Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Swami Parthasarathy and R.Seshasayee

Both Swami Parthasarathy (SP) and R.Seshasayee (RS) are towering personalities in their respective fields. The former is well known for his peripatetic lectures on the Bagawad Gita and the latter for his scrupulous adherence to principles of corporate governance. Hence it was not surprising that RS was to receive the first copy of SP's book titled "Governing Business and Relationships". The function was to begin at 6.30 pm on 31st August. The start was unusually delayed by half an hour. Since SP and RS are known for punctuality the audience was wondering what was happening.

RS was quick to solve the puzzle when he apologised for being late on account of an unusual traffic snarl. This apology would have been forgotten then and there but for SP's subsequent 'unbecoming' reference to his own record of never having  been late to any function. It is beyond one's understanding whether a public reprimand of this type was necessary at all. One can easily visualise RS's contretemps when he was chided like a schoolboy.

SP's disappointment at delayed start was obvious from his facial expression also as if words were not brutal enough. RS is certainly wise enough to ensure that he does not place himself in a similar circumstance anytime in the future.

RS likened himself to Napolean's security guard. Whenever Napolean wanted to communicate with his subjects, he " test-marketed" his message with his not-so-well educated guard. If the guard could understand, there was no doubt that everyone would understand. Similarly, the first copy of the new book was being given to RS !

RS also referred to the eternal dilemma faced by business managers on ethics of creating demand and then catering to it in order to make a profit. He was also complacent enough to justify this managerial behaviour under the pretext of "Swadharma". This was perhaps stretching the concept of Swadharma a bit too far. Swadharma is ordained by nature or driven by circumstances. One cannot create one's own swadharma and claim to justify one's behaviour. If RS was trying to placate SP or was looking for SP's elucidation on this existential moral dilemma , SP did not appear to be obliging.

SP's hour-long lecture focused on the three C's for successful governance of business. He defined Concentration as the ability to zero in on the present without being distracted by worries about the past and anxiety about the future. Consistency is the invariable direction of one's efforts towards attainment of a goal. Cooperation stems from the realisation that we are all spokes in a large wheel and that everyone has to play one's role.

How to govern one's relationships? SP was forthright in highlighting the importance of proper 'assessment' of the persons we deal with. Why is this difficult? Any species of animals has uniform character and behaviour. For example, all tigers are ferocious, all cobras are venomous and all cows are docile. Humans do not conform to any such uniform standards. This peculiarity is at once a challenge and an opportunity. We cannot govern our relationships with the suave and the irritable in the same way.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Airtel's sharp practices

Airtel is known for prompt customer service. However, it appears that it also adopts deceptive business practices to the detriment of its customers. Unfortunately we cannot complain to the telecom regulator, TRAI because TRAI does not look into individual grievances. One wonders what a regulator is for.

If you are availing prepaid mobile services from Airtel and if you pay Rs.200 for topping up / recharge, you will get credit for Rs.46.51 only. On enquiry, the company surprisingly claims any payment of Rs.200 is taken as renewal of monthly charge. I wonder what it means. Is not the company expected to inform its customers in advance that Rs.200 should not be paid for top/up or recharge unless they desire to contribute munificently to Airtel's bottomline?

When a complaint is made to Airtel, the company drags its feet endlessly. Ofcourse, the company also claims that it redresses customer grievances within 24 hours ! Airtel should learn to be more transparent and up-front in its dealings with its hapless customers.

Here is an update as on 28th August:

Airtel has taken a long time to decide on a simple issue. The company has declined my claim. The amount is small and therefore not the issue. The question is whether the telecom company can confiscate the amount paid for recharge for some other unintelligible purpose. I have sought an explanation from the company as to what is meant by "monthly validity recharge" and how the company assumes that I have applied for "monthly validity recharge". I could not help pointing out the dubiousness of the claim that "we will respond within 24 hours" when the company consistently has taken much longer time. (There is some improvement now ! The company has not sent an auto-reply that they would respond within a day. Perhaps Airtel may decide not to respond at all.) I must reiterate that Airtel is known for good customer service. That is why one is pained when it misbehaves like any other company.

