Sunday, 14 August 2016

A Tale of Two Restaurants

At the start of a long weekend, I decided to dine out on my own, as always. Since the palate craved something South Indian, I thought the nearest restaurant offering a reasonably OK fare should be my first choice. So, off I headed to Adyar Ananda Bhavan, popularly known as A2B, to savour a South Indian Thali.

At the very outset, I was disappointed to find that only one of two floors was operational that weekend. The management had decided, for some strange reason, to keep the upper floor locked/closed. The lower floor with limited seating arrangement was already full, but I was soon led to a table for 6, which I was to share with another lone diner - a lady who was about to finish her meal. I thought it would be all right as it was a no-frills eatery. However, what annoyed me was that as soon as the other lady got up, a couple of thug-like guys was asked to occupy the same table. One of them immediately took out his smartphone and was holding it ON the table - all which was very suspicious and made my antennae stand up!

I decided to get up and leave. I did request the management and waiting staff to see if another table was available, but obviously, an eatery like A2B was only interested in larger groups and not a lone diner, that too, a lady. I paid just for the coffee I'd managed to gulp down and left - having sworn never to step into this awful place again! In the while I'd been there, I saw a couple of young working women also turned away from the place as also a family. Surely, this is not the way to run a restaurant?

Still, I was not discouraged in any way for Koramangala is a diner's paradise! This time, I opted to head to a Fine Dine Restaurant just a few meters down the road from the above-mentioned dreadful eatery. I walked up to Bayleaf, on the ground floor of Raheja Complex. The welcome was so good and I was made to immediately feel comfortable. What a refreshing change...The serving staff was attentive, made suitable suggestions about the food choices and the best part was their music playlist! So many of my old favourites from the 1990s and early 2000s...

Since I cannot consume alcohol, I opted for my usual Fresh Lime Water, which arrived promptly and was spot-on. Bayleaf serves complimentary roasted papads with a divine mint chutney for diners waiting for the food to arrive...I opted for Aloo Chaat Chandni Chowk Wali as my starter, and was I hooked to the flavours or what! Hot, tangy, spicy and delectable...It took me right back to Delhi in one spoonful. I couldn't wait to have more of this...
For my mains, I ordered a Butter Naan and Nizami Handi, a mildly spiced dish full of vegetables in a thick gravy. While the naan was flaky and hot off the tandoor, the Nizami Handi had plenty of carrots, peas, beans and other vegetables. Again, the taste was near-perfect, the beans were not stringy, and the extras served along with the Mains were mango pickle and Pickled Baby Onions.
And finally, to finish off this wonderful meal, I decided to got for a Dessert Platter - their Mithai Sampler. I chose Gajar Halwa, Pista Gulab Jamun and Sondesh Aur Gulkhand Pasanda...Needless to say, this was the highlight of the entire meal (or, was it the starters?)...The desserts are heavy and surely not intended to be consumed by one person. However, I could not help but eat as much of these flavourful desserts as I could.
Bayleaf matched ALL my expectations - and then, some more! I will surely be back for their weekday lunch buffets and their Lunch Boxes. More than anything, what was endearing was their treatment of and attention to every diner. Surely recommend this place to all! It is an oasis of calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of traffic at the Forum signal. The interiors are tastefully done up and nothing jars the eye.
In brief, a perfect meal for a lone diner!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

My Experiments with the Indian Workplace

For a long time now, I’ve wondered if ALL companies in India that work on language-related projects act in a certain manner? When I first relocated in 2011, I tried working in-house.

At the very first company, I was taken in for Quality Control of created content, but was soon made to “create content” – the same job that recent graduates were doing. To add insult to injury, a sleazy manager insinuated I was “eating too much at lunchtime” (company provided food to make up for low salaries). I QUIT in 5 weeks. Heard the news a couple of years down the line that the sleazy element had been sacked. Good for the women in the company!

