found that this scam has been going on for a good 6 or 8 months, if not more, and several of those victims were ICICI Bank customers. (To be fair, there are customers of other banks as well)

I called up ICICI cards and whined but the lady at the other end was stern and unsympathetic. She told me to file a police complaint at the nearest police complaint and go cry someplace else, because SHE wasn't giving me any money back.

So that is where the matter stands. I plan to go and file my police complaint. I was worried that the policeman might laugh so hard upon hearing my complaint that he might fall off his chair and hurt himself, making me liable to the charge of injuring a police officer on duty but a senior legal mind assures me that there is no law which will punish me for that, though he privately admitted that if more complaints like mine make it to local police stations, they might have to enact one.

So here things stand. It's not ICICI bank's fault of course that I am a moron but I wish their fine minds would try to actively go after these fraudsters - after all, this has been happening for months now - instead of having conferences, meetings and off-sites devoted to inserting clauses terms and conditions in to their account agreements. We ARE morons, we customers, but we are God's children too. Aren't we?

Here are some of the other sad stories

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How I quit smoking and got a life

It will be ten years come July that I've been a non smoker. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have blogged about this sort of thing because like the time I had that big pimple inside my nostril or the time I sneezed nonstop for two hours, they are anecdotes that hold little interest for the rest of the world. People faced with choosing between listening to those and watching, say, an episode of KrishiDarshan, would probably pick the latter. But one of my best twitter buddies, @TheRestlessQuil, declared she was going to quit smoking and I chipped in with (mostly gratuitous) advice. Another friend, @saffrontrail, urged me, diplomatically perhaps, to write it down in a blog post, which I suppose is sound advice because dear old twitter, for all its worth, makes it difficult for a verbose old fogey like me to  express myself. So here goes

I used to smoke in engineering college and then I had sort of given it up. When I married that goddess in human shape, the apple of my eye, the fruit on which hangs the fruit of my life, the.. well, missus, I was mostly clean. I would occasionally bum a drag when with old friends but that was it. Slowly however, it started as a cigarette or two when I was drinking with friends, then a cigarette or two in the morning because the head felt heavy and in no time, I was smoking a pack a day.

The missus protested strongly. She told me that she hated my cigarette breath and she fretted over all those lung cancer ads. (at the time, I was very dismissive about the cigarette breath complaint. You women, you love to exaggerate, I remember telling her. But several years later, I happened to be seated next to a pretty young thing on a flight. Not as pretty as the missus, of course, but pretty nevertheless. Anyway, I looked forward to the pleasant prospect of chatting with the PYT, dazzling her with my wit and wisdom and whatnot, imagining her telling her children someday that while their father was a sound egg and a good person, they, the children, should have seen the distinguished elderly gent, (me, that is) who was with her on a flight once and so on, when she decided to open the conversation. And I had the shock of my life because her breath, which smelled of coffee and cigarettes, both consumed in copious quantities, was horrible. She spoke from a south easterly direction and I replied in staccato monosyllables in a north westerly direction till, after a couple of minutes, she gave up on me thinking I was some kind of crank. I realize now I wronged missus. Cigarette breath IS horrible)

So, as I was saying, missus complained buckets-full and I kept telling her that I would give it up. This new years, positive. Ok, after my birthday, hundred percent. Well, after YOUR birthday, guaranteed. It never happened, of course, and we gradually started growing more distant. I would leave home extra early in the morning on the pretext of having work to catch up with and come in as late as possible, all because missus wouldn't let me smoke at home.

Then one day, after an argument that was not particularly different from a hundred arguments we had had before that one, the missus ended up sobbing. Somehow, it stung me. I don't know why, it wasn't the first time she had shed tears over this topic of conversation, but I decided it was time to quit.

And I found that I couldn't. I didn't last twenty-four hours. I would stride out in the morning, grimly determined to last the entire day without a single drag and by lunch I would be a complete wreck with no thought on my mind other than to race out and buy a cigarette. Someone suggested nicotine chewing gum and I soon found out I was addicted to smoking AND nicotine chewing gum. Someone else suggested homeopathy and you, dear reader, will be staggered to know I tried even that! Despite being a card carrying skeptic and a homeopathy-basher all my life (slogan - "NOTHING is as good as homeopathy"), I actually went to a homeopath who asked me all kinds of mildly daft questions like which side do I lie on when I sleep (you moron, how am I supposed to know that if I'm sleeping? But I didn't say that) and whether I held the cigarette in my right hand or my left. He gave me two or three bottles full of sugar pills with very detailed instructions on how, when and how many to consume. Needless to say, didn't work. The only positive thing about homeopathy was that that I didn't get addicted to those sugar pills like I did to the nicotine chewing gum

Then one day, I met an old friend (whom I shall not name because he won't like it if I did) who had given up smoking, successfully, I might add, for he had not smoked a cigarette for seven years. He told me that smoking couldn't be given up by resisting the urge. I told him he was talking through his ruddy hat. Don't resist the urge it seems. Then what? Give in to it? No, he said. Just observe the feeling. It affects only your body, not you. I felt obliged to upbraid him again. Not me, only my body. Are they two different things? Dude, when I die, they're going to put up a photograph of my body, not me.

He smiled mystically and told me to just think about it. Not the smoking or the cessation thereof, but who I was. He suggested I sit in front of a mirror and stare at myself for as long as I could and I would sense it.

This held even less promise than homeopathy. If the missus caught me at it, I could forget about ever being taken seriously again. But I was desperate. I tried his silly little exercise, read up a lot about different kinds of meditation, psyched myself into determination mode and I don't remember what else.

Then one day, I suddenly saw. The chap was right. I was different from me.  I know what you're thinking. Old Naren has been having a couple. But I'm serious. I don't know what specifically set it off but I decided that day - I remember it was the 19th of July 2005 - the urge to smoke would not affect me. I began to observe it with distant curiosity, in the manner of a child looking at an exotic monkey in a zoo. My mouth would dry out. I could feel my temples throbbing. My eyeballs would hurt from the inside. A couple of deep breaths would make the feeling go away but it would return in a trice. I did not try to fight it.

I lasted the entire day. This was a first. The next day was pretty much the same. And the day after. I observed myself getting more irritable, but I had read that this was expected. Managed to hold it in control, though I found myself being uncharacteristically acerbic, especially in my interactions with the loved ones.

Days passed, then weeks and then months. I would go and sit with smokers, if I found myself in their company, and test myself (mildly Manu-Abha style, it now occurs to me). Sure enough, my mouth would water and I would occasionally feel my heart thudding away in extra-power mode but I could handle it.

It was years before it stopped beckoning but now, I can't even dream of smoking a cigarette. Missus was extremely happy of course. She gave me such melting looks of gratitude that I regretted not having kicked the habit earlier. Entirely worth it. And if a weak, vacillating character such as mine could do it, there is no reason YOU can't.

The question of course is why you should. Why indeed. There is no good reason. In my case, I did it only because it seemed to cause missus so much sorrow. But I am also glad to be rid of at least one master. It's freedom, however miniscule.