Here is the latest correspondence:

"I strongly resent your statement that what I have done is what you call "monthly validity recharge". I do not know what this monthly validity recharge is. Will you please explain? The shop where I paid the amount did not explain anything to me. I wanted recharging the mobile. I did not want what you claim I wanted. I look forward to your prompt response. Your assurance of responding within 24 hours looks hollow in the light of your consistent delayed response. I wonder why you say you were not able to contact me. My email ID and mobile number are well known to you. I expect a more truthful response from Airtel. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement."

Your disgusted customer,


--- On Tue, 8/24/10, nodalofficer@airtel.in wrote:

From: nodalofficer@airtel.in


To: srivarahan@yahoo.com

Date: Tuesday, August 24, 2010, 12:19 PM

Dear Customer,

Thank you for contacting Airtel.
We regret for the delay in replying to your mail.
We understand from you previous your interaction 21/08/2010, you have provided the details received after successful recharge of Rs.200/- for your Airtel mobile number 9789875092.
We understand your concern and will work towards resolving the same.
We tried to contact you but with little success.
We regret to inform that as recharge which you have done on 07.08.2010 is monthly validity recharge not a full talktime recharge. Hence we are unable to process your request for reversal of amount

For further assistance, mail us at 121@airtelindia.com.
We thank you and value your association with Airtel.

Warm Regards,

Nodal Officer
Bharti Airtel Limited

Further update as of 4th Sept.:

I sent a reminder to Airtel on 1st Sept. Airtel acknowledged this on 1st Sept. itself  and undertook to resolve the matter within 24 hours. Needless to say, there was no further communication from Airtel. The correspondence is given below:

Dear Airtel Customer,

Thank you for writing to us. We have already received a similar email from you earlier and the reference number of your previous mail is 109201013824.

We are currently resolving your query and would revert to you within in 24 Hours.

Warm Regards

Airtel Customer Service

This is an auto-generated response. Kindly do not reply on this mail.

---------------------Original Message--------------------------


Date: 01/09/2010 10:58:59 AM

From: srivarahan@yahoo.com

To: 121@airtelindia.com

Message body:

I am still awaiting your response clarifying what is "monthly validity

recharge". Please advise me the features of this and how it would help me.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Furore over NDM-1, the new superbug

The Lancet report on what is now referred to as "NewDelhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1)" certainly deserves our serious attention. The report has been prepared by 31 researchers of whom 12 are Indians. The rest are based in the UK and Pakistan. Of these 31 authors, only two have acknowledged possible conflict of interest. Karthikeyan K.Kumarasamy MPhil had received a travel grant from Wyeth, one of the sponsors of this study. David M.Livermore PhD had received conference support from numerous pharma companies and also holds shares in Astra Zeneca, Merck, Pfizer and GSK. All other authors have declared absence of conflict of interest.

Naming a bug after the possible place of its origin is not uncommon. Verona Integron encoded metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (VIM-1) was first reported in Verona, Italy in the year 1997. In the same year another bug called the Sao Paulo metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (SPM-1) was first isolated in the eponymous Brazilian city. However, it is uncommon and rather strange that an alarm is sought to be created about visiting India for surgical treatment.

Lancet's assertion that "Gram-negative Enterobacteriaceae with resistance to carbapenem conferred by NDM-1 are potentially a major global health problem" is certainly over the top. Carbapenem is the latest heavy-duty antibiotic but not the ultimate antibiotic. Superbugs are the mother of new antibiotics.

Lancet's argument that "Given the historical links between India and the UK, that the UK is the first western country to register the widespread presence of NDM-1 positive bacteria is unsurprising" is a little unscientific. Lancet's conclusion ("The potential {sic} for wider international spread of producers and for NDM-1 encoding plasmids to become endemic worldwide, are {sic} clear and frightening") is perhaps paranoia-genic in its impact and possibly suspect in its grammar.

The report draws inspiration from an an earlier editorial by Abdul Ghafur which highlighted the  widespread non-prescription use of antibiotics in India. It is no consolation to realise that prescription abuse of antibiotics is more widespread and not less dangerous in India.