The second company where I accepted a job claimed to be a publishing services firm. The set-up was so fraudulent, the CEO one day proudly told me he hadn’t even paid the Export License Fee that year. I was horrified. Capacities were vastly exaggerated when sending proposals to prospective clients. It had just a handful of employees at that time and even fewer freelancers. I QUIT in the fourth month.

The third one, where I was taken in as a French Language Expert (and this firm was later taken over by Big Name Group!) wanted me to “Just use Google Translate, Copy and Paste the results on a Word document, Edit here and there, Create a summary and Submit.” I had to show up for work at 8am even on Diwali day, had work between 8am and 10:30am, then again between 3pm and 5pm. What did I do in the meantime? I ate THREE plain cheese grilled sandwiches every single day at the cafeteria upstairs – for a mid-morning snack, lunch and evening snack! To make things worse, an incompetent little pest who claimed to be fluent in BOTH Spanish and German was paid much more than I was, sitting right next to me and asking ME to help him translate – when I proved he didn’t know jack shit about the Spanish language and/or culture, and my sample summary of Spanish>English translation was better, the HR Manager defended the pest. I only have an Ab Initio certification in Spanish, but have an MA in Translating and a PhD in Translation Studies from a British university. I also completed 2 levels of Japanese and 1 level of Arabic. I QUIT in my second month at this particular company. And I had the last laugh when I found out through LinkedIn that the pest had also QUIT the firm 2 months after I did…So much for HR policies! My immediate manager at that firm told me to be patient as I’d “easily reach managerial level within 6 months, given (my) capabilities”…I told him I wasn’t interested as using Google Translate for work goes against ALL my ethics.

Then, I started freelancing.

The very first firm paid me peanuts – EIGHTEEN INR per page of font size 10, with up to 200 footnotes in even smaller print for legal journal articles! I QUIT as soon as I bagged a good firm that was looking for freelancers. To get a rough idea of rates in India, 67 Indian Rupees = 1 US Dollar as of today. 

Then, I started with a company that was reasonably good – at least initially. I took offense to my works being handled later by a certain Project Manager who could not even speak grammatically correct English. When we finally met at the office, he said something something along the lines of “Sorry, we could not be able to meet earlier”…Now, CAN = TO BE ABLE TO. You CANNOT use the two together. And he should’ve known this as a PM in a publishing services company! I refused to work with him, and stand by my decision till date.

I freelanced for them till a couple of months ago. What made me see red was being sent negative feedback on my last assignment for them, when clearly they had not put it through a QC stage at their end. Now, this is very common in Indian workplaces – several of them CLAIM to put all processes and checks in place, including through “a stringent QC/QA process”, but alas, that is seldom the reality! If anything goes wrong, they find a scapegoat – in this case, it was to be ME. The manuscript in question was by an Indian author who clearly didn’t know how to write! As someone paid only slightly more than half a US$ per page, I cleaned it up as much as I could. Why did I accept such a low pay? Because I DO believe in some kind of loyalty to clients for as long as the work is reasonably interesting and I am paid promptly…Clearly, in this case, time to let go. I QUIT!

Another firm also sent me interesting titles to work on during 2012–2013. What started off well soon went downhill. At one point, instead of the 250–275 words per page that is the industry norm taken as forming ONE page, these people were cramming up to 425 words into each page. I QUIT!

A couple of other companies also sent me freelance work between 2012 and 2013. One sent me fiction which was so bad, the uninterested author herself forgot the name of one of her main characters! This firm mainly dealt with self-publishing authors – and no thanks to Chetan Bhagat, we have HUNDREDS of wannabe writers in India now. Most of them send their work to this particular firm…I gave up after having almost REWRITTEN every single line in the first eight pages of an awful manuscript that should’ve never seen the light of day! When I sent it back to the publishing services firm, saying “Author needs to look at changes suggested in the first eight pages and revert with a cleaner version”, I never heard from them again! Do I regret it? Absolutely NOT! I QUIT!

Now that we’ve seen the Bad and the Ugly, let me come to the Good ones…In Nov. 2013, I was contacted by a wonderful Bangalore-based company…and I still work for them. Touch Wood. The ONLY problem I had with them was when a new PM came on board a few weeks ago. That minor hiccup has since been dealt with successfully. Or so, I’d like to think.

A Mumbai company has been sending me reasonably well-paid work, but the assignments are few and far between. At this point in time, it does not serve my purposes, though I am still on their list of freelancers. Another firm dealing with similar jobs got a taste of my temper when they messed up the online time scheduling system. The notification to me clearly mentioned 12:30 the next day, not 00:30. Obviously, I had intended to work on the small piece after 11am that next morning and send it before the 12:30 deadline. Got a nasty shock when I received an email, saying I had breached the deadline. So, I kindly pointed out that 12:30 generally means thirty minutes after 12 noon, not thirty minutes after 12 midnight. There was no AM/PM to distinguish the scheduled deadline either. To that, the Editorial Manager sent me an email response, pointing out my email to the team was rude in tone…Really? I can sound WORSE than that…This one didn’t even see me taking on the first assignment. I QUIT!

I’ve been trying out something new lately – Quality Control again! I was told I’m being extremely thorough in my work and I was an asset. Yet, not being paid 25 days since my invoice was raised (when the contract said payment would be within SEVEN days) means I do NOT take on QC work for them again. This is because their vendors carry out such poor-quality editing that almost EVERY manuscript that comes to the QC stage needs to be looked into thoroughly, a Line Edit – making it almost a Re-Edit stage in the workflow process. FOUR pages during the QC process are treated as ONE page of edits and rates offered accordingly in INR. I QUIT! They want me on a freelance basis with a higher rate. I am giving them some time to redeem themselves. THEY are on trial; not ME!

So, the above have been My Experiments with the Indian Workplace. All the above in the last 5 years. Please pour in with your comments! I’d enjoy reading every single one of them, for sure…Have I given up? Not yet...Always an optimist. I am a dreamer and would still like to believe in silver linings, and lights at the end of every tunnel and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow!
PS: I've not mentioned the company name in even a single instance. Kindly do not contact me asking for further details.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Village Trip

From afar, we saw them –
Cheerful, gay and clothed in various hues,
The women were waiting outside their second home.
The eldest among them opened our bus door
To welcome us warmly
And embrace us with their collective love!

We bent our heads down
To enter their humble workplace
Rows upon rows of near-rusty sewing machines
Yet, on the walls hung their vibrant creations –
Bags, pouches, gift baskets, iPhone cases
Short of imagination they weren’t, for sure!

The sharp contrast hit the visitors
For how grateful these women were
For the little nothings they possessed!
The children, more than happy with an old tricycle
Donated by a mother whose child was now a teenager.
Sometimes, it’s the small things in Life that matter…

(Composed in Panchgani, October 2015)

Where Are The Children?

Winding along the narrow road up the hillside,
On the right, an amusement park –
But wait! Where are the children?
A little further, a near deserted village
With cows and stray dogs roaming about…

In the third house along the road,
A family of three – just seated for lunch,
But hey, where are the younger ones?
The three at the table ate silently.
The grandmother peers at her son,
Who was taking a break from the farm
To mourn his young child’s passing
In the accident along the busy hillside –

The school bus taking the village kids
To the town school nearby
Had crashed into the hillside,
Wiping away an entire generation
From the now silent village!

(Composed in Panchgani, October 2015)

Vagabond - a poem in 7 minutes

Searching, researching – for a lost soul
Where could she be hiding
After all these years?
She left one sudden morning
While the Dal
Was still simmering on the hob…
The main door left ajar
For the maid to come in
And discover she had left!

Vagabond! Be the vagabond you’d always wanted to be,
Said someone to her one day
At a café, where she was going through travel books.
Her mind was made up that very instant –
THIS wasn’t the life she wanted to live.

She wanted to run, to be free,
To escape, to be a Vagabond.

(Composed in Panchgani, October 2